Associate Professor Fritha Langerman, Director of Michaelis and Senior Associate of the CCA, Professor Stephen Inggs, Senior Curator of the Katrine Harries Print Cabinet as well as our Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Dr Alexandra Ross, recently attended the IMPACT conference in Hangzhou, China.
The Katrine Harries Print Cabinet, a unit of the CCA housed in the depths of the Old Medical Building, includes Working Proof, a portfolio of prints commemorating the 3rd Impact International Printmaking Conference held at Michaelis in 2003. 
In a reference-rich discussion, Cassandra Wilmot, a PhD candidate at Rhodes University, reflects on some of the key concepts and themes that developed over the course of the conference. 

IMPACT 9 ‘Printmaking in the Post-Print Age: Critical and Creative Methods in the Context of Contemporary Art and Society’

Drawing together a range of printmaking enthusiasts, traders, artists and scholars every two years since its inception in 1999, IMPACT[i] was initially founded by Richard Anderton and Professor Stephen Hoskins upon their realisation for the need “to create an international forum specifically for printmakers” which would function as “an academic forum whilst maintaining a showcase for print practitioners.”[ii]  With previous conferences hosted by institutions in Bristol (England, 1999 and 2009); Helsinki (Finland, 2001); Cape Town (South Africa, 2003); Poznan/Berlin (Germany , 2005); Tallin (Estonia, 2007); Melbourne (Australia , 2011); and Dundee (Scotland, 2013), this year’s ninth IMPACT conference (22-26 September) was held at the China Academy of Art (CAA) in Hangzhou – the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, and an area described as one of China’s “artistically most productive, economically rich and culturally advanced regions”.[iii]

1With most of the programmed events taking place in close proximity to Hangzhou’s famous West Lake (Xi Hu), “a natural landmark that has been an artistic inspiration, cultural icon and tourist attraction of China for over a thousand years”,[iv] and coinciding with both Hangzhou’s celebrated Mid-Autumn and Tidal Bore festivals, this location served as a poignant venue to host this year’s conference, titled ‘Printmaking in the Post-Print Age: Critical and Creative Methods in the Context of Contemporary Art and Society’.  This is not only because “print has been a thriving part of Hangzhou’s cultural topography” and a “vital force throughout the China Academy of Art’s (CAA) history, but further, with the invention of both paper and woodblock printing widely attributed to China (and with woodblock printing with water-based colours originating in the Lower Yangzi Delta in particular), such a return to the site of printmaking’s early (yet not uncontested) origins seemed an appropriate position from which to consider its future alongside digital advancements which have brought about the supposed ‘book-less’, ‘paperless’ and ‘substrateless’ condition of what has been dubbed the ‘post-print’ age.[v]  [Image, right: A scene from Hangzhou’s West Lake, views of which are popular motifs in historical and contemporary Chinese painting and print culture.]

Responding to Prof. Kong’s initial call to engage with questions surrounding, but not limited to, the cultural status and meaning of printmaking “in relation to broader historical changes and technological developments”; examinations of whether and how “shared materials or techniques in traditional printmaking processes … vary in meaning according to different cultural contexts”; and evaluations of the extent to which digitization is “revolutionizing the art of printmaking”, each of the academic papers and illustrated talks presented were categorised into one of four themed sessions.[vi]These themed sessions, which ran alongside exhibitions[vii], workshop demonstrations[viii], and a trade fair, each consisted of a number of themed, yet often interrelated panel discussions – those of  ‘History, Language and Criticism’; ‘Print as Social Engagement’;  ‘Print, Play and Exploration’; ‘Print Performance and Collaboration’; ‘Traditional, Digital and Hybridity’; ‘Material un-material’; and ‘Re-imagining Print’ respectively.

Engaging predominantly with the overarching theme of ‘Print in the Post-Print Age’, contributions to this conference were largely synonymous in responding to the perceived threat of digitalisation and the implied dissolution of the medium associated with this term.Rather than lamenting a diminishing field, each contribution pointed largely to the ways in which technological innovations have expanded the ontology of printmaking: facilitating new modes of materiality, new concepts, and new capacities for reaching the public.  And while this was shown to have implications for conventional understandings of some of the defining characteristics of printmaking, such as the ‘matrix’, the ‘edition’, and the ‘multiple’,[ix]in this way posing a much needed challenge to the existing and arguably outmoded “terminology, definition and constructs used to interpret and interrogate printmaking”,[x] it was also shown that these same digital media technologies are in fact simultaneously responsible for the renewed interest in traditional, “tactile hand-made methods of image production”.[xi]This was made evident by speakers in the panel ‘Material un-material’, each of whom pointed in particular to the opportunities brought about by the “evaporation of material into digital vapour”.[xii]

