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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

Letterpress experiment claims exhibit at DeVos

A jumble of smeared colors, block letters and words from different languages burst from a printed page with layers upon inky layers of meaning, abstraction and tradition infractions.

re-Letterpress.Artist.264“Correlation Matrix” by artists Vida Sacic and David Wolske is the latest exhibition at the DeVos Art Museum on campus which depicts art that is the future of letterpress. The exhibit began Aug. 22 and continues through Nov. 6.

At 6:30 p.m on Thursday, Sept. 8, visiting artist Sacic will appear at the Artist’s Talk in the Art and Design Building to discuss her work.

“Correlation Matrix” features artworks that contain heavy elements of letterpress, which is a traditional ink printing press using wood or metal type letters—a medium many consider to be old-fashioned but an image that artists such as Wolske and Sacic hope to change.

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One of the current series at DeVos is Sacic’s “Electric Biology.” The artwork tells a deeply personal narrative based on Sacic’s experience as a cancer survivor. In 2007 Sacic learned she had a benign tumor in her brain and had to have it surgically removed.

“It was something I hadn’t made a lot of work about,” Sacic explained. “I wanted to explore the emotions. I was shocked how I had carried this thing within me not knowing it, and it was traumatic to get it out.”

Sacic described how the experience had an effect on her artistic process.

“The whole project was charged,” she said. “I put that energy into the prints. It was a crazy combination of light flickers onto paper. It was good to get it out. I can be like, ‘Oh yeah, that happened.’ And now it exists as a kind of visual proof.”

As opposed to traditional letterpress, Sacic called her style a “tongue-in-cheek” approach.

“In addition to wood and metal type, I use handmade plates,” she said. “The plates are made out of cardboard and duct tape. So it’s the juxtaposition of precise and imprecise. It’s wonderful and interesting. Letterpress is [traditionally] a very precise medium, but I’m really dynamic. I print fast, the exact opposite of how letterpress was done—slow and meticulous.”

“The traditional is really crucial and interesting; but to subvert that, it was really fun for me. Using duct tape opposed to metal type, there’s a sacrilegious element, I think.” Sacic spoke on the joys of her art form.

“The beauty of the letterpress is it’s your world,” she said. “A lot of people who work with words these days work on the screen. But letterpress artists work with their hands, feeling the paper and the blocks of type. Most who fall in love with letterpress love the sound of the press and the smell of the ink.”

Vida Sacic was born in Croatia and came to the Midwest as a high school exchange student. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Marian College in Indianapolis, then worked in advertising for a while before joining the faculty at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she earned her master’s of fine arts in graphic design. She is currently an art professor at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

Upon her visit, Sacic will also meet with a typography class.

“I find it exciting the way these artists are using a process a lot of people think is outdated, but they’re using it for artistic expression which is still really relevant to our culture,” said Melissa Alan, director and curator of the DeVos Art Museum. Shravan Rajagopal, a former NMU art professor with a background in letterpress, applied for a grant in 2010 and brought letterpress equipment here to Northern.

Later, the idea for “Correlation Matrix” began with Rajagopal, Alan said.

“Shravan said, ‘Hey we should have a show with letterpress to get students excited about using the letterpress facilities on campus,’” Alan said.

“I love when faculty approach me with ideas for shows that’ll be relevant to their students.”

Traditionally, letterpress was a grid-based system, neatly arranged to create level lines of easily-read text.

But the approach of artists Sacic and Wolske is avant-garde and abstract. They defy grids and place letters on top of letters, allowing the ink colors to mix and run and meanings to melt into shades of subjectivity.

“[Sacic] is using the press in a really experimental way,” said Emily Lanctot, collections and outreach curator at DeVos Art Museum. “She’s deviating from that [grid-based] system to communicate messages about mythology and personal narrative, the body and the body of text—she uses that double meaning. She’s using language and visual language in a synergistic way.”

As curator, Lanctot leads museum tours, enthusiastically illuminating every piece of art.

“Everybody walks into the exhibit blown away,” Lanctot said. “The work is different but familiar at the same time, and it’s interesting to see. The students are so excited to see it all, David’s and Vida’s work, and how it connects and departs from the history of it all.”

The museum also features collections from Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and Hatch Show Print, two notable names throughout the decades, to provide some historical context behind the art of letterpress.

“It’s a great opportunity to have [Sacic] here,” Lanctot said. “To see her work and see it in context with the history of letterpress, it allows students to have a deeper understanding.”

Lanctot said Artist Talks are so important for the students and she looks forward to Sacic’s visit to Northern.

“The talks allow [students] to have a face-to-face with artists in the field and allows them to engage with another artist’s process and a new way of working,” Lanctot said. “They’re a chance to network with artists not from here and to explore opportunities.”

Collaborative artist David Wolske, will also give an Artist’s Talk at 6:30 p.m on Oct. 13. in the Art and Design Building.

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