Friday, July 11, 2008

Imagined Worlds: Working States and Philagrafika 2010

“Something real but not present could be made comprehensible to the imagination of viewers solely through the use of a plausible, clear figurativeness, and that the strongest possible emotional effect could then unfold in the viewers’ fantasies.” (Nils Büttner, 54)

As we get around to finally posting our now lengthy Working States Bibliography, I wanted to call attention to one particular book from our list and in-house book collection, Imagined Worlds: Willful Invention and the Printed Image 1470-2005. This book, published in conjunction with an exhibit at the AXA Gallery of New York, is more than just a run-of-the-mill catalogue and presentation of core concepts behind an exhibit's curatorial decisions. Instead, the academic essays by Amy Baker Sandback, Nils Büttner, and Sarah Richards that this book contains are focused and intriguing studies on a select few of the works that were on display, making this not only a publication about the exhibit, but also a valuable text for further print-related research and thought.

Sandback, for starters, considers the way in which prints shaped and continue to shape public consciousness and, specifically, public perceptions of reality. Her argument proves that it is for this very reason – the power of the image to transform understandings of the Real – that Albrecht Dürer’s print of the rhinoceros (which the artist legendarily executed not from observation, but rather according to whatever hearsay he could gather about this exotic beast) was quickly circulated and unequivocally accepted as an accurate and "scientific" representation of the animal. So, just like (the description of) the rhinocerous' reality inspired Dürer’s image, so did that same image inspire the viewing public's opinion of the rhinocerous' reality.

In the second essay contained in this collection, Büttner looks at depictions of Heaven and Hell and the constant struggle that artists underwent in the effort to image the invisible. Here too, discussions of reality and beliefs necessarily come into play, with the image acting as a conjoiner between the two.

Richards, alternatively, deals with prints that explicitly shaped or transformed knowledge through their didactic content. All three essays, though diverse in subject matter, are linked by the common recognition of the pervasiveness of prints in an international visual culture – a pervasiveness that has been influential since the early 15th century (when Dürer first printed his famous rhinoceros) and continues to exist through the age of comics, advertisement, and contemporary art.

Just take a look, for example, at the aesthetic echoes between the classic Breugel and Yoshitoshi prints (both in the Imagined Worlds exhibit) and the contemporary Philadelphia-based artist Bill McRight! Although treating different subjects and playing into different faiths and cultures, each artist has explored a common visual language that communicates a certain perspective on reality (or lack thereof), or elicits a certain reaction of wonder and fear in the viewer.

The Philagrafika’s 2010 project which you’ve been hearing so much about, though focused more on contemporary prints than the Imagined Worlds exhibit was, is to spread this very recognition of print-pervasiveness and to inspire similar kinds of discussions as those presented within this catalogue.

Check out these relevant websites:

Imagined Worlds Exhibit website
Bill McRight website
Bill McRight at Space 1026

- Jacob Carroll

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