My creative project is a “clockpunk” deconstruction of The Illustrated London News. The ability for wood engraving and moveable type to be combined on the printing press was crucial for the emergence of illustrated journalism. However, while the technique of melding image and text on the same page created the illusion of unity, in fact, the visual and the verbal were often engaged in a struggle for dominance. By pulling apart the layers of image and text embedded within the periodical’s seemingly unified and harmonious front, my goal was to address these contradictions and expose the underlying power relations between image and text. My art piece incorporates several different mediums: from mechanical gears to computer scans of wood engravings to pencil sketches. Often a single illustration will “bleed” from ink to pencil and back again.
In many ways, the rise of mass media coincided with a shift towards a market-based economy. As such, the artists and engravers employed by publications like The London Illustrated News were treated not as autonomous, self-determining individuals, but producers and wage laborers within a system that was ultimately designed for profit. For this reason, incorporating mechanical gears and antique watch parts into the fabric of the newsprint signifies the alienation and automatization of the worker. Within the steampunk tradition, clocks symbolize a rewriting of history, a melding of separate eras with the intention of undermining modernity’s notion of linear progress. Likewise, the use of recycled materials is a protest against consumer culture, drawing attention to waste and ruin as a by-product of capitalism and our insatiable hunger for newness. The mirroring effect of the cellophane foreshadows the advent of film and photography and illustrates the shift in society’s perception and consumption of art. Building off of Walter Benjamin’s argument in his essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” my collage demonstrates how, within the context of mass-production, there is no original; the power of engraving lies in plurality rather than uniqueness.