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A conversation with Arik Kilemnik, print-master

by simone November 23 2008
InterviewArtThings to do

Arik Killemnik in his office

Founder and director of the Jerusalem Print Workshop-Djanogly Graphic Arts Center, Arik Kilemnik was first introduced to the world of ink and paper as a student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in the early 1950s. Kilemnik's passion brought him to New York City in the heady 1960s, where he studied at the Pratt Institute's Graphic Design Center and the Art Students League. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Kilemnik helped found the Jerusalem Print Workshop, which was officially established in 1974. The Workshop, which Kilemnik modeled after programs he had seen in New York, was designed as place for artists to gather to work in mediums such as etching, lithography and the like. On a recent rainy afternoon, Kilemnik took time to speak with Jerusalemite in the Workshop's main office, where magazines, prints and art books spill off the shelf-lined walls and numerous computers, copy machines and (gasp!) modern desktop printers compete for space.

Thanks to institutions like yours, the Naggar School, the Museum of the Seam, and activities like the Black Panther Tours, Musrara (and the area between Road One and the Russian Compound in general), has emerged as a kind of alternative arts hotbed, despite - or perhaps because of - its rocky history, its eclectic mix of populaces and the strange pocket it inhabits on the map. What are your feelings on the neighborhood, the place it holds in Jerusalem culture as a whole, and the direction it's going?

First off, I want to say that we're not interested in politics, we're an art institution. We believe in art for everyone; we invite artists to work here in the The Galleryworkshop regardless of their race, religion, etc. We didn't come to this neighborhood for political reasons. In fact, I don't think any of the institutions you mentioned specifically wanted to be in Musrara, it's just where we found the space.

Today, it's hard to find space in this neighborhood, but when we first moved here in the 1970s, this neighborhood was the end of the world – on one side you had the ultra-Orthodox, and on the other you had the Arabs. There were also pockets of Christians and secular Jews competing for space, and we really felt that we were holding the city together - that if we pulled out, there would be a war [between these various factions].

Musrara is a difficult neighborhood, especially where we are, right next to the ultra-Orthodox. It's hard to promote culture here. Right now the neighborhood is home to the Naggar School and gallery, a community center [that hosts artistic events] and the Museum on the Seam, but it's hard to say what the neighborhood will be like in the future.

We often meet with the other arts institutions here to try to come up with solutions for the future, for maintaining the neighborhood's cultural standing, but in this neighborhood we're working against the tide. It would be much easier for us to be in a neighborhood like the German Colony, a neighborhood where the arts are more appreciated, but what can you do? We're trying to make things happen here.

I do want to make it clear, though, that it's not because of the people who live in and around Musrara that things are difficult. I believe in pluralism, and that includes religion and religous people. The problem is not the people but the municipality. If the city wanted, they could make Musrara a cultural center, but they don't care.

The Jerusalem Print WorkshopI understand the Workshop is currently in the midst of renovations. What type of activities do you hope to host once your renovations are complete - activities that you don't have the space to host now? How did you know we were in the midst of renovating? We actually just acquired the bottom floor of the building, thanks to the assistance of the Jerusalem Foundation - they worked especially hard to get us funding -and are starting to renovate. We are also hoping to build up the top floor [the Workshop currently occupies the building's second floor and a small attic floor]. When the renovations are complete, we hope to move the actual workshop down to the bottom floor, keeping this floor open for research and educational activities.

We also hope to install an elevator, making the building handicap-accessible. Right now, our top floor houses a gallery, and we hope to expand on that, opening another, smaller, gallery; a library of archives; and a multi-media room.

What types of people use your facility regularly, and which items of equipment are the most in demand? We have artists who come from across Israel, and even some from around the world. We always have a number of artists at the workshop working on collaborative projects with us. We also have an open studio, where a number of artists come each day to work on individual projects. It's a small studio right now, but when we expand the workshop, we're hoping to build a larger studio for independent work.

We also run a number of courses, which attract people who want to learn etching and screen-printing. The courses meet once a week for three months.

Regarding the types of equipment that are most in demand, the open studio only has etching equipment. Only the artists working on collaborative projects with us have access to all of our printing equipment.

With the environmental movement espousing waste minimization, many are making the move towards a paperless society. On the other hand, there's just nothing that can compare to the timeless charm of ink on paper - either held in one's hand or hanging on a wall. How can we reconcile these two forces? Is it possible that a society that prints less values more that which is printed? I don't really think we're a society that prints less. In fact, since we started using computers at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, I think we've been using more paper - not less. When we just had the print equipment to work with, we were much more careful with what we did. Now we try things out on the computer, print a version of it, make a change and print it again.

One of the print machines What types of rare old-school printing equipment is your facility home to, and has anyone tracked you down from extremely far away in order to use this machinery? We have a number of pieces of very old printing equipment, all of which still work. We have one machine for relief-printing which was made in England in 1834. We also have an Italian press from 1854. It's from a man named Amos of Monza. We found this press in a private home in Jerusalem. When we brought it to the Workshop, we wrote to the mayor of Monza telling him about it. Apparently, print-making used to be a very big part of the Monza culture, and the mayor actually sent a representative here to the Workshop to take a picture of himself with the press. Since then, we have received a number of visitors from Monza who come to see the Monza press.

We have another press from 1886, and one that was built in 1900 in Berlin. The Berlin press was moved to Budapest, and we got it from an immigrant who had owned it in Buenos Aires. That's our most international press.

We get people coming here from the United States, Scotland, and other places as well. The Workshop gets written up in trade magazines, in the newsletters and papers of similar workshops and studios throughout the world, so we get a lot of press.

Even though the Workshop opened back in the 1970s, it still maintains a kind of underground, below-the-radar feel. Is this intentional? What other cultural institutions in Jerusalem occupy similar niches in your mind? I disagree [with the assesment that we're below the radar]. I think we're very famous, just not in a mainstream type of way. We're not a mainstream type of institution, but we're very well-known within the print-making world.

These things go in phases though. Right now we've been getting a lot of more mainstream publicity, and there's been a big demand for our studios and our workshops. But this kind of publicity is unreliable - sometimes it goes up, and sometimes it goes down. It's trendy right now, but that could change. Right now we have some of the biggest artists in Israel working here.

I guess you could say the Naggar School occupies a similar niche, except that it's a school and the Jerusalem Print Workshop is more of a center for artists.

Photo of Kilemnik, the Workshop gallery (top left), studio (middle) and printing equipment (bottom left) courtesy of the Jerusalem Print Workshop.

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