November 10, 2021

Woodcut in the Digital Age

         Christiane Baumgartner (Germany, b. 1967) has been a recent star in the world of printmaking, for her huge woodcuts that reproduce digital images.  Her usual technique is to take found photographs or stills from video, often from television footage, in all their graininess, distortion, and “noise,” convert to black and white, blow the images up to monumental sizes, and then carve them as wood block prints.  This first image, from a photograph of military cargo planes, is made into a print 14 feet long, which took ten months to carve.  Obviously we aren’t getting the real impact of the piece by seeing it small on a screen, which turns the huge, hand-carved woodcut back into the little photograph with which it began.
        Baumgartner says she’s interested in the juxtaposition between the oldest and the newest methods of reproduction, the laborious handmade with the instantly technological.  She also works a lot with series, which is related to turning video back into still images.  Here are a couple of pieces from a series of 6, which, although still larger than most of my own block prints, are a size more manageable to look at on a computer screen.  (Click on it to see it bigger.)  You can see how her carving is entirely horizontal lines, with the image formed by the relative widths of black and white.  This connects the piece physically with the technology of digital images made up of all their little rows of pixels.
        It would not be accurate to say that I like Baumgartner’s work, but I certainly find it interesting.  I can imagining making a piece or two experimenting with these ideas, but then I would get bored!  She does make extremely small editions of each piece, which is entirely understandable for the big ones, which must be quite a job to print.  I can admire the craftsmanship - not to mention patience and persistence - required for these pieces.  And I’d certainly be interested to see some of Baumgartner’s pieces in real life.  Seeing them in person would be a very different experience, where the handmade quality would be more visible.  I can imagine that I might really like them in person, but it’s harder for me to get excited about the images as they appear on my computer screen.  What do you think of this idea of reproducing video and photography in this way?

[Pictures: Transnall, woodcut by Christiane Baumgartner, 2002;

Pink Moon 2 and 5, woodcuts by Baumgartner, 2019;

Nordlicht 1 (from a series of 4), woodcut by Baumgartner, 2018 (All images from]

1 comment:

JadeLi said...

I think it's a neat concept. I think the end product (these smaller images anyway) looks a lot like a inkjet printer running out of ink print.