Far from decrying the ‘dematerialisation’ of the image as brought about by the immediacy and instantaneity of digital technologies which has resulted in “the overwhelming majority of prints” now being “produced, viewed and distributed electronically”,[xiii] or mourning their subsequent loss of material substance and tactility, speakers such as Conroy referred instead to the “emancipation of the print from the page”.[xiv]  Rather than displacing or threatening the embodied experience of the physical print, these authors argued that although outnumbered by their digital counterparts, the physical print’s digitally irreproducible unique qualities and comparative rarity has infact encouraged a “new emphasis on the physical action of making and the psychological impact of material”.[xv]  And it was precisely by means of paying recognition to this physical process of making that several additional speakers (in the ‘Print, Play and Exploration’ panel in particular), emphasised the conceptual value of the print’s processes and materiality.

Considering the ontological impact of the physical act of producing a print by analysing a number of specific technical requirements (such as the matrix, platemaking, and editioning), several of these aforementioned papers emphasised a process over artefact-orientated mode of practice, with speakers such as Zimna proposing that the term ‘post-print’ should be considered to refer to “a state of mind” where the artist “uses the medium of the print as a conceptual tool rather than a means of production of an edition.”[xvi]Resonating in this way with Keckes, who too emphasised the “process of making and thinking through making”,[xvii] these ideas found further articulation in Zimna’s Colouring Book series of work which was exhibited at the Sanshang Contemporary Art Gallery. [Images below: Linocuts from Kataryzna Zimna’s Colouring Book series exhibited at the Sanshang Contemporary Art Gallery in Hangzhou]

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In this series of seven linocuts displayed alongside brightly coloured pens and pencils, Zimna presented to the audience “a set of impressions” of the “huge concrete block of flats” in her surrounding neighbourhood in Lodz, Poland.[xviii]Each predominantly grey in colour, these ‘impressions’ – “empty outlines of places, objects and scraps of nature” – took shape in the blank, white areas and outlines which had been carved from their linoleum matrices. Forming in this way a kind of ‘negative image’, with these white areas serving as spaces in which the viewer was invited to draw with the pens and pencils provided, this series of work would seem to have fulfilled Zimna’s intention of acting as a pretext to play with the paradoxes inherent to the print: those of “absence and presence, totality and fragmentation, repetition and change, reproduction and original, control and chance, mechanical/digital and handmade, and so on”.[xix]

Most recognizably challenging the conventional distance imposed between the viewer and the signed and editioned print by allowing the audience to co-author the works, and thereby complicating the traditional roles of artist/viewer, this series is demonstrative of Mutchler and Urban’s conviction that in the age of the ‘post-print’, “the act of making, and the authorship of that act, can belong to anyone”, and further supports their argument testifying to the participatory possibilities of the post-print.[xx]  For like the examples described in their presentation, in this work the “systems of print” intrinsically linked to its process (the sequential and methodical means of its production) are revealed to be “no longer just a means to an end”, but rather are shown to “have renewed purpose with participatory possibilities uniquely positioned to engage the audience”.[xxi]

Such ‘renewed purpose’ was made further evident in papers which engaged with the themes of ‘Print Performance and Collaboration’, many of which demonstrated that in addition to the widely acknowledged collaborative working relationships (between man and machine, artist and technician/printmaker, and so forth) which facilitate the production of the print as an image, the medium furtherhas the capacity toenable “inter-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary discussion and exploration” and to function in this way as “as a vehicle for interaction –for crossing and connecting communities and cultures”.[xxii]Showcasing a range of unexpected projects undertaken by printmakers in collaboration with specialists from diverse professional fields (including neuroscientists, architects, engineers, poets and composers), each of these papers demonstrated the faculty of the mediumto exceed the purpose of purely picturing,of pure representation.

Reflecting on the process of producing The Scales of Life for the Translational and Interdisciplinary Research building for the University of Dundee’s College Life Science’s Discovery Centre, for instance, Shemilt’s account of her public SciArt commission, produced in collaboration with Regius Professor Michael Ferguson and architect Jo White, outlined a process of negotiation between herself (as artist), scientists and engineers.[xxiii]

Commissioned to conceptualise and execute a design for three of the building’s external facades which would communicate the key areas of Life Science research undertaken within the building, this collaborative project took its final form in sixteen perforated columns produced using “printmaking techniques combined with digital digitalisation and engineering in metal”.[xxiv]  These sheets were affixed to the structure of the building’s exterior in vertical panels, each depicting Shemilt’s artistic abstractions of the four key scales of life: Molecular, Organellar, Cellular and Tissue.  While these artistic renderings had to meet certain aesthetic goals determined by Shemilt, they also needed to be scientifically useful, and sound in their engineering, in this way posing a challenge to both the scientist and artist in the visualisation process, as well as to the collaborating architect and the engineering company commissioned to cut the metal sheets.

