“… originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity,” CAA 2013

“… originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity” 

Presented at the SGCI affiliate panel for the CAA conference in New York, February 16, 2013. Organized by Jason Urban of Printeresting.org.

 Panelists & Topics: 

Truth and Reproducibility
Beauvais Lyons, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Studio, Museum, Print: Problems of Virtual Authenticity
Julia V. Hendrickson, Courtauld Institute of Art

“… originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity”
Lauren van Haaften-Schick, independent curator

Craving the Mark
Lisa Bulawsky, Washington University in St. Louis


Full Audio of the panel available here: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/10777060/Reproducing%20Authenticity%20-%20SGCI%20CAA%202-16-2013.m4a 


“… originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity” 

Lauren van Haaften-Schick


Printmaker Kevin Haas has written that “the project of printing has always been to meet or exceed the need to provide information to a growing mass culture. In contrast, the field of fine art printmaking, although interconnected with the technology of printing, has been primarily focused on craftsmanship and artistic expression.” This is the tense binary that sets printmaking apart from other mediums, and the quality that allows for its productive, infinite flex.

Because we associate the mass-produced with the spurious, or the inauthentic, there is a cultural bias against granting the print the elevated status of Art, so that a desire to avoid the serial and seek out the “authentic original” persists. But what role does the notion of “authenticity” have in a medium designed to obliterate the need for anything designated as the original? Rosalind Krauss has noted that “authenticity need not be a function of the history of technology” as the look and feel of certain dated forms may always be replicated through any number of manipulative processes. In her characterization of the modernist depiction of the grid, this signification of the pictorial surface only points to another, prior system of grids, which have beyond them yet an earlier system, so that the grid is always a multiple, a system of reproductions without an original. This underlying and essential repetition is repressed, or forgotten, by a discourse of originality and the avant garde that persists in seeking a purity of form and origin that has never truly existed. Here we are reminded of the posit offered by the young German appropriationist author Helene Hegemann, who has said that “true originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity.”

Kevin Haas, Double Billboard, 2011, 65 x 65 x 38

Ruth Pelzer-Montada has asked whether the concern with authenticity in printmaking is even deserving of consideration, as within every evolution of the print there has been a kind of hysteria around the loss of a formerly more complex and supposedly more thoughtful technology. Today digital reproduction is undeniably the primary method used for the wide dissemination and reproduction of images and information, largely supplanting mechanical printmaking as the tool of choice for artists. It has even been argued that physical printmaking is obsolete, or that it is doomed to production fueled only by nostalgia.

Printmaking that adopts multiple generations of technologies, and that utilizes the contradictions inherent to manual production in a digital age, serves as an intermediary, fulfilling both the desire to create an “authentic” artwork, while simultaneously participating in a culture of mass production and enabling an egalitarian notion of access. This is the lens through which we can consider a history of printmaking that denies technology as a valid marker of authenticity, privileging instead productive collisions between seemingly contradictory formats….

The tense binary Haas proposes of the print as a method of mass production or dissemination and as a marker of craft or artistic expression, actually provides an optimistic opportunity for questioning the status, role and interchangeability of either operative form. Neither quality need be exclusive, and, as in the performative yet productive labor of the workshop and Factory, the print medium is most enlivened when both potentials are exploited. 

This intersection is perhaps most legible among publishers who produce artists’ books designed equally for wide dissemination and to be regarded as art works. The on-demand printer Publication Studio utilizes laser jet and Xerox printing to produce first run editions of artists’ books, and bootleg copies of hard to find out of print art books. Their signature monochromatic covers are made from re-purposed file folders, and most of their books merely bear their title, author and date of the publication studio printing.  Primary Information produces printed facsimiles of artists’ publications mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, including the journal Avalanche and the Great Bear Pamphlet series. While Primary information has taken specific care to reproduce their new versions of these texts as accurately as possible in terms of their look and feel, they have taken a marked alternate route in their recent hosting and re-publication of the artist books published by curator Seth Siegelaub.

Screenshot: primaryinformation.org

In 1968, the early dealer and curator of conceptual art abandoned the need for a physical gallery by producing exhibitions by Douglas Huebler and Lawrence Weiner that existed only as publications. Operating from the dictum “You don’t need a gallery to show ideas” Siegelaub found in publishing an entirely new route for the dissemination of these artists’ immaterial and document or text based artworks. This move from the art object and gallery space to that of printed matter induced a complete paradigm shift regarding what manifestations we assume and allow to be considered art. Today these and other of Siegelaub’s publications are available through Primary Information not as printed facsimiles, but as PDFs. While some could claim this shift as sacrilegious to the original publications’ formats, the medium of the PDF is instead the contemporary translation of Siegelaub’s democratized, printed exhibitions. Here the potential for mass dissemination does not in any way reduce these publications’ status as art – instead it enhances their overall conceptual project.

