Can printmaking be an act of performative research and a site for environmental activism?
Taking inspiration from the traditional Japanese printmaking art of Suminagashi (floating ink) and Gyotaku (fish impression), sTo uses his own techniques to print directly off of the surface of polluted urban waterways and found detritus with paper, canvas, fabrics and wood. The end results are ghostly imprints, at once delicate, beautiful, and haunting. These works allude to their decorative origins while documenting environmental injustice and the urgency for water protection in the face of the climate crisis. sTo’s prints align themselves in a long tradition that links printmaking and activism.
Working from a rowboat, sTo creates his “tsunaminagashi” prints. photograph by Walter Wlodarczyk
Suminagashi or “floating ink,” is a paper marbling process that originated in Japan by Shinto monks in the 12th century. This method produces mono prints by painting patterns directly onto the surface of water with ink, laying down a piece of paper, and removing after a few seconds. In sTo’s adaptation, he prints directly off of the surface of polluted waterways with paper and fabric, often on a rowboat or from the shore. These prints are endowed with the realness of their anthropogenic origins and captures the state of the water in which they were created.
Tsunaminagashi : The End Papers Series (2015 – present)
Site-specific marbled mono prints on paper with pollutants, bacteria, algae blooms, run off, and other natural and man-made debris found in waterways around the world from New York to Vietnam.
Gyotaku is a printing practice that dates back to the mid-1800s and utilizes a fish’s actual body as a relief printing block. The fish is inked with sumi ink and then paper is laid on it, gently rubbed and then slowly removed to create a mono print. Alternatively, sTo has been fishing out styrofoam and other detritus from waterways worldwide and creates gyotaku prints with them on paper and scroll-like rolls of fabric. The transfer of images in this imprint can lend themselves to a kind of modern hieroglyphics of our existence. Are these objects part of a legacy that we want to leave behind? The imprints are akin to abstract shadows, stamps, fossils, fingerprints, and traces of our consumption. By using actual pollution, bacteria and waste as art materials, sTo intimately documents our times with the by-products of our existence.
Impression Index Series (2019 – present)
Paper, sumi ink, found detritus from various waterways, gyotaku method
Reclamation Series (2015- present)
North Vietnamese artists were creating colorful Communist propaganda posters with an urgency and sometimes even “in the field” during the Vietnam War. Art supplies could be scarce and so they would occasionally need to use the backs other drawings. These works offer an underseen side of the War for many Americans and depict many women soldiers on the front lines. sTo, enamored with these posters, began collecting many of the reproductions on rice paper from during a trip to Hanoi. He then began printing on top of them with his paper marbling technique using water and oil paint, a process that would erase some of the original image and merge new energetic patterns with what was left. These ‘collaborations’ with the original artworks unsettles the intent of the propaganda while speaking to the loss of memory and the politics of storytelling throughout history.
Oil paint, enamel, spray paint, water and detritus on Vietnamese Communist Propaganda Posters
Tsunaminagashi Series (2014 – present)
Using inflatable swimming pools, buckets, pans, and other vessels that hold water, sTo creates mono prints with a variety of materials including oil paint, enamel, spray paint, dirt and detritus on paper, wood and canvas. Renouncing the fussiness of typical paper marbling, sTo instead invites a natural collaboration with the water by allowing for patterns to emerge over extended periods of time. The prints imbue both the colorful chaos and the calmness of his process, much like the sea itself.