Tooth and Nail

Grand Opening Exhibition Adelaide December 2011

Opening night; Tooth and Nail; 2011.

With their Grand Opening Exhibition, Tooth and Nail have entered the fold as the latest in Adelaide's recent flourishing of independent art spaces. FELTspace, Espionage Gallery, Format and Magazine Gallery are all squashed into Adelaide’s CBD forming a valuable network of safe houses that simply didn’t exist 3 years ago. As each space has etched out its own niche the others benefit from the strength in diversity that’s made Adelaide’s independent arts community more buoyant than ever.

So when a new space like Tooth and Nail starts up it is with the encouragement of the rest. But in most cases spaces don’t start without some extra help. "We have a generous benefactress" I’m told by Jake Holmes who, along with Cassie Alvey, started the space. “Each of us still has to pay our way to keep the space going but if it wasn’t for the help we’ve received the establishing costs might have been too much.”

With 16 artists-in-residence, Tooth and Nail is primarily a studio which sets it apart from other independent exhibition spaces. Located in a small, inner city warehouse the work spaces occupy one whole side of the building, opening onto a central area where floating walls are hung from the ceiling to create the exhibition space. More studios look down on the space from a mezzanine above. The overall effect is one space where work can be well-presented without losing its connection with the studio.

Open during office hours, the gallery often attracts 'walk ins’ on their lunch break. “At first they come in to see the work on the wall”, says Jake, “but then they’ll wander towards the studios. People are curious about the process and they’ll ask about things you thought were obvious. I’ve realised that when you’re always around other artists, it’s easy forget that the process of making art is something that’s hidden from most people.”
With around 10 artists working at any one time the space has a buzz that makes you want to stay. There’s also a diverse mix of practices that offers the kind of variety that made Blender Studios so special. But where The Blender has always had a leaning towards street artists, Tooth and Nail loves printers and their studio is kitted out accordingly. Two etching presses, four letterpresses, a photo polymer etching exposure unit and a screen-printing carousel all find homes at Tooth and Nail. But, oddly enough, there’s also a sound studio up the back.

Much of their printing equipment has been acquired through donations or at a reduced cost due to its commercial obsolescence. It seems that once you remove the commercial viability from any process of image creation, its artistic merits become more apparent. In this way, the printing processes that used cutting edge technology a hundred years ago are now imbued with an old world mystery that comes through in the work they produce. But it’s more than just nostalgia. It’s also the appeal of a nuanced, hands-on process where the aesthetic results are the product of physical acts that can’t be measured in digital units. In an age when almost every image we see has, at some point, passed through a computer, old methods and devices offer a chance to discover whether there are things worth communicating that can’t be reduced to binary code.

As technology surges ahead leaving a trail of outdated devices in its wake, some artists are happy to sift through the debris in search of forgotten treasure. Of course, this assigns the artists a very different role to that of the modern and post-modern eras. Tooth and Nail’s most recent acquisition of a treadle-operated platen letterpress was donated to the studio from a deceased estate. “When we explained who we were and what we were doing with the studio she (the donator) said we could just have it. She was about to have it all scrapped!” The press, which began its life at the Old Adelaide Goal, also came with three complete cabinets of hand-set type.

When such obviously valuable objects are so routinely cast aside it throws into question our notions of progress. While there’s a section of the community that’s sceptical about the cult of technology it seems the majority have already drunk the Kool-Aid. In time, scepticism will grow but for the time being, there are artistic enclaves like Tooth and Nail to foster an immunity to the world’s insane addiction to technological advancement. In this sense, the clunking beast that is a treadle-operated platen letterpress is more than just a tool, it’s also an embattled totem that wards off the cannibalistic spirits of the new technology. In its presence you feel awed, attracted and a little bit sad.

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