Digital Editioning

Went to a gallery today - well, I say a gallery, what I actually saw was an outlet of Castle Galleries, which is the retail face of Washington Green Originals. Now, the clue to this puzzle is in the name - ‘originals’. The gallery sells prints of various forms of artworks (including some by Pele) but they come in forms I’d never really encountered. Apart from the straighforward limitless print, they do limited edition prints, but also super high-quality prints on canvas. The first time I saw one of these, it was a pop-art piece by painter Sarah Graham. On first viewing, I noticed the razor sharp edges of the painting and thought to myself - 'she’s just printed that on canvas and touched it up with paint’. Turns out, it had been entirely scanned and printed on canvas with such a high resolution that it looks like a painting (minus brushstrokes).

The most interesting thing was when the shop assistant told me about their 'atelier’ products - limited edition prints that have been painted over with varnish to simulate the effect of an original painting. You could make out the texture of brushstrokes, yet they didn’t correspond with any of the underlying forms. Apparently this is all done in-house (to the artist’s exacting standards!) by Washington Green.

The shop had a few other tricks to mediate between the print and the original and some unique display conventions (free-floating invisible perspex box-mounted supersized embossed watercolour print of an Edward Monkton greeting card, anyone?), all examples of the strange devices used to bridge the profitable yet shady continuum between the one-off and the inifinitely reproducible.

Digital artists face similar issues to do with reproduction and editioning, yet editioning is second nature (obscure pun?) to the digital image - it’s infinitely reproducible with little, if any, reduction in quality. Perhaps the default seriality of the digital image is the reason that digital artists are at turns either blissfully unaware or incredibly attuned to editioning. Either they release full-scale versions of their images onto the web or they produce one-off or small limited-edition runs of an image. In some cases they destroy the original file, though I think this is more of a unwritten contract than an actual practice. But what really interests me is the way that in the case of digital images, source files can be tweaked and reissued as unique works. Take a scene created in a 3D application, for example: the artist could change the position of the camera before rendering, each time producing a work with significant visual difference. Yet each render would essentially be a version of the same 'original’.

Perhaps the digital image naturally treads the shady area between original and reproduction, though I have to admit it’s all got me foxed at the moment. Is there any precedent for digital editioning?