Art, Borders and Boundaries I

Art, Borders and Boundaries I

Session chair:

Anna Dahlgren, Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Department of Art History Stockholm University, Sweden


«The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction» avant la lettre: the 18th facsimile of drawings

Sophie Raux, Associate Professor

Department of Art History, Université Charles de Gaulle Lille 3, France

From the middle of the 18th century, the history of printmaking in France experienced a period of technical experimentations without precedent. This climate of creative turmoil fell within the more general context of the progress cult, which blossomed from the 1750’s onwards, spurred on by the academic and encyclopedist circles. The trust of men of the Enlightenment in technical invention – source of public good – led the engravers to a forever renewed quest for innovation and to new collaborations with «engineers» and «mechanicians» which allowed them to achieve their aspirations. This hybridization between art and technique, where artists and inventors merged, was greatly appreciable in the print sphere with the appearence of new print techniques designed to reproduce and distribute master drawings: the print in the crayon manner, the pastel manner, and the aquatint. Their emergence fulfilled two requirements, since they catered for the increasing demand on the drawing market by supplying it with low-priced high-quality fac-similes, and permitted the reproduction and diffusion of masters’ drawings as models for artists, which would lead to no small controversy.

I offer in this paper to focus on to main perspectives. 1) Border and boundaries between «art» and «technique» by considering the collaboration between engravers and «engineers» in the achievement of these new print techniques.  The role played by Alexis Magny, for instance, is particularly interesting and remains underestimated. Most of all, Magny is known in History as a maker of precision optical and mechanics instruments, and notably of automatons. But he is lesser known for having devised a machine capable of mechanically engraving in the crayon manner, and at high speed. This machine was bought a few years later by the painter Jean-Jacques Bachelier, who founded the Ecole gratuite de Dessein, in Paris, in 1766. Foreshadowing the creation of the Ecole des arts décoratifs, this school aimed at training art craftsmen, such as cabinetmakers, goldsmiths, carvers… This idea of finding a means of mechanically engraving facsimile of drawing, faster and at a lower price, was revolutionary. It showed the need for an almost mass distribution of artistic models. The principle of the print in the crayon manner coincided moreover with the democratization of artistic instruction and with the decentralization of art academies and art schools in the provinces. It coincided also with the development of a consumer society eager for innovations affordable to an enlarged public.  2) The concept of facsimile and the 18th century debate over its artistic status.  The first aim of these facsimile of drawings was to make so much illusion that they could fool the eye and give the impression of true drawings. Intended to be framed and hanged on walls, these prints quickly attained the newly gained status of decorative artifacts. Their dazzling development was greatly helped by the publishers‚ efficient marketing strategies which included very attractive retail prices, decorative properties, advertising campaigns in the gazettes. And, last but not least, while advocating their imitation’s perfection they would fuel the then increasing debate on the limits between an original work and its reproduction. From the middle of the 19th century onwards, historiography has undoubtedly not attached enough importance to the role played by these prints techniques in the history of art and visual culture. The hierarchies which have been established around the notions of original and reproductive prints have furthered this disinterest. The development of mass reproduction techniques – lithography, then the appearance of photomechanical processes increased these distinctions. The gap between this view and that of the men of the Enlightenment is striking. For the latter, who were dominated by the spirit of invention, the boundaries between art, science and technical progress were undoubtedly more open than they are nowadays. On top of their progressive views there were the new economic stakes of the rise of an industry for luxury or semi-luxury goods, for which demand was in great part maintained by the emergence of a new middle-class concerned with its appearance and the improvement of its living environment. The way in which the engravers came up to these expectations comes finally within a great form of creativity in terms of innovation both from a technical and conceptual point of view.


Art Making at the Boundaries: Collaborations Between Artists, Scientists and Engineers

Anna Orrghen, PhD, Researcher

Department of Art History, Uppsala University, Sweden

During the mid 1960s, when artists started to gain access to computer departments at universities and research departments in large industrial companies, a new kind of collaborations between artists and engineers developed. Today, during the first decade of the 21st century, similar collaborations are brought to the fore, among other things due to an increased number of exchange projects between artists and scientists, so called artist in lab or artist in residence projects.

In 1987 Frank Popper launched the term technoscience art to characterize a new kind of emerging art. The term indicates an art heavily depending on technology and science, and therefor characterized by rather complex creative processes. Although technoscience art more or less demands interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, scientists and engineers in order to be carried through, there is a significant lack of knowledge of these collaborations.

By studying collaborations between artists, scientists and engineers in Sweden during the above mentioned periods of time, this paper aims at describing and analysing the creative processes that characterises contemporary art in general and so called technoscience art in particular.

This is done by introducing a method to approach collaborations between artists, scientists and engineers in order to gain a deeper understanding of the collaborative creative processes characterizing technoscience art.

