PRINTMAKING is not just that lithograph hanging on your wall anymore.
It's how Colombian artist Oscar Munoz uses one's fuzzy memory to recall images of his portrait "screenprinted" with charcoal on water, which evaporates, leaving the image reconfigured on the bottom of a clear plastic tray.
It's how Brazilian artist Regina Silveirare interprets biblical plagues, using images of flies, roaches and other vile insects as metaphors for corruption and violence in our lives. These insect images are glazed on porcelain dishes, hand-embroidered on a white tablecloth, and climbing the walls and swarming the floor in gigantic vinyl shapes.
It's how Philadelphia artist Pepon Osorio ponders his mother's mortality and anticipates longing for her in a 12-foot-square bed of mostly black confetti on which he prints a blue X-ray of her skull with an ink-jet printer.
This cutting-edge art can be seen today through April 11 at PHILAGRAfiKA 2010, an inaugural international festival, five years in the making, which celebrates the role of the print in contemporary art.
"We want to amaze or enrage the public, or at least start a conversation" to broaden the definition of printmaking, said Jose Roca, the festival's artistic director.
Using new and old materials - vinyl, fabric, reflective paper, stencils, silver leaf, glitter, tires, cement blocks, ink and paper - with printmaking techniques, the artists pushed the boundaries of what once was the oft-maligned, underappreciated print.
"We have woodcuts made for video and video made for woodcuts," said Roca.
As one of the largest art festivals in the United States, the three-part venture puts Philadelphia at ground zero in the international print world, by showing some of the most innovative work around the globe.
It is so massive that more than 350 international, national and local artists will exhibit artwork for 88 venues at nearly 100 locations - museums, galleries, workshops, studios, nonprofit institutions and even Philadelphia International Airport.
This weekend, the festival features a series of art openings, gallery talks, public receptions, artist meet-and-greets and other events. (For a complete list, see philagrafika.org.)
For the next two months, Philadelphia "will be the world hub for all things print," Roca said.
If the festival attracts an international audience and becomes an economic boon for the city, he added, it could be held every three to five years.
"I look forward to a hugely successful PHILAGRAfiKA hosting many more world-class events," said Mayor Nutter.
In the core exhibit called "The Graphic Unconscious," 35 international artists, including a few based in Philadelphia, will show at museums, art schools and the Print Center, in Center City.
Two American artists - Mark Bradford and Pepon Osorio showing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts - have already won "genius" MacArthur Fellowships.
Another integral part of the festival is called "Out of Print," in which five Philadelphia historical institutions were paired with artists who produced funny, somber, enlightening and satiric projects.
These programs will take place at the American Philosophical Society Museum, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Independence Seaport Museum, Rosenbach Museum & Library and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The festival's third component is called "Independent Projects," showing both serious and humorous work in galleries, studios, workshops and nonprofit institutions.
There are free maps to pinpoint all 97 art sites and a $15 guidebook with photos of 35 major pieces, descriptions of the "Out of Print" projects and a directory of locations.
Why Philadelphia for an international print festival?
Printing is part of the city's fiber. In the 1700s the nation's birthplace published the first copy of the Declaration of Independence, the first American cartoon, the first U.S. currency, and the first magazine, American Magazine.
And before the American Revolution, the birthplace of papermaking occurred in Germantown's Historic Rittenhouse Town, on Lincoln Drive and Wissahickon Avenue, where teachers continue to show the public how to make paper.
The city that was once the center of the publishing world for books, magazines and other periodicals, is now hosting the 21st century's groundbreaking print exhibit in the shadow of a once bustling area of lithographic shops, shuttered by the computer age.
The wide-ranging festival shows how the traditional woodcut, etching, lithograph, silk-screen, collage, linocut, monotype and digital print can be altered in new ways - even using video - to increase the printmaker's oeuvre.
The festival was the dream of executive director Teresa Jaynes and the visionary artists, educators, curators and others who 10 years ago founded Philagrafika (formerly known as the Philadelphia Print Collective), a central organizing body for cooperative ventures.