A literal manifestation of curator Min Han’s (2015)statement that emphasised the transformative capacity of the print to facilitate “a means of involvement in social views and dimensions” which can – to use printmaking terminology – ‘bleed’ beyond the margins of the print, pushing beyond its “outward appearance” to extend “to the engineering of society itself”, Shemilt’s account of this collaborative project was furthermore one of several papers which expanded on the illustrious historical role of prints as communicative tools, facilitating the spread of “knowledge, ideas and human wisdom”.[xxv]

While historically facilitated by the print’s disseminative potential as a multiple, authors such as Thorburn considered the implications of the newfound disseminative ease afforded by digital and multimedia platforms.  Reflecting on the legacy of the print in South African activism in relation to the ‘digital multiple’, and with reference to provocative “newly activist”South African works, Thorburn’s contribution clearly demonstrated the continuing efficacy of the print.More specifically,  the ‘digital multiple’ as a tool for freedom of expression and political commentary, highlighting in particular the usefulness of digital image-sharing platforms – which enables an image to be shared, forwarded, downloaded, and even printed – in allowing for the broader dissemination and resilience of the politically ‘charged’ image.[xxvi]

This digital disseminative expediency was further elaborated upon by speakers such as Oremus (2015), whose paper noted the consequent change from local to global means of production brought about by means of the internet, where “the product from the matrix can now exist solely in a virtual world”, be “transmitted digitally and printed in both two and three-dimensional form anywhere around the globe” and “be viewed or even owned by millions”.[xxvii]Using the cartographical concept of the ‘Geo-Code’ as a metaphor to explore not only the consequent shifts in the flows of meaning and appreciation of the print artefact brought about by such mutable boundaries, but also as a means to navigate and map “the contemporary and dynamic space printmaking occupies”, Oremus’s paper outlined several of the works included in the exhibition Geo-Codes: Mapping a Practice in the Post Print Age.[xxviii]  [Image below: Gavin Baily and Sarah Bagshaw’s Terra Incognita Series: Codex, a Software Visualization of Wikipedia Language, and part of the Geo-Codes exhibition]

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Curated by Oremus and Bebout, this exhibition was open for the duration of the conference at a venue at the CAA and showcased a variety of works produced by a diverse range of artists, which included Gavin Bailey, Maitha Dimithan, Lee Ann Paphapill, Morenshin Allahyan, Ji Lee, among others.While not all of these artists identify as printmakers,each work effectively navigated new frontiers in the printmaking discipline, uniquely reinterpreting print media by incorporating interdisciplinary approaches and mechanical methods such as photography, scanning, video and animation tools, as well as emerging techniques in the imaging sciences and surveillance devices such as drones and body scanning equipment as a means to “express time, space and location”.[xxix]Expanding the language of printmaking by means of both innovative methodologies and novel applications of technologies, and conversely re-inventing the capabilities of these technological developments by surpassing their intended purpose, each work was in this way“inclusive of past, present, and future forms of visual expression”.[xxx] [Images below: Left: Installation view of the Geo-codes exhibition.  At the centre is a digital print produced by Maitha Demithan, titled Blossomed, produced by using a flatbed scanner; Right: Hyperbol, a collaborative installation work produced by Leigh-Ann Pahapill and Kai Lee Lui which incorporates prints made using Bio-Foam, as well as video.]

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Integrating new technologies as opposed to being superseded by them, it was by means of exhibitions such as this, as well as the aforementioned arguments put forth in academic papers and illustrated talks that demonstrated that despite its provocative prefix, the term ‘post-print’ – as Cao Yigiang hypothesised in his keynote speech – “does not suggest the end of traditional printmaking” but rather signals a need to “explore the multiplicity of new channels that may be available for the renaissance, development, and broadening of printmaking and its artistic value.”

Shown in each presentation, demonstration, and exhibition to be a medium constantly redefining itself within changing contexts, it was in this way that not unlike those customarily indulging in dense, moist moon cakes whilst waiting to witness the spectacle of the tidal bore rushing into the Qiantang River that during the course of this conference we too looked in anticipation toward shifting horizons, examining largely the extent to which the surging tide of digital media technologies have both infiltrated traditional printing methods and extended the boundaries of printmaking practice, while simultaneously paying tribute to its long-established traditions in various cultural contexts.

