Old and new come together in printmaking class

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Time-honored techniques meet the latest technologies in Post-digital Printmaking, a visual arts class that debuted this spring.

“We are combining the tradition of printmaking with the ever-expanding world of digital fabrication,” said Allison Conley, an instructor in the Department of Visual Arts.

Using numerous fabrication machines across campus, the 12 students – including 10 seniors, many of whom had never taken an art course – have been investigating the implications of art making, imagery and human existence in a post-digital world.

“They have been exploring the theme of ‘NOW,’ Conley said. “I asked them to create images to express a topic that is uniquely pressing or urgent. Each artist is drawing from personal experiences and manifesting onto oversize wood blocks carved with a CNC machine. For instance, one student is exploring the pivotal decisions they have to make immediately after graduating.”

The Union community can see the class in action on Friday, June 3, when they set up for the day (10 a.m.-5.p.m.) on the road between the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts and Reamer Campus Center. There they will ink and print their wood blocks onto fabric using a steamroller driven by Conley.

“Everyone thinks that digital is inherently better. But in this class, we are following a ‘post-digital’ philosophy,” Conley said.

“That means we don’t assume technology is the immediate means to an end. Instead, we use the methods or tools that are best for the job. Sometimes the tool is a machine, and sometimes the tool is simply our hands. We incorporate fabrication machines as a way to exploit what they do best. But then we reintroduce the artist’s hand through traditional methods.”

Conley worked closely with Cole Belmont, director of the College’s Makerspace Consortium, who introduced her to MakerWeb resources that students and faculty can easily access. In addition to the CNC, the students used laser cutters and 3D printers to facilitate a machine-based approach to printmaking.

“There is always pressure to make ‘old’ technology like printmaking more ‘relevant,’ so I thought, why not incorporate the resources Union already has? With much advice from other faculty and Cole, I was able to build my class.”

The students’ oversized prints are scheduled to be displayed on campus after completion.