Author: Suzuki, Sarah
Date published: December 1, 2011
"Aren't print people just the best?" So reads a T-shirt recendy produced by Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), one of the giants of American print publishing. Playing off one of me signature characteristics of numerous print techniques, the text on the shirt appears in reverse, printed against a dark ground whose irregular outline suggests a lithographic stone - one of those venerable slabs on which lithographs have historically been drawn. The message reveals itself when reflected in a mirror, or seen by those "in the know": the constellation of publishers, printers, papermakers, dealers, collectors, scholars, and curators who make up the so-called print world. ULAE's coded message reflects an often-repeated sentiment, one which suggests that the desirable qualities of the mediums to which we are devoted - democratic reach, earthbound price points, an inherently collaborative nature - are somehow reflected through us.
Print people occupy one circle in the Venn diagram of global contemporary art, positioned just on the edge of its charged nucleus. ever combating the idea that a print is not an original work of art, or explaining how an etching is made, or debating the merits of one impression over another. Within some quarters, this state of affairs may contribute to the sense that the print world is perennially on the verge of obsolescence, fighting for relevancy, as professionals sift through countless sheets of plastic-sleeved etchings with loupes in hand; float through dark, low-ceilinged galleries overhung with yellowing folios; or rail against the dwindling numbers of those practicing some esoteric version of waterless lithography.
It is certainly true that printed art has its own trajectories and histories that both align with and deviate from the arc of the history of art, and that print people must protect these specific legacies and preserve mem. But rather than seeing this as a moribund effort, I would argue that printmaking is currently experiencing something of a stealth renaissance, finding ways of insinuating itself into the larger activities of contemporary art without necessarily announcing itself as doing so. The conceptual concerns of the mediums - collaboration, process, copy /original, reproduction, and sequence and seriality- are wholly present in work across disciplines, resulting in exciting new projects, both print (made and distributed within the realm of print people) and printed (incorporating tools or aspects of printmaking, but within a broader, non-print-specific purview). At the same time, the traditional roles of printer and publisher are shifting, and new spheres of interest are on die rise. This essay seeks to map out some of the basic geography of the contemporary print landscape, and while by no means exhaustive, attempts to identify some of the different areas of activity.
First, traditional printmaking - meaning here the production of editioned woodcuts, lithographs, screenprints, intaglios, and digital prints - is clearly alive and well. A visit to the 2on International Fine Print Dealers Association Print Fair revealed that of the ninety exhibitors, about half were either publishers of or dealers in modern and contemporary editions. All of the more than sixty booths at die Print Fair's downtown sister, die Editions [ Artists Book Fair, were devoted to contemporary prints, books, and multiples. Artists who are considered among the great printmakers of the last decades continue to work in their preferred mediums - Georg Baselitz in relief techniques of linoleum and woodcut, Kiki Smith in intaglio, and Jasper Johns in lithography - even as emerging and midcareer artists Like Tauba Auerbach experiment with intaglio at Paulson Bott Press in Berkeley, or make pop- up books for distribution by New York's Printed Matter.
The desire to brand artists like Baselitz, Smith, and Johns as printrnakers may be an effort to validate the continuing relevance of these centuries-old techniques, or the natural impulse of curators and art historians to categorize and classify But perhaps an even more compelling justification for printmaking is to consider how print -related, but not print-specific, activities feed back into all aspects of artists' practices. The history of art reveals numerous artists, not necessarily identified as printrnakers, who incorporate print techniques into their work.
A familiar example of an artist embracing the porosity among mediums is Andy Warhol. In an introductory essay for the catalogue raisonné of Warhol's prints, Arthur Danto enumerates Warhol's "conceptual erasures": eliding the distinction between print and printed; the art object and the usable object; the adoption of the Xerox - a means of making reproductions - as a means of making originals; issuing "editions" that consisted, in fact, of unique variants; producing works at the same time with the same techniques, but classifying them variably as either prints or paintings.' Screenprints on canvas and paper alike formed the nucleus of Warhol's artistic practice, and die lines between the mediums were often quite blurred, even in the artist's own mind. In the editors' note for the first edition of the artist's print catalogue raisonné, the compilers mention that a number of early works, including Kiss (Bela Lugosi) (1963) and Caaney ( 1964), are not included, as Warhol considered them to be unique drawings,- Later editions of the print catalogue included them.
