Press Print

fingerprintWhere it all began:
The initial idea for the Just Press Print exhibition was inspired some 17 years ago after I attended a print exhibition by a highly acclaimed American artist at a prestigious museum in the USA. The exhibition in question would also later resonate with my research (and teaching) activity around the collaborative studio production by promoting the act of making (that is often dispensed with in conventional exhibitions) through the presentation of proofing stages and matrix iterations.

It therefore appears to be very appropriate that the resulting Just Press Print exhibition should travel back to the country that led me to develop an iterative themed project in the first place. Similarly, the possibility to develop this format within a digital print context enables an audience to gain further insight about the trajectory of an idea and it’s making. The significance of revealing the contributing factors involved in creating a printed artwork provides an educational component for the exhibition, but the narrative can also be enlightening and surprising in offering insights into the true nature of creative endeavours. For example, if I were to say that seventeen years ago I was in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (whilst thinking I was in the Guggenheim) looking for a sculpture exhibition by Matthew Barney and then accidently wandered into a printmaking exhibition by Chuck Close (that I had no idea was on) offers a more accurate and confessional narrative (although somewhat embarrassing) as to how an idea can, in reality, develop.

Supporting material for Just Press Print
Supporting material for Just Press Print

Where we are now:
I think it goes without saying that I am extremely pleased that the Just Press Print exhibition will be traveling to the USA (next week), something that couldn’t have happened without the amazing people at MICA. The Maryland Institute College of Baltimore (with whom I have been collaborating on the touring show) will be the first venue for the exhibition. MICA has been incredibly supportive of the project from the initial proposal toward the development of the exhibition that will also be accompanied by a series of talks and workshops across their graphic arts programmes. I am therefore pleased to have been invited to MICA in February 2016 to work with thier graphic arts programmes on a weeklong residency that will coincide with the exhibition. Proceeding venues will include – Arizona State, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; Dept of Art & Art History, University of Utah; University of Wisconsin-Madison Art Department, School of Education; University of Texas at Austin.

The exhibition will also include a student exchange show between MICA and UWE students working across graphic arts disciplines such as Printmaking, Illustration and Graphic Design. The proposed student exchange brief is still under discussion but I can say that work selected/invited for the exchange will ask students to respond to a technologically informed scene (from a graphic art perspective) or perhaps to quote the writer, speaker, futurist and design instructor Bruce Sterling,

‘There truly are many forms of imagery nowadays that are modern, and unique to this period. We’re surrounded by systems, devices and machines generating heaps of raw graphic novelty’.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 11.08.05 copy
Example page for Working Proof: featuring Just Press Print pubication

I am also pleased to say that there will be a publication that will coincide with the exhibition; something that I hope will be the first of many. The publication entitled ‘Working Proof’ is something that I have previously discussed and its development is therefore seen as means to continue this line of inquiry within the graphic arts. However the first publication will support and catalogue the Just Press Print Exhibition and will subsequently be entitled ‘Working Proof: Featuring Just Press Print’. The first edition can be seen as an extension of my PhD research (the collaborative production and realisation of digital prints with artists) whereas the content will be generated from (more recent) collaborative projects undertaken through CFPR Editions – with artists such as; Stanley Donwood, Gordon Cheung, Andrew Super, Richard Falle and Carolyn Bunt to name but a few. Further insights will draw upon curated exhibitions at Northern Print, Impact 8 and Multiplied alongside funded research with REACT and published studio conversations with Cecilia Mandrile, Andrew Super in g&e and Prof Paul Coldwell in Porto Arte.

g&e publication
Porto Arte publication

The production of the publication will be produced as a newspaper (in keeping with the supporting printed material aesthetic in the exhibition) and whilst I continue to write, photograph and gather content – graphic designer Verity Lewis will be designing the layout and typography.

