If Johannes Gutenberg, father of the printing press, was gazing down upon the modern fruits of his 15th century efforts, I would especially want him to witness steamroller printing, a form of large-scale outdoor community printmaking that a handful of universities and artist collectives have performed in recent years. This is a type of relief printing in which an immense slab of plywood or particle board is carved by hand and then covered with lithographic ink, paper, and carpets or blankets. The image is printed by the action of a multi-ton industrial steamroller traversing the layered setup forward and backward. Many able hands are then required to lift the delicate print off of the block for drying.
Such an event entails hiring a piece of heavy-duty construction machinery to roll over a prepared plate of epic proportions. The end product? A street-sized image on street-sized paper. Such an event would have satiates both my desire to peacefully disrupt major transportation patterns and an obsession with excessive, large-scale mechanical reproduction. The meeting of hands and hearts, sloppy ink, a sheet of rag paper longer than I’ve ever seen, and a pulsating mass of raw steel barreling over asphalt.
I will offer you three examples of artists who have laid the foundation for all my plein-aire printing dreams.
1. Haig Demarjian – The original plate was carved from plywood with a drill, jigsaw, and router. The steamroller printing was an event hosted by the printmaking department of Montserrat College of Art where Demarjian teaches. The blocks of the various artists in attendance ranged from four to eight feet square, with one participant purportedly printing a design carved into a sixteen foot kayak! Demarjian’s print was exhibited briefly in a solo show at Winfinsky Gallery of Salem State College. His four-year-old son assisted in the creation of this piece. Visit his website for process images.
2. ARTORG, a Minnesota community arts group, in collaboration with Latino art collective Grupo Soap del Corazon, produced a 100-foot-long print for Northfield, Minnesota’s first community Dia de Los Muertos Celebration on November 1, 2006. Plywood blocks (4′ x 8′ each) created by a local artists were laid end to end in a parking lot and steamrolled. Printing continued for two days. The prints were exhibited in ArtOrg’s “Moving Walls” Gallery, a community space with repositionable walls. Check out a clip from “100-foot-long Steamroller Print”:
3. Drive-By Press – Gregory Nanney and Joseph Velasquez are on an extended University of Wisconsion grad school road trip, operating a press out of the back of their van. The two classmates hit the open highway in 2006, making pit stops at schools and art community sites to give demonstrations and sell t-shirts and prints made fresh from an ingenious press setup that slides in and out of the van trunk on tracks. The Drive-By Pressmen visited Space 1026, a Philadelphia-based printmaking collective and gallery space, in October for the group print show Pumping Killmud Down the Drillpipe. I helped them print myself a sexy Hello, Kitty t-shirt out in the middle of the street on a Friday night. Tickled, I was.
And so with faint nostalgia and perpetual enthusiasm, I bid you visit the web homes of these guardians of public printmaking.
So today I called Adam for a studio visit for a blog entry about how he does his crazy chandeliers (check in with us in the future). He was too busy but he said I should go see Steve Powers talk at PAFA! Okay, so I did and it was awesome. With an hour of time to kill/talk, Steve gave his Mickey Spillane gab about Overbrook (West Philadelphia represent zent), kids today and the drugs they love, and what he was thinking in his new paintings. There was a lot of talk about his Weekdays Series, photos from the New York Times and New York Post, and how he likes to quote long dead Philadelphians like Pete Rose and W.C. Feilds (actually born in Darby, but who’s counting). After going through his paintings day by day, he gave a little talk about the time he spent at Coney Island over the last three years learning how to paint signs from the masters, re-painting the midways and collecting the faded signs for his own collection. I am working on a longer interview with Mr. Powers so keep checking in.
Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof are at every gallery show I ever go to. They are on the front line of art reporting in Philadelphia. Their blog “Artblog” has been parsed everywhere from the high-class fancy-pants art mags to the local barista’s brag links. The sheer pace of their art reporting is dizzying. How do they keep this pace? Well, I shot them some questions over the inter-web, and they took some time away from looking at art to answer. Hey, Here are my questions for the blog about your blog (how post-post-modern). I thank you so much for doing this, and congrats for the hype in Art In America. Peace, Ben 10.
