Ruth Pelzer-Montada
Centre for Visual and Cultural Studies
Edinburgh College of Art
79 Grassmarket
Edinburgh EH1 2HJ Scotland
Telephone: 0044 131 2216174
Fax: 0044 131 221 6163

Panel Session: "Printmaking and an Enlightenment Aesthetic"

Paper: "Printmaking's Kontaktfreudigkeit or the Discursivity of Print”

My presentation begins by drawing on Habermas's thesis of the “unfinished project of the Enlightenment” and his idea of “emancipatory knowledge.” My contention is that the extension of the enlightenment tradition as it pertains to printmaking today lies in an increasing self-reflection on printmaking's own parameters. This is to be seen, not in terms of a modernist navel-gazing but, more as a critical analysis of printmaking's own discourses. The concept of discourse has been criticized as favoring the linguistic and ignoring the particular material modes in which a practice constitutes itself. For me, the discursivity of printmaking encompasses the varied material modalities that define the field.

The conference theme of 'Kontakt' permits an examination of the discursivity of printmaking at a number of levels. The most important is its hybridity, in regard to traditional and digital media as well as to ‘printed matter’ in the wider cultural context. The paper will go on to link the hybridity of printmaking to the notion of citationality. The suite of prints by Damien Hirst entitled The Last Supper (1999) will demonstrate how printmaking is a supremely citational practice. The concept of citation or citationality has been used by the gender theorist Judith Butler in connection with her theory of the performativity of gender. Butler suggests that gender is not so much biological fact as cultural effect. Masculinity is seen as the result of men acting or “performing” differently to women through cultural conditioning (or the citation of cultural codes) and vice versa. Although Butler understands citationality and performativity largely in linguistic terms, my paper will connect them to the material conditions of printmaking. Moreover, I hold that performativity alerts us to the sensory aspects of citationality, as “Kontakt” or touch. Among others, Sybille Krämer has argued that sense (or meaning) and the senses (or the sensory) cannot be separated and should be conceived as a performative enactment. The implications of this approach for the discursivity of print practice will be considered in relation to the sensory or tactile qualities which my own work “performs.”

RUTH PELZER-MONTADA came to Scotland in 1978 to teach German at different Scottish universities after studying German Literature and Politics in Germany. She studied drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art from 1985-1989 (BA honors). Since 1990 she has taught historical and critical studies at Edinburgh College of Art and other Scottish art colleges and institutions while also developing her artistic practice. Pelzer-Montada is currently undertaking a part-time, practice-led PhD on the Poetics of Repetition at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Scotland on the theoretical issues arising from her artistic practice in printmaking. She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Scotland and abroad, including a solo exhibition in 2003 at Galerie Zement, Frankfurt/Main, Germany. Has written a number of critical essays for exhibitions catalogues. She participated in IMPACT 2 in Helsinki, Finland and IMPACT 3 in Capetown. She recently published ‘Technology versus Concept or the Site of Practice and the Bite of Theory’ in Contemporary Impressions (Fall 2004). This summer her reflection on the mounting of her exhibition in Frankfurt will be published as “Post-Production or How Pictures Come to Life or Play Dead” in the Journal of Visual Art Practice (2005). She has also contributed the chapter “Technical Reproduction and Its Significance” in: Object, Image, Interpretation: An Introduction to Visual Culture, edited by Matthew Rampley, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2005). Pelzer-Montada has been a member of the Council Society of Scottish Artists since 2004.

ILLUSTRATIONS: Installation of "Virtual 9", screen print on 9 perspex sheets, 65 x 65 x 240 cm; Galerie Zement, Frankfurt 2003
and Installation "Grey on Grey", 174 x 304cm, Crawford Arts Centre, St. Andrews, Scotland, 2004