In case you want to know more about the JPP exhibition:
Just Press Print is an international exposition that highlights artistic planning, collaborative practices, and the
broadening possibilities for the graphic artefact in the digital age. Just Press Print includes published prints produced from collaborations between ten carefully selected artists and myself at the Centre for Fine Print Research. Prints are accompanied by sketches, correspondence, and draft editions that demonstrate the importance of the artist-master printer relationship, the iterations necessary to achieve the final print, and the archiving and recording process.

Supporting material for Just Press Print (Exhibited at Impact 8 Conference)
Supporting material for Just Press Print

The exhibition also explores the evolution of digital technology and its potential to influence established definitions and practices within the field of printmaking. The premise and title for the show was developed over the last three years – although the type of inquiry can be seen as an extension from my PhD (that centred upon practice led methods with artists producing inkjet prints). In this instance I wanted to begin exploring the broader production and realisation possibilities for the digitally mediated print and the resulting artefacts context within the contemporary printmaking. In early 2012 I submitted this idea as a proposal for an early career research grant (Funded by UWE) that was then funded allowing me to instigate a collaborative digital print studio model and develop a publishing studio within the University. The publishing studio is still running today and is situated within the Centre for Fine Print Research – and aptly named CFPR Editions. A large percentage of my projects with artists, research activity and art practice is informed by the digitally mediated print and subsequently the work produced through CFPR Editions has been instrumental in a large portion of the work in the Just Press Print Exhibition.


Supporting imagery for Just Press Print

The aim of the exhibition and residency is to engage the public with the possibilities of print in the digital age. By documenting in detail the physical working practices of the artists with whom I have collaborated the exhibition dispenses with conventional exhibition formats, displaying 2D and 3D digital prints along with sketches, notes, email correspondence and test proofs (bundled in bulldog clips that hang informally from the walls), thereby focusing on the evidence of the creative process rather than the often emphasized resulting outcome. The curatorial approach (through print editioning narratives) aims to increase understanding of digital print practices for artists, academics, students, teachers and the general public… so hopefully a wide range of people will come.

dis_oneMore to follow as we get closer to the MICA exhibtion in December 2015


Posting on Post-digital Printmaking

Print is Dead Series
Print is Dead Series

Recently been invited to exhibit my on going ‘Print is Dead series‘ (something I have written / talked about but never exhibited) in Poland at the Wrocław Academies Centre for Applied Arts and Innovation. The exhibition is in conjunction with the recent International Print Triennial in Krakow 2015  and will coincide with a symposium exploring the redefinition of the print matrix – so the exhibition title goes like this, ‘Post-digital printmaking: Redefinition of the concept of matrix’. The event has been curated by Prof. Aleksandra Janik from the Wrocław Academy and the exhibition is on show from 02/11/2015 – 19/11/2015.

Post-digital printmaking. Redefinition of the Concept of Matrix | NEON Gallery, Wroclaw

Screen shot 2016-02-28 at 15.05.06postdigital-plakat300The exhibition presents examples of printmaking works as well as the documentation of the creative process including, films and texts of artists who use formal and aesthetic values associated with printmaking – although in a less conventional manner. Artists have been selected for their approaches to printmaking and ‘uncharacteristic’ thinking about the print matrix – by using alternative materials and tools that enter into a dialogue with the third dimension and the public space. The exhibition will therefore present works that challenge print related classifications; the disciplines associated ephemera and performative actions that often feature within the printmaking medium. The curatorial foundation might be best described as a creative two-stage thinking: matrix-print.


The world beyond the image

P.Laidler, Prop Idol, 2012, Inkjet Print

“One is playing with the world referred to by the image and the other world which is the image itself”
Michael Craig Martin

Some thoughts about Mr Martin’s observation on images and how they represent objects, albeit objects that we know primarily as images.

Something interesting things about props:
Many props are ordinary objects. However, a prop must read well from the house or on-screen, meaning it must look ‘real’ to the audience – or its appearance must resemble ones visual expectations of the object. Many real objects are poorly adapted to the task of looking like themselves to an audience, due to their size, durability, or colour under bright lights, so some props are specially designed to look more like the actual item than the real object would look – strange yet interesting.

