Philly hosts an ambitious two-month print exhibit featuring 300 artists at 88 locations.
Pepón Osorio had his “Alas, poor Yorick!” moment about two years ago when he cleaned out his mother’s house as she was being moved to a care facility. The Philadelphia-based installation artist and MacArthur fellow was sorting through the detritus of a life and stumbled upon an X-ray of her skull.
“I stared at it for a while,” he recalls, “wondering what it meant.”
He decided it meant celebration. He blew up the image and cajoled a printer to inkjet it onto a 8-foot by 10-foot bed of confetti—100 pounds of it. This is no Hamlet-the-Dane whining about sound and fury.
Osorio’s piece is at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as part of Philagrafika 2010 — a sort of Biennale of print art with impressive ambition. Three hundred artists from around the world will show work for two months in a city built on print. It was our Benjamin Franklin who made print useful, our Thomas Paine who made it essential. There’s no better place for an arts festival to showcase the printer’s craft and its artistic possibilities.
Three hundred artists and 88 participating institutions are a lot to get your head around, so Philagrafika 2010 boils it down to fundamentals. Print is meant to do two things: repeat and go public. The organizers frequently quote the theories of philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin ( Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction ).
In the spirit of Benjamin, a group of Indonesian artists called Tromarama created a YouTube hit with their animated video for a trash-metal band out of hand-crafted woodcuts. Likewise, a Brooklyn-based artist named Swoon will wheatpaste life-sized prints of figures on random buildings in North Philly, to be discovered accidentally. Ohio-based artist Carl Pope reminds us that print is a commercial art, filling 23 full-size billboards along Ridge and Cecil B. Moore avenues with children’s drawings to advertise local businesses.
The exhibitions at Moore College of Art and Design sign highlight how print is the ability to mechanically produce something over and over. Their windows break the sunlight into a gigantic field of corporate logos abstracted into a lace pattern.
The Internet threatens to make print obsolete. Who takes the time to Xerox and collate copies of a ’zine anymore? Lisa Anne Auerbach—a modern-day Madame Defarge known for knitting activist slogans into sweaters—takes cues from religious zealots and luddites who try to save souls by handing out tract pamphlets, remaining remarkably efficient at getting the word out. Her project with the American Philosophical Society replicates that system to disseminate information about bicycle safety, toilet etiquette and cooking tips.
And there’s more—a visiting Columbian artist is rolling five tons of old Inquirer s into a massive log, taking newsprint back to where it came from.
But what does it all mean? Philagrafika 2010 is a big party for print, and they brought their own confetti. ■
For more information on Philagrafika 2010, visit philagrafika2010.org.
Calendar: Sept. 2-9