Christopher Wool follows in Warhol's path as an artist whose work is suffused with the visual language, technical processes, and conceptual concerns of printmaking. These are present in the stencil-style lettering of his word paintings and the stamped repeating patterns of his works on paper, with more recent works built of multiple printed and painted layers. Wool also uses print to create a sense of distance from the autographic mark, digitally manipulating painted strokes, or transforming them into printed strata via photographic screens, introducing steps to make the artist's hand an instrument of mechanical reproduction. The series of large paintings that Wool showed in the 20t i Venice Biennale were, in fact, all screenprints worked through various digital interventions and using a set group of screens. In his description of the process, Mark Godfrey writes, "Painterly gesture is partly ceded to the computer, and its programs are used as modes of distortion; but digital technologies also work alongside older material processes of corruption, with final say given to the messy analog time machine of the silk-screen press."1 Indeed, Wool turns to digital technology for controlled manipulation of the image, but allows, as Warhol did, the accidents and inherent vices of the screenprint medium - such as ink pressed unevenly through the increasingly clogged warp and weft of reused screens - to dictate the final image, and uses a medium designed for reproduction in the creation of the singular image. This approach can be seen with even greater prevalence among a current generation of artists, for whom medium-specific assignations do not hold much significance. For many, the techniques of printmaking, whether digital or lithographic, are naturally part of a larger palette of practice, though they do not. necessarily call their end result "prints" or edition them as such. The practice of Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker, who sometimes work collaboratively as Guyton/Walker, connects back to Warhol's conceptual erasures, as they embrace the use of printed techniques and printed supports across their work, though often substituting the twenty-first-century digital equivalent for Warhol's i96os-era Xerox. Guyton's unique inkjets are printed on canvas or plywood, using a typographic vocabulary of Xs and Us from Microsoft Word, while Walker's prints are often accompanied by digital files that allow the image to be printed at any scale that the owner desires, so that the duplication of printmaking occurs after the work has left the artist's control. While these digital works rely on print, as do the artists' collaborative prints on magazine pages and advertisements, they are more likely to be positioned as paintings or drawings than as prints. This malleability of medium is reflected in how the works are collected; at the Museum of Modern Art, works made using the same techniques are held across three departments - Prints, Drawings, and Painting and Sculpture.
Printmaking 's specific visual languages are also absorbed across mediums, even into video and animation projects, as is the case of the Japanese artist Tabaimo. Often evoking violence, sex, death, discomfort, and delight, she draws on both the aesthetics of traditional eighteenth-century Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts, and on the sometimes-absurd narratives and blatant violence of another printed format, Japanese manga comics. Like her historical predecessors Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797- 1848), Tabaimo sets her work in the contemporary world, and describes everyday life and pastimes with a characteristic perspectival flatness. She mimics the palettes of these masters, scanning ukiyo-e woodcuts into her computer to capture their colors for the purpose of applying them to her own work. She embraces the traditional cast of characters from folklore, mythology, and erotica, depicting surreal ghosts, monsters, and hybrid creatures with a forthright approach to sexual and social mores. Men's Bathhouse depicts an amorous sumo embrace espied by a phallic turtle inside the quotidian setting of a neighborhood sento, or bathhouse, with Hokusai's memorable depiction of Mount Fuji in the background. This work is, in essence, a printed still from one of her video animations, but acts and looks like an ukiyo-e woodcut. Tabaimo has only more recently begun to explore actual printed formats - woodcut, lithography, and etching - in greater depth.
The Shanghai-based Qiu Anxiong likewise works primarily in video, but found a compelling conceptual reason to turn to traditional woodcut, a medium that originated in China in the ninth century. After graduating from art school in Chengdu, Qiu spent six years studying in the German city of Kassel, The sense of cultural dislocation he experienced there allowed him to look beyond Western influence and sparked a renewed interest in traditional Chinese culture, in Buddhism, Confucianism, and classical traditions of painting and poetry. He began developing his own technique and vocabulary for animated films that draw equally on East and West: ink wash painting (whose traditional form remains in continuous practice, and whose themes and techniques have also been co-opted by many contemporary artists), the Chinese animation tradition, and William Kentrìdge's hand-drawn films.
