The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

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DEC 19-JAN 20 Issue
Critics Page

Is there such a thing as distance?

Martha Tuttle, <em>Water / Skin</em>, 2017. Relief and digital printing on hand assembled paper, 36 1/2 x 25 inches. Courtesy ULAE.
Martha Tuttle, Water / Skin, 2017. Relief and digital printing on hand assembled paper, 36 1/2 x 25 inches. Courtesy ULAE.

I read a few months ago

that the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales of Miletus believed that our

world had emerged from mud, and back to mud it would return. The seashells he had seen

embedded in the quarries around Syracuse were his evidence—how could fossilized marine life

have gotten so buried if geological matter had always been a solid? For Thales, our moment of

perceived structural stability was just that—a crest of a wave before we plunge again into


depths of change.

When I google “syracuse quarry”, what comes up are not in fact images of Greece, but

the Skytop Quarry in Syracuse, N.Y.—a now defunct, 107 year old quarry now mostly used as a

recreation area/ graffiti surface for teenagers. We only know of Thales from fragments and citations anyway,

so this holds many layers of reproduction.

I have been thinking of

printing photographs of seashells onto dried earth—a surface that simultaneously

sheds information while it gains it, the erosion of image disseminating into dust, across

and into—like shaky fossils experiencing disintegration and atomic rebirth at the same time.

Perhaps the recent quantum zeitgeist (computers, poetics, aspects of speculative realism) is actually our cultural/animal (?) instincts saying we need to find a way to grow outside of traditional delineation of time, space, or bound matter. The possibilities of entanglement for instance are technologically and scientifically vast, yes, but are also relevant because they offer models of thought that challenge boundaries throughout cultural and political exchange. To put it simply, for survival’s sake, we are seriously considering scientific and spiritual vastness.

I think printmaking can also function as a productively confusing, conflating, re-organizing gesture, in an individual artistic practice and hopefully in this larger cultural conversation. A print can be

by an individual artist and collaborative at the same time. A plate can be printed, and then

printed again centuries later. A process that privileges the human hand as much as a monoprint

might also bring in the agential autonomy of ink, the press, the motion of a wheel. A

Rembrandt etching, the zines circulating in the Hong Kong protests, and a 3D print of electronic

tattoos can all be considered as part of the same macro medium.

And in how print adapts to new technologies while maintaining allegiance to old ones, it is always growing.

Artists who work within the restrictions of

print and make works full of new energy—I think that can be the mark of a really, really good

artist. It is not if this … than, but if this… than ∞, or at least some quality of unboundedness.

I’m thinking of pretty much all of Rauschenberg,


the blending of structure and cosmic image in Betye Saar’s assemblages that opened up the MOMA, the scale of the collagraphs of Belkis Ayón,

and also the prints of Marie Lorenz documenting tidal debris, and the material experiments of Polke, and the heartbreaking precision of

Robert Gober’s Monument Valley::: Is anyone still as hung up on that Hercules Segers show as I am?

Whether my mud print is an interesting idea or not, it stays with me as a way to remember that a surface, an image, and the point of transfer are not constants. It’s not necessary to “understand” quantum implications (no one does) in order to participate in the cultural questioning of categories which we have long accepted as indisputable.

I think constantly of

my favorite artwork that I own, which is a digital print by Ana María Gómez López of when she laid flat for several weeks while growing

a tiny plant 🌱

🌱 in her eye👁️

but then again,

I have the feeling she understands more than most.


The infinity symbol sheet is courtesy Logo vector created by freepik -


Martha Tuttle

is an artist working between the mediums of textile and painting. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues