CULTURE

The Center for Engraving provides facilities and training in the field

A few weeks ago, artist Lizzie Calligas boarded a train for Thessaloniki with the intention of spending several days working in the city. Her studio is in Athens but what drew her north was something that she could not find at home: an amenity that is, moreover, too costly – by any standard – for an artist to acquire alone – a center fully equipped with the equipment necessary for the various engraving techniques. These include the basic traditional techniques – metals, woodcuts and lithographs – as well as several of the more contemporary, among them «image on» a photography-based technique that Calligas happens to be one of the few in Greece to employ. Located at Neapoli and housed in a disused factory donated by the area’s municipality, the Engraving Center is the only workshop and research center in Greece that specializes in engraving and is open to artists. It was founded about five years ago on the occasion of Thessaloniki being named an EU Cultural Capital and is subsidized by the municipality but is also to a certain degree financially self-sustained. In essence, the center grew out of the vision of two artists, Manolis Yiannadakis and Xenis Sachinis, both professors of engraving at the School of Fine Arts and directors of the center as they helped found it. They are part of the same graduating class, the school of 1980, to which Calligas also belongs, bound together by the same concerns and linked by a sense of collaborative effort. (A group show of their work will take place at the center in early spring.) As artists and teachers, they realized that once artists interested in engraving graduated from the Athens School of Fine Arts, they had no recourse to keep experimenting with the medium, as they had no access to the necessary facilities. They could go so far as to prepare their plates, but the printing stage would have to be done by professional printing workshops, of which, in Greece, there is only one. The cost involved and the fact that an artist could not oversee the entire process of his work was a less than ideal situation. At the center, artists can enjoy free use of the facilities and, except for those times when the budget runs low, also make free use of materials. Based on availability, the center also provides free housing for artists from out of town. In exchange, visiting artists are asked to leave behind a number of the works produced during their stay, thus helping the center to acquire its own permanent art collection. In the future, the collection will stand as a documentation of the work carried out at the center. Meanwhile, the collection helps in implementing another of the center’s major goals, which is to organize exhibitions and build a network with other institutions internationally. Engravings from Southeast Europe and a group exhibition from Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Spain, Greece and Poland are among the exhibitions organized thus far. Exchange programs and collaborations have also been active with the Triennale of Etching at Chamaliers, the Triennale of Estonia and the Biennale at Varna. The Engraving Center has already built up a reputation in neighboring countries and artists from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where the tradition of engraving is particularly strong, are steady visitors. The benefits are two-way: Artists have access to facilities that are lacking in their own countries, while the Engraving Center enriches its collection and becomes known for helping research and experimentation in the field. The advancement of engraving techniques is probably the center’s most fundamental goal which is why the center mainly addresses itself to artists already experienced in the field. However, training and educational programs – open both to artists who are not strictly engravers and amateurs – are a large part of the work being done by the center. At a time when artists rarely limit themselves to one medium but are constantly experimenting with and combining different techniques in their work, such training is invaluable. Still, engraving is not as popular as other media. It is a costly technique that involves a long, hands-on process ill-suited to the more automatic, fast-paced and conceptual side of contemporary art. It is, moreover, a medium that has been victimized by the commercial dissemination of multiples, a phenomenon which has led many people to unjustly equate the artistic value of engravings with editions, essentially copies, of artwork. Contrary to editions, which are reproductions of works made in another medium (essentially an inexpensive way to acquire the image of a painting), engravings are works whose aesthetics are reliant on the technique employed each time. The less contemporary artists employ the techniques of engraving in their work – which is likely to happen given the lack of facilities – the greater this misunderstanding will grow. The Engraving Center can help resolve this. By honing the skills of those already working in the medium and operating as a training ground, it brings engraving more prominently into contemporary artistic practice and restores its deserved prestige.