Ben: So what’s a typical day in the artblog world?
Artblog: Libby gets up at her house; she brushes her teeth; she drinks her orange juice then she spends the morning reading, posting and putting up pictures. Roberta gets up at her house and goes straight for the coffee. Then she puts her hands on the keyboard, and gets up hours later saying what time is it? If it’s a good day, we both get up and out the door and see some art. We have two days a week we spend together at our office/studio doing administrative things for the blog, like tweaking the code, adding to the blog roll, talking to people and applying for grants…and no, we haven’t gotten one yet. A lot of our conversation (when it’s not about art) is about how to pay ourselves for what are two full time jobs.
Ben: How many art shows do you go to in any given week?
Artblog: It really depends. Some weeks Libby is out of the house a lot seeing as many as 6 or 7 shows. Some weeks Roberta sees that many, and Libby’s home writing her heart out. Some weeks both of us are writing, writing, writing, and trying to catch up with everything we’ve seen. We see many more shows than we actually write about.
Ben: How do you see the Internet changing the way the art world works? Do you think there are more opportunities for artists, or has it made it more of a computer savvy set?
Artblog: First, there’s more networking among young artists that goes on the Internet than there was before the Internet. Myspace, blogs, email, newsletters, etc. All are contributing to inter-city and inter-nation networking. That is changing the way the art world works. Everybody seems to be looking at the same images online and so the art being made is getting more homogeneous. This is different than 10 years ago and it’s making inroads into regionalism. For Philadelphia — which was mired in academic realism and Philly regionalism — that’s a breath of fresh air. At some point the homogeneity is going to be a problem, but right now it just means everybody is in the swim of things. …. Young artists seem to be making their own opportunities more than in the past. Opening galleries, collectivizing, making work together–this is happening in the real world. We theorize that the computer networking is facilitating the real world activities. Most of the young artists we know are computer savvy and often the kind of work they make is influenced by electronic media in general. But there’s still plenty of work in traditional media coming out, even made by young artists. Painting is still hot, ditto printing, old-fashioned wet media photography and sculpture.
Ben: How does family life influence your blogging?
Artblog: Roberta gets up at the crack of dawn when nobody else is awake. Libby thinks she posts less than Roberta does because she’s so busy with family matters — and likes it that way. Roberta thinks she posts less than Libby does and she carries her burden of guilt with her daily. Family life and blogging is a daily balancing act. Even though our kids are grown, time still seems to be an issue.
Ben: What was your education/background, and have you always wanted to be reporters?
Artblog: We both were literary girls. Libby has a BA in English Lit and an MA in English Lit. Roberta has a BA in English Lit. Libby’s personal ambition was to be a novelist with a small cult following (Anais Nin, Jack Kerouac). Roberta has always wanted to make art and save the world. We both were anti-war activists in the 1960s and we see writing the blog as a political act. We’re doing more than reporting, we’re trying to sway opinion and steer the discussion on what is art, and what should be art, and what art has value (beyond sheer monetary value). We came to the blog through our 18-year collaboration on art projects. We see the blog as a collaborative art project, an archive of a time and a place for our thoughts.
Ben: Was there “one great influence” on you?
Artblog: Duchamp, Komar and Melamid, the Yippie Abbie Hoffman. I.F. Stone’s Weekly, Happenings.
Ben: Has the blog changed your own art?
Artblog: Only the production has changed. Now that we’re so busy blogging we have less time in the studio and we’ve made far less art than before. Our art has always been art critical, in other words we were thinking blog thoughts in a visual medium. So naturally, we now consider the blog, art production.
Ben: So how long have you been doing the “Artblog” and what was it’s genesis?
