Prix de Print No. 28: Guardian by
by Michael Woolworth, from Volume 7, Number 6
A mysterious cyclopean eye stares out from the center of a cloudy translucent circle, surrounded by a rastered blur. Encountering Eszter Sziksz’s simple, melancholy image, screenprinted on ice, I was fascinated by its combination of power and fragility, and by her masterful use of ephemeral materials to reflect poetically on memory and mortality.
Since founding my atelier in Paris more than 30 years ago, printmaking has taken me to crazy and unexpected places. Using only 19th-century hand presses, I try to push complex, labor-intensive traditional methods to their limits, creating hybrid, often irreverent techniques. We have printed on unorthodox surfaces—plastic, wax, sandpaper, gold leaf, 90 square feet of plaster blocks—I have seen other prints on rubber, and know of John Cage’s perishable editions on sheets made of pressed edible mushrooms. But I had never before seen prints on ice.
Over the past seven years, the Hungarian-born Sziksz, an adjunct faculty member at the Memphis College of Art, has produced a magical body of work by screenprinting images in black ink onto ice, leftover bits of soap, sugar cubes and the delicate interior of eggshells. Her images explore the materials’ intrinsic fleeting qualities and their poetic associations. They haunt the imagination.
Sziksz studied printmaking at the Obudai Muveszeti Szakiskola School of Arts in Budapest and obtained a BA from the University of Eötvös Loránd there before moving to the United States, earning her MFA in printmaking at the Memphis College of Art in 2010. That same year, while visiting relatives in Hungary and glancing through her grandmother’s snapshots, she came up with the idea of using ice to capture memory: “I thought that if I printed these family pictures on ice and let them melt, I could demonstrate the passing of time.”
Her portraits of her ancestors and children, she explains, are “identities as an extension of myself, the past and future of my family cycle, aiming to show an invisible human nature.” Inspired by the writings of François Soulages and Roland Barthes on photography, loss and temporality, Sziksz explains that for her, “Time is the greatest mystery in the world. We cannot see it or touch it but we still somehow feel it…The fear of fate, of disappearance, is always in me.”
With banal items from her kitchen such as plastic cups and glass bowls, she makes ice in softly rounded shapes, then uses a hot iron to obtain an impeccably flat printing surface. Photographic portraits are transferred to the mesh of the printing screen, where they enter the first stage of distortion or decomposition. Then the image is printed, the water-soluble ink freezing and sticking to the ice. But the work is not complete until the ice begins to melt, causing the ink to dissolve, darken and fade away, enhancing the images’ beauty.
Sziksz’s prints evoked for me the work of the Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz, such as his self-portrait in charcoal dust floating on water, which dissolves as the water drained from the sink. As it turns out, Sziksz is a fan, and for her as for Muñoz, recording the works’ transformation and disintegration is an integral part of its production. In “Edging Forward, New Prints Winter 2018” at IPCNY in New York, she showed both a photograph of the melting artwork and a looped video in which it goes from solid to water to solid again. At the exhibition opening she also presented an unusual “edition” of ten prints: every 15 minutes or so, when the work had dissolved into an inky puddle on its pedestal, she replaced it with another. “The fridge was on the 12th floor of the building but the gallery was on the fifth, so we had to carry each print in a cooler surrounded by ice cubes. It looked as if someone was transporting a donated organ,” she recalls.
She has also practiced ice printing on a large scale. The ephemeral IceHotel, located on a riverbank in northern Sweden, invited her to create an installation in 2013; working with crystal-clear ice blocks hulled from the local Torne River, she created a suite whose walls, covered with screenprinted ice discs backlit with LEDs, glowed like stained-glass windows. Invited back in 2016, she fashioned portrait prints on two layers of ice blocks.
As a printmaker, I have learned to embrace and exploit accidents, and I love the inherent unpredictability of her work, which is vulnerable to fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and atmosphere. I generally try to make printed matter that lasts, at least during our lifetimes (if not longer). But Sziksz’s fragile images upend this ideal, redefining printmaking as a metaphor for memory and the way it fades over time. Her work brought to mind Jacques Prévert’s poem “Page d’écriture,” in which a schoolboy, distracted from his math lesson by the song of a lyrebird, starts to daydream, until the classroom and everything around him seem to dissolve:
And windowpanes revert to sand
Ink reverts to water
Desks revert to trees
Chalk reverts to cliffs
The quill pen reverts to a bird.
artist talk at IPCNY at the opening reception of New Prints 2018/Winter. Behind her, bottom to top: print on ice (on the pedestal), video of it melting, screenprint of a photograph of the ice block.
︎printing the ice before the show at the 12th floor, ︎interns helping to transport the iceprints in a cooler between floors during the opening ︎iceprints in the freezer at the 12th floor of the buliding