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The 70th A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts: Contact: Art and the Pull of Print, Part 2: Reversal

Jennifer L. Roberts, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University. In this six-part lecture series titled Contact: Art and the Pull of Print, Roberts focuses on printmaking as an art of physical contact, involving transfer under pressure between surfaces—a direct touch that can evoke multiple forms of intimacy. And yet it is simultaneously an art of estrangement: it requires the deferral, displacement, and distribution of artistic agency, and it trades in reversal and inversion. In this second lecture, “Reversal,” premiered on the National Gallery’s website on May 2, 2021, Roberts explores how every predigital print process produces some form of reversal—the entire history of printing is based on the reversal of information. Making prints thus requires a certain backwardness; the capacity to imagine things from the other side is compulsory. This is especially true for artists using text. An attunement to reversibility allows for unique ways of exploring communication and confrontation in bodily space.