Qiu's New Book of Mountains and Seas takes as its inspiration an ancient Chinese text of the same name that dates from before the second century. The source comprises a taxonomic classification of flora and fauna, geography, accounts of foreign peoples, and herbal medicine, but also serves as a repository for mythology, fables, and ghost stories - a compendium of information about the known world at the time. The idea of the book as a kind of portable universe is taken up in Qiu's updated version. In a series of twelve woodcuts, the artist distills his ideas into what are essentially pages for his version of the New Book. like those of the source text, Qiu's pages set out to document natural and scientific information of the known world, here presenting modern technologies like aircraft carriers and genetically modified animals as though they were mythical creatures in a postmodern bestiary. On each page, the natural and the otherworldly collide, existing side by side as they did in the ancient volume, though all of Qiu's seeming impossibilities have a basis in reality. The choice of woodcut is paramount here, as it allows Qiu to maintain a conceptual proximity to the original, evoking its age with a technique practiced in China for centuries, while emulating its style with elegant curving line work set against an unadorned white ground. Together, the images present a satirical and smartly humorous take on environmental degradation, social breakdown, and unchecked urbanization in contemporary society.
Qiu's work also falls within a historical trajectory in which printmaking has been closely connected to social and political efforts. From the distribution of biblical images to a largely illiterate population of religious pilgrims, and the cautionary ballads and penny calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada in the nineteenth century, to die guerilla screenprints of Atelier Populaire in Paris 1968, prints have long been pressed into moralizing, agitational, or propagandistic roles. Particular densities of politically engaged printmaking often align with artistic interest in social and political causes and movements, from the examples above, to the environmentally engaged works of Robert Rauschenberg in the 1970s, to die AIDS awareness of General Idea in the 1980s. The political impulse continues in the contemporary moment, with artists using the democratic reach of editioned projects to send their messages out into the world.
While renowned for his critical, pedagogical, and curatorial projects, the Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in the arenas of both conceptual and political art. In many instances, it was through editioned works - a constant in Camnitzer s practice since the 1950s - diat he has achieved these experiments, while also redefining and expanding the definition of printmaking. Arriving in New York in the 1960s, Camnitzer formed the New York Graphic Workshop with Liliana Porter and José Guillermo Castillo after a patron offered studio space in which they could work and teach printmaking. In their years together, they pioneered new theories about the production and distribution of art and, in the process, presaged mail art, the multiple, and alternative means of exhibitions.
Camnitzer has long used his printed work to agitate, to disrupt traditional ideas of production and consumption, and to give viewers a more active role, collapsing the distinction between the artist as creator, and viewer as consumer. But from the end of the 1960s, his work took a decidedly more politicai bent, as text-based pieces made direct references to gun sights and common graves, and editioned projects took on added significance. In an undated, typed, signed letter in the files of the Museum of Modern Art, Camnitzer states; "I presume to be a revolutionary artist, with a vision for the world and with the mission of implementing it: to eradicate die exploitation of man by man, to implement the equitable distribution of goods and tasks, to achieve a free, just, and classless society. In order for my mission to succeed, I have to try to communicate wiUi the highest possible percentage of the public, something only possible with a great amount of production and a good system of distribution for my product."4 In Camnitzer s philosophy, the benefit of distributing editioned work that could reach many was clear - from dozens of .sheets of printed stickers to intaglios planned in editions of fifty, rather than unique objects that could reach just one.
The renowned etchings of his Uruguayan Torture series ( 1983-84) mark die apex of Camnitzer 's poMtical engagement. It portrays the psychological horrors of life under a dictatorial regime through the juxtaposition of image fragments - a fingertip tightly bound with wire - and suggestive lines of manuscript text, such as "the fragrance of her hair lingered." Nearly thirty years later, Camnitzer adopted newer digital print techniques in a kind of coda to the Torture series, the series Memorial. Consisting of 19c digital prints, Memorial re-creates the Montevideo telephone directory, digitally altered by Camnitzer to include the names of more than two hundred of the "disappeared," the victims of the military dictatorship whose atrocities he addressed in die 1983 project. Seamlessly integrated within die seemingly endless roster of listings, the names of these individuals, and thus the individuals themselves, are returned to a state of existence through die artist's intervention.