Object traces:
Film props have an interesting physical presence as they are objects that are originally encounter through a mediated or often a screen based representation and therefore come with a certain amount of anticipation as physical objects. These expectancies are multifaceted, in so much as they are bound up in a specific type of image world where the object is designed for its onscreen and subsequent two dimensional presence. This potentially adds a further layer to Michael Craig Martin’s observation on how images operate -depending on which world we originally encounter them in – real or fictional. When drawing this kind of object one is accessing a further ‘world referred to by the image’ – the cinematic world. For example the prop is often bound up in nostalgia, connected to a narrative or wedded to a monumental protagonist who’s DNA resides within the fictional surface. Like Craig-Martin, it is interesting to consider what remains when flattening the object into two dimensions or in his own words, “You can see in my paintings, I’ve taken away the context, I’ve taken away the shadows, I’ve taken away expression, I’ve taken away the personal, and yet so much remains.” My own inquiry considers what type of minimal representation maybe significant to best capture a mediated quality of an object, and in this instance how a props fictional function can be preserved in an artefact that oscilates between multiple worlds.
See links to Craig Martin’s work on the Artsy website here.










Do Androids dream of print?

Fiery the Angels Fell 3
John Ford, Fiery the Angels Fell, 2015 (Screen Print)

This year was the first year CFPR Editions (officially) awarded a UWE (University of the West of England) graduate print prize. I had been thinking about involving more graduates within the editions practice after writing an article on MiAL (Made in Arts London) and their promotion of UAL graduate artwork at Art Fairs. To coincide with these thoughts I have also (more recently) become part of the lecturing team on the MA Printmaking at UWE – so collectively it would appear that the print moons were aligned for such a prize to happen. Previous UWE (unofficial prize winning) graduates have included Carolyn Bunt (MA Printmaking) and Arthur Buxton (BA Illustration). The CFPR Editions prize offers a graduate the opportunity to be represented by CFPR Editions at Art Fairs and associated exhibitions. The award goes to the graduate who’s practice exhibits a contemporary approach to printmaking and engages with a technological theme that underpins the curatorial premise that I put in place for CFPR Editions. The 2015 CFPR Editions Prize was won by UWE MA Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking graduate John Ford.

Ford’s practice embraces traditional printmaking and photography with three dimensional and computer aided elements.  His work uses simple materials to build models based on sets from dystopian films such as Lars Von Trier’s Element of Crime and (in this instance) Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  Ford’s capture method involves taking photographs of his models and re-photographing them on a laptop screen, distorting the imagery and creating distance between the viewer and subject.  Through these processes the work explores themes around reality, illusion and distortion and contemplate a world seen increasingly through television and computer screens.

The work combines hand produced elements with technologically derived imagery, which is important to Ford’s use of different processes and his conceptual approach. The film Blade Runner deals with many of the themes that Ford is interested in, such as questioning the moral implications of advanced technology. The title for the print, Fiery the Angels Fell, is a distortion of a poem by William Blake, where the original line reads: ‘fiery the angels rise’, and is spoken by one of the replicants in the film.  The replicants challenge what it is to be human and can only be identified as such through the Voight-Kampff test.  Ford explains that he wanted to re-create some of the ambiguity and atmosphere of uncertainty present in Blade Runner by playing with the perception of scale in the final print.

The model for the print was made using balsa wood and tissue paper and was lit from inside the structure.  The image is screen printed to capture some of the moire effects caused by re-photographing the photograph of the model from the laptop screen.  The screen printed image allowed Ford to methodically mix his own colours based upon the degraded colours of an old CRT screen and achieve a specific muted aged technological effect that we might associate with surveillance.

Will be adding John to The CFPR Editions site soon and if you are heading to the Multiplied Art Fair (Christies, London) this year then you will get to see the real thing.

