Fine Art Printing
Die Publikation »No Strg Z« über die Freie Druckgrafik der HfG Offenbach mit Texten von Bernd Kracke, Volker Steinbacher, Hans Zitko und Stefan Soltek ist erschienen.
Die Gestaltung der Broschüre übernahm Katharina Holl.
Letterpress printing, gravure printing, photo-engraving, surface printing, monotype
Fine art graphic reproduction has its place at the point of intersection between drawing, painting, sculpture and photography. As a medium with laws of its own it feels strongly about its autonomy as a special way of coming up with and composing images. In this respect the possible ways of duplicating it are often of lesser importance. With its visual and tactile qualities graphic reproduction differs from other forms of art and the artist’s approach and strategies are also different. Whereas in painting the artist’s work is conducted directly at the canvas and in sculpture that of the sculptor directly at the stone, graphic reproduction initially takes place on an intermediate medium, a wood plate, a stone, a copper plate. The actual drawing, the structure, is applied to this or removed from it, something that often involves considerable resistance from the material in question. It is only in a second step, the inking and the subsequent printing process that the ultimate work of art comes into being.
This method of working in two steps characterizes all kinds of printing techniques. Here, both steps are equally important and the decision to opt for a particular design is taken only after various different prepress proofs. For example, if the printing process is bad a well-worked plate loses all its charms, conversely an unsuccessful engraving or even a plate that somebody has a chanced upon can develop undreamt of qualities if suitably inked. The path along the way is littered with adversities and surprises and this is what constitutes the particular quality of graphic reproduction – artistic work in combination with their material. In fact it seems almost impossible to mechanically transfer a planned image onto the printing plate and in the cases where this does work the results are usually underwhelming.
Graphic reproduction has long since broken free of antiquated tools and the smell of wax, tar and turpentine, now seeing itself as a modern medium that includes digital and photographic processes. Graphic reproduction derives its effect from things that are unclear, that develop a life of their own and often from failure, as well. Working in the workshop often takes up so much time that in the present day this fact is often considered too much to expect. We are happy to invest this amount of time.
- The fine art graphic reproduction workshops work without toxins.
- Poisonous chemicals and other hazardous substances have been largely replaced by non-toxic, environmentally friendly products.
- The workshops boast an etching press with a press bed measuring 60 x 100 cm, a Breisch etching press with a press bed measuring 80 x 150 cm, a Plankenhorn etching press with a press bed measuring 130 x 240 cm and a lithography press with a press bed measuring 75 x 95 cm.
- A separate room with an extractor fan allows us to etch following the harmless Edinburgh process and to expose and develop photo-etchings.
mountains to the left, lakes to the right
Opening speech by Prof. Dr. Juliane Rebentisch on April 26, 2012 at Kunstverein Familie Montez, Frankfurt am Main
Fine art etching, The title of the exhibition »links berge rechts seen« (mountains to the left, lakes to the right) relates to a piece of writing dated 676 years ago to the day. This being a letter, which the poet and chronicler Francesco Petrarca addressed to his brother on April 26, 1336, and in which he describes how he scaled Mont Ventoux in the Provence. Upon reaching the summit, Petrarca sees the landscape unfurl beneath him: mountains to the left, lakes to the right. Petrarca’s experience of the landscape as seen from the mountain top is unanimously seen as a pivotal point in cultural history at the threshold between Middle Ages and the modern era, insofar as Petrarca reflects on his own subjectivity within the medium of landscape observation.
Volker Steinbacher and the students working with him consider engraving a similar, one could say actually epoch-making, threshold in regards to art theory. What we are then presented with here is an exhibition that aims to achieve a completely new understanding of fine art etching, as compared to the previously maybe slightly antiquated image this medium has. It shows the results of one year of the students’ labor, in which they grappled intensively with the question of how the time-honored institution of fine art etching can be reinvented under the banner of contemporary art free from boundaries. In reality, contemporary art is full of hybrid works that situate themselves in-between the different artistic media and that so obviously eschew the classification according to theories of genre or separate artistic disciplines. In addition to this, art has also, secondly, absorbed non-art elements – so that the status of traditional artistic genres with their modes and media of representation becomes highly questionable in relation to the perception of art in general. But if art can no longer be found where it used to be presented according to traditional genre conventions – on a plinth, in a frame or behind glass on a wall – then the question arises, as to what the consequences will be for a traditional discipline like etching. Moreover, the analogous techniques of etching are now challenged by completely different, digital image making possibilities.
It is against this backdrop that the traditional techniques begin to look especially attractive, as a sort of counterpoint to the reign of the digital. Decisions in image making cannot be reversed when working in these traditional techniques, as opposed to working with images digitally. Also, there is an uncontrollable moment in the procedures carried out when making an image. For example, the acid used for the etching technique cannot be controlled completely, the material always takes on a life of its own as compared to what is artistically plannable - and therefore, the moment in which the printing process is completed always remains full of surprise. As the paper is lifted up and the result becomes visible, this result is of course always additionally defamiliarized because it is back to front, an inversion of the template that the artist has been working on – sometimes for a long time – and which he or she has scrutinized so closely in the process. The relative inner logic of the material in such techniques not only raises the risk of failure but also makes the presence of the material used much more tangible. All of these various components of a resistance no longer found in the digital world of availability and smooth surfaces may indeed be reason enough for an increased interest in etching today. If we wanted to put it a bit more pathetically, we could compare the student’s sensitivity for these aspects of the antiquated medium with the sensitivity Walter Benjamin attributed to the Surrealists in relation to the revolutionary energies of the “outmoded”. Consequently, this is not just a simple return to an old technique, but a return set against the backdrop of contemporary issues. And so, a number of works in the exhibition point to the topicality of traditional methods of printmaking: this holds true for the Isabel Scheid’s and Sarah Marie Vesper’s linocuts just as much as for the colorized etchings by Markus Marsch, the ornamental miniatures by Martin Schmidt or the scriptural etchings by Rachel Hirth.
