Acheiropoieta is a book of experimentally printed offset-lithographed images that offers a visual discursion on themes of miraculous images, chattel slavery, cotton cloth production, the invention of photography, and the political nature of all images. A satellite book, Concerning Acheiropoieta,is a small book that discursively considers the images in Acheiropoieta.
Acheiropoieta (which means not made by hands in Greek) are a class of Christian icons that are supposed to have come into being miraculously. Many Acheiropoieta are textiles that purport to show the trace left when divinity comes into contact with cloth. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, their authority is unquestioned. The Shroud of Turin, the Veil of Veronica, and the Mandylion are all examples of images formed through physical contact with Jesus.
Religious claims aside, the idea that Acheiropoieta are examples of unmediated images—images that are formed without any human intervention—is intriguing. Photographs and mirrors used to offer images that were assumed to be unmediated, images that had authority, but photography began to lose its role as trusted reporter very early in its history, and today’s digital editing techniques have made it clearly subject to authorial intervention. For a while, daguerreotypes did retain a certain veracity. Each one was unique, a particular record of a precise moment, a chemical rendering of an optical condition. Add to that the fact that they were made on highly polished silver plates—mirrorlike—made them seem as truthful as a mirror.
Even as they were seen as authoritative, mirrors have always been suspect—tools of the devil, windows into evil—but they are still trusted by many as a way to examine one’s own face. However, the lateral translation of a reflection and the distortion of the glass and reflective coating make it as unreliable as an oil painting. Think about how odd your own face looks to you when you see it in a photograph as opposed to how it looks in your bathroom mirror.
The loss of meaning and trust in images has been a gradual descent into a world of immersive media, where meaning is a process rather than a destination. As artifacts of human contrivance, photographs now lack all authority, semblance of truthfulness, or unquestioned meaning; they seem contingent, lacking any center or substance. In fact, most photographs today have no physical existence at all. I am interested in how images might be made to seem unmediated, how they might be made to revert to a kind of solidity.
Woven cloth forms a raster, a grid of threads that forms a fabric. When seen by transmitted light, the warp and weft of the cloth forms a variable density grid—which calls to mind a halftone contact screen, a predigital piece of technology that translated continuous tone images into fields of halftone dots in order to simulate tonality. In this project, I created color separations of images, print them through dye sublimation technology onto cotton cloth, and use those pieces of cloth to directly expose offset lithographic printing plates, which would then be used to print three-color images. The weave of the cloth itself would break down the continuous tone image into dots of varying size.
In a very literal way, I wanted to create a material metaphor to elaborate the idea of an acheiropoieton— where the lithographic shadows of the cloth images were multiplied into a book.
But there is a problem inherent in cotton cloth: Cotton production has a long and horrible history. Sven Beckert’s great book, Empire of Cotton, details not only the development of chattel slavery in the New World in response to the growing demand of the textile mills in England, but also the troubling history of cotton in the Old World. Cotton cloth—comfortable, easily dyed, beautiful—comes with a long, miserable history of human suffering and exploitation.
Acheiropoieta is a large book, 12 by 19 inches. Big books are public experiences—looking can be shared by several people at once. Concerning Acheiropoieta is a small book, 5 by 8 inches, barely hand sized; it is thus a private reading experience.
Printing at the Borowsky Center, University of the Arts with Amanda D’Amico and Matao Dreskin.