Copy Shop

It’s about print but it’s not a print:

I think it is fair to say that we all have pivotal moments as artists / makers / printmakers – I’m referring to the liberating ones. For instance when we encounter a process, person or artwork that appears to hold our attention in such a way that it starts to connect previous activities and, or ideas. Yours truly had such a happening after watching the film Copy Shop by Virgil Widrich where my engagement with the predominantly process-led discipline of printmaking became a little clearer. During my MA my initial leaning for wanting to make prints (although I didn’t know this at the time) came from looking at pictures in books and thereafter becoming fascinated by the inherent quality of print as a reproductive medium. Whilst studying, discussions predominantly centred on making as an activity before the difficult ‘why’s — this often led on to conversations about the ‘quality of mark making’ or the ‘relationship with surface tactility’. I quickly became aware that there were definitely two different reasons for making prints.

I’ll do the short story version. What I took from Copy Shop was that it considered both the aesthetic quality of a reproductive process and the inherent nature of print as a sequence / narrative for the work. The beauty of Copy Shop (or at least for me) was that the resulting work did this without having to be realised in the medium of print, yet the ideas in the work have a strong reference to print. This approach (outside of the: discipline looking in, idea) probably influenced later works that I produced such as the painting series Print is Dead and the Roombeek photographs. From a research perspective I also believe Copy Shop is a useful example when discussing the parameters of the discipline.

Anyway thank you Virgil Widrich I’m pleased you made Copy Shop for me to see, think about and copy a little bit.

Print is Dead Series

Paul Laidler, Print is Dead, 2012
Paul Laidler, Print is Dead, 2012

‘Prints are like repeated stories, passed on from one to another, sometimes accurate recordings, other times with added variations and distortions, either by design or accident. Working within a series, prints become a game of whispers, each story retold, misheard and elaborated on to create new meaning and context’. – The Mechanical Hand

The series of paintings described in this post is an ongoing body of work that I started in 2010, so get ready as I’m gonna prattle on for a bit. Over the past couple of years I have written and talked about the series intermittently, from a variety of different perspectives and for different audiences. Subsequently and somewhat to my surprise I have received a number of requests to make the work/text available online. Given that the series has been published ‘in print’ this version has been edited and refocused.

Printed Paintings

The post discusses the themes of printmaking, collaboration, process, and the digital age as a series of concepts toward the initiation and production of a digitally mediated ‘print’ series ‘Print is Dead’ (figures 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5). Here the preoccupation with production and process is emphasized over the end product as a means to address the collaborative print process and the conceptual considerations for the work, engaging with printmaking themes. Whilst the resulting works are not prints in the truest sense, printmaking is imbedded as a means to consider the broadening definition of ‘print’ in the digital age. In this instance printmaking is considered as an expanded term through the production of paintings whilst the digitally mediated ‘print’ is realised through the Print on Demand model – a facility synonymous with digital technology. Collectively the themes and production processes highlight the often de-emphasised collaborative undertaking by printers for artists, and the subsequent acknowledgement of this art category, whilst the resulting artworks challenge assumptions of authorship and originality in the production of artworks for artists.


Historically within the fine arts, print was used as a means to reproduce other works of art such as paintings – a medium of seemingly higher esteem. Although the premise of the reproduction was often for disseminatory and financial reasons, the quality of execution was still important. The reproduction was dependent upon the original source material, the skill of the engraver and techniques developed over the years to accurately transcribe and replicate.
The transcription processes used to produce the Print is Dead series differ from the historical rationale for replication in art. Instead the work can be seen as an examination of a process rather than the reproduction of a subject; elevating the ‘reproduction’ to the status of an ‘original’. For instance, the dependence upon an original source for accurate replication becomes impractical in this context – the source image exists as only an infinitely reproducible digital file that is susceptible to a number of transformations in appearance, both on screen and as a printed image. The resulting series of individual artworks can only ever be copies of the original digital file, yet remain unique in their systematic production.
The allusions to production processes within the Print is dead series are considered in much the same way. The artwork is conceived by thinking about the print medium in terms of a process rather than producing printed artworks; the medium is addressed in relation to print’s inherent relationship with reproduction, where the Publish-on-Demand facility becomes the appropriated tool. The content arises from the seamless integration of digital technology within pre-digital processes, practice and media.

