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420-foot digitally printed photomontage

September 1st, 2011 / By: / Graphics

ArtCorps, a nonprofit group working in Central America, sent artist Alayna Wool to Guatemala in 2009, where she continues to work with its indigenous people on public art that may change their future by finally making the past visible. Wool’s project, “Living History—A Photographic Montage,” features 2,000 rescued photographs of victims killed, tortured or “disappeared” in a bloody civil war that lasted 28 years. Its gallery is the 490-foot wall surrounding a cemetery in Rabinal, Guatemala; its substrate is Scotchcal™ Graphic Film for Textured Surfaces IJ8624, a product from the 3M Company, St. Paul, Minn.

Wool worked with survivors and family members to collect photos and oral and written stories, with the giant photomontage only one of the products. “Living History” will include DVDs, brochures and presentations to educate human rights groups and high school students in Guatemala about the horrors of war—while giving the victims some justice. “As they journey past the cemetery every day, the people of Rabinal are able to see the faces of their loved ones,” Wool says.

At 420 feet, this project is the longest printed linear footage using Scotchcal. As the street that fronts the cemetery slopes uphill from one end of the wall to the other, there are five jogs in the mural wall height, each jog about 6 inches. Consequently, it was impossible to print the mural on one long piece. Instead, Wool divided up the work into 10 panels, each 13 feet wide by approximately 10 feet high.

The print shop that was hired to do the job, Media Publicity Group from Guatemala City, is certified by 3M to print on Scotchcal. As specialists in large-format printing, Media Publicity Group printed the project on 3.2m-wide digital printers, which took three days to complete.

“The file size for each panel was enormous,” Wool says. “Each panel was about 3.8GB; the total came to about 26GB.” Images were set at 720dpi so that pedestrians could view them from across the street, as well as up close, and not have the image quality appear to break up.

Scotchcal graphic film can be applied to textured surfaces, including brick, concrete block, tile, poured concrete and industrial stucco. The gray adhesive hides any underlying wall color, provides photographic quality images and is printable on solvent inkjet printers. Wool had the film applied to the cinder block surface of the cemetery wall using the patented 3M system that involves pressing the film’s adhesive backing into the crevices of a textured surface with narrow rollers and applying hot air from heat guns against the outer surface to help the bond.

In addition, to extend the life of the Guatemala mural, a lamination was applied to the surface to give it an additional 10 year’s durability.

As the panels were applied to the wall, three people from 3M’s Guatemala office worked with Media Publicity Group to make sure it was properly adhered to the cinder block surface.

Working conditions for the application were far from ideal. “The electrical power grid capacity in Rabinal could only handle so much load,” Wool says. “Occasionally we would have to stop work while the power was down. You can’t just plug in a heat gun and expect the power grid to handle it.”

The 3M Commercial Graphics Division wasn’t the only Minnesota connection for Wool; she also enlisted the support of artist Nancy Coyne, inspired by her photographic installation in a Minneapolis skyway (featured in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Fabric Graphics.)

Bruce Wright is editor of Fabric Architecture, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International, and contributing editor to Fabric Graphics.

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