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Ruth Pelzer-Montada

1) What is the position of printmaking today, in 2020?

That is a big question which I take to be about printmaking’s position within the context of contemporary art. I have tried to conceptualise the situation as I see it for my contribution to IMPACT 10 (Santander, 2018) under the key phrases: ‘print in art’ and ‘print as art’.
‘Print in contemporary art’ refers to work by ─ usually ─ well-known artists that employs print as part of a multi- or intermedia practice. Such artists do so ‘in spite of or for the sake of print’ (Suzuki, 2011) and such work is seen globally in major galleries and museums and exhibited as part of the artist’s oeuvre in another medium or media.
‘Print as art’ refers to editioned, ‘fine art’ or ‘original’ prints, displayed in frames on gallery walls. In other words, ‘print as art’ designates print as a pictorial medium in the modernist tradition as a finely crafted medium-specific entity, the expression of the artist’s unique vision. In printmaking medium-specific qualities vary depending on the technique or techniques employed, be they analogue or digital, but the general principle remains the same. Such work is generally, although not exclusively, made by artists who define themselves a printmakers and seen in print-specialist galleries, either commercial ones or those affiliated with public or private print workshops.

Of course this is an oversimplification for several reasons:
─ Well-known artists who were/are not printmakers have and still engage with ‘print as art’.
─ ‘Print specialists’ now frequently engage in what has been termed, in the printmaking field although not beyond, ‘expanded print’, opening print out beyond the edition into installation, performance, video and so on (see Jan Pettersson, 2016). Hence ‘expanded print’ overlaps with ‘print in art’ rather than ‘print as art’ and individual print specialists nowadays often operate within the two models.
─ In ‘print in art’, the printed work or object often takes a form that goes beyond the picture frame. Its specific qualities as regards the craft of printmaking are determined by the conceptual remit of the artist. This does not necessarily mean the absence of such qualities, but they are not foregrounded or sought as a matter of course. For example, Australian multi-media artist Brook Andrew employed the fabulous skills of Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga) specialist Shoichi Kitamura for two works in his 2009 Danger of Authority print series. These prints rely on the striking qualities of mokuhanga in relation to their projected theme and affect, not to highlight them per se (link; see also Pelzer-Montada, 2015).

Crucially, the phenomena to which the two terms refer are not equally weighted in the context of contemporary art. The marginalisation of print in the art world has been a common theme since at least the 18th century (Lambert, 1988/2018). Some have even put the blame on printmakers themselves (see printmaker Ruth Weisberg, 1986/2018). Luis Camnitzer (1999), also a keen advocate of printmaking, saw the evidence for printmakers effecting their own marginalisation. He attributed this factor to the popular assumption within the printmaking field that mastering the craft was the priority; the art – in that view – would then manifest automatically, miraculously.
By contrast, Sarah Suzuki (2011) and Susan Tallman (2012), amongst others, have emphasised the importance of print, even its centrality, for contemporary art. This view contrasts with print’s lacking acknowledgment in the broader art context where its specificity ─ those values dear to print specialists – is not recognised or regarded as relevant. Hence, subject-specific events such as this symposium, print biennales, conferences and commercial fairs suffer from the dilemma of, on the one hand, creating an identity and forum for print and its practitioners, but on the other, on account of their ‘niche’ character preventing broader visibility and appreciation.
Both authors have provided valuable insights, but, base their views on implicitly and explicitly binary and oppositional models. Instead, I suggest to think of the situation in more fluid terms. At the first IMPACT conference, Kathryn Reeves (1999/2018), quoting Foucault, asked: ‘Can we now theorise a space for printmaking practice that … "is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites"?’ (See also Balfour, 2016/18). Conceiving of the situation in terms of relational rather than oppositional terms, I think printmakers need to and already are, as Jenn Law (2016) has argued, confidently taking their place in contemporary art.
A crucial term here is the notion of ‘contemporary art’. It does not merely denote the common-sense assumption of art that is happening just now ─ one often rightly criticised for ‘empty eclecticism, historical amnesia, indifference’ etc. (Rebentisch, 2015, 226). Instead, according to Juliane Rebentisch (2015), it ‘opens up the present to the question of the future as well as to that of the past’ (224) and ‘designates what inextricably conjoins reality with possibility’ (ibid). Art and the role of the artist is ‘as a witness to his or her cultural and social present’ (228).
Or as neuoscientist and philosopher Alva Noe’s explains: There are ‘first order’ activities like walking, talking, singing, thinking, making and so on; and ‘second-order’ activities, namely art, that put first-order activities ‘on display’. ‘Dance as an art, or choreography, … puts dancing, as we know it [in everyday life] on display; it stages it. And in doing so it stages, or displays us …’. (33)
What this means in relation to print today is something that we can perhaps discuss during the symposium!

