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Feature Mon May 05 2008

An Interview with Caro d'Offay and Friedhard Kiekeben

Have you heard about Lumetype but don't know what it is? An easy way to learn more about this printmaking process is to visit the Caro d'Offay Gallery between now and June 6, where "Cascade-Shatter-Flow" -- an exhibit of the work of Columbia College Professor Friedhard Kiekeben -- is on display. Or you can attend a free Lumetype lecture on May 7 given by Lumetype inventor/patent owner and gallery owner d'Offay, with a special intro by Kiekeben, or enroll in one of the gallery's classes. Recently we spoke with Kiekeben and d'Offay about the Lumetype process and its origins, and learned a bit about quantum physics as well.

Can you give us a "Lumetype for Dummies"-style description of Lumetype?

Caro: The Lumetype process converts any object into a light source. This light source can then be used as a "plate," by printing it through direct contact with a light-sensitive surface. I call it a hybrid between printmaking and photography, because if you think of the object like a plate, you can manipulate the surface by subtractive techniques as you would with relief or intaglio plates. But if you think of the object as a light source, it means that you can print it photographically (how it is defined by light).

The key to the Lumetype process lies in the model for the wave/particle duality of Quantum Mechanics. The duality expresses that light exists both as a particle and as a wave-form, inseparable from one another. When printed, Lumetype expresses the surface of an object (particle form) when it makes contact with the paper, and it also defines the negative space of the object by allowing its scattered light (wave form) to express itself where it pulls away from the light sensitive surface.

Friedhard: Lumetype is printing with light. The process is very innovative. Luminescent paint is applied to a hand-made matrix (a block or plate). This emits light, which in turn exposes B&W photo paper -- all without use of a lens, camera or enlarger.

How did you become interested in "quantum mechanics and neurological disorders," and how has your interest in these topics evolved over time? How are they integral to your process?

Friedhard: This is best for Caro to answer, but from various discussions I realized that there is indeed a profound link between the wave/particle duality of quantum physics and the lumetype process.

Caro: These are some complex questions that come with some complex answers. It's an intense relationship that only became clear when I had an epiphany about the Lumetype in 2001. For as far back as I can remember, I've been looking into microscopes, out into the stars, and feeling a connection in the scale-shift between them. As a kid, I was fascinated and frustrated by the limitations of my senses. When I looked at an object, I knew there were other levels to observe it, and that those levels were infinite. When I viewed something under a microscope -- a tool I was fortunate to have access to, as my dad was a virologist -- I was thrilled and then instantly frustrated to see more. I was never content to see what I saw, because I knew there was something I was missing.

When I looked up at the moon and the stars it was equally frustrating. I strained so hard to see them more clearly. Then, when I looked through my first telescope -- at a friend's house in the country -- I was severely let down. Yes, I could see the moon right in front of me, but it didn't mean anything. I felt it better than I saw it. The image didn't do anything to express the connection between us.

Looking through a microscope or telescope meant the same thing to me. My senses were still the same limited spectrum, no matter how close in proximity I was to the things I observed. While the world seemed content with the scale of the universe as huge and grand, the little alien universes of textures, bugs and grass didn't even seem to register on the radar of my peers and teachers. I saw universes all around me that I couldn't access because I didn't have the right tools.

I was about 9 or 10 years old when I went to visit my great aunt and uncle in New York. My great uncle was in his last stages of Alzheimer's disease. I didn't know him, and I didn't know what Alzheimer's was. I was curious and watched as my great aunt fed him baby food and had me leave the room while she cleaned his bed sores. I was drawn to any time that I could spend in that room, which I have a feeling was probably off-limits.

One day, I was alone in the room when he began to moan. He sounded uncomfortable and I remember feeling curious, humbled, sad and empowered. I remember feeling the spectrum of the adult world. I went over to him and held his hand. I didn't know him, so it was a strange feeling. I remember that his hand was gigantic and tapered, like a soft triangle. The medical smell was strong, and he turned and looked in my eyes. I could see desperation for meaning that was intense and turbulent. It grounded me. I saw eternity in his eyes. I felt it, but I didn't know what that meant. He squeezed my hand like he knew I was there, but he looked through me, not even aware that I was there.

I also remember sneaking up the stairs to listen to him call for my great aunt to come to his side. She kept saying, 'I'm right here, Carl," as he continued begging for her to come to his side. I sat on the stairs and I thought a lot about what it must be like in his head, that he couldn't recognize the one thing he was looking for that was right in front of him. Where did she exist in his head? Where did he exist in his head? Was he not looking through the right lens?

I must have realized that night that the desperation to orient ourselves can't ever be satiated. In moments that are combined with challenge or discomfort it becomes even more apparent. I tried to stop looking at the things I couldn't see. I couldn't and didn't articulate any of this for years, but it's stayed with me.