The resulting (non-digital) artworks can be seen as a response to Marshall McLuhan’s “rearview-mirror view of the world” observation, that we are initially numbed by new technology until it has been completely superseded its predecessor. McLuhan states that in this transition period of ‘the present’, our senses become overwhelmed so much so that we go from the unfamiliar back to the familiar. We attach ourselves to the objects and atmospheres that characterise the past where we feel a compulsion to make the old environment more visible.
The resulting non-digital artworks reflect McLuhan’s technological transition period in that the field of printmaking is still awaiting the arrival of its digital natives. The process and production of the Print is Dead series is representative of this current juncture between technologies and conscious of the fact that it is an analogue work within a digital age.


The POD (Print-on-Demand) facility is a relatively new addition to the artist’s possibilities for producing printed artworks via digital means. The development of the technology is a product of the digital revolution that has democratised the opportunity to self-publish. The democratisation has been possible because of the technology’s economic potential to reduce the costs previously incurred through mechanical printing processes such as offset printing. A large percentage of the POD industry caters for book and artist’s book publishing, although there are a growing number of POD facilities that specialise in fine art, digital prints for both artists and publishers.
From the self-publishing artist’s perspective, the process follows a system-based procedure through a set number of options for printing a digital image. These options often include a choice in scale and substrate before remotely uploading the digital image (via the Internet) to a POD facility server. Once stored on the server, the digital image is then downloaded and printed to the previously established print options. Because the digital file can be reproduced and stored indefinitely, the edition size may be left open allowing for further renderings of the digital file at the client’s request – hence print on demand.
The democratisation of digital technology and the marketing potential of the POD facility developed the idea of the ‘personal factory, where you can make almost anything – including electronics, homeware, fashion and furniture’. Consumers in search of bespoke designs can now access digital fabrication technologies through companies such as Anyline , imaterialise, Ponoko and 3DDC using a range of Laser cutting, rapid prototyping, 3D rapid printing and surface coating options.
Although the Print is Dead series does not directly use digital fabrication technology, the artwork shares similarities with the fabrication process as part of the artist-fabricator approach to making. These associations consider the human crafting approach as part of a systematic and automated method to making, by employing the technical skills of others to help realise the work that informs the idea.
Unlike most POD facilities that produce printed images for clients, the facility that I chose for the reproduction of The Print is Dead series use the hand-rendered method of painting as processes to reproduce a digital image.


Fig 3: (order272)completed.jpg Painting produced by Odsan Gallery, China
order542 completed.jpg
Fig 4: (order542)completed.jpg Painting produced by Odsan Gallery, China

 Replica Factory

Figures 3 and 4 are oil painting’s on canvas produced through Odsan Oil Painting Gallery in Dafen, China. The company is one of many in the region that employ academy-trained artists within a factory-line approach to reproduce vast numbers of old master oil paintings. The act of copying great masters’ works by artists has been a continued practice throughout the ages. Conventional practices have often required that artists access the original painting to capture the intricacy, scale and presence of the work. I do not profess to being a master artist – the idea of having a work reproduced in paint that contains none of the traditional precedents for reproduction was what interested me.

More specifically the conventional reproductive process becomes inverted as the facility takes a digitally printed image and reproduces it by hand – in essence the machine and human exchange places. The use of a digital image also highlights the problematic situation of what is being copied and therefore; what is believed to be the original work? If we consider that a digital image is susceptible to scale and colour changes through different computer monitors and print devices then the work becomes less concerned with reproducing a subject but examining a process.

