TOUCH IS TRUTH
My artistic practice and research investigates the haptic experience of letterpress in contrast to digital. It raises questions about a different engagement with language and truth that occurs through the materiality of the physical processes involved in setting and printing type, particularly in relation to time, permanence and the unrepeatable.
It also considers how touch as a primary sense is crucial in human processes for testing and expressing reality and meaning. I am often concerned with questions of performance and embodied knowledge and work both alone and in collaboration with others.
Recent work has included protest posters, interactive performances and community workshops.
RECENT WORK: MA RESEARCH
My MA research considered whether the materiality and aesthetics of letterpress could interrogate the production and consumption of digital communications to understand how truth is established or subverted.
As a former editor and reporter, I was particularly interested in how fake news was produced and circulated during the Brexit campaign, especially by newspapers, and the poor standard of journalism that some media upheld.
We live in a ‘post-truth’ society in which debate is framed by argument that pays no attention to truth or established and agreed facts, and one in which most of us use cut and paste to share information (or misinformation) virally.
There is also growing evidence that reading digital content on the web changes the brain’s neural circuitry, which was developed for deep reading.
When we “skim read” digital content it adversely influences the quality of our most important intellectual processes causing “subtle atrophy” of critical analysis leaving us susceptible to false information and ultimately threatening democracy (Wolf 2018).
My programme considered whether the recontextualising of language into letterpress form and the materiality of letterpress itself—especially touch and the time process required—can help identify fake news and encourage deeper engagement with language.
It is possible that the slowness of the letterpress process creates a personal space and critical ecosystem for the practitioner to have an engagement with language which allows a critical approach in a way that the digital process cannot emulate.
The way I tried to explore these theories was through a series of interventions produced as art works.
I made a letterpress book of 50 Brexit lies so the touch and materiality of the printed book could be compared with the same content on a website: thetruthwall.org. This book is now in the library at the University of Cambridge.
I wrote a polemic newspaper Changing Times in the style of the Pamphleteers, the radical letterpress printers. The paper explores bias in the UK popular press and considers issues such as discourse, racism, accountability and standards of reporting.
If you wish to read it, you can download a PDF here.
I also made a conceptual collage to create a parallel reality of the way I think the Brexit process has been driven by an ideology which disguises itself as democracy. Using letterpress as performance, I interviewed people about Brexit then shredded their views, then cut and paste the shredded words onto a digitally printed image of Article 50—a metaphor for the way the Government is ignoring the growing protest to Brexit. This work is now part of the Plymouth College of Art collection.
There is also a poster using the words of the distinguished philosopher and journalist Walter Lippmann who wrote in 1920: “There can be no liberty for a community which cannot detect lies.”
Writing nearly a century ago, Lippmann maintained that a society needs ‘pure’ unbiased information for the proper running of democracy, an argument I agree with.
Truth and the Digital Age, Ocean Studios 2017
RE:WORK, Tate Exchange 2018
MA RESEARCH, SEPTEMBER 2018
PLYMOUTH ART WEEKENDER 2019
Kiss & Bite Letterpress
Touch is Truth
The theme of my practice and research is that the haptic experience of letterpress enables a better engagement with language. Touch is the primary sense and is crucial in human processes for testing and expressing reality and meaning.
Although digital communications offer great benefits, they may also afford a detrimental effect on the use of language.
Research has shown children who use only digital communications can lack critical engagement of language. Other issues such as a cut and paste culture encourage plagiarism and poor standards.