The artists discussed above have all used print techniques to suit their conceptual, thematic, or formal purposes, regardless of whether they see themselves as printmakers, or whether others do. While they might employ print in spite of print, others engage in print for the sake of print, a nearly fetishistic attachment to mediums presumed on the verge of extinction, with letterpress making a particularly compelling case. Letterpress, or relief-printed movable type, was in wide use from the time of its invention by Johannes Guttenberg in the mid-fifteenth century, but gradually fell out of favor following the advent of mechanized rotary printing. In the last two decades, letterpress was revived on a small scale by boutique producers of fine stationery and six-dollar greeting cards (who often bought presses from publishers who were discarding them), and in elegant typographic printing for limited-edition artist's books.
In New York City, Leslie Miller's Grenfell Press, established in 1979, has long been a bastion of the art of letterpress printing. Among her publications are collaborative volumes by artists and writers, featuring crisply printed text by such esteemed authors as Susan Orlean, Susan Howe, and Ann Laucerbach, among others. Letterpress requires time that the modern world has trouble accommodating, and Grenfell produces, on average, two books a year. However, despite the slow pace and laborious nature of the work, Miller is now sharing her atelier not only with the drying racks and trays of movable type diat are die tools of her trade, but also with the artist Brad Ewing, an advocate for the next generation of letterpress printers. An artist and sometime printer for Grenfell, Ewing established his own imprint. Marginal Editions, in 2007, and is now printing and publishing the work of friends and emerging artists such as Matt Keegan and Sterling Ruby. When asked "Why letterpress, why now?" Ewing replied that "the potential in a drawer of type seems almost endless."5 Indeed, the variety of Marginal's output extends far beyond seemingly obvious text-based work, though a work of Ewing s own, Orientation /All Gray (2008), pays homage to the medium with a composition constructed of many typographic variations on a single character.
Likewise, Matthew Brannon 's artistic output revels in the not-yet-obsolete charms of letterpress. Brannon 's work often addresses the anxiety of failure and success in modern society, frequently with an eye toward the rarefied art world in which he operates. The look and style of retro printed ephemera, promotional materials, and posters inform his aesdietic, but he has opted to imbue both form and content with his own subversive twist, undermining the issues of reproduction that are inherent to printinakhig, His early movie posters for invented horror films are executed in traditional techniques of screenprint and letterpress, rather dian the easier, more expethent, and more "modern" choice of digital printing, and exist only in single examples rather than in the multitude that one might naturally expect from a movie poster.
Brannon s letterpress prints also exist solely as unique examples. Inspired in part by Marimekko fabrics in his childhood home, and die clean look of retro posters, mid-century design, and corporate logos, his schematized renderings pair perfecdy with, letterpress's clean-edged, slightly nostalgic air. The images are paired with his own, equally well-edited texts, fragments and phrases that paint forlornly cinematic pictures of insufficiency, disappointment, and regret. Sana & Dance sets quotidian elements - a hanger, a syringe, an invitation - against an interior monologue of professional ennui: "I'm turning on the autopilot. Undoing my seatbelt. Loosening my tie. Leaving the cockpit. Making small talk with the stewardesses. Walking to the rear of die plane .Ta king a seat. Pouring myself a drink . . ."
In addition to renewed interest in seemingly bygone techniques, there is also a revived interest in the idea of print as publication. Printed Matter organized the first New York Art Book Fair in 2006 in the former Dia building on West Twentysecond Street. As Holland Cotter noted, it was devoted to "books as art, radier than to books about art."'1 Just six years later, the fair now sprawls across two floors of MoM A /PS 1, with over two hundred exhibitors from around the world, an ancillary outdoor tent, and a two-day academic conference on many aspects of art book culture. Focused on zines, magazines, artists' books, graphic novels, and small publishers of theory and critical discourse, the Art Book Fair has rapidly grown to mirror the expanded activities of printed publications.
Dexter Sinister, run by Stuart Bailey and David Reinfurt, offers an interesting example of a new approach to publishing. Bailey and Reiiifurt first proposed the idea for a self-contained publishing workshop that would absorb all aspects of book making - everything from graphic design to distribution - for the 2006 Manifesta 6 biennial in Nicosia, Cyprus. Though Manifesta 6 was never realized. Dexter Sinister was. The two found a basement space on Ludlow Street in New York City that they dubbed the Just-in-Time Workshop & Occasional Bookstore. Inspired in part by Toyota s production methodology, which encourages efficiency and flexibility, and shuns excess inventory, Dexter Sinister ran publishing operations and a part-time bookstore selling its limited inventory - sparely designed and inexpensively produced art journals, newspapers, theoretical texts, and novels - from its basement space- Embraced by visual-arts organizations, Dexter Sinister participated in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, 2009 Performa festival, and 2010 Philagrafika.The project has now morphed into the Serving Library, which will publish essays online in PDF format, to be collected and published in print every six months or so.
