Prix de Print No. 13: Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] by Sumi Perera

  • Sumi Perera, Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] (2014)

  • Etching, aquatint and stitching, 46 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches. Edition of 3. Printed and published by the artist, SuPerPress Editions, Redhill, Surrey. $1,050.

Sumi Perera, Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] (i) (left) and (ii) (right)(2014).

The disciplines of printmaking and architecture have been bound together nearly since the invention of movable type, when woodcuts were utilized by publishers as a way to illustrate architectural treatises such as the 1511 printing of Vitruvius’s De architectura or Sebastiano Serlio’s General Rules of Architecture (1537). Contemporary artist Sumi Perera’s interest is in paper architecture—drawings of theoretical structures not necessarily intended to be built. There is a long tradition of capricci, architectural fantasies, in printmaking. The master of this realm, of course, was Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), whom Perera credits as an inspiration. Piranesi’s imagined dungeons, Carceri d’invenzione (1749–50; 1761), present shadowy, labyrinthine interiors that refer to Baroque stage design and architectural theory. The overlapping elements, heightened contrast and skewed planar orientation of Perera’s stitched etching Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] produce the same sense of disorientation as the Carceri, and I was immediately drawn in.

As a student in Sri Lanka, Perera decided against a career in architecture, focusing instead on medicine, but architectural aspirations are visible in the art she has produced over the past decade. In prints, artist’s books and textiles she has addressed the mediation between techniques, ideas of appropriation, and the shift from the second to the third dimension.

Sumi Perera, detail from Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] (i)  (2014).

Sumi Perera, detail from Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] (i) (2014).

Rebuilding the Unbuilt [Y Block] is part of an eponymous series of prints whose armature derives from a drawing of the unrealized Expo Tower designed for Montreal’s Expo 67 by Archigram member Peter Cook. The Archigram collective, active 1961–74, strove to expand the boundaries of architecture through their designs and writings. For his Expo Tower, Cook borrowed heavily from Kiyonori Kikutake’s visionary floating metropolis of 1958, Marine City; in return, Kikutake later incorporated elements of Cook’s design in the tower he built for the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970. This exchange of ideas resonated with Perera’s interests in architecture and appropriation.

In what she calls her “emily dickinson/joseph cornell/italo calvino method,” Perera builds a world from borrowed objects, highlighting the gap between image and reality with a foundational image that is itself a fantasy. For this print she began by taking a photograph of a page from Archigram displayed on her computer screen. She frequently takes photographs of television and computer screens with various devices: “mobile phone, an old compact digital camera, reasonably good quality Digital SLR camera, etc.” In doing so she makes a point of retaining the moiré patterns and other visual evidence of these transitions. She then printed out and cut up the photograph, stacking segments and joining them together in different permutations. The resulting collaged construction formed the basic image on the etching plate, to which the artist added aquatint. She also extended selected beams with stitched and drawn lines suggesting further connections.

Finally, Perera uses the prints in this series as elements in larger installations, joining them along the vertical and horizontal axes to mirror one another, the composition repeating upon itself to create larger formations. From paper an edifice emerges.

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