This was a very moving experience that I believe was the catalyst to my realizing the brain's dual nature to exist both in the 'now' and in that other place we go when we zone out, meditate, dream or experience disorientation. The elongated time of being pulled back and forth like a rubber band between linear time and eternity, for anyone who has experienced it, can't help but call into question how stable our worldview is. How can the brain function in both the present time and in an elongated version of the present time simultaneously? Why didn't anyone talk about this?

In 1989, "A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawking was published. I was curious about the book. Through discussions with my dad, I realized that Mr. Hawking was talking about that relationship between the dirt particles and the stars, and between the two modes of thought our brains function between. That space I had felt looking at the moon in the telescope, and looking into my great-uncles eyes, was the wave-form in the wave/particle duality of quantum mechanics. I didn't piece that together then (at 15), or even years later in college when I picked the topic back up and began reading about quantum mechanics and wave/particle duality again. It was the first time I saw a visual model for the place between dichotomies and dualities. The space between them is the wave-form. So I started to think about how important it was to experience this space again.

Lumetype expresses this duality.

How so?

It does it literally in light, by allowing the expression of both particle and wave-form to emerge. More specifically, the process allows the artist to be actively aware of both modes of thinking. While working with the Lumetype, the practical left side of the brain works through the logistics, while the intuitive right-brain allows for the possibilities to emerge from the medium. The best prints are the ones that are an effective balance between the two modes of thought. While Lumetype is a printmaking process, it is also a model of the human mind and how it perceives the wave/particle duality.

Is there something on line we can look at to better understand this process?

I found this recently, and realized that it explains Lumetype perfectly -- you can actually feel your brain switching between practical "now-time" and creative "non-time," and the effect it has on your senses by looking at this animation. First, make note of which direction you see it rotating. Then, while you read the information on the left, glance over and see if she has switched direction. Try to selectively use different parts of your brain by thinking of different things and challenging your own thoughts. Doing so, you can actively change the animation.

Lumetype is like this in the darkroom: it's a dialogue between two modes of expression that is revealed, not a statement.

Friedhard, how did the relationship with Caro come about?

Friedhard: Mainly through an amazing exhibition and music event in connection with Jesse Seay's Mechanical Tide in 2007.

Caro: On November 9, 2007, I made a studio visit. I knew I was dealing with someone I wanted to show, work with and discuss ideas with as much as possible.

How has teaching Lumetype to others been for you?

Caro: Teaching it really means helping to keep the relationship between the duality as flexible as possible. We have only started offering classes to the public recently. I teach it mostly on Tuesday nights and as workshops after my lectures at the gallery.

Friedhard: I think the process is very innovative, as it straddles the boundary between photography and the hand-made print in new ways. Caro recently gave a lecture to Columbia College students, which was very well received. Some students now wish to study Lumetype.

What are the best and worst aspects of this process?

Caro: The worst aspect is the lack of control. This aspect is also the best. If an artist is really using the process with any sensitivity, and producing interesting prints, they're not attempting to harness it.

The best is that anything can be Lumetyped. Most plates are free. Outside, beaten by the elements, are things we throw away every day. Stuff that's been battered around is naturally good to Lumetype - things with texture and are prime plate material (pieces of foam, plastic, cardboard, wood, paper...) Artists can also use conventional printing plates such as metal, linoleum, plexi-glass etc.

Friedhard: The best is that Lumetype brings about a new aesthetic. It is accessible both to professional artists and to beginners. The process is almost 'alchemical' it celebrates the emergence of the unexpected.

What are some recent or upcoming developments or explorations in your process? What are some projects you are working on?

Caro: Recently we've started Lumetype lectures at the gallery and by invitation to off-site locations. I've been taking my time to hand pick a few artists to feature in our August 2008 Lumetype exhibit. I've invited Friedhard, David Castillo, Annie Stone, and Aaron Delehanty to be featured artists in the exhibit, so far.

Friedhard: I have been involved in the development and dissemination of innovative approaches to printmaking for about 20 years. The Lumetype is a fascinating addition to the expanded repertoire of contemporary print practice. I contribute to NontoxicPrint and will be delighted to be able to include a section of Caro d'Offay's Lumetype developments there in order to help make this new method more widely known.

The Lumetype lecture takes place Tuesday, May 7 at 7pm At 8pm, d'Offay will give a short, hands-on workshop for those who want to see the Lumetype process in action, which costs $25. RSVP for the lecture here.

About the Author:

A native of Johnstown, PA, Lauri Apple is a contender for the title, "world's most renowned bag lady," thanks to her somewhat popular (at times) website, FoundClothing. Lauri has a JD and doesn't know why, but it will take about 30 years for her to pay it off, and that worries her. Her favorite cities are Prague, Pittsburgh, Austin and Chicago. When she's not looking through people's trash, she's either painting, taking pictures, or making/thinking about making cartoons about her weird life.

 
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