Artblog: We began in April 2003, after many discussions about the lack of art writing in Philadelphia. We thought about making a print publication, but decided against it because it costs too much and distribution is a hassle. Blogging software was coming into its own and we jumped on the blog bandwagon. We had a tech learning curve because we wanted to make the blog look professional and like a magazine and not like a diary blog. We tinkered with the blogging software until it looked the way we wanted it to. It was our way of declaring that this blog had gravitas.
Ben: Did the props you got from “Art In America” change the way you worked on the blog?
Ben: How has Philadelphia influenced you and/or the blog?
Artblog: Our frustration with Philadelphia propelled us into the blog world. We were tired of Philly’s old hat art being the only art that got covered in the mainstream media. That was just wrong. We wanted to tell a different story — about a young Philadelphia art scene that was taking risks, experimenting with music, video, performance hybrids and with concepts and with alternative materials. This was exciting stuff, but you wouldn’t know it was happening if you got your art news from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both of us are from out of town. Roberta’s from Milwaukee and Libby’s from Brooklyn. We are both more liberal than Philadelphia’s culture. And we were unimpeded by professional labels and hide-bound thinking. Nobody said we couldn’t and so we did.
Ben: There is a marked contrast in how blogs are presented, ranging from the “oh so personal” to the almost “clinical”. You seem to just want to say what’s going on. Was that a deliberate move on your part or just the nature of working in a city like Philadelphia that has so much going on?
Artblog: We think we’re doing more than saying what’s going on, although that is a part of it. We’re trying to say what’s good. And we’re trying to say why these things are good — or of interest. We’re trying to create a record so that future art historians will understand what was happening here. We think what’s happening right now in Philadelphia is extraordinary and exciting. And nobody’s covering it, but us. Essays require think time and space and we don’t always have those two things in our rush to get stuff up for the record. We aspire to write more essays and have big thoughts about the scene. But really we understand that we only do that some of the time.
Ben: What do you look for when you are rummaging around the inter-web? (Do you have a web-site secret shame?)
Artblog: Libby doesn’t like to rummage around the interweb. Two hours later she climbs out of her chair and says where am I? That’s no good. Libby does look at flickr and a few blogs and art publications occasionally. Roberta has favorite sites like Artnet, NY Times, The Guardian and some blogs – Zoe Strauss, Rob Matthews, Heart as Arena. Apart from that she doesn’t have time. She sees the interweb as a tool, that’s all. Roberta hearts flickr. We are both drowning in email and it takes both of us at least an hour a day to read, respond and delete emails.
Ben: Where do you see Artblog in the next few years?
Artblog: We would both like to write more essays and job out more of the reviews and reporting. Artblog will look the same but have more voices in its mix. We’d also like to do more video on the blog.
Ben: What are the top 5 art shows you have seen during your time doing the blog?
Artblog: Rudolph Stingel at the Whitney Museum, Barry Le Va at the ICA, any Carnegie International we’ve seen, Yayoi Kusama, solo show at Princeton University Art Museum, Tim Hawkinson at the Whitney, (here’s one that pre-dates the blog, but was a terrific show–Prison Sentences at Eastern State Penitentiary, curated by Julie Courtney). There are lots more, but that’s a good start.
So I woke up this morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks, we have been doing this for 10 years!”
That’s right, the place I always thought would burn down has out lasted everyone’s hopes and dreams. After numerous setbacks, and meetings that go on for ever, Space 1026 has lived even longer then the greatest optimist could hope. It’s been shutdown by L&I, packed for openings, had the toilet almost fall into the basement, lambasted by critics, and praised by teenagers. How the hell did this all happen? Well we are having a show of the last 10 years. It will feature works by a series of artists that have blessed the wall. A history of the good and the bad. A retrospective of the cast of hundreds that have paid rent, pulled squeegees, and helped hold the place together. Opening Friday November 2nd, with the annual art auction December 7th, come and look back on how we stumbled through a decade of art, missteps and happy accidents.