Figure 2 Printed image used by Odsan Gallery to create figure 3
Figure 2 Printed image used by Odsan Gallery to create figure 3

Perpetual Painting

The Odsan Gallery’s reproduction process functions in the same manner as the POD facility when offering a client the possibility of ‘self-publishing’. As previously stated this involves the transfer of a digital image (figure 1) that is rendered to the specifications of the client. Figure 3 was created from a digital print (Figure 2) made from the low resolution digital file (figure 1) that was requested by the Odsan Gallery to create the artwork. In this situation, the rendering is by hand, not restricted to the scale of a print device and can be reproduced in a range of different painting styles. The resulting painting for the Print is Dead series, is a photo-realistic style reproduction of the digital print that was used as the source image for the work. In this instance the reproduction of the source image contains a magenta hue produced by the printing of the digital file.
The inclusion of the colour cast in the painting is not seen as a fault with the reproductive artwork but as a reminder of the parameters of the tools and processes we use. In his article The Aesthetics of Failure, the American composer Kim Cascone discusses the positive outcome of imperfection:

‘Indeed failure has become a prominent aesthetic in many of the arts in the late 20th century, reminding us that our control of technology is an illusion, and revealing digital tools to be only as perfect, precise, and efficient as the humans who build them’. (K. Cascone, “Post-Digital” Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music’. Computer Music Journal, Volume 24 Issue 4, 2000, p.12)

Figure’s 4 and 5 are painting’s also created from photographic sources although these photo’s are taken by the Odsan Gallery to show the client the painted image before posting the actual canvas. In essence the photos are proofs that need to be approved by the artist/client before the next stage can be implemented. By photographing the painting and e-mailing the digital image for approval a perpetual system for further paintings is developed. These approval photos are then used as the source image for the next painting and so on and so forth. Despite the absence of print production in the appearance of the paintings, the association with the reproductive process is embedded within to the content of the work. The possibility of an indefinite number of copies remains, although the reproductive endeavour is one of human automation or human printers.

Figure 5: Paul Laidler (order547)completed.jpg, Painting produced by Odsan Gallery, China
Figure 5: Paul Laidler (order547)completed.jpg, Painting produced by Odsan Gallery, China

Roombeek Series

Title: Roombeek Series, 2009 (9 images making one work)
Edition: 10
Price: £150 (per image)
Medium: Light jet print on Kodak Endura paper mounted on aluminium and bonded onto 5mm clear Perspex acrylic.
Scale: Individual image size w 29.7cm x h 19.8cm
Set of nine presentation size w 99cm x h 68.5cm


The following text is taken from an interview that I did about the series. The interviewer represented an online art website which now doesn’t appear to exist anymore.


Do you have a name for your ‘house series’?

Roombeek series I guess! – The Roombeek is the name of the area in Enschede, The Netherlands, where the photos were taken.

What prompted you to create these photographs?

The ideas that inform the work are mostly rooted in the appearance of reality. It is often said that today’s media saturated culture has created a new reality where the image has replaced the reality that it once described. Examples of this cultural phenomenon could be described as experiencing a real life situation that appears more like a movie, or being disillusioned by a holiday destination that didn’t quite live up to its image representation from the brochure.

With this in mind and being an avid peruser of architecture magazines, walking amongst the Roombeek houses felt very much like reading those same printed pages. Obviously the structures were real in this instance but at the same time they still retained an image quality (it was almost like they were made to be images).

The creation of these photographs (amongst other things) was therefore, to continue thinking about the ‘image world’ phenomenon, whilst enjoying the decisions involved in the making experience – something that can be overlooked if you don’t get out much.

Can you describe your process for making these pictures? How do you scout out a location, etc? (Also, if you don’t mind me asking, is any of it photoshopped?)

The work utilises ideas concerning familiarity where the subject matter (eventually combined with its presentation) invokes a mediated presence as opposed to ‘the original’ source. I stumbled across this particular bit of the Roombeek area purely by chance during a visit to The Netherlands earlier this year. This was partly due to a group of tourists blocking the cycle lane during a frenzied photo session of the surrounding buildings. Tourists photographing ‘attractions’ is generally a good sign that I might be interested in what they are looking at. Normally I have to see what something looks like as a photograph first. However, no matter how relevant the actual subject may be to the concept, if the recorded reality does not have a certain quality (as a printed image) then it’s not worth continuing with.
After noting the location I cycled back the following day to begin taking photos.

