Jenny Kitchener’s Pollinate Too is currently up on our walls. A selection of prints from a wider body of work, Pollinate, recently exhibited at Grafton Regional Gallery, these prints give focus to the integral role of Australian pollinating birds and insects. Through her prints, Kitchener reminds us of the delicate relationships that exist within, and support much of the natural world around us. With its striking imagery and theoretical background, we had a chat to Kitchener to investigate the inner-workings of this body of work and the artist’s practice at large.
This exhibition is part of wider body of work, Pollinate. Can you tell us a little about the conceptual underpinnings of this series?
My recent work is underpinned by environmental concerns which are interwoven with the more universal concepts of time, the cycles of life and a respect for the intricate workings of nature. My last two solo shows (Array, 2014 and Folly, 2015) sought to highlight the decline of the pollinating insects which are essential to plant reproduction and the biodiversity of the planet. The exhibition Pollinate, exhibited at the Grafton Regional Gallery in 2018, continued this concern but expanded the focus to include pollinating birds as well as insects.
Australia is unusual in that our birds are globally outstanding as pollinators. The two main pollinating families of birds are the parrots and the honeyeaters. Eucalypts and paperbarks, which form vast forests, are just some of the bird pollinated trees in Australia. If we lose the birds, we lose the forests.
On previous works, you’ve spoken about the inclusion of particular objects in your works as significant to your commentary on the human relationship to the natural world. You’ve noted that your inclusion of this anachronistic imagery – bell jars and scissors – for example in ‘natural’ scenes is a comment on how we distance ourselves from nature, as well being a critique of how the human world impacts upon the environment. This collection of works sees the inclusion of more ‘contemporary’ imagery in your botanical backdrops (USB cables, for instance). How does this feed into, or extend your jigsaw-like approach to image, concept and critique?
The inclusion of the image of a USB cable into my work is a continuation of my like of including various manufactured items (such as scissors, pottery shards, binoculars, etc) in amongst the backdrop of the ‘natural’ environment. I do this in order to remind the viewer of the ubiquitous hand of human encroachment into even the last wild areas on the planet. These man-made objects can carry with them additional meanings which can be interpreted in different ways by the viewer: as metaphor, allegory or symbolically, etc.
In previous prints I have often included a pair of scissors in my compositions. The scissors bring with them layered personal meanings but they also function as a reference to the process of collage which I use as a compositional device to create my linocut imagery. Thus, in a similar way, the insertion of the USB cable into my work is a reference to the recent incorporation of digitally printed collaged imagery into my prints – as well as a nod to method and to the means of its production through the use of the computer. The USB cable’s presence could also function on a more insidious level, as a marker of the intrusiveness of this digital age into much of our lives. But, in the end, the viewer makes their own interpretation of the imagery presented.
What are the primary techniques used to create your work, and does the physical process/es of printmaking have particular significance to your practice beyond ‘just’ method?
I tend to use three techniques; the linocut, screen printing, and monoprinting. I also employ non-printmaking methods such as collage, paper cut-outs, watercolour, stencilling, embossing, etc.
I will use whichever technique helps me to express certain ideas in the best way. For example, the linocut enables me to pull together many complex ideas within the one image. The collaged imagery which I cut and paste together in order to create the compositions for my linocuts, originates largely from printed sources. I often use appropriated traditional printed imagery, such as engravings and woodcuts, which carry with them their own historical overtones and add to the overall meaning of the work. During the past few years I have also begun to add collage to my prints. This appropriated collaged imagery is often sourced through books or online.
I also love the freedom which the monoprinting technique offers me. This process is almost the opposite to the laborious, time consuming, but often meditative, process of cutting lino. With the monoprint I can compose on the bed of the press, making decisions in the moment and creating a more spontaneous response to the materials at hand.
What inspires you to create work?
My inspiration comes from a love of the creative process and a desire to express my responses to the world I live in. More specifically, this translates into a concern for the future of the ‘natural world’ and the plants, animals and other life forms which inhabit and share our planet. More recently, the consequences of climate change are looming large in my thoughts and this disquiet, with the warming of the earth, is beginning to inform some of my latest work.
How would you explain your work to somebody who has never seen it?
Process and concept inform both the content and intent of my artwork. Generally my work is underpinned by research married to personal concerns.
I work with various print media mainly making works on paper. If appropriate to the concept of the work, I will also print on other surfaces such as foil, leaves, bark, found objects, etc. I produce editioned prints, as well as boxed works and folios, unique prints, artist’s books and paper objects.
The subject matter of my current prints frequently depict Australian animals and plants, often located in their natural bushland settings. Pollinating insects and birds are usually the focal point of my compositions. Positioned within these idyllic compositions I place exotic plants and/or various man-made objects in order to bring attention to the increasing human intrusion into our wild places.
Pollinate Too runs from 7th – 26th September
Click HERE to visit the exhibition profile