On the morning of the 1st March, during ARCO 2019, the American photographer and artist Mariana Cook presented her new series at a private viewing hosted by Factum Arte: 13 black-and-white images inspired by the fascinating variety of patterns and textures unintentionally thrust upon the tools and objects in use throughout Factum's workshop, ranging from a painter's vest, cast salt, and a butcher's knife.
These works were made while Mariana Cook was in residency in the workshop, where she was infused by the dynamic relationship between people and tools. By isolating functional objects from their context, Cook develops thought-provoking subjects.
The resulting prints were formed through aquatinted copper plates being printed upon 300 gsm Somerset Satin paper with Charbonnel etching ink, producing the deep black in each print. The shape of the object, untouched by the inked plate, was then coated with clear gelatin over which a digital pigment print was precisely registered on Factum Arte's flatbed printer. A UV resistant varnish was applied to the digitally printed elements in order to enhance the difference between the black of the background and the tonal subtlety of the 'fetishes', adding a physical dimension to the images.
The copper plate being prepared. © Oak Taylor Smith
© Oak Taylor Smith
Prints being sprayed with varnish. © Oak Taylor Smith
Print, held into place with weights, being sprayed with varnish. © Oak Taylor Smith
The journey of one print - first as a copper plate. © Oak Taylor Smith
Secondly, the Somerset Satin paper is carefully coated with clear gelatin. © Oak Taylor Smith
The printed result is then prepared to be sprayed with the UV resistant varnish. © Oak Taylor Smith
Protective layer being peeled off following the varnish spray. © Oak Taylor Smith
The results being inspected. © Oak Taylor Smith
For over 40 years, Mariana has worked exclusively with silver gelatin process. Now, inspired by Factum’s exploratory and playful spirit, she is pushing the boundaries of printmaking. The 'Factum Fetishes' prints hover between the material impact of aquatint and the soft spray of pigment using piezo technology, producing images with the physical presence of a 3D object. Their innovative beauty results from the creative combination of techniques and materials that are being perfected by the multi-talented team at Factum Arte.
'Jordi García Pons at Factum always wears this vest in winter when he prepares gesso to coat aluminium, canvas, and paper. Work clothes take on the character of their wearer, showing evidence of the work done and the hand doing it.'
'A simple profile can produce beautifully complex shapes in 3D. This constructed wooden shape was used to create a form in wet plaster before it was turned into wax and then cast in bronze. Its simplicity is in direct conversation with the works of Kurt Schwitters. The only remaining Merz building, the Schwittershytte on the island of Hjertøya in Norway, was in poor condition when it was recorded by Factum Arte in 2009. The plaster-coated assemblages featured in the building feel as functional and worn as this profile.'
Bucket and Glass Microspheres.
'Plastic buckets used for mixing plaster are intentionally flexible to help with cleaning. When the mixing bucket becomes a receptacle for the glass microspheres that are used to sandblast, a poetry emerges from the scraped plaster surface, pristine spheres, and slumped black plastic.'
'This brush was used to clean resin material from a wooden sand casting box. A mixture of resin and sand is compacted into the box, surrounding the object. When the mixture has hardened, the box’s detachable wooden sides are removed, the mould is opened and the positive removed. Coagulated clusters of resin and sand are caught in the brush’s bristles. Some tools gain a patina over time; others acquire their character when misused. Once past its functional life, this cheap brush is simply discarded.'
'In an age of health and safety considerations, the use of rubber, cloth, and protective gloves is a common feature of all workshops. James Nasmyth, the engineer, entrepreneur, and inventor of the steam hammer was not a fan of gloves. He wrote: “The eyes and the fingers, the bare fingers, are the two principal inlets to sound practical instruction. I have no faith in young engineers who are addicted to wearing gloves”.'
'In the paint-chamber, many different objects have been painted on this simple strip of wood. The last objects that were painted on this board were two small soldiers made for the Saudi artist Manal Al Dowayan. Their circular bases have left clearly defined traces, while the spray gun has deposited a soft-edged ghosting of paint around the protected area.'
'After heating gelatin and gesso for many years, a standard electric hot plate takes on a totally different character. Rabbit-skin glue, calcium carbonate (CaCO3), dust, soap, and other materials form a new conglomerate on the enamel surface. When isolated from its working environment, the abstract shape and organically accumulated matter on the plate’s surface feel like the artefacts of an electric age.'
'Electrical tools don’t tend to have as much character as manual ones, but their by-products can stimulate a sense of intrigue and wonder. Used grinding pads become objects of curiosity in their own right as they are changed by the process of grinding, sanding, and polishing diverse materials.'
'Electro-forming and electro-plating require the use of a positively charged metal rod, an anode, placed in a liquid solution. The copper or other metal in the solution forms as a solid on the anode, accumulating in coral-like growths. At a certain point the anode ceases to function and is discarded. Sacrificial anodes and witness marks are part of the alchemical world of transformation and mediation.'
'There have been interesting photographic anthologies of different painters’ palettes—Monet and Van Gogh, for example, are instantly recognizable by theirs. This plastic palette has a hole that cannot fit a thumb but is useful for brushes or a water container. The retouching acrylics used in Factum’s printing department dry quickly, producing recognizable patterns of dried paint and liquid residues.'
'This knife was forged by a blacksmith in the north of Spain and is typical of those used by butchers in the region. At Factum it is used to clean and prepare moulds. The way each artisan’s tools change with use is very personal.'
'A sheet of composite chipboard was used to paint various parts of the facsimile of the Table of Teschen. Silhouettes of oval and rectangular shapes are evident. The ovals were produced during the gesso coating of aluminium pieces, which were used to recreate the Meissen porcelain medallions that adorn the top of the table. The rectangles were formed by the reproduction of the semi-precious stones on the table’s legs. The original table was made for the Marquis de Breteuil in 1780 and is now in the Musée du Louvre. Factum was commissioned to replicate Johann Christian Neuber’s masterpiece so that a copy could remain at the Château de Breteuil.'
'For several years Factum and the foundries it works with have been experimenting with casting salt. During the casting process the mould requires a collar to prevent spillage when molten material is poured from the crucible. This particular object is a by-product shaped by the collar of the mould that needed to be separated from the cast form. Salt is not a normal casting material, but in an age of water shortages, desalination, and rising sea levels, salt is a material that needs to be revisited. It becomes totally liquid at about 800 Celsius and does not become a gas until reaching much higher temperatures. Salt is tricky to work with because the gases it emits are toxic.'
Words by Mariana Cook.