This cohesive fluidity between multiple material manifestations  is evident among many visual artists working between different technological methods of production and reproduction. Gary Kachadourian’s Life-Size series begin as 8.5 x 11 inch incredibly detailed to-scale realist drawings of walls, construction materials, interiors, dumpsters, and items found on the pavement. While some have been exhibited, the original drawings remain a reference, and are merely a step in a larger and more complex project of presenting one perception of the mundane real.  Once completed these images are scanned at a very high resolution and printed out “life size,” as their title suggests, revealing natural errs of the hand and pencil, and producing a scene that is familiar though imprecise. In a previous series of photocopied pen drawings of fields of tall grass and dandelions, buyers of the prints are instructed to re-photocopy them as many times as they wish in order to fill a space of their choosing, potentially reproducing the prints indefinitely, like the unrestrainable spread of weeds.

Gary Kachadourian, Life Size Cinder Block Wall Poster, 4 x 3 foot print, photocopy

Also collapsing a hierarchy of mediums from the hand made to the digital, Christiane Baumgartner’s woodcuts embody their material and temporal contradictions. Combining the oldest and most recent reproduction processes, the images Baumgartner chooses are stills from the artist’s videos of airstrips, roadways, and other mundane scenes for which she simply chooses an angle and captures whatever action unfolds before her. These stills are then processed digitally as a series of striations whose varying thickness defines each image, which is then printed at a large scale for transfer onto a wood block that is then laboriously carved, inked and printed.  In another series, film and video stills from televised footage of World War II are photographed directly from the monitor. These video-images are fraught with implications of surveillance or warfare embedded within daily automation. In person these works are most jarring for their sheer confusion of media – appearing at first as a broadcast television still, the first-time viewer experiences a momentary cognitive slow down as they register that these images are in fact ink printed on paper, complete with the requisite imperfections, and as a result have the uncanny illusion of stopped time. Here rapid versus slow, laborious versus mechanized are both conceptual and material polarities creating a permanent tension between motion and pause. 

Christiane Baumgartner, Solaris I – IV, 2008, 4 woodcuts on kozo paper, Edition 6, image size 47.2 x 86.6 inch, paper size 55.1 x 94.5 inch

Andrea Longacre White’s digital prints of scanned iPads also invert the sterile automation associated with new reproduction and imaging media. lluminating the ease of inducing a glitch, Longacre-White captures the scanner and iPad’s individual rhythms by recording the dissonant timing and pattern of their light emission. The resulting reproduction of the iPad’s screen bears little resemblance to its original image. The artists’ fingerprints visible on the device’s black frame only prove that she is its user, and that hers is the hand that placed the iPad over the scan bed, but do not serve to inscribe any level of authorship or nostalgia over the resulting image. The immaterial “inhuman” operations of the touch screen and scanner are revealed to have the same unpredictability of any other hand-manipulated medium. This hypothesis has also been taken to its extreme in Wade Guyton’s exploitation of the ease with which the inkjet printer can be pushed to its limit and induced to fail at its promised capacity for perfection. 

Andrea Longacre-White, iPad Scan, 2011, digital print.

As Guyton’s digitally printed “paintings” and David Hockney’s recent iPad paintings prove, the touch screen and monitor have the potential to replace pigment and canvas. And yet concurrent with the emergence of these incredibly popular series there has also been a dramatic surge in attention paid to contemporary gestural abstract painting, proving once again that one new media has not damaged its precursor.

While there is an unprecedented equivalence of media in contemporary art and culture, there remains a strong attachment to a traditional hierarchy of mediums. The seductive physicality of wet ink will always signal a time when hands-on did not include a keyboard, leaving the often difficult labor of printmaking vulnerable to nostalgia. As a medium overall however, the print’s potential for flex is precisely that element that resolves its combating ethos of fine art versus mass production, and which maintains its status as historically the most socially relevant of visual forms. It is through embracing and interrogating the very potential within these contradictions that we can move beyond a problematic agenda of inscribing and reifying the false authority of originality, and progress past a hierarchy of mediums to avoid Krauss’ prediction of a false avant garde doomed to double back and repeat itself. As Jan Verwoert writes, perhaps it is up to us now to produce works that celebrate contradiction as a quality in its own right.
Benjamin, Walter, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1936.
http://pixels.filmtv.ucla.edu/gallery/web/julian_scaff/benjamin/”UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Connolly, Kate, “Helene Hegemann: ‘There’s no such thing as originality, just authenticity,’” The Guardian, London, June 23, 2012.
Haas, Kevin, Authentic Experience: Multiplicity and Dislocation in Printmaking and Contemporary Culture, Presented at the IMPACT Conference, 2009.
Krauss, Rosalind, “The Orginality of the Avant Garde and Other Modern Myths,” MIT Press, Cambridge, 1998.
Pelzer-Montada, Ruth, “Authenticity in Printmaking – A Red Herring?” presented at the IMPACT Conference, 2001.
Rancière, Jacques, The Future of the Image, Verso, Brooklyn, 2009. p. 1-32.
Verwoert, Jan, “Crooked Modernisms, Oh Crooked Indeed!” in Tell me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2010.



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