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Sanja Tomić


What made me interested in joining the symposium Printmaking at/behind the edge is a necessity I felt to emphasize that if one of the roles of arts is to raise questions and be innovative, it is the medium of printmaking that generates these most of all!
If we look at printmaking today, we could observe that it is not at the edge of anything, whatever the meaning of the edge might be = a physical border, boundary or a margin.
Printmaking historically has been in the middle of events and constant development, widening the scope of its interest. For a very long time, it has been crossing the borderline of all areas of our visual culture, being present among others in education, global communication, arts and media.
In her essay "Thinking through Print: An Evolutionary Approach to Imagining Graphic Futures", Jenn Law wrote that Print-based technologies have been in the process of almost constant development since before the 3rd century in Asia, and from the beginning of the 15th Century in Europe.
Yet, printmaking is even now often considered old-fashioned and is usually being overlooked, serving a seemingly more significant cause. One can often hear that visual artists use print in their artistic practice.
In this context, as artists use it to make art, we could understand that printmaking doesn't hold a legitimate position, or how my students often say is "placed at the bottom of the pyramid", together with the artist printmaker in the role of the underdog.
Sarah Suzuki argues more optimistically that printmaking is currently experiencing something of a stealth renaissance, finding ways of insulating itself into the larger activities of contemporary art without necessarily announcing itself as doing so. (Leaving an imprint: Printmaking's Broader Impact on Contemporary Art).
Furthermore, reading a collection of texts and thoughts "Printmaking in the expanded field" (Petterson,2017), one will meet a vast number of questions: Why make a print? How to define the "artist's book"? What is the nature of the print medium and what boundaries and limits apply to printmaking today? When does one make a print? Does printmaking democratize art by making it more available and affordable?
Even though we can notice that these questions incline mostly towards questioning the print itself, artists printmakers often deal with multiple social, political and aesthetic issues. Through the use of the wide range of possibilities of the medium, the artist printmaker can reach far beyond any borders, accessing diverse audiences, speaking different languages, transforming his idea to fit the circumstances. This quality positions printmaking very much in the center of the events and should be granting it a better place in the pyramid, but instead, it shifts the focus away from it. Maybe the problem is, as Jan Petterson wrote in his book of collected essays that there are too many ideas about what printmaking is, and that the biggest problem, however, is that it's we who have created the situation that we're in.
This statement makes me think about a sentence I read in an article Beyond "identity" (Brubaker and Cooper 2000).
“If identity is everywhere, it is nowhere. If it is multiple, how do we understand the terrible singularity that is often striven for and sometimes realized by politicians seeking to transform mere categories into unitary and exclusive groups?”
If the print is everywhere, it becomes difficult to identify it as an entity. Many Art schools try to position the medium by placing it in a broader context, but consequentially, one loses the track. The ongoing trends in art education that promote the idea of print taking other shapes and integrating within other media are rightly encouraged by many, but consequently are shifting the focus back on the use of the medium rather than on the medium itself. Furthermore, the medium frequently changes its name from Graphic arts and Free graphics to Print and drawing or Printmaking and Print medium.
In the school where I teach printmaking, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, we too promote developing trends, keeping in mind that development comes out of not only innovation but also previously established knowledge and practice. Through collaborations with other art schools from mainly European continent, we became aware of several different scenarios and both advantages and disadvantages of moving away from the traditional ways of teaching and making prints. And like many academies, also we inclined towards the practice of "thinking through print". The transition time towards this new way of thinking through print, of course, depends mainly on the members of the teaching staff and the stress that the institution puts on innovation. Within our printmaking program, we struggle with the limited time we have to achieve both excellence and innovation and gain acknowledgement inside and outside the institutional space. As our departments function as separate entities, through the cross-over program, we try to allow students from other departments to make prints. Still, because of a lack of engagement, we fail to introduce them to ways of developing ideas through printmaking medium, rather than only using it.
Our well-equipped studios and specifically trained teachers give students the option to generate ideas through practice and contact with the medium. However, this practice holds some of them back in the comfort zone of familiar printmaking processes. Only a few realize through intense studio work, study and contact with other media that printmaking has a distinct language that can communicate valid ideas.
After Ruth Pelzer Montada during her lecture "Print - the best-kept secret in the contemporary arts?" (2019) proved to our students that print is very much alive and widely present, they understood that they must argue and affirm the place of the print.



Thinking about the ethical, aesthetic and communicative role of printmaking and visual arts in the age of global change and crisis, I wish to mention an art project that could serve as an example of the incorporation of all these components.
The Billboard Project Antwerpen exists since 2007 and embodies the idea that art can be accessible to everyone. Original prints, paintings, collages and drawings, displayed in the billboards in the public space have a concurrently communicative, ethic and aesthetic role.
Recently a special edition of the Billboard Project has been organised as a reaction to the current pandemic crises. In "The Quarantine Edition" the artists displayed 200 digitally printed artworks that were communicating how we as society encounter the pandemic and the lockdown.
The project witnessed social engagement of artists, once again communicative role of print and the importance of the presence of aesthetics in the public space. Additionally, the lockdown provided plenty of room in billboards and empty streets which made the visual experience and the ethical value of the project remarkable.
Through this art project, we have acknowledged that the capacity of printmaking to communicate to a broad audience, engage in public space and visually attract, pushes the medium beyond its intrinsic artistic values. Moreover, in previous editions, we have noticed that the tactility of hand-printed matter, even behind glass in many cases can outstand digital prints in their aesthetic value.
Because of the reproductive and assimilatory qualities as well as the ability of articulation in different circumstances, print is very often having the role of advocating ethical engagement of art in the society.
That is why numerous social and artistic projects and initiatives commonly consist of printed matter.
Currently, international biennials /triennials dedicated to printmaking as well as seminars and lectures attract manly if not only the printmaking artists and particular audience. They generally exist to encourage artists printmakers and promote printmaking, but unfortunately, they often do not reach out to a different environment.
Their importance in collecting information and documenting discourses is, without a doubt, essential for further developments and discussions about the position of the medium.
Regardless of this great value, their engagement and dissemination of knowledge about printmaking in more diverse artistic environments are necessary.

Sanja Tomić

Sanja Tomić (1979, Belgrade, Serbia), lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. Education: 1998 –2000 monumental Painting at the Academy of Applied Arts, Belgrade; 2000 – 2002 painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts/Antwerpen; 2005 – 2009 printmaking at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts/Antwerp; 2008 – 2010 educative Master at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts/Antwerp. From 2010 – 2012 assistant to a Master lithographer Rudolf Broulim. From 2010 teacher at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp 2007, founder of Billboard Project Antwerpen. Full-tme teacher of fine arts/printmaking. More



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