A shift towards digital print in future art
Mamata B. Herland
Abstract: The intention in this dissertation is to investigate the impact of Giclée and the emerging inkjet print technology. The impact it has made on number of artists worldwide is discussed based on direct responses from artists, museums and other relevant sources. Adaptation of digital technology by artists challenges conventional conceptions and assumptions about work of art, re-questions the qualities of art, the concept of originality and acceptance in the art world.
From the technical--- and theoretical research on these issues, this dissertation further investigates and discusses the shift that is taking place, not only from conventional print techniques to digital methods, being able to create prints of technical quality at least comparable to traditional prints, but also to the future of art in a digital world, with particular references to the Internet. The digitised image can be 'synthesised' with other images created by use of traditional methods. Artists are collaborating with other geographically separated artists and artworks are presented and sold on the World Wide Web. Use of digital technology to create art can influence the artist's ideas, attitude and perception, resulting in possibilities for a change of the content, form and context of the artwork.
Internationally known artists like David Hockney and Richard Hamilton use digital print technology, and digital prints are exhibited at well-reputed museums.
Acknowledgements: Giclée and digital ink jet is a relatively new subject with little relevant literature available. Much of the content of this dissertation has therefore been developed based on responses to numerous letters, emails and questionnaires that were sent during summer and autumn 2002. I would