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Philagrafika 2010: Philadelphia's international festival celebrating print in contemporary art. 1.29.10 - 4.11.10

Celebrating the role of print in contemporary artistic practice, Philagrafika 2010 was the first presentation of what will be a recurring event in Philadelphia.

Involving more than 300 artists at more than 80 venues throughout the city, Philagrafika 2010 was one of the largest art events in the United States and was the world’s most important print-related exposition. Prominent museums and cultural institutions across Philadelphia participated in Philagrafika 2010 which offered regional, national and international audiences the opportunity to see contemporary art that referenced printmaking in dynamic, unexpected ways and to experience the rich cultural life of the city.  The Philagrafika 2010 festival was the result of more than five years of planning by a group of enthusiastic and committed individuals who mobilized the entire community around a common interest. The Artistic Director and the members of the curatorial team traveled extensively across the country and across continents, visiting studios, print shops, biennials and other art events in search of artists to include.  Back in Philadelphia, the administrative staff of Philagrafika, the Artistic Director and the curatorial team worked closely with local institutions to plan and implement a wide range of exhibitions, public programs and events. The result, a citywide collective effort which appropriately reflected the collaborative nature of printmaking itself.


DOWNLOAD the PDF version of Jose Roca's catalogue essay, The Graphic Unconscious or the How and Why of a Print Triennial.

The festival is divided into 3 components:

The Graphic Unconscious
 was the core exhibition housed in five Philadelphia museums/galleries. Organized by the Artistic Director and the curatorial team, The Graphic Unconscious showcased works by 35 artists from 18 countries. Their works were then displayed  across five  venues: Moore College of Art & Design; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA); Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Print Center; and Temple Gallery, Tyler School of Art, Temple University; with significant installations by different artists on view at each site.


Out of Print paired five artists with five historic institutions in Philadelphia: the American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; the Independence Seaport Museum; the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Each artist created new work for the festival inspired by the extraordinary collection with which they were matched.


Independent Projects  was the component of Philagrafika 2010 organized by seventy-five additional cultural institutions in Philadelphia and included an extensive variety of monographic, group, and thematic exhibitions in which the printed image played a central role.


The Philagrafika 2010 festival posited that the printed image lies at the heart of contemporary art. Concepts of imprinting, multiplicity, reproduction, and seriality, in addition to the physically printed forms were frequently used by artists who did not think of themselves as printmakers.  As artistic vocabularies have expanded and mixing media has become commonplace, so too have artists become increasingly drawn to the inherent characteristics of the print in order to attain specific aesthetic and expressive goals.


As the core exhibition, The Graphic Unconscious mined the ubiquitous presence of printed matter in our visual culture and how concepts like accessibility, democratization, dissemination and transience continue to inform our diverse contemporary artistic practices. While expanding upon the realm of printmaking itself, The Graphic Unconscious worked to expose the printed component in sculptural, environmental, performance, pictorial and video works. By doing so, the exhibition was able to achieve its goal whilst simultaneously highlighting printed material's relevance to contemporary art.


Walter Benjamin proposed an interesting analogy in his essay, A Small History of Photography (1931): "It is through photography that we first discover the existence of th[e] optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis." Let us ask a provocative question: Is there a print unconscious? If so, where does it lie? Just as printed materials have become so omnipresent in our daily visual culture that they pass unnoticed, so too have print processes become an integral part of art-making without being acknowledged. Can the ethos of printmaking serve as a framework for understanding contemporary artistic production? Can a close reading of the realm of contemporary art from the perspective of print help illuminate, in some way, our understanding of the world?


Like photography, print is the manifestation of a physical object, but instead of being an emanation of the referent, an imprint gets its indexical quality by physical contiguity: the surface of the print matrix on which the image is made (e.g. woodblock, etching plate, etc.) is in direct contact with the paper (or other surface) onto which the image is printed. Leaving an imprint is the basis of printmaking―the print is the witness of the primeval urge to make one’s mark for posterity. But why leave an imprint? As its physical manifestation, the imprint is the body of the print; might the intention be its soul? Are these tangible and intangible qualities that print embodies what ought to be called the graphic unconscious? These are some of the questions that inspired The Graphic Unconscious exhibition.


Topics explored in the exhibition include:

Pattern and Ornamentation: The multiplication/repetition of an image or text to produce patterns that are applied to various surfaces as ornamentation or embellishment.


Accessibility and Dissemination: The long-standing appeal of inexpensive, mass-produced prints, in the form of posters, broadsides, flyers, etc., as an effective means of raising public interest in social and political struggles and recent innovative adaptations as developments in production and communication technologies have continued to evolve.


Collaboration and Community:  The often shared production of printmaking (an artist working with one or more printers, publishers, etc.) that has attracted numerous artists working as collectives, ideally suited to their ambitions to create a sense of community through collaboration.


The authority of the print: The use of existing printed images and texts as iconographical or inspirational sources; the appropriation of printed images; and the implied validation of a text or an image by virtue of its existence “in print.”


Craftsmanship and Aesthetics: The significance of the choice of medium, its intrinsic qualities and the skilled craftsmanship with which it is executed  in relation to the artist’s expressive goal; and the translation of the inherent aesthetics of one medium into another.


The print in the public sphere: The key role of print forms and conventions in the circulation of ideas and images that create a public realm and help construct consensus forms such as histories, authorities and individual and community identities.


-Jose Roca, Artistic Director, Philagrafika 2010; John Caperton, Curator of Prints & Photographs at The Print Center; Sheryl Conkelton, independent curator; Shelley Langdale, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Lorie Mertes, Director/Chief Curator of the Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design; Julien Robson,Curator of Contemporary Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), co-curators of "The Graphic Unconscious."