Four years ago, Philagrafika hired Roca, 47, as the festival's artistic director. He had headed a Bogata, Columbia, art museum for 17 years, and produced four international art festivals in Latin America.
For nearly a year, Roca gave 70 presentations to enlist support among artists, museums, historical institutions, galleries and a top-notch, five-member curatorial team.
Roca and the curators then traveled to Singapore, Japan, China, Latin America, South Africa and Europe in search of what he called "interesting print practices."
The art world had "ostracized printmaking, like a second-tier art form" while printmakers defined their art only by technique, "sidelining a discussion of the work," Roca said.
But the curatorial team - Lorie Mertes of Moore College of Art & Design, Shelley Langdale of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Julien Robson of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Sheryl Conkelton, an independent curator formerly with Temple University, and John Caperton of The Print Center - were determined to change that view.
They drew up a list of hundreds of artists using print technologies in fresh ways, then whittled the list down to 35 from 18 countries for the core exhibit.
The curators chose artists who "best fit the mission of each institution," said Roca, who has blogged daily about putting the show together.
Curator Mertes found five artists whose work shows pattern and ornamental textile design in keeping with the aesthetics of Moore College of Art & Design.
At Moore's entrance is "Brand New View," an ode to the struggle between spiritualism and consumerism by Swedish artist Gunilla Klingberg, here for the opening.
Klingberg used logos from Philadelphians' everyday routines, such as Kmart, Shop Rite, Target and Tastykake, to create an immense Buddhist mandala, normally used for meditation. Made of orange vinyl, the color of monks' robes, the mandala covers Moore's windows.
"From a distance, it looks ornamental, but close up the logos are recognizable," said Klingberg. "I select logos that are not glamorous and images and patterns that have deeper symbolic meanings."
With branding on plastic bags, junk mail and TV advertising invading our public and private space, she said, "Maybe consumerism has taken over the role of spiritualism."
In "Mundus Admirabilis," Silveira's "evil" insect images invade an entire room and domestic setting, reminding viewers that the insects, a metaphor for contemporary plagues of corruption and violence, are all around us.
"Corruption is everywhere, a global plague," said Silveira, who reinterpreted the biblical plagues. "Our daily life is contaminated with it."
Mexican artist Betsabee Romero, also at Moore, said she carves patterns, birds and Aztec symbols into bald tires and prints them on metal screens, several of which hang from ceiling to floor.
The tire's cylindrical shape was first used by pre-Columbian Aztecs in toys, ballgames, sacrificial images and cross-culturally for printing - but not for vehicles, she said.
Her symbolic work, she says, refers to the "reappearing memories of cultures being crushed by modernity."
At Philadelphia Museum of Art, the home of conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp's collection, curator Langdale said she was looking for artists' work that would show how one medium seeps into another, such as printmaking merging with other techniques.
In one gallery is Munoz's work, "Narcissus," a silk-screened charcoal portrait of himself on water, inspired by the life cycle.
"In the water form, it can be transformed or changed by any event, such as air," just like in life, Munoz said. "It is very, very fragile. But when the water evaporates, the body [or portrait] is like life in an empty container."
In an adjacent room, several videos show Munoz's water images swirling down the drain, and, as the video reverses, he said, "life is recreated coming out of the drain."
In the gallery next door is "Dolefulhouse," a video of Japanese artist Tabaimo's cartoonlike drawings of a dollhouse and its western furnishings.
"Giant hands are putting things into a dollhouse, then come sounds of a lurking outside force, a giant wave, washes everything away, and the process starts again," said Langdale.
Tabaimo's work, which draws on traditional woodcuts and manga, or comic books, is a metaphor for "the destruction of the Japanese culture by western values, and the difficulty maintaining a Japanese identity," she added.
When Langdale first saw the work, she said, "I thought of [Hurricane] Katrina and the tsunami," caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean in 2004, which killed more than 200,000 people.
At the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Robson called his curatorial tasks "daunting and exciting." He chose seven artists, including celebrated international printmakers Kiki Smith, of New York, and Qiu Zhijie, of China, who use traditional printmaking methods with new materials.
