Monkey business during lockdown for Fen Ditton Gallery’s printmaker exhibition
A printmakers’ exhibition at Fen Ditton Gallery has thrown some unusual themes into the mix, with the overall winner being a take on the lockdown experience by Stefan Tiburcio with his woodcut ‘Coronavirus, Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’.
He faced stiff competition. With exhibitions few and far between, 550 printmakers sent their work in to the Contemporary Printmaking Prize which is being funded and run by the village gallery on the High Street. Mother and daughter team Hannah Munby and Lotte Attwood, who celebrate their the gallery’s third anniversary on May 16, were delighted with the interest in the inaugural competition, which offered a prize of £500 plus promotion across the gallery networks for the winner.
“Artists from Lands’ End to the Highlands of Scotland sent in their work,” says Hannah. “They included one piece by Gemma Thompson who is lead guitarist for The Savages.”
From the 550 submissions, 40 artists were shortlisted by a trio of judges – sculptor and draughtsman Nigel Hall, printmaker and collage artist Rebecca Jewell, and the curator of paintings, drawings and prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Elenor Ling.
The judges said of the winning entry, which shows a bed-ridden man surrounded by the detritus of a life lived in a single room, that it “speaks to our restless physical and mental states due to staying inside during the Covid-19 lockdowns”.
Of particular interest about this work is that Stefan had never made a woodcut before the pandemic. He said: “I haven’t really had much experience in printmaking, but it was during the lockdown that I really tried something new and fell in love with it… I think it was that inexperience of not knowing what I was doing that allowed me to explore what printmaking is to me.”
One of the other unusual exhibits currently in Fen Ditton Gallery is ‘Chimperial’ by David Edward – an artistic look at the Infinite Monkey Theorem.
The theorem says that, given enough time, even a monkey will come up with a Shakespeare play or sonnet hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard. It was first described by French mathematician Émile Borel in 1913.
“The Infinite Monkey Theorem is something I learned about at school and has always fascinated me,” says David. “It states that a monkey hitting random keys on a keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type the Complete Works of Shakespeare, or any given text. The idea has become part of popular culture in recent years; it’s been referenced by the Simpsons, the Ricky Gervais Show, Doctor Who... there’s even a BBC podcast called the Infinite Monkey Cage.
“My variation on the theory states that there is a non-zero chance that a chimp pressing keys randomly on a typewriter will create a portrait of himself using the words of Shakespeare.”
It wasn’t until last year that David, an architect, had the chance to create the portrait himself, and entered it for the inaugural Contemporary Print Making Prize at Fen Ditton Gallery.
“It seems David bought the typewriter last year for his wedding invitations,” says Hannah. “But that didn’t happen because of the pandemic so he wondered if a monkey could have produced an image of a chimp.”
There were trials and tribulations as David started typing out Shakespeare’s sonnets on the paper, juggling the text into the features of a chimp.
“Once I had restored the typewriter to working condition,” he says. “I decided to create artwork to explore some ideas that I’ve collected in my bedside notebook over the past couple of years. The typewriter was a bit temperamental. The most frustrating moment was when I was about four hours into the typing process and two letters got printed on top of one another. The resulting symbol was so dark and obvious that I had no choice but to restart the whole piece. There’s no undo button!”
The epic took some practice, but eventually he cracked it, with only a small fraction of the Bard’s sonnets needed for the resulting portrait.
“I don’t know exactly how long I spent in total,” he says, “but I achieved the perfect run with just over six hours of constant typing. I worked out that extending the image to include the entire works of Shakespeare would require at least 2,000 more hours!”
Hannah is delighted that the show, which closes on May 16, has been such a success.
“It’s been such a pleasure to view art, in person, and we have so far received a fantastic response to the exhibition – and this new prize is entirely self-funded,” she says.
The exhibition opened on April 16, and ends on Sunday (May 16) – the day Fen Ditton Gallery celebrates its third anniversary, after the ‘Lynne Strover Gallery’ era, 1993-2018.
“We’ve tried to reopen in a different way,” Hannah says, “with different mediums, including glass, ceramics and print.”
Lotte Attwood added: “At long last we can open the gallery again. We’ve really missed have visitors and holding physical exhibitions.