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.
The 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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
I recently read an old Wired article entitled The New Remasters (1996 maybe) during my searches for digital printmaker practitioners. Amongst other things the article got me thinking about two areas of print; firstly the values and distinctions assigned to reproductions and secondly the ‘fine art’ of reproduction.
The New Remasters summary:
In short the article centers around the main protagonist James Danziger and his online fine art reproduction company Artland.com. There is also a cameo appaearence from the Iris Ink-jet printer and not to mention ‘the world renown fine art printer’ David Adamson. Danziger’s story unfolds shortly after seeing a digital print reproduction produced by Adamson for the photographer Joel Meyerowitz. The reproduction is produced with an Iris inkjet printer (a seminal machine within digital printmaking) that is of such high quality that he (Danziger) decides to investigates the Iris prints marketability. Danziger shows the work to a group of museum curators who subsequently cannot tell the difference between the Iris reproduction and the original print. Further more the Iris print surpasses any poster reproductions produced by museums and galleries – eventually Danziger teams up with Adamson and Artland.com begins producing high-end reproduction prints.
“Iris printing has become the Cadillac of digital reproduction” and “Adamson was a whiz at making Iris reproductions”
Amongst other commentators Danziger highlights Adamson’s mastery of the Iris as an integral contribution toward producing the unique kind of reproduction that only Artland.com offers.
“The Iris print falls somewhere between self-betterment and decoration”
Around 75% of Adamson’s reproduction process uses automated colour management methods, the other 25% is left to Adamson’s experience and interpretation. The intuitive part (the 25%) of the the workflow is in the colour balancing which Adamson describes as the place where ‘there is still some judgement involved’. Here Adamson utilises his experience of Iris printing by selectively bringing out crucial nuances that can get lost in the translation from the ‘digital matrix’ to the printed image.
The reproductive production within a fine art printmaking context got me thinking about a piece of writing entitled Endangered Species by the British Artist Richard Hamilton. Throughout Hamilton’s experience of working with an array of traditional Master Printers he observed that the ‘most admirable print craftsman’ were those who had been involved in some reproductive endeavour. Hamilton summaries that the printer’s transcription sensibilities were testament to the demands of reproductive work where the best printers “polished their genius on the mundane tasks of translating between media”.
Hamilton has also been an advocate for selecting printers based upon what he considers to be their particular strength and therefore which printer is best suited to a specific project. More over it is often said in fine art printmaking circles that when an artist works with a specific studio/Master Printer they will be adopting the house style of that studio in their work. I find the house style attribute intriguing when applied to high-end reproductions, copies, replica’s or facsimiles. A reproduction created in this way assumes a richer provenance and therefore added value, maybe even a unique ‘synthesised aura’
Favorite quote about copies coming up now:
“I want the best copy. The only copy. The most expensive copy. I want James Joyce’s Chamber Music. I want the 1907 version, the “variant” the first variant, […] I want the earliest copy on record. I want the copy that is rarer than anyone had previously dreamed of. I want the copy the dreams”
Intro to the project
The project was developed from a body of work described by the artist as his ‘tree period’ and inspired by Holloways (hidden country footpaths) and other arboreal scenes; this work is also featured in a bestselling book of the same name and formed the artwork for Radiohead’s latest record, The King of Limbs. So just to clarify Holloway lanes are characterised by an over-arching avenue of fauna that creates a natural tunnel effect. ‘In the lead up to making these pieces I became fascinated with the idea of a cathedral of sound,’ says Donwood. ‘I was working with Radiohead on the record that was to become The King of Limbs, and my early hearings of the music seemed to suggest an over-arching canopy of detail.’
Whilst working on the Holloway book, Donwood slept overnight under some of the canopies in south Dorset, most of which have since been cut down. He then drew the canopies from memory back at his studio. It was this body of arboreal drawings that were used as a starting point to develop Donwood’s edition with CFPR Editions.
For those of you who may not know Stanley Donwood he is best known for his work with the band Radiohead who he has created artwork for since the group’s inception in 1985. Donwood and frontman Thom Yorke met at Exeter University and the two are often thought to be one and the same, despite accepting a Grammy award together for the band’s packaging in 2002.
When approaching an artist about producing a print edition our studio approach often begins by showing the artist a process, material or tool that they may not have encountered before. This technically led approach can sometimes offer a different, new or novel option for the artist and is often considered to be the main collaborative contribution of the editioning studio. In most cases the studio’s affiliation with print process is a pragmatic one yet this form of practice based activity often initiates dialogues that reveal rich insights about the artists practice and the realisation of printed matter.
This practice based engagement with making and production considerations has become central to CFPR Editions philosophy and subsequent area of contribution concerning; the production of digitally mediated artworks and the fostering of practice based insights within this emerging arena. With this in mind (and given that Donwood has produced both mechanical and digital prints in recent years) I hoped to develop a project that would offer the artist a different digital process but perhaps more importantly a resulting image where the binary fused with the organic.
As previously mentioned the dialogue between studio and artist is central to developing further insights about the discipline of printmaking and I therefore felt it only necessary to ask the artist about his interest/observations/ position /relationship with new and old technologies. The artist offered the following thoughts,
‘Each generation is seduced to an extent by the technology of it’s own time; if our civilisation doesn’t collapse in the near future there will presumably come a time when 3D printing is perceived as quaint and old-timey.
I think that when what we see as ‘technology’ first began to develop at a rapid pace, during the Industrial Revolution, people saw a dizzying parade of developments in almost every field. Suddenly there were machines for everything from sewing to locomotion, and I suppose that something of that almost magical essence remains present in the cast iron of printing presses, steam engines and so on.