Process for making a Roombeek series:

1. Park ‘dutch bicycle’ somewhere with easy access (you never know).

2. Return to the tourist location and begin shooting (with a camera).

3. View recorded images on camera display ensuring image quality parameters for acceptable print quality.

4. Cycle to campus (that your working at during this period) and print digital files checking acceptability of print quality.

5. Mount the prints on to a card backing, cut and leave to dry (go to pub).

6. Return to location (the proceeding day) with printed images and tripod.
7. Realise you didn’t bring the camera, so return to the campus, pick up camera and cycle back to location.

8. Park in the now ‘usual spot’ (remembering to lock the bike this time) choose a printed image then find its actual location.

9. With camera mounted on the tripod, hold the printed building image in front of real building, thus obscuring the real building’s actuality.

10. Don’t try and be overly precise, its not supposed to be a hyper-real image but rather, suggestive of the reality theory.

11. Repeat the process until all prints have been photographed and then head back to campus – in anticipation.

12. Open images on a computer, re-scale the file dimensions so that the hand in each image is life-size.

13. With no Photoshop manipulation required go ahead and print what you believe to be the best nine images.

14. Mount the nine images (similar to previous mounting method) and then exhibit prints in a 3 x 3 grid formation, thus mimicking the rectangle of a photograph whilst accentuating the formalistic qualities of the buildings.

What inspires your work? Are there any particular artists who are real influences to you?

I think I probably find things interesting rather than inspirational. On a similar note, I once got detention at school in a religious studies class for insisting that I didn’t have a role model!

Having said that I do have a piece of writing that I always transfer from notebook to notebook. It’s an extract entitled ‘Why I go to the movies alone’ by the artist Richard Prince

“The first time he saw her, he saw her in a photograph. He had seen her before, at her job, but there she didn’t come across or measure up anywhere near as well as she did in her picture. Behind her desk she was too real to look at […] He had to have her on paper, a material with a flat seamless surface […] a physical location which could represent her resemblance all in one place […] a place that had the chances of looking real, but a place that didn’t have any specific chances of being real”

Murmurs from Earth

Murmurs from Earth
Paul Laidler, Murmurs from Earth, 2010

IMAGE DIMENSIONS: W 30.5 cm x H 30.5 cm
MEDIUM: Laser Engraving
SUBSTRATE: Black Somerset Paper

The text below has been adapted from a much larger article due to be published in 2014 by the Brazilian Journal Porto Arte. The (currently unpublished) article is a conversation between myself and Prof Paul Coldwell that discusses the convergence of old and new technologies in art practice – aptly entitled Printmaking New and Old Technologies – A Conversation.

Anyway I have more recently been revisiting (with a view to restructuring) my interests in post digital artworks and the thinking that gets assigned to such things. So following on from the article topic of old and new technologies I thought it might be interesting to present some thoughts on a digitally engraved work that I made in 2010 entitled Murmurs from Earth.

Before discussing the work I reckon it would be useful for me to say a little bit about the production of the work – or more specifically, how the laser cutting process works, and therefore what the viewer sees in the photographic recording of the artefact Murmurs from Earth.

As its name suggests, the laser cutter is a burning process that cuts through and into materials. The laser’s function can be controlled in one of two ways: by either cutting straight through a material, or by engraving into the surface. Murmurs from Earth is a digital, photographic image that has been laser engraved into the surface of a black, cotton based paper. The varying levels of engraved depth in the paper refer to the tonal information that is present in the digital, photographic image. The tonal information in the digital file is read as numerical values of grey (255 levels of grey, with black and white at either side of the scale). The laser cutter then transcribes these numerical values as different power intensities, creating a depth field for the engraving process. For example, where the image is darker in tone the laser will cut deeper into the surface, and where the tonal information is lighter, the depth of the engrave will be shallower. As a result, the engraved vinyl image in Murmurs from Earth is made visible because of the different tones of black paper fibres that are present in and on the paper surface.

