Humans are like snails wearing blinders: we leave a slimy trail everywhere we go, but we are blissfully ignorant of the mess we leave in our wake. When we come across someone else’s effluent trace, we spread blame, unable to reconcile our culpability. As printmakers—creators in the original social media—we can see the scope of the problem and communicate it far and wide, replacing those blinders with rearview mirrors. When we encounter our impact, our indelible mark, we should be compelled to make meaningful change. The international printmaking community, for example, is coming to terms with the messiness of our medium, reforming practices for a safer, more sustainable future. This exhibition features artists who acknowledge those encounters, and indicate how stains can be improved, if not removed.

Global warming is an incontrovertible reality that is asserting itself on every being on the planet, despite whether they acknowledge that truth. For artists like Nancy Campbell, Nicole Pietrantoni, and Todd Anderson climate change is not a buzz word, but a corporeality, witnessed in trickles and torrents. Anderson and Pietrantoni have first-hand experience observing retreating glaciers in North America and the Arctic. Todd incorporates prints and poetry with hard data to reinforce the incontrovertible reality of shrinking glaciers, and the metaphysical loss the world will feel when they are gone. Campbell’s poetry builds on her experiences in Greenland; her collaborations with Roni Gross use language and tradition to reinforce how nature creates culture and how a changing climate will inevitably change society. All these artists happen to use the book as their mode of communication. Perhaps the historical reliability of the tome and the interactivity of the structure reinforce their message of structural fact.

Our footprint on the natural world is deep and undeniable. Insatiable consumption scars the landscape and alters the biosphere in unexpected, and sometimes poetic ways. In Emmy Lingscheit’s Bloom, overpopulation and consumption is returning the planet to an antediluvian climate that favors creatures that undermine human industriousness. Sean Caulfield’s fantastical iconography speaks with an arcane tongue to contemporary anxieties about human technological influence on nature and our own bodies. Charles Beneke shows how disorder and disruption are inevitable forces in a constructed environment we designed to assure control. Patricia Delgado’s diminishing monoliths reference dwindling resources including the literal and metaphorical emptiness that will come with their depletion. Finally, the repurposed fabric substrates of Blake and Hannah Sanders indicate the artists’ desire to diminish their ecological fallout, illustrating a more sustainable way forward for their family and humanity generally.

While humans seem to easily disregard our shared burden on nature in the abstract, people can be equally cruel to each other, sowing discord and propping up false hierarchies that leave a mess of their own. History is replete with examples of how othering—through colonialism, despotism, and institutional racism—can leave indelible marks on countries and cultures. Ericka Walker appropriates text from monuments and markers of westward expansion to show how history is written and warped by the colonizers. Sercan Sahin uses the tools and iconography of protest to illustrate the mortal reality of oppressive regimes. Michael Reed’s contemplation of the lasting effects of chemical warfare harkens marks the tradition of not just defeating one’s enemies, but negating them. Melanie Yazzie incorporates the gracious philosophy of her Diné heritage to personalize the struggles of indigenous peoples for a broader society who ignores, if not actively oppresses, them to this day. In an age of political and geographical turmoil, where refugees and activists are necessitating societal change, these artists are reminding us of injustices past and present with the expectation of a more just future.

This project grew out of a panel I organized at the 2017 SGCI conference in Atlanta. Whenever I begin a collaboration many more people are invited than a project can accommodate, assuming most folks either won’t be available or interested in participating. I am always surprised by the generosity and exuberance of the invited artists. When everyone says “yes!” it leads to a new problem: how to create an opportunity where everyone can take part. In this case, the exhibition was arranged to showcase a cross section of international artists who address lasting human impact. My original intent was to focus on purely ecological issues, however, the resulting show is broader and richer. I am pleased that the participating artists have expanded the scope to be at once humanistic and global, as nothing nurtures meaningful change like recognized connectedness. There are many other print artists around the world who are working to address these issues, I sincerely hope we can share ideas and work together to promote change. I am proud of this exhibition, honored to be able to associate with this roster of extraordinary artists, and excited to continue our collaboration into the future.

Blake Sanders, 2018