Printed publications form the core of Argentina's Eloísa Cartonera, a community workshop that supports die local economy. Established in 2003 by Javier Carilaro, an actor and graphic designer, Washington Cucuto, an author and aimbia dancer, and Fernanda Laguna, an artist, poet, and publisher, Eloísa Cartonera is essentially a samizdat publishing house that employs local cardboard pickers, or cartoneros, in the fabrication of printed literature with unique hand-painted covers.
The economic collapse of the Argentine government in the early 2000s led to rampant unemployment, and the rise of a new breed of self-employed cartoneros, who scavenged cardboard and paper which could be sold to recyclers. Eloísa arose to buy from the cartoneros, who are paid well over the market price for their cardboard and also sometimes employed in the making of die books, alongside local children and community members. "We designed a very simple work system. Making a cartonero-book is quite simple, but let's not forget we do it all ourselves! The 'cartoneros' bring the cardboard. To this we select, cut, paint, mount, glue, everything that a cartonero-book needs. We also print everything here, in an old German Multilit 1250 -, which we very slowly grew accustomed to, even if it not always works out so well."7
Eloísa Cartonera also simultaneously spreads the literature of Latin American authors who donate their works in the spirit of the project. To date, it has published over one hundred twenty titles, from literature and short stories to plays and children's books, in a range of formats. "We were a group of people who came together to work in a different way, to learn new things through work, to build up a cooperative, to learn how to subsist and manage ourselves, to work towards a common good." "The group's concept has been embraced by others from multiple disciplines - environmentalists enticed by the recycling aspect, students of social discourse who support efforts at comm.unity-based employment, and of course, those in the visual arts. The work of Eloísa Cartonera was included in Lisette Lagnado's 2006 Sào Paulo Bienal, and in the 2010 Philagrafika. Today, similar carton-era publishers also operate in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru.
The collaborative spirit of Eloísa Cartonera, and in fact, of print shops in general, is one distinguishing aspect of printmaking. Whether in a community storefront or a professional print workshop with master printers, die atelier experience is markedly different from the often-solitary activities of the artist's studio. But recent years have seen the increasing prevalence of a do-it-yourself approach, one that circumvents the traditional roles of publisher and printer. The malleability of these roles has long been a factor. Daido Moriyama's 201 1 Printing Show re-created a 1974 performance in which he set up his own book-printing workshop. Visitors become publishers as they select and sequence photographic spreads by Moriyama, and choose a cover image to be screenprinted on site. The viewer/ersatz-publisher departs with a unique book, "hot off the press." Small intaglio plates and presses can easily be managed single-handed, as demonstrated by the entirely self-printed oeuvre of José Antonio Suárez Londoño, whose etching practice of more than thirty years continues unabated in Medellin, Colombia. But the omnipresence of Photoshop software and affordability of high-quality digital printers has given artists firsthand access to tools and materials in their own studios. Such self-directed setups give artists the freedom to work at their own pace, in their own spaces, and without the pressures of a workshop staff waiting for deployment, or concerns about making a commercially viable image.
For her major print project Satin Operator (2007), a series of thirteen largescale digital prints in an edition of three, the artist Trisha Donnelly coordinated the production of the small edition herself- Donnelly's work can be elusive, taking many forms, from a slab of marble or a snippet of sound, to a photograph of a wave, or an undocumented performance, but the work often merges fiction and reality, as the artist asks viewers to entertain different possibilities of the overlap and continuum of time and space, to allow for metaphysical ruptures, and to accept the unexplained. In autumn 2006, Donnelly described an experience in which she looked at an image for so long that it "cracked, pixilated in links, and shattered . . . [creating] a stutter of multiple images connected to the original,"9
In Satin Operator, Donnelly offers the physical manifestation of the image stutter, creating an object that can exist in multiple places at the same time - seeming to defy physics - with imagery that seems to reverberate or shudder through the artist's manipulations. Donnelly uses a found photograph of what looks to be a Hollywood film noir starlet, rotating it in steps, as the back of the figure's head becomes a profile, and then continues around to meet our gaze in cinematic slow motion. Underlying the image is a cylindrical tube, perhaps made of cardboard, swathed in bubble wrap. This support is also stretched and pulled like taffy. The double-torqueing creates the visual stutter - ruptures and repeats in time and space - that Donnelly describes. Satin Operator is perhaps emblematic of printmaking in the twenty-first century, as Donnelly embraces digital technologies to manipulate her images, produces work that blurs the distinctions among print, photograph, and installation, and is entirely self-directed and self-produced.