Diagrammatic I
Diagrammatic I

The artwork Murmurs from Earth is developed from the same sentiments that were employed by the NASA space exploration programme that took place in the 1970s. The mission involved the deployment of a spacecraft that would carry a message from Earth beyond our solar system with the intention to communicate our sights and sounds to an extraterrestrial audience. The recording of these images and audio were transcribed by engraving the information into a gold-plated copper disc to produce a twelve-inch phonograph record known as the Voyager Golden Record. The latest celluloid film technology of the time would not withstand the conditions that the journey would subject upon the recording, so a more sustainable format from the past was revisited to resolve the present and future technological issues of the mission, hence the use of the phonograph record.

Without telling the whole story, the Voyager Mission prompts technological considerations that occur when we move from one technology to another; such as transferability, readability and compatibility. These transition periods, or the state of ‘in between’ bring together the relationships with form and function, analogue and digital that are central to this work.

During the conversation between Paul Coldwell and myself, Paul  mentioned how the development of photography moved toward a ‘greater and greater fidelity to the real’. This progression has increased with the advent of digital technology and its potential to simulate space and enhance material qualities from photographic capture. It is this potential to digitally record and render material properties that led me to combine the laser engraving process with black paper. The combination produces a facsimile quality, in that the exposed black fibres of the engraved paper mimic the material appearance of black vinyl. Here, the possibilities of reproduction become more than photographic, as the transfer of the analogue object retains a material form although the function is lost.

The appearance of form without function in Murmurs from Earth refers to the possibility that the Voyager disc will be unreadable in some distant world or inevitably, the disc may never be heard – it is a one-way message. Here, the Voyager Golden Record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement, rather than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life. To some degree it is this sense of failure that allows the laser engraved record in Murmurs from Earth to function.

The digital recording and rendering of an analogue format initiates the combining of old and new technology that has been central to this article. Murmurs from Earth has developed from a historical event to communicate with another world, yet we might surmise that there are two communicative worlds within our own; the analogue and digital.

Snippet of video from Impact 8 about the process and thinking around Murmurs from Earth

The Human Printer

Paul Laidler, The Human Printer.tiff, Produced by The Human Printer, 2010
Paul Laidler, The Human Printer.tiff, Produced by The Human Printer, 2010

‘First we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.’ (M. McLuhan, 1964)

The Human Printer.tiff is part of a series entitled Print is Dead andwas produced by a group called The Human Printer. The group consists of eleven individuals who specialise in reproducing by hand, the digitised rendering of a half-tone image that is normally associated with mechanical print processes. The Human Printer group has adopted the remote Print-on-demand facility for transferring digital files, although the potential to rapidly produce large editions is somewhat limited due to the extensive labour involved and the small-scale production of the studio. The Human Printer.tiff (see source file here) took just over two weeks from order to receipt.

In keeping with the mechanised half-tone print process, the digital image is printed as colour separations using the four printing channels of CMYK. To produce the final drawn image, each colour separation is traced individually on to a single sheet of semi-transparent paper so that collectively, the channels register with one another. The layering order of each colour follows the half-tone print procedure using four different coloured pens that correspond to each of the separate colour channels.The Human Printer’s transcription process includes the visual descriptions associated with reproduction through the mechanised image. The Human Printer’s rendering of a coarse photographic half-tone and its associations with automation are reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s 1963 comment “I want to be a machine”.

Further overtones of convergence between humans and technology reference a (hypothetical) Post-human future where a biological generation of humanity ends and technological one begins. The influence of science and technology upon the human condition has been a constant source of inspiration for the field of science fiction. In more recent times the fictional associations with phenomena such as implants, smart materials and cloning have accelerated the science fiction world toward are own.

The idea that a fiction can become functional through an associated process has been incorporated in to the selection of a specific technology for the work entitled Stretch out with your feelings.

The Human Printer.tiff is part of larger series of work entitled Print is Dead that continues the theme of humans as printers and the broadening definition of the print medium in the digital age.