Robson said the influential Smith purposely hung two etching portraits next to life-size nude lithographs on large-scale Nepalese paper. The contrast of the works showed how prints have changed - and can change more - by collaging glitter, silver leaf and pieces of other lithographs, as Smith did, on these and other prints, repeating patterns and other graphic details.
In "Monuments," Zhijie carved quotations of Mao Zedong in calligraphy on squares of concrete, pulled a single ink rubbing, then poured fresh concrete, obliterating the previous work, and started again with a new quote in a different style of calligraphy.
The result was 16 prints each from two different slabs of concrete, which retained the personal and collective memories of the political inscriptions, and showed for him "how we chose to march contemporary art to China's peripheral population."
In "Luftbild," an 11.5-by-8.5 foot woodcut that took 10 months to carve, German artist Christiana Baumgartner said she merged her love of woodcuts inspired by the German Expressionists, with video.
Baumgartner used a video camera to record a frame of a World War II documentary with bombers in it. She then carved the image in wood, the size of a room. She even repeated the moire pattern created by the interference that occurs between the film and video.
To print the immense black and white woodcut, however, she had to turn to a papermaker who would make a sheet large enough to get the print through the doors of the academy. She inked the wood, then pressed the colossal-size paper into it.
"In my studio, it looked so big, but here it looks small," she said.
At Temple Gallery at the Tyler School of Art on Temple University main campus, Conkelton said she chose seven "international artists, very community-minded who would engage" with the North Philadelphia neighborhood.
Among them was New York artist Swoon (Caledonia Curry), who pasted her life-size colorful woodcut prints of inner-city figures on public spaces around North Philadelphia, which are intended to be discovered by accident.
Here's a hint: Four Swoon prints appear on walls near the Village of Arts and Humanities, Germantown Avenue near Lehigh.
Indiana artist Carl Pope collaborated with Tyler art students, the Mural Arts Program and the community in "The Philadelphia Cottage Industry Association Ad Campaign" to develop brands for nearby small neighborhood stores. Pope's artwork will be exhibited at Icebox Gallery, Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American St.
Conkelton said Clear Channel will feature residents and clergy in ads recommending the small stores on billboards around the city for allof March.
Inside Temple Gallery is newly built green newsstand, the work of Barcelona, Spain-born Francesc Ruiz, which features magazines with "fantasy" Philadelphia-based covers, with such mastheads as Race Street, Illadelph, Hip Hop Rules, and newspapers called The Philly Avantgarde, The Brotherly Love News, and The Graffiti News.
One breaking news headline: "Impossible to Solve Indigestion."
"We are re-emphasizing the local in the rush to globalization," said Conkelton.
And at The Print Center, one of the first U.S. venues to collect and appreciate prints, curator Caperton may have had the most fun, collecting wacky, humorous and serious work of 13 diverse artists.
On the center's second floor, Space 1026, an artist collective on Arch Street near 10th, built a round tent, called a yurt, adorning the walls with their own hand-printed fabrics and artifacts.
The yurt will serve as a reading room for handmade, or commissioned art books, such as an interview by the Chicago-based art collective, Temporary Services, with artist Peggy Diggs, said Caperton.
Across the hall, Erick Beltran installed an elaborate war room filled with thousands of contemporary and historical figures on cards the size of playing cards, which can be combined, such as a joint figure of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, or captured in war games.
Viewers can build armies with these cards on a zigzag configuration of tables, and engage in war with armies of similarly combined figures.
And Eric Avery, a practicing physician in Texas who doubles as an humor-loving artist, raises awareness of current social and medical issues, such as HIV, through printmaking.
In the tiny restroom off the first floor gallery is Avery's work: A roll of toilet paper on which he has drawn the correct way to put on a condom, among other health issues.
In his concern about pandemic hysteria about certain infectious diseases, he focused on the toilet seat, on which he carved inch-high letters:
"Abandon all hope ye who enters here" - Dante's inscription at the entrance of hell.
Sit on the seat, look behind and you have your very own impression.