2) Has printmaking “crossed” the edge of the medium or expanded/built a new field of action?

(See also my comments under Nr 1).
What does the assumption that there is an ‘edge’ imply?
In English ‘to be on the edge of something’ or ‘to be close to the edge’ implies that something or someone is close to the point at which something different, especially something bad, will happen (Longman Dictionary).
Being ‘on the edge of one’s seat’ means being in a state of utmost excitement (both positive and negative).
Not to be confused with the phrase ‘to be on edge’ which means ‘to be nervous or worried’ (Cambridge Learners’ Dictionary).
All these terms seem to imply an anxious, even perilous state.

Moreover, instead of talking about the edge, I would like to pose the question: What if there is no edge or if there never has been an edge?

What do I mean by that?
Put simply, talking about ‘printmaking at or beyond the edge’ implies that there is something that provides/has provided a stable, never-changing core (or at least one that has not changed much, not fundamentally). I find this unhelpful in thinking about printmaking either historically or in contemporary terms.
Another important factor is that whatever is regarded to be the core also changes depending on where one looks from and who is doing the looking.
Therefore, as already argued under Nr 1, I agree with Barbara Balfour (2016/2018) who has said: ‘With print as with other media, it seems more empowering to think less in terms of a set of defining forms and attributes and more in terms of capacity and mobility, such as what one can accomplish by using certain media. … the notion of a medium as an enabling agency rather than an ossified form is appealing …
I am less interested in preserving a hierarchical or adversarial framework of media and more interested in working toward a relational understanding of print vis-à-vis other media.’
How does our conception of the status of printmaking and its position in relation to the other contemporary arts change if we adopt this outlook/way of thinking?

3) The ethical, aesthetic and communicative role of printmaking and visual arts in the age of global change and crisis

There is huge scope for print artists to address the current global and political crises and print artists do amazing work, some outright political-activist (for example, El Taller Popular de Serigrafía - The People's Screen-Printing Workshop, active between 2002 and 2007 in Buenos Aires, Argentina) others are more community-oriented. An artist who straddles both is Glasgow-based Ciara Phillips (link).
Thinking globally, it is important to take account of the geo-political imbalances that affect print practices and exchanges world-wide, as argued by South African Dominic Thorburn’s presentation at the 2011 IMPACT Conference in Melbourne: ‘Navigating the North-South Axis – Divide and Rule?’. How do we perceive/describe these imbalances? Are there endeavours to address them? What are the participants’ views on this situation?

4) The role, scope and position of printmaking in the context of artists’ poetics, curatorial practices and institutional programmes in your professional environment

In my own institution (Edinburgh College of Art) printmaking is not taught as a specific discipline but courses are offered to students on a voluntary basis. Although there are members of staff who are excellent printartists (Jane Hyslop, Jo Ganter, John Brown) academic staff teaching printmaking are mostly on small contracts hence lack the possibility of expanding the scope of printmaking. There are now also a number of PhD students engaged in projects connected to printmaking, one in the School of Design, two in the School of Art, with a fourth student likely to start in the new academic year 2021/22. In the last couple of years our new head has been instrumental in awarding a one-year residency to a contemporary artist who does not identify as a printmaker but uses printmaking in a significant way. Claire Barclay's residency last year was a huge success as she was able to generate enthusiasm among the students for printmaking. This year’s residency was unfortunately curtailed due to the lockdown. Whether such initiatives are sufficient in attracting new students to printmaking remains to be seen, but there is cautious optimism among those interested in the subject.
The new and enlarged venue of the long-established public-access workshop Edinburgh Printmakers in closer geographic proximity to the college than before has also begun to lead to attempts to forge a closer relationship between the two institutions than has been hitherto the case.
It is going to be interesting to hear from other participants what the situation is both within their respective art institution, like art schools, but also between art schools and print workshops (if they exist!) in their immediate vicinity.