Print workshops unquestionably still thrive; many have celebrated momentous anniversaries: fifty years at both Tamarind Lithography Workshop and ULAE, forty-five at Gemini G.E.L. But with artists increasingly taking production into their own hands, the traditional role of publisher is not necessarily as central as it has been in the past. In an effort to address the waning role of publishers, some workshops are in the process of either reinventing themselves or attempting to create new programs from the ground up, often with thrilling results.
Established in 1961, Barcelona's Poligrafa Obra Gráfica has long been part of European publishing 's old guard. Under Manuel de Muga and his son Joan, Poligrafa produced prints in traditional techniques, working with domestic artists like Joan Miró, Eduardo Chiliida, and Antoni Tapies, and promoting the work of Spanish artists abroad. After fifty years of continuous operation, Poligrafa is entering a new era with an exciting, unexpected program of artists from across Europe, North America, and Latin America, with occasional participants from Asia. Some of the artists are surprises, inexperienced as printrnakers and known more for conceptual rigor than exquisite draftsmanship. Editions range from new work by the established New York-based artist Lynda Benglis, to multiples by younger, less familiar artists like Colombia's Nicolas Paris. When queried about Poligrafai continuity with the firm's historical trajectory, current partner José Aloy cites geography and attitude. Barcelona is not a foremost center of artistic production, but Poligrafa can offer artists the beautiful weather and food of Catalonia, and the relaxed, open, and expectation-free environment of the workshop. Aloy s invitation to artists is always just to come and have a look around - if something happens, it happens. If not, that's OK too - a project may come to fruition later. Aloy also doesn't keep artists in a roster. Even if a project is particularly successful, there is no expectation to work togemer again unless the artist desires to do so and has a project in mind.
Several years ago, Aloy visited die studio of Ryan Gander in London and extended to him an open invitation to work at Poligrafa. Gander works in diverse mediums - everything from performance, Power Point lectures, and television pilots, to photography, sculpture, and installations - but printmaking had not been not among them. Some time later. Gander proposed a project which became a series of eighteen hthographs, I've got the money if you Ve got the time (2011), produced in a small edition of six. The set comprises a grid of black rectangles, and while at first glance the images seem uniform, a closer look reveals that each is a unique variation. They were made of black electrical tape, emulating "drawings" that Gander was making in tape on the walls of his studio, and then translated to paper via Uthographic plates. Here, lofty modernist themes of the monochrome, the grid, and the niinimal are undermined by Gander's use of humble materials and playful alterations. As is often the case with Gander, the tide is highly suggestive: is it a line of dialogue, an unfilled-in back story, an offhand joke, a cynical conversation about art's commodifica tion, or possibly a reference to the hit country song of the 1950s of the same name?
On the other side of die world, the program at Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) is still in its infancy but is advancing a distinctive model and program. As part of the Singaporean government's investment in culture, it acquired the workshop of the famed American printer Kenneth Tyler in 2000. Tyler trained STPIs master printer and papermaker at his studio in Katonah, New York, before the team disassembled all his equipment, shipped it to Singapore, and reinstalled it in a former rice storehouse on Robertson Quay, Now under the leadership of director Emi Eu, STPI has developed a model that is, to my knowledge, the only one of its kind. During the weeks of a residency in Singapore, the artist may produce a body of thirty or forty unique works on paper, making use of all the tools, knowledge, and skills diat the workshop has to offer. This producdon pleases the artists' gallery representatives, who are happy to have new, unique works to exhibit and sell (and who are often less delighted about handling editions), and thus may be more supportive of the idea of a Singapore residency. But in addition, several pieces are editioned, thereby maintaining die more traditional role of print publisher. This strategy of producing a combination of unique and editioned works can be seen in recent residencies by Lin Tian Miao, Do Ho Suh, Teresita Fernández, Shambhavi Singh, and others.