 

Cassandra Wilmot’s current research is centred on contemporary printmaking in South Africa that considers the embodied practice of printmaking as one that is both representational and performative. Wilmot’s own presentation, ‘Remarkable Territories: Thinking along Lines of Site and Sight in Treading Soft Ground’ focused on the collaborative two-part live print performance ‘Treading Soft Ground’ produced by Katherine Bull and Warren Editions last year.

 

[i] An acronym for ‘International Multi-disciplinary Printmaking, Artists, Concepts and Techniques’

[ii]www.uwe.ac.uk

[iii]von Spee, C. 2015. ‘The West Lake in paintings and prints.  A local image goes global’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 504-508.

[iv]Ibid.

[v]Xu, J. 2015. ‘The Phantoms of Print’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. vii-xvii.

[vi]Kong, G. 2015. ‘Printmaking in the Post-Print Age: Critical and Creative Methods in the Context of Contemporary Art and Society’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. xxvi-xxvii.

[vii]These included ‘Intersecting Practice of Contemporary Printmaking in the UK’, ‘Print in the Post-Print’; ‘Visions of Printmaking – Exhibition of Printmaking Departments from 8 Academies of Fine Arts in China’; ‘The Growth of Tradition,’ among others.

[viii]These included the following: ‘Japanese Washi Display and Hands-on Papermaking Workshop’ and ‘Woodcut Rubbing Demonstration and Hands-on Workshop’ (Awagwami Factory); ‘Relief Printmaking with Silk Cut Linoleum’ (Bridget Hillebrand); ‘Carbon Transfer Printing’ (Peter Mosely); as well as a demonstration of ‘Printing with Rice-starch Ink on Bamboo Paper.’

[ix]Oremus, K. 2015a. ‘New Ways of Multiple Making: Perceptual Pathways in Printmaking’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp.486-493.

[x]Barnard, T. 2015. ‘A Pressing Issue: language, time and technology in contemporary printmaking discourse’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 40-46.

[xi]Uhlman, P. 2015. ‘Embodied Meaning and the Creative Process: New Meanings Arising Within Materiality and Artists’ Books in the Post Print Age of the 21st Century’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 375-381.

[xii]Cornell, D. 2015. ‘Dark Energy: Working at the Perimeter’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 494-498.

[xiii]Mosely, P. 2015. ‘Material Matters: The Aesthetic Potential of Surface and Texture in the ‘Post-Print’ Age’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 331-337.

[xiv]Conroy, R. 2015. ‘Photographic Materiality in the Age of the Inkjet Print’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 369-374

[xv]Jeffries, F. 2015. ‘Material Empathy: Making/Un-making/Re-Making To Navigate the Undercurrents of Cultural Experience’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 324-330.

[xvi]Zimna, K. 2015a. ‘Autographic.  Play with the graphic medium in a post-print age’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 150-155.

[xvii]Keckes, I. 2015. ‘Expanded Print’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 157-161.

[xviii]Zimna, K. 2015b. ‘Coloring Book’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Exhibitions, Open Portfolios, Workshop Demonstrations and Trade Fair. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 276-279.

[xix]Ibid.

[xx]Mutchler, L. and Urban, J. 2015. ‘Assembly’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 196-201.

[xxi]Ibid.

[xxii]Harrison; cited in Shemilt, E. 2015a. ‘Celluloid Film Futures: Can Printmaking Provide A Model For the Future Sustainability of Celluloid Film Practice’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 446-451

[xxiii]Shemilt, E. 2015b. ‘Printmaking in the Post-Print Age: Critical and Creative Methods in the context of Contemporary Art and Society’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 89-94.

[xxiv]Ibid.

[xxv]Cao, Y. 2015. ‘The Power of Printmaking’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. xx-xxi.

[xxvi]Thorburn, D. 2015. ‘The print is mightier than the spear’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Academic Papers, Illustrated Talks, Themed Panels. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 117-121.

[xxvii]Oremus, K. and Bebout, C. 2015. ‘Geo-Codes: Mapping a Practice in the Post Print Age’, in IMPACT 9 International Printmaking Conference Proceedings: Exhibitions, Open Portfolios, Workshop Demonstrations and Trade Fair. China: China Academy of Art Press, pp. 282-284.

[xxviii]Ibid.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx]Ibid.