This project, just like earlier dx5 actions, focuses on research and development solutions for traditional artistic engraving techniques via chemical and physical alternatives, as well as viable and sustainable development, within non-toxic engraving systems. The knowledge acquired in previous research allowed us to achieve remarkable scientific milestones and consolidate dx5 as a reference group in non-toxic engraving and expanded field graphics among research teams from Spanish Universities and Technological Centres. This project was awarded a grant for “Consolidating and Structuring” Competitive Research Units within the Galician University System (2012) by the Regional Ministry of Culture, Education and University Planning.
Our determination to deepen knowledge on useful and effective application of non-toxic engraving systems –which is neither covert nor responds to prevailing trends– is largely due to a modest attempt to resolve the perennial issue of toxicity and harmfulness in etching with acids and printing, which uses volatile solvents that are highly harmful to health and inconceivable today, both for the creative activity of artists in this field and university teaching. Art and graphic arts studios have traditionally used systems that have a high environmental cost. While it is true that modern industry has ended up finding but (not fully) implementing alternatives to these systems, traditional art studios and some schools, teaching centres and Fine Arts faculties still cling to traditional alternatives with serious drawbacks for health, recycling and labour safety. Frequent users, teachers, artists and researchers who, after years of dedication, have a first-hand knowledge of the world of graphic techniques are also aware of the risks of working with these highly polluting elements. Storage and recycling of used solvents and acids is a difficult problem to solve that generates additional costs other than cost to users’ health and has led to the essential search for other cleaner techniques for both agents and the natural environment. This project allows us to learn about the different graphic techniques like never before, and to study their peculiarities in-depth through microanalysis of dozens of samples of each of them.
A closer look at contemporary engraving: Optics, chemistry and nanotechnology:
Thanks to the facilities and equipment offered at the C.A.C.T.I. (Centre for Scientific and Technological Support to Research) of the University of Vigo, the research is aimed at producing a manual that, from a comprehensive and scientific perspective, will cover the praxis of contemporary graphics.
This project aims to study the microcosm that lies behind the chemistry of graphic processes (engraving, lithography, screen printing, digital techniques, photopolymers, etc.) through electron microscopy photographs, microanalysis and some studies in the nanotechnology laboratory, and thus ascertain the behaviour of many common materials such as resins, varnishes, acids, pigments, inks, oils, etc. This will contribute to deepening knowledge on the microreality of contemporary graphics from its most scientific perspective whilst helping in future restoration and conservation of printed works.
Concepts covered in the project:
– Microscopic analysis: physical analysis, chemical analysis.
– Alchemy and handling processes in engraving.
– Direct or indirect etching processes.
– Acids, tools and supports.
– Processes and results, cause and effect.
– Latent images and chemical reactions.
– Precautions and toxicities typical of engraving materials.
Specific objectives. The aim of the research is to:
– Chemically and microscopically analyse the different media commonly used as a matrix, as well as visualise and obtain accurate information on the different stages that a matrix passes through before being printed.
– Obtain specific physico-chemical information on the specific nature of the different substances used in traditional and contemporary graphics.
– Obtain scientific information on their applications outside the scope of graphics, their chemical components, their molecular structure and their changes in state.
– Obtain microscopic information on the structure and elemental composition of each of the materials and complement this information with chemical analysis and microanalysis to provide accurate data on the exact atomic and molecular composition of the substances.
– Understand the oxidation-reduction reactions used in graphics.
– Establish the toxicities (irritants, abrasives…) and precautions (hazard with other reagents; inflammation, gases…) typical in graphic practices that involve the handling of different substances, which in some cases are highly harmful. This will allow proper handling of each of them.
– Obtain precise knowledge on the way different substances act in the different media, in the successive processing phases and stages, as well as in the different physico-chemical states that may be present in them.
– Relate these processes with the graphic characteristics that the matrix will present, both as a final image and as an image that will be transferred to an ultimate medium (paper).
– Obtain more information on graphic-plastic results and their alternatives, as well as the combination of media, through a profound understanding of what happens at surfaces on which an image is engraved.
– Obtain in-depth knowledge of the specific chemistry and alchemy inherent in engraving, both in its historical processes, as well as in the most appropriate modes of industrial operation applied to fine arts.
– Use scientific knowledge to optimise the relationship between the engraver and the environment, the graphic studio, and the actions of each material on the media and in the corresponding stages.
– Establish a coherent relationship of all of the above with the history of engraving: discovery of new techniques, qualitative improvements, changes in materials and processes, greater or lesser technical implementation, etc.
– Identify and recognise the different materials through their distinguishing characteristics, even in their different market appearances and presentations, thus adjusting each typology to its specific use.
– Facilitate the art process in the studio, by identifying substances that have modified their specific characteristics either due to passage of time or inappropriate use.
– Define substances (scientific and market classification, origin, extraction/processing) so that they are recognisable and facilitate maintenance in a graphic studio, in terms of supplies, storage requirements, etc.
The second chapter of the book entitled “Anode-Cathode. Electrolysis and Galvanography. The Chemical Memory sculpted by electrons” provides the main conclusions and scientific achievements of this project structured in three distinct well differentiated parts, which coincide with the programmatic approaches of the dx5 group and the way in which research projects developed by this team are almost always addressed. These three approaches –theoretical-conceptual, scientific-technical, and artistic-practical– are reflected in the three major sections that articulate this book.