From this short list of names, it can be gleaned mat STPI is also unusually global in its purview, inviting artists not just from New York and London, but also from Bihar, Tokyo, Beijing, and Manila, in what is die most globally oriented of print pubhshing programs. Though Singh is highly regarded in India, her work is less familiar abroad, and a residency at STPI afforded her the opportunity not only to work with new materials, but also to make her work known to a broader authence. Cosmic Seeds Light continues the artist's work with iconography inspired from her native state of Bihar, a rural, heavily agricultural area where the labors and lives of the residents are completely connected to their work with the land. Here, she explores a means of expressing die agricultural cycle, with round shapes in varying sizes standing not only for seeds, but also for the sieves that will be used to sift the grain that grows from the seeds. As it is a unique printed installation, rather than part of a traditional edition, Cosmic Seeds Light demonstrates the open attitude toward printmaking techniques that has become STPIs hallmark. While die workshop has facilities for expert printing with all die traditional techniques, it is completely open to new materials and challenges: experimenting with heat-activated dimensional paints, adding sculptural components, reproducing an artist's collection of stickers, incorporating thread into handmade paper pulp.
While the print world asserts what makes print unique, it simultaneously strives to be absorbed into and acknowledged by the larger art world, a desire manifested by its biennialization. Historically, die Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, established in tçc, has been the most significant print biennial, though some of its global impact has been lost in the deepening of the pool of global artistic events. But as cities like Istanbul and Gwangju seek to raise their global profiles with biennials designed to bring economic impact, proof of artistic merit, art world validation, and cultural exchange, the medium of print seeks the same.
Recent years have seen the rise of periodic shows with aspirations to broader and more global purviews. The year 2004 saw the first iteration of the San Juan Poly /Graphic Triennial: Latin America and the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico. The launch marked the complete reformulation of the Bienal de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano y del Caribe (1970-2001), which had become moribund due in part to its inability to update its traditional ideas about "graphic art" in a changing environment. In her introductory essay for Trans /Migrations: Graphics as Contemporary Art, Mari Carmen Ramirez cites the motivating factors in the revamped biennial as "the strategic considerations of the role Puerto Rico can play as a dynamic hinge between artists and peoples of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Secondly, the extraordinary change undergone by graphics worldwide over the last fifteen years and their implications for the expanding field of Puerto Rican and Latin American graphics."10 The exhibition sought simultaneously to address the specifics of print and to move them into a larger discursive debate. The second iteration, in 2009, focused on more marginal aspects of print production: artists' books and publications, newspapers, archives, flags, and currency, while the third, scheduled to open in the spring of 2012, will focus on the collaborative nature of printmaking.
The year 2010 saw the launch of Philagrafika, described by organizers as "one of the largest art events in the United States and the world's most important print-related exposition."" The event included over three hundred participating artists in eighty Philadelphia venues; it sought not only to affirm the traditional aspects of printmaking, but also to move beyond these boundaries to include work that addressed similar technical or conceptual concerns. In some instances, this manifested itself as printed installations, as in the works by Regina Sirviera or Orit Hofshi, the wallpaper projects of Virgil Marti, and SUPER/FLEX s investigation of the original and the copy. Intended to be a recurring event, Philagrafika seeks to become the platform for exchanging ideas about printmaking that the Venice Biennale has for contemporary art generally. But one can't help but wonder if these exhibitions are self-negating - their existence demonstrates that there is enough vitally interesting work to sustain such shows, though in their assertive print-specificity, they appeal to a circumscribed print-world authence, perhaps tamping down a broader curiosity.
In thinking about printmaking in the twenty- first century, I almost always circle back to Ellen Gallagher's DeLuxe (2004-5·), which may suggest the next step in printmaking 's evolution. Composed of a grid of sixty prints, DeLuxe draws on a myriad of mediums, from photogravure to digital printing. In making the prints, Gallagher looked outside the traditional implements of the atelier to pasta makers and tattoo needles, among others; while concerned with which shade of black ink in which to print, she was equally interested in how to affix layers of yellow Plasticine, gold leaf, and hair pomade to them. Hovering on the boundary between two dimensions and three, and wildly complex, Deluxe required a new degree of commitment on the part of the artist and the print workshop."
