AGA LAB Top Ten – 2, 1

2.  Working with Serena, the AGA LAB intern

Serena Jajani.  What can I say, but thank you. 

Serena came to AGA LAB and Amsterdam as part of an ERASMUS Plus internship scheme, which supports graduating students in professional environments to develop existing skills and interests.  Her internship was the equivalent to four days a week in the space, supporting workshops, administration, maintenance, and all manner of activity. 

With minimal technical staffing, and a large roster of weekly volunteers, Serena, along with the studio manager Orlando, represented a constancy and presence that I valued very much.  Serena moved to Amsterdam from Italy to take up this role, and immediately demonstrated an enthusiasm for all things printmaking. 

Over the period of my residency, she developed and printed her first commission, a three-colour A2 screen-printed poster for Villa Buitenlust, an internationally renowned community space near Westerpark.   It was inspiring to watch her progress, flexing her autographic skills and translating these images  to screenprinting.  She was brave and bold, and persistent with her method and concept. I loved watching her discover her print practice through this project. 

There were some evenings when neither of us would speak, but our quiet working would push the other to stay a little longer, develop a little further, print a little more.  There was a Saturday when the sun shone and the sounds of festivals and music from around the city tempted us to break.  We stayed and kept printing, in this instance joined by a new studio member, Alba Paramo, an etcher and artist from Mexico via New York, together with whom we formed a mini troupe of the absurd, and inspiring. 

The bond formed through periods of intense working, took me back to my own University days, when cheese puffs remnants and cola cans littered the studio late into the night, as Liz Le (the Carl to my Otis) and I carved and carved our giant woodblocks in anticipation of our first mini-residency in North Adams, Massachusetts.  That was 15 years ago. 

Reflecting on it today, in my space at Thames-Side Studios, half-way through my sabbatical, I wonder,

if, could I
oh, but never mind,
maybe sometime,
why not now,
but what about,
I couldn’t possibly,
it would be too ridiculous,
I have responsibilities,
selfish.

I don’t forget the privilege in having time and space for this kind of thinking.

1. The team – technical staff, volunteers, interns, and suppor

No surprises here.  The best presses, space and physical resources in the world cannot replace the dedication and passion of printmakers working together.  I use the phrase ‘community of practice’ a lot in my academic life, but that is what AGA LAB embodies.

The technical staff, gallery support, volunteers, interns, all contribute to the community’s continued well-being.  In particular, with a rolling programme of AiRs and AnRs, this community is explicitly welcoming, with the regular teas, lunchtime chats, and programme of exhibitions.

I had many conversations with the technical team in particular about AGA LAB, sharing the common challenges of all print workshops, and what the future of these spaces mean to print practice.  There were pragmatic conversations around moving towards acid-free and the definition of ‘non-toxic’.  I was particularly interested in the tension between non-toxic, and sustainable, both big drivers in our practices, but not always mutually inclusive. 

There were beer-based discussions about workflow, contamination, open access, changing skillsets, and the shift in membership from specialist practice to freelance resource.  There were, similarly, other beer based discussions around what the best glue is for a textile table, the distance of the nozzle to achieve a reasonable aquatint, and the challenges of formatting artists’ work to print large format film on inkjet printers. 

That these conversations could develop and happen in such a short space of time is a tribute to the openness of the AGA LAB community, and I was very sad to leave at the end of the month.  Thank you’s are owed to Ayesha, Martin, Orlando, Alex for their comradery.  You didn’t have to be so open, and there are many other places and many other technical staff who would not wish to speak to a temporary interloper with such candor and frankness about changes in practice.  I wish I had stayed longer. 

P.S. I realise I haven’t actually shown, or written very much about, my work. That post is forthcoming.