The attention paid to the traditional proximity of certain printmaking techniques to the portrayal of somber scenarios and the dark and seamy sides of the world, in order to make them productive with a view to, for example, certain contemporary architectural structures – especially the spooky quality of late-modern non-places – is also connected to this, as can be seen impressively in the aquatints by Max Geisler.
But the regress to long-established printing techniques in the light of contemporary developments certainly does not happen solely in the sense of a rediscovery of their traditional expressiveness in the digital age. Rather, and this is where we begin to form a new understanding of printmaking: the medium itself is opened up to other media, techniques, processes, art forms, and for concrete spatial, institutional and other contexts. Connected to this I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the artists here – all of them – and even in those cases where they have made use of traditional techniques, are sensitive to the circumstance that the works communicate with their surroundings; in some instances it is even the case that the surroundings, meaning the specific conditions of the exhibition space, are decidedly part of the work. This is also, admittedly, a consequence of the progress of opening up ways of working that aim to purposefully destabilize the boundaries between art and non-art. And so: there is, even in the way in which the works are presented, a certain re-perspectivization of printmaking, which has come about through the realization that it does not stop at the rectangle of paper it may be using to print on, but that the way in which the outcomes of that work are presented, their surroundings, their juxtaposition with other works – this does become so clear in group shows – are all things that influence the content of the works themselves.
It may have become impossible during the most recent developments in art to identify artworks simply by the conventions of the traditional art forms; which makes the status of the old categories become uncertain – but in this lies an opportunity, one that Volker Steinbacher and his students have seized; namely the opportunity to reflect on the old art of printmaking in a new way. This starts with an internal contemplation of the conditions of the medium printmaking – for example the freely adjustable ratio of paper to plate, as is the case in the works of Laura Ausserehl, who has printed different plates onto one piece of paper; Or several prints can be made of a linocut that are then collaged onto a piece of paper, as Max Kolten does in his work. What is more, a reflection on the media specificity of printmaking also allows for an internal hybridization of the separate printmaking techniques, such as for example of letterpress and intaglio, as is the case in very different way in the works of Volker Steinbacher and Dominik Gussmann. Finally, printmaking processes can also be hybridized with other forms of image making. Xingli Li has developed a process for transfering polaroids to paper using of a printing press.
But it is not just in view of such experiments with their media conditions that printmaking techniques appear in a new light. Rather, the individual aspects of the »printmaking dispositif«, if I may call it that, are isolated – this means the individual elements necessary for the diverse processes grouped under the term printmaking, whether these are manual engraving techniques or etching techniques using acid, or letterpress, intaglio or flatbed printing. These elements are considered by themselves, by being extracted as such or transferred to another media. Printmaking, as you see it in this exhibition, articulates itself anew precisely where it superficially no longer only - or no longer even - looks like printmaking.
There is for example the work by Nadine Eleni Kolodziey, who has brought scratching, as a fundamental printmaking activity, into a different constellation of media. She has primed glass plates with black paint and then scratched into these: a process that opens up further media possibilities in the areas of offset of photography. Polly Livshits understands the printing block itself as an image that cannot only be used to print from but that exhibits its own aesthetic qualities to be worked with. Stephanie Wicker arranges old printing plates coated in a thin asphalt layer in an installation. Daniel Stern has made rubbings from the surfaces of various workbenches.
Laura Fugger has printed linocut onto glass panels, which she has layered on top of each other, creating a play between two and three dimensionality – and here, in the exhibition, this also creates a very explicit play with the exhibition space as this turns from being a mere backdrop to a material support and part of the work visually. In a different way, this is also the central theme in the work of Swenja Bergold, who has printed onto both sides of a Plexiglas pane and hung it in the room rather than on the wall. The space does not show through the pane but the two dimensionality of the Plexiglas is combined with the multi-angled visibility of sculpture. In order to comprehend the work, we must walk around it and view it from all sides as we would look at a sculpture. Emilia Neumann sees the stele, and the way in which she presents her mountain pieces on board, as part of her work. Presentation is addressed as an artistic medium here, though in a different way: it is part of, rather than mere accessory to, the »printmaking dispositif«. Nicola Reinitzer finally has abstracted the act of printing from previously defined structures completely from the principles of printmaking and transferred them into an entirely different context by making a latex cast of her own body.
Thankfully, the artists and Volker Steinbacher are all here to provide more detailed information on the works exhibited and on their processes in the workshop.
All that remains for me to say is congratulations to Volker Steinbacher and his comrades-in-arms on their successful climb to the mountain summit – and to everyone else: enjoy the show!