The daunting technical aspects of DeLuxe were met head-on by Two Palms Press, David Lasry's New York-based workshop, which offers both new technologies and expertise in printmaking 's traditions. Gallagher created the plates in many layers, heavily editing, reworking, and reconcefving pages from her coDection of vintage lifestyle magazines like Our World and Ebony. Once the plates were completed, a complex series of templates, guides, and stencils, and accompanying instructions were created to allow for the Two Palms staff and an army of interns to complete the editioning. As an example, the process for Válmor from the suite reads like an elaborate recipe, involving photogravure, lamination, drymounting, screenprmting templates, hand-painting eyeballs, penciling in pupils, rolling sheets of Plasticine in a pasta maker and into snake-shapes, X-acto knife cutting, gluing, molding, layering, and in the final step, pressing three -millimeter toy eyes into black Plasticine goggles. Given the complexity in making a single impression of a single print, the existence of an edition of twenty - that is, ? ,200 individual prints - almost defies possibility. Unrivaled in its scope and ambition, the project issued a challenge to the traditional notion of what a print can be.
Printmaking in the twenty-first century is permeated by the kind of porosity demonstrated by Gallagher's project: it simultaneously relies on and explodes tradition; welcomes the incursions of other mediums and materials; and adopts traditional techniques into a larger practice to suit formal, technical. Or conceptual concerns. This sense of fluidity is seen in other quarters, as publishers and printers adapt to the changing needs of both artists and die market, and as formerly codified roles are circumvented to allow for reinvigorated do-it-yourself production. Within these multiple channels of activity, there is both an embrace of tradition and an openness to expanding the boundaries, a desire to maintain and acknowledge print's specificity and to position it within a larger discussion that will keep the print world - and the print people - central to contemporary art.
1. Arthur C. Danto, "Warhol and the Politics of Prints," in Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogué Raisonné iq6i~iq8j, ed. Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann (New York: Distributed Art Publishers (DAP), in association with Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, Edition Schellmann, and Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 2003), 15.
2. Ibid., 25.
3, Mark Godfrey. "Stain Resistance," Artforum 49, no. 10 (Summer 2011): 243.
4. Luis Camnitzer. letter, no date, artist's file, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, Museum of Modem Art, New York.
5. Brad Ewing, conversation with the author, September 28, 2011.
6. Holland Cotter, "A Beehive Filled with Artists' Books and Buzz," New York Times, November 16, 2006, available at www.nytimes.com/2006/11/18/books/i8fair.html#.
7. ",About Us," at www.elQisa.cartoner3.com.ar (accessed October 2011).
9. Trisha Donnelly, transcribed from "Conversations with Contemporary Artists," Museum of Modern Art, November 10, 2006, available at www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/ audios/107/111.
10. Mari Carmen Ramirez, "Stamping (Molding) Marks: The San Juan Triennial Tracking the New Century," in San Juan Poly /Graphic Triennial: Latin America and the Caribbean (San Juan: Artes Plásticas, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and Santiago de Chile. Ocho Libros. 2004), 16.
11. José Roca, "Philagrafika 2010," in Philagrafika 2010 Guidebook (Philadelphia: Philagrafika. 2010), 6.
12. For a more thorough discussion of Deluxe, see Scott Gerson and Sarah Suzuki. "Ellen Gallagher's DeLuxe; An Investigation of the Materials and Techniques of Contemporary Printmaking." In Printed on Paper: The Techniques, History and Conservation of Printed Media, ed. jane Colbourne and Reba Flshman Snyder (Newcastle upon Tyne: Arts and Social Sciences Academic Press, Northumbria University, 2010).
Sarah Suzuki is an associate curator of prints and illustrated books at the Museum of Modern Art. Her exhibitions include "ideos Not Theories": Artists and The Club, 1942-1962 (2010), Rock Paper Scissors (2010). Mind & Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940 to Now (2010), Wunderkammer: A Century of Curiosities (2008). and Focus: Elizabeth Murray (2005), as well as solo exhibitions with Yin Xiuzhen (2010), Song Dong (2009), and Gert and Uwe Tobias (2008). Printin', cocurated with the artist Ellen Gallagher, opened In February 2012.