The Fluid Terrains of Print in/as Public Space
Various areas or ‘layers’ of public space come to mind when considering the panel theme.
As a writer on prints and printmaking I am very interested in the kinds of public spaces or public spheres for critical debate in the field. There appears to be a specialist audience that is composed of artists, writers, academics, educationalists, curators and so on. Its public sphere is constituted through various dedicated publications (such as Art in Print), subject-specific associations (such as the Southern Graphics Council International) and public bodies specialising in print, such as museums as well as print workshops. Some publications are country-specific (such as UM:DRUCK in Austria, or as Rapport was in the Nordic countries), others are more international. Add to this biennales, conferences and symposia, often, but not always affiliated to the former organisations or institutions. It would be good to map this discursive, global field and its sometimes overlapping, sometimes quite divergent constituencies, including leading personalities. My own experiences of publishing have shown that the discourse of printmaking remains, more or less, within the specialist field. One pressing issue in my view therefore is how to change this situation, in other words, how to expand this particular discursive public space for print: How to make an imprint in the broader field of contemporary art discourse.
This seems a worthwhile endeavour, especially since eminent figures engaged in publicising print matters in recent years, namely South American curator of the superb 2009 Philagrafika Biennale in Philadelphia, José Roca, and Christophe Cherix, Chief Curator of Prints at MOMA, New York, have argued prints’ and printmaking’s pervasiveness as a prominent, yet ‘unconscious’ (Roca) feature of contemporary art. The question then is how this presence of print in the larger public sphere of the ‘art world’ can be made ‘visible’ and why this should be a valid enterprise. Or should print pride itself on its marginal public position (within art) in order to better function (and exploit its position) as a ‘guerilla’ movement within the broader context of neoliberal societies?
A more specific, art-historical or art-critical issue may be the presence of what might be loosely called the ‘public sphere’ in art works employing printed matter (see, for one example, the magazine pages employed in Ellen Gallagher’s Deluxe-Series, 2004-5). This is in addition to practices that ‘leak’ print out into the public sphere in terms of relational or social art practice rather than with regard (or in addition) to ‘mere’ public exhibiting. Often, these two spheres overlap, as with Aleksandra Mir’s Postcards from Venezia project (2009) or Super Flex’s Copy Light/Factory pieces (2008) that allow audience participation.
Last, not least, there is the question of what we understand public space or the public sphere to be today. In network culture, artists as members of ‘networked publics’ (Kazys Varnelis) not only use the internet as a site for their work. The specialist public, as described above, has become the networked public (see, for example, the web site Printeresting). In general terms, what are the effects of this amalgamation of the real and the virtual? How does network culture shift ‘the notion of both place and public art’? Can one speak of the internet as a site or an ‘unsite of public art’? How do we understand ‘site’ ‘in media art practices that exist across media and in different places’? These questions (adopted from Maria Miranda’s symposium at ISEA 2011 in Istanbul) would appear to be crucial in reflecting on print in the public sphere today.
Ruth Pelzer-Montada, PhD, is an artist and lecturer in Visual Culture in the School of Art at Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh. She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Scotland and abroad. Her solo print-installation Schnörkeleien was shown in the Talbot-Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, in 2007. Her essays on contemporary printmaking have appeared in national and international academic journals, such as Art Journal, Visual Culture in Britain, IMPACT International Printmaking Conference Proceedings (2011 & 2013) and online. She is currently editing a critical anthology on prints and printmaking which will be published in 2016.