The [Baren] exchange program wraps up its first full year of operation with this landmark collection of 29 woodblock prints. Why do I say 'landmark'? Because for the first time, you will find prints in the folio from all six continents! (You don't expect me to include Antarctica, do you? A continent with no trees cannot reasonably be expected to participate in a woodblock print exchange ...). Our American members again make up the strongest contingent, but 'international' participation has now reached nearly 25% of the total, and seems likely to keep growing.
This particular exchange marks a departure from the previous three in another special way - this one is a 'themed' exchange. Participants were not given carte blanche to submit anything they liked, but were instructed to produce a print based on the theme - in this case, a self-portrait. But as I must (as always) write this introduction before having had a chance to see the prints themselves, at the moment I have not the slightest idea how the members responded to this challenge. My own contribution is a rather plain and simple attempt at a standard self portrait, but looking over the list of print titles, I see that the other participants seem to have been interested in illustrating some other aspect of their personality than simply their mug shot! I'm actually quite relieved to see this, because I was afraid that if everybody contributed a print like mine, we would have ended up with quite a rogue's gallery!
Although these [Baren] exchanges were originally started with no particular goals in mind beyond having fun and for participants to have a chance to see and own other printmakers' works, another 'use' for them is starting to become apparent. A collection of prints in a folio like this, all of similar size and similar manner, make the perfect material for an exhibition - and due to the enthusiasm of various [Baren] members, the folios have started to become shown to the 'outside world'. The first such exhibition was held in New York this autumn, a second is planned for Chicago next spring, and further shows are currently under consideration.
This of course, is beneficial all around - it not only gives members exposure for their work, it gives the viewers a wonderful 'shapshot' of thirty different approaches to the woodblock print - anybody can find something they like in such an exhibition! And in addition to this, it puts more pressure on the participants to submit excellent work (as if they needed it!).
[Baren] is of course pretty small potatoes on the 'international art scene', but we have big aspirations - we quite simply want everybody to share our delight and pleasure in woodblock prints! These exchange folios may yet turn out to be our most powerful tool for doing so. We've done four exchanges this year, containing more than 110 prints in all - that's just about one new one every three days! Whether or not we can keep up that pace remains to be seen ... but there's one way to make sure that we do ...
I hope you enjoy viewing our collection as much as we enjoyed making it!
Tokyo, December 31 1999
[Baren] forum list-owner
(Special thanks to member Maria Arango for coordinating this exchange)