Patty Smith & Claire Fouquet: Without Borders

January 30, 2017 by

A shadowy skyline looms in the stack of long, double-sided prints Patty Smith and Claire Fouquet have pulled. As if we were driving into a new city for the first time, strange buildings fade into a hazy sky and skip around broken terrain. When these prints are cut and folded into Patty and Claire’s book, On the Other Side, we find this view no less mysterious when punctuated with creases of an accordion binding.

Born of an ongoing collaboration between an animator and printmaker, On the Other Side is not a book of compromise, but another step as both Artists’ Book Grant Residents forge ahead in their shared practice. In the silkscreen studio, with brief excursions to the Chandler & Price press, Claire and Patty hold a dual conversation about political and personal boundaries. First: what systems in place prohibit movement and growth? Then, how do we prevent ourselves from taking new leaps?

“Our work is about overcoming barriers, laying down roots, and migrating to new places. What did you leave behind?” Patty says.

“We began by addressing emigration as an issue,” Claire adds, “but our question has a psychological side: how do you move forward and expand your vision of the world?”

The first side of the screen print, made with the help of Molly Berkson, lists the reservations the reader may have of the crossing either type of barrier, while the other side lists the joys found, psychological or cultural. Printed in blues, silver, and whites, the cityscape comes from a monoprint the pair made that they then scanned and edited digitally, sending the file back and forth before their residency.

This monoprint comes from two projects that began an ocean apart, in Philadelphia and France, responding to two separate waves of immigration reform. In 2007, Patty listened to NPR’s coverage of the national intentions to build a wall between Texas and Mexico on her daily communte. As she imagined how this controversial structure would look, it took form in a series of sketches. In France, Claire protested new immigration policy both socially and in her studio, basing animations on narratives of erasure, identity, and humanity.

“When we started, we were both responding to immigration issues and have since expanded. Then, immigration issues were important but not at the scale they are now,” says Patty. “Today, immigration and emigration are daily conversations on the news, and it’s hard to get away from the subject. Even when we address the psychological layer of our work, it’s something we face every day.”

Patty and Claire met at the University of the Arts, where Patty is professor and Claire joined as for a semester-long exchange in 2009. Realizing their common interests, they began a series of monoprints illustrating physical borders. The blending of their two styles led to imagery of cityscapes and geology, moving between the abstract mark and representational barriers. These monoprints turned into an interdisciplinary practice, Crowds and Barriers, and expanded the project across the boundaries of animation, performance, and book.

Sustaining this collaboration is not without their own hurdles. “English is not my background, and we think differently. Sometimes there is misunderstanding, distance, and you’re working in a field that is not your expertise,” Claire explains. While distance has been an obstacle, it has also worked to their advantage. Along with their WSW residency, they were artists-in-residence in Ireland and exhibited in France, Philadelphia, and New York.

With more exhibitions planned, Crowds and Barriers has no intention of ending as Claire and Patty perfect their method of working across borders and remotely. As they continue their collaboration, both artists are careful to keep their distinct voices in the dialogue. Claire finds herself coming back to political statements responding to contemporary news, while Patty, whose personal work often contemplates inner conflict, suggests leaving their book with a timeless message of doubt and bravery.

Mid-printing, Patty points out that many people’s ancestors, including her own, once faced the anxiety, excitement, and uncertainty of emigration, yet persisted and found a new life on the other side. She and Claire challenge readers to reflect on this courage as they follow the pages of On the Other Side, where they may find new and unexpected desire for the unknown.

Patty Smith is a book artist and printmaker based in Philadelphia. She is Professor of Art and Printmaking Coordinator at University of the Arts. Claire Fouquet is an animator, watercolor painter, and printmaker based in France, where she is on faculty at EESI. Find more images from their residency on our Flickr!