5) The importance of international biennials /triennials dedicated to printmaking
See my comment under Nr 1.
A related question would be whether printmakers or artists using print attend events/apply to exhibitions etc that are primarily geared to contemporary art and whether they participate through their work and presentations and in this way raise the status of printmaking… Is there evidence to support that this is happening?
See also Nr 3 - where do international biennials /triennials dedicated to printmaking happen or rather where do they not happen?

© Ruth Pelzer-Montada, 2020/21

Image Links

Brook Andrews
El Taller Popular de Serigrafía - The People's Screen‐Printing Workshop
Ciara Phillips
Claire Barclay
Edinburgh Printmakers


Barbara Balfour, 2016. ‘The What and Why of Print’ In Printopolis, edited by Tara Cooper and Jenn Law, Toronto: Open Studio, p 156. Re-printed in: Pelzer-Montada (ed), 2018.
Perspectives on contemporary printmaking. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp114-26.
Camnitzer, Luis. 2006. ‘Printmaking: A Colony of the Arts’. Re-printed in: Philagrafika et al. 2011. The Graphic Unconscious . Philadelphia, PA: Philagrafika, 1–4. [Accessed 25 January 2018]
Lambert, Susan, 1987. ‘The Status of the Reproduction.’ In: The image multiplied: five centuries of printed reproductions of paintings and drawings, London: Trefoil Publications. Re-published in: Pelzer-Montada, Ruth (ed) (2018) Perspectives on contemporary printmaking. Critical writing since 1986. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.
Law, Jenn, 2016. ‘Notes from the margins of the empire’. In: Law, Jenn and Cooper, Tara (eds.), Printopolis. Toronto, Ontario: Open Studio, 158–73.
Noë, A., 2018. ‘Art and entanglement in strange tools’. Phenomenology and mind, 14(14), pp.30–36.
Pelzer-Montada, Ruth, 2015. ‘Brook Andrew and Rebecca Salter : Thinking contemporary art through Mokuhanga’. In: Print quarterly, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, 12, p. 412-424.
Pettersson, Jan (ed) 2015. Printmaking in the Expanded Field - A Pocketbook for the Future Oslo: Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
Rebentisch, Juliane, 2015. ‘The Contemporaneity of Contemporary Art,’ New German Critique, 124, no. 42, 1, (February 1), pp.223–237.
Reeves, Kathryn, 1999. ‘The Re-Vision of Printmaking,’ conference paper presented at IMPACT International] Printmaking Conference, University of West England, Bristol, 22-35 September 1999. Re-published in: Pelzer-Montada, Ruth (ed), 2018. Perspectives on contemporary printmaking. Critical writing since 1986. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.
Suzuki, Sarah, 2011. ‘Print People: A Brief Taxonomy of Contemporary Printmaking.’ In: Art Journal 70 (4): 7-25.
Tallman, Susan, 2012. ‘Wallflower at the Art World Ball’ keynote speech for the second SNAP International Print Symposium, Bentlage, Rheine, Germany. In: Martin Rehkopp & Knut Willich (eds) SNAP 2012, 2nd International Printmaking Symposium. Rheine: Edition and Verlag Kloser Bentlage, 2013.
Weisberg, Ruth, 1986. ‘The Syntax Of The Print, In Search Of An Aesthetic Context’. The Tamarind Papers, A Journal Of The Fine Print 9 (2): 52-60. Re-published in: Pelzer-Montada, Ruth (ed), 2018. Perspectives on contemporary printmaking. Critical writing since 1986. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.

Ruth Pelzer-Montada
Education and Career: First and Second Staatsexamen German Language and Literature & Political Science, University of Heidelberg (equivalent of Masters Degree and Postgrad Degree in Education), 1976. BA (Hons) Drawing & Painting (Edinburgh College of Art), 1989. PhD Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee (Title: A Poetics of Repetition: Theory and Practice in/of Printmaking), 1978-83. Lecturer in German at different Scottish universities on a scheme by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), 1990. Lecturer in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh and other HE art institutions. More



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