Typing pool at Kogarah library

Artist statement

In the mid-20th century, many women were employed as secretaries in ‘typing pools.’ Typing pools were large, open rooms located within offices, where rows of mainly young women used typewriters to transcribe dictated or handwritten letters and notes for professional (i.e., male) employees of a company.

‘Typing Pool’ is the name I have given to an interactive art project in which I thread a long loop of paper through multiple typewriters and invite people to type with me. For this version of the project, I have cut fragments of text out of copies of National Geographic magazine from the 1970s and 1980s. The aim is to transcribe this text onto the paper loop. Multiple people can type at once, and you can transcribe as many pieces of the text as you like. The loop will gradually fill with randomly juxtaposed text to create a found poem. Typing Pool uses obsolete materials from the mid-20th century to explore their hidden uses and potentials, and reimagines the typing pool as a space of experimentation and play.

Open the window; open the door

Artist statement

This work was made while I was artist in residence at Carss Park Artist Cottage in November–December 2019, using a variety of experimental printmaking techniques.

My work is influenced by the early Modernist avant garde (Russian Futurism, Dada); visual poetry and mail art movements (Fluxus); the Situationist International; zines and their associated subcultures; and the history of printmaking and typography.

The basis for most of my work is found text. I appropriate text from sources such as outdated books for children (early-learning encyclopedias, ‘look and learn’ books, obsolete textbooks), mid-20th century National Geographic magazines, and, occasionally, popular novels and works of non-fiction.

The writing in the source material I use is often characterised by a sense of adventure, exploration, and wide-eyed wonder about the world and humanity’s place in it. This style of writing is awe-inspiring, but also often the product of an unexamined settler-colonial viewpoint. Such source material also often contains outdated ideas about sex, gender, race, and class. By appropriating text from these sources, I can edit out the problematic elements and reclaim words and phrases that resonate with me – ones that carry a sense that the world, the future, and human relations are open to endless possibilities. I use chance as a technique to combine this appropriated text with graphic elements in order to make compositions on paper, forming randomised juxtapositions which suggest new meanings, and new ways of finding meaning in familiar, everyday materials.

Typing Pool and Open the window; open the door at Kogarah library

Typing Pool

I will be installing a version of my Typing Pool project at the Kogarah Library Exhibition Space for Uncontained Festival.

The festival runs at the following times:

Friday, 4 June: 4:30pm – 10:30pm
Saturday, 5 June: 2pm – 10:30pm
Sunday, 6 June: 2pm – 10:30pm

Typing Pool is an interactive artwork. For this version, I invite festival-goers to help transcribe found text onto a long piece of paper looped through three typewriters. I will be in attendance for an hour of each day of the festival, at these times:

Friday, 4 June: 6:30pm
Saturday, 5 June: 3:30pm
Sunday, 6 June: 3:30pm

Open the window; open the door

I also have work installed on the walls of the Kogarah Library exhibition space, an impromptu exhibition of work I made while artist in residence at Carss Park Artist Cottage in November – December 2019. This work can be viewed during regular Kogarah Library opening hours, and for the duration of the Uncontained festival.

Writing about work: 3. Three poems

Emma Davidson_Three poems_detail 2Emma Davidson_Three poems_detailEmma Davidson_Three poems

‘Three poems’ is a triptych of visual poems. Each poem consists of a couplet of found text that has been applied to the paper by solvent transfer (the technique of applying a solvent – xylene in this case – to the reverse side of a photocopy then burnishing it to transfer the toner onto another surface).

I limited myself to using as few materials as possible to complete this work. Each couplet of text is appropriated from an obsolete encyclopedia (or similarly out of date mid-20th century reference book).

The lines of text in the first poem (Stop and wonder/Into the distance) are linked by a graphic mark made by rotating a small, hand-carved, elbow-shaped rubber stamp back and forth across the page.

The second poem (tight-rope/walker) is bi-sected by a line created by tracing the nib of a fountain pen along a length of electronic typewriter ribbon, which was laid diagonally across the page.

The third couplet (Within/Worlds) is enclosed by a pattern created by stamping the paper with a small triangular piece of rubber. While making this work I imagined that the piece of rubber, pinched between my fingers, was a piece of lead type, and my arm was the typebar of a typewriter. 

“What still surprises and inspires me today: to turn blank paper into a printed page”.

– Wolfgang Weingart

Writing about work: 2. ‘Mass migrations, strange lodger’

Emma Davidson_Mass migrations, strange lodger

‘Mass migrations, strange lodger’ is a modular work, the basis of which is fifteen pieces of blank cardboard. I laid these out in a grid and glued on found images and found text. I then added graphic marks, using a variety of materials. These elements were all added to the composition quickly and randomly, in the manner of a visual ‘chance poem’. I then randomly reconfigured all of the pieces of cardboard so the edges no longer matched one other and the original composition was lost.

The images and texts were appropriated from children’s books about the ‘animal kingdom’, of the type which used to be ubiquitous in libraries but are now obsolete, or, you might say, extinct.

As an artist, my first motivation is simply to make. I am continually drawn back to my work by the sheer joy of being able to use my hands and my intelligence to manipulate objects and materials so that they say something new. This desire to make is not a trait artists have a monopoly on – MacKenzie Wark says it is a key part of our species being; just as it is, for example, a part of the species being of an Eastern Curlew to migrate from the Arctic circle to the east coast of Australia every year.

Every year the necessary migrations of animals, such as curlews and humans, are interrupted: interrupted by borders, by the arrangement of the surface of the earth into a composition that often doesn’t make much sense to anyone or anything.

The beauty of an abstract work or art is that it may ‘mean’ this; or something else; or nothing at all.

Four sections of this work, digitally altered, were published in issue 45 of The Lifted Brow. Here’s one of them:Illo draft page 4