Matrices: The Social Life of Paper, Print, and Art


For the 2018 joint conference between the American Printing History Association and Friends of Dard Hunter in Iowa City under the theme “Matrices: The Social Life of Paper, Print, and Art”, Sonia Farmer conducted a presentation and also co-curated the student exhibition of work in the K. K. Merker Gallery at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

APHA FDH 2018 presentation resisting paradise

During a segment titled “Life on Mars?” Sonia presented her paper “Resisting Paradise: The Craftsman Press Archive”, which detailed her ongoing digital project to archive printing blocks from The Craftsman Press Archive and their Bahamian-driven narratives that actively resist the curated “paradise” narrative of Caribbean spaces. In her proposal, she shares:

“In his essay Mind in Matter, Jules David Prown provides an introduction to material culture as “the study through artifacts of the beliefs of a particular community or society of a given time.” Using letterpress printing cuts purchased from an historic printing press in my home country of The Bahamas, my long term digital archive project, The Craftsman Press Archive, examines when a letterpress printing object ceases to be what Prawn calls a “passive illustration” and moves into “the realm of artifact”. In building this project, I have asked myself the following questions: How do these artifacts function as objects of memory and resistance in a place of paradise? How do we archive those objects so that their data can be easily shared, retrieved, and expanded upon?”

call for works

As part of conference activities, Sonia co-curated a student exhibition at the University of Iowa Center for the Book K.K. Merker gallery with UICB students Colleen Lawrence and Suzanne Glemot under the theme “In-Progress: Scaffolding & SNAFUS.” The exhibition statement shared:

“Using the working definition of “matrices” as “something from which something else originates, develops, or takes form,” this exhibition aims to spotlight the often-invisible or discarded materials that contribute to final projects and editions. Featuring in-progress materials from sixteen University of Iowa Center for the Book students working with papermaking, printing, binding, and lettering in their own practices, this exhibition asks: How do the UICB students work through the process of creating final works, and how is that process honed in this academic space?”

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In order of appearance: Catherine Liu (Various Dye Tests, 2016-2018); Natasha Brandel (long stitch book with artist made paper and bone, 2018, & various handmade tools); Katerina Hazell (Golden Section & accompanying stencils and blocks, 2017); India Johnson (Belongings, 2018, seventeen pounds of books, bound in reproduction 19th-century bookcloth & accompanying materials); Anneka Baird (paper from milkweed and kombucha: a series of experiments); Krista Narciso (Certain, 2018, discarded printers proofs in link stitch binding); Colleen Lawrence (Digging, 2018, letterpress printing on Mohawk paper).

“To that end, “In-Progress” refers both to a state of creation but also a state of developing artistic practice; “Snafus” makes space for the inevitable moments of failure in planning and making that can yield new directions, or just exist as (hilarious, infuriating, humbling, character-building) moments; and “Scaffolding” refers both to a temporary structure to support the making of building, and also the support given to a student during a learning process which is tailored to their specific needs. The exhibition also asks us to examine the social and academic undercurrents of its working definition of matrices as “something from which something else originates, develops, or takes form”—within these objects of learning on display in this exhibition are evidence of the mentors who guide us, the matrices of our own development as artists in the field.”

In-Progress 3

Sonia’s piece, A True & Exact Remix was also included in the exhibition. It consists of discarded pages from her last artist book, A True & Exact History, an erasure of Richard Ligon’s 1657 historical guidebook, A True and Exact History of Barbadoes. While meticulously designed on a shifting grid, the letterpress registration process during edition printing—with its overlaps, intersections, and errors—provided a new understanding of the dispersive landscape and narrative she sought to create in the book, perhaps being closer to the true core of the thematic drive to disrupt cohesive colonial Caribbean history than the actual final 25 edition copies. Copy 26/25, it lives in a rejected box prototype for the final edition.

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