There’s a sense in which that level of technology is ageless; if something breaks any semi competant engineer can figure out what’s gone wrong and then fix it. If we are no longer able to generate sufficient electricity it won’t matter, as these machines were never designed with electricity in mind. There are no silicon chips.
There’s also the problem of mathematics and the binary nature of digital technology. Digits are what we have attempted to replace everything with, but the things, objects, and aesthetics we are demanding were never digital to begin with, and something unnameable in the human spirit is well aware of this. People instinctively prefer the human-generated curves of a classic car; the sweep of the arm is more beautiful than a digitally created vector.
I could go on and on, but I have now put on my tshirt that says DON’T GET ME STARTED’.
To be continued…
A quick overview of the production
The engraved editions (February Holloway & Wait here we will come for you) were developed from two separate pencil and ink drawings that the artist had produced prior to discussing any potential editioning of the images. In this instance the CFPR Editions team were supplied with high res scans of the drawings that were then digitally adjusted for the laser cutting process. As part of the proofing procedure the digital files were engraved in to a number of paper substrates that produced varying tactile and tonal qualities – through different paper manufacturers, weights and colours. This paper testing procedure offered a number of qualitative material considerations for the engraved image and gave the first indications as to how certain hand drawn qualities had been recorded, translated and rendered for the new eidtioned work. Once the paper tests were complete the digital files were then rendered as ‘raster engravings’ – taking around 6 hours to cut and produced as a limited edition of 6 artworks on paper.
Upon viewing the completed raster engravings Donwood commented that, ‘the results are quite mesmerising; to me it looks as if trained paper-eating bacteria have been told to make a picture. The vaporised images look very organic.’
Technical laser bit
The laser process uses carbon dioxide that is excited in a chamber. Emerging as light from an aperture in the chamber, the beam is focused by a series of mirrors, a lens and through a nozzle down to a thickness of approximately 0.2mm. When the beam comes in to contact with a material it cuts through by vaporising it. The nozzle moves across the surface of the material on an x and y axis that allows designs to be cut or engraved with a high level of accuracy and complexity in a variety of materials. In summary this specific laser cutting technology involves the use of a powerful laser to cut, etch or engrave into textiles, paper, card, plastics, vinyls, glass and some types of wood. A computer controls the path of the laser over the bed to melt, burn or vaporise the material.
CFPR Editions would like to thank Verity Lewis for her assistance with editioning, documenting, marketing and over all enthusiastic contribution to the project. Also Sarah Barnes and Tom Sowden for their technical advise with the laser cutting process. I would also like to say a special thank you to Stanley Donwood for his poetic engagement with the translation process and general enthusiasm around the possibilities for the work – that made the collaborative relationship all the more enriching for the editions team.
I have always had a fascination with copies, reproductions, facsimilies, replica’s, translations and multiples in the visual art’s (and beyond). Perhaps an obvious link as to why I work in print. Anyway a few years ago I was incredibly fortunate to work on a fine art digital print edition with the late artist Richard Hamilton who (at the time) had created a digital drawing of Duchamp’s Large Glass work. More specifically Hamilton had constructed a graphic representation or ‘blue print’ of Duchamp’s image to be printed at a 1:1 scale.
For this project post I’m not going to discuss the printing of the file (you can find out more about the printing element in Chapter 5 in my thesis here), instead I want to discuss the reproductive procedures that Hamilton employed in the ‘remaking’ of Duchamp’s Large Glass – Painting / Sculpture.
Prior to the generation of the digital file, Richard Hamilton had collaborated with Marcel Duchamp between 1957 and 1965-6 towards the translation and reconstruction of Duchamp’s sculptural piece The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915 -1923. In 1957, together with the art historian George Heard Hamilton, Richard Hamilton began translating Duchamp’s notes from The Green Box (1934) into English, which were later published by Hamilton as The Green Book in 1960.
In 1965 Hamilton, aided by Duchamp, began a reconstruction of The Bride Stripped bare by her Bachelors for a Duchamp retrospective Hamilton would curate for the (then) Tate Gallery in 1966. The reconstruction was aided by the fact that Duchamp’s sculpture was too fragile to travel from its permanent installation in the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, USA.
Hamilton’s reconstruction took around a year to complete, prior to being signed by Duchamp at the opening of the exhibition in 1966. Using the previously translated notes as a guide, Hamilton sought “to reconstruct procedures rather than imitate the effects of action.” Subsequently the results of Hamilton’s approach does not afford a direct visual copy but a transcription of Duchamp’s making instructions. From this perspective, Hamilton’s reconstruction used the same materials as Duchamp’s Large Glass to replicate the original work rather than copy the effects of age.
The replication of colour in the Sieves for instance, was a system- based procedure using “’time’ and ‘dust’ to produce a transparent pastel colour”. Hamilton later used these kinds of colour descriptions when we were proofing the digital file at CFPR for Typo-Topography of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, 2003, requesting that colours be formulated as ‘chocolate’ or ‘lead’ in reference to Duchamp’s text. The print allows two separate works to exist together, the text from The Green Book and the image of the sculpture The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915-23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965-6.
Laidler, P. (2011) Human automation. Printmaking Today, 20 (4). p. 28. ISSN 0960 9253
The article Human Automation describes a practice based series of artworks that explore the print on demand model as a means to comment the boundaries of print practice and how process is intrinsic to content.