In this paper I use the insights that have been made in the interdisciplinary field Science and Technology Studies (STS). A basic assumption in the STS approach is that scientific and technological activities should be described as the result of relations between different actors rather than the result of singular individuals, disciplines or groups. By adopting such a perspective, scientific knowledge, as well as the use of it, can be regarded as a more or less conscious co-operation between different actors who as well as produce, use, knowledge. A STS concept particularly apt to study collaborations between different actors is “co-production”, introduced by Sheila Jasanoff.

By illuminating these collaborations from the artists’ as well as the scientists’ and engineers’ point of view, this paper sheds light upon a yet unexplored part of the creative processes within contemporary art, and contributes to a deeper understanding of these kind of creative processes in a time when interdisciplinary collaborations are increasingly encouraged.


Works in Transit: the Postcards of Kurt Schwitters in Hannah Höch’s Archive

Stina B Barchan, PhD from History of Art at University College London, UK

In response to the session ‘Art, Border and Boundaries’, I propose to present a paper on the postcards that Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) sent to his friend Hannah Höch (1889-1978). Between 1921 and 1948, the two artists developed a close friendship that resulted in both collaborative projects and mutual influence. Importantly, however, they never lived in the same location: whereas Schwitters stayed in Hanover until his forced emigration to Norway in 1937 and later to England, Höch lived in Berlin apart from a few years in the Hague. The relationship between the two was therefore played out on the bridges they built between these different locations, whether through the postal system or by visits and joint trips.

By its very nature, postcards cross the geographical delimitations between streets, cities, regions and countries. However, the postcards from Schwitters did not only move between people and places, but between media too. Starting from a postcard that represented one of his own collages or sculptures, Schwitters would overlay the image with further text and collage fragments. As such, each postcard was individualised. The reproduced work was made into an original by adding a few new pieces to the picture. Considering the questions set out by this session, I am interested in discussing Schwitters’ postcards as a mean to blurr the distinction set up between an original and a mass reproduced image.

Like other artists of the avant-garde and in particular of Dada, Schwitters was fascinated by the media circuit and used postcards not only as a mean to communicate but also to promote his works and ideas. Postcards in these circles could be mechanically reproduced images of original works, but also original works in themselves where the artists drew a picture, made a collage, or, as was often Schwitters practice, make a collage on top of a mass reproduced picture. As both documents and works of art, these postcards challenge established notions of what should be found in an archive and what belongs to a museum.

Throughout her life, Höch altered the images and texts on the postcards she had received from Schwitters, thus stressing the interrelational dynamics of the cards. Indeed, in the paper I will propose that we need to approach these postcards not as objects but as processes between both the artists and different media. These are works never at rest: the circulation of the postcards creates an accumulative effect, where the works are made and re-made every time new material is added to the cards. In that way, they materialise the exchange between Schwitters and Höch; they do not merely represent, but in fact embody their conversation. Considering the circulation of the postcards between the artists and different media, it could be suggested that they operate much like anecdotes or gossip, forms of narrative that elude origin and authorship and instead survive on being retold and altered. From an academic point of view, such forms of narrative are most often avoided as untrustworthy and banal. From the point of view of this session, however, they can help reveal some of the limits set up by Art History as a discipline.


In the making of another narrative. The female artists in the Nuori Suomi albums

Asta Kihlman, Postgraduate student in the School of history, Culture and Arts Studies

Art History, The University of Turku, Finland

In my PhD project I am researching female artists` reproductions in the Nuori Suomi albums. The albums were a publication of the Finnish main newspaper Päivälehti (known today as Helsingin Sanomat). The publication included art works and novels by the most celebrated artists in the country. The research covers the period from 1891 to 1904. During this time period the artworks featured on the albums were pictures (reproductions) from the Finnish artists` exhibition. This particular time period is usually called the Golden years of Finnish art. I am researching what kind of context female artists` pictures were settled in the albums and what kind of narrative and ideological themes those pictures “spoke”. In my work I use semiotics, especially the concept of ekhprasis. I am also operating with the term gender.

I am interested in the narrative aspects of those pictures. My claim is that images have as much to say as texts have. Like Mieke Bal I believe in the idea that images visually say something, rather than illustrate something already said.  I believe that there are neither pure words – no verbal captions in visible – nor pure images. Although the paintings are, on an obvious level, totally visual, they also function in a combination of modes that includes various level of verbality. I am interested in the language of visual images, and the relationship between words and images.

Pictures have their own “self”, their own proper essence. All images are built on language, representation and people`s mind. The image produces meanings on the material object but also in its social context and in the time and space where it is produced and consumed. Mieke Bal has argued that the painting produces its own narrative between the text and the image. In the Nuori Suomi albums the artworks of Finnish artists` exhibition changed and they became images which produced conventional thoughts. They became representatives.

Walter Benjamin thought that the age of mechanical reproduction eliminated the aura of the work of art. Benjamin argued that the technique of reproduction detached the produced object from the domain of tradition.

I would like to examine how the context of the place where the art object is represented influences its understanding and perception and how the environment reactivates the object reproduced.

In my work I try to understand in what kind of context meaning the semantically dense pictures of the female artists were settled in the Nuori Suomi context, and how the linguistic material of the albums were reflected in those pictures. What was the narrative that those images told in their new context?