Text: Magdalena Boffito
Exhibition: Galeria przy Van Gogha, Warsaw 2008

A coincidence or a case

Who? What? (nominative) – LITHOGRAPHY.

In Polish lithography is declined according to the feminine declination pattern. Lithography (in Polish one refers to it as "she") is extraordinary. Lithos (gr.) means a stone. And in Polish, stone (kamień) is of masculine gender. The stone is cold. So much for Polish grammar. I am supposed to write something about lithography and I wonder how to struggle out of it. I am on the underground and this is not the best place for doing exercises in style. Should I write this introduction (who cares about catalogue introductions anyway?) in a laudatory, solemn tone? Or a jocular, and, by this virtue, revelatory?

One should start an official introduction to lithography with some technical terms and history facts. Traditionally, one should quote the inventor's name (Alois Senefelder) and name some dates. How important, though, is lithography's invention date; should we burden our heads with this piece of information? Even dictionaries vary as to the exact date – it was either 1796 or 1798; but 1798 was a most eventful year: Eug?ne Delacroix, Auguste Comte, Adam Mickiewicz were born, Stanisław August Poniatowski (the last Polish king), Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, writer and a traveler, famous for altogether different feats, died. The facts have been chosen at random. Disregarding world history we can add that in 1799 the provident businessman Alois Senefelder was granted a patent for the new printing technique and thus went down in history.

Let us go back to our presentation – all dictionary definitions of lithography start like this: Lithography is a technique of planographic printing in which the drawing is made on stone. A lot of words, all of them – to the point. The problem is that definitions do not speak to the imagination. Oleophilic and hydrophilic parties – it sounds more than impressive. Nobody, however, writes about other aspects of the technique. The stone is heavy, it gravitates towards the ground. Words, words. The lithographic matrix is usually limestone with a perfectly polished surface... limestone is stone formed in the Jurassic period. The stone is heavy. Polishing is hard work. Lithography is declined according to the feminine pattern but the craft itself is not destined for the female gender. Grammar and lithography are governed by different rules. In Polish the subject, the verb and the object do not have assigned spots, they can appear in any order. In lithography the order in which you do certain things is determined by chemical processes. The struggle between water and oil takes place in a particular time slot. There are no shortcuts. Lithography means constant waiting. The stone tends to be capricious – it is resistant to any attempts at appropriation, it rarely has only one owner.

There is something fascinating in the lithographic succession, in how the stone changes hands. One stone matrix can be used for several dozen years. New polishing, new layers, the stone uncovers its inside and inevitably heads towards nothingness. The best lithographic stones are those that have a uniform texture, ones that are flawless. A stone stores the information about its owners – cracks, chips, colorings – one day, a flaw appears on a print and is copied on all the works. Reproducibility lies at the heart of printmaking; the flaw perpetuates itself.

What am I looking at? (in Polish – the dative case)

I have never believed in destiny. A series of chance events, coincidences, a chain of connections. It does not matter. Lithography is intuitive, one should not make plans in advance, but follow the stone. I am looking at the extraordinary images forming on the stone when the gum Arabic gives way under the influence of water and the black lithographic paint draws constantly new patterns. What can I see? It is a mystery. There is no one, right answer. Looking at the stone feels like taking the Rorschach test. Bizarre projections of thoughts and dreams or, if you prefer, the unconscious content of the psyche. Controlled chance, a slight provocation. The stone is patient.

Where? And when? (locative). At the atelier.

A lithography atelier is a very peculiar place. It has its own characteristic smell and ambience. The presence of the stones, silent links between the past and the present, commands respect. The atelier I remember from the Academy exists somehow outside of time. Rows of stones stuck on wooden shelves attract the eye, provoking associations with an ancient library. The stones have their own histories but are rarely willing to disclose it. All a lithography fanatic can do is polish them meticulously. The spine bent in the shape of a bow, silicon carbide, water, the magical shapes of eight – a fluid movement ensuring the evenness of the surface. Repetitiveness. Continuity. Why not? Let us do it our own way.