Printing Pixels in Hawaii

A big thanks to Jeremy Pang for sending us info about a recent collaborative print project, .5ppi. The project was the brainchild of Duncan Dempster, the Executive Director of the Honolulu Printmakers, and his students from the University of Hawaii Manoa. Here are Dempster’s words about the project.

.5 ppi was a collaborative installation completed in February, 2014, involving the Honolulu Printmakers and my printmaking class at UH Manoa. I had been offered a space (a storefront gallery in east Honolulu) and needed to fill it. I wanted the project to achieve two goals: to provide a hands-on experience of printmaking to gallery visitors, and to act as a promotional activity leading up to the Honolulu Printmakers annual juried exhibition. I also wanted my class to experience working collaboratively. From my experience running printmaking activities with the public I knew that the more streamlined the process, the better. As a promotional vehicle, I knew we needed something of an engaging spectacle in the gallery.

Dempster’s statement continues…

Through conversations with my students we devised a modular woodblock-based pixel printing system. We chose as our basic unit of printing a 2″x2″ plywood block, mainly because it was small enough to generate some visual variety yet large enough to cover space efficiently. Through a series of table saw cuts we created 3 variations on this block, meant to act as gray tones and nominally designated as 25%, 50%, and 75% densities. These kerfed blocks, along with uncut blocks and the absence of blocks, gave us a palette of 5 “tones”, from black to white (100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, and 0%, respectively). We then created a grid framework to hold the blocks on the press (like a chase). When an image is composed of these blocks arranged in the grid, the image can be said to have a resolution of one half pixel per inch.

The next step was to figure out how to use our modular system to reproduce an image on a large scale, in this case, a 10′ by 20′ gallery wall. We chose somewhat randomly a frame from a 1960’s french film. One of my students fiddled with the resolution of the source image in photoshop until is matched the resolution we were able to print with our modular woodblocks. We then sliced up the image into 168 tiles and output each tile at 11×17 on a laser printer. Each of these laser prints then became a guide for setting our 2″x2″ blocks in the chase; i.e. each laser print was translated from toner on paper into a woodblock grid on the press bed. When printed, a woodblock facsimile of our digital output was generated. These were systematically printed in the proper sequence and hung on the wall until the entire image revealed itself. We set this up so that anyone who visited the gallery could participate, with guidance. The result was a highly pixelated, low-resolution reproduction of the source; squinting brought things into focus and produced a satisfied murmur from visitors. Interestingly, viewing the wall through an LCD screen caused the image to coalesce nicely as well (smartphone squint).

This work was an exercise in confronting a limited set of variables, and using them to generate variety. It was meant to illustrate the notion of large things being comprised of small things (the print itself, the social endeavor, etc), and to introduce students to a collaborative ethos and what it can produce. I also just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a press in a storefront; highly gratifying to work in such a space and watch the puzzled looks of passers-by. The work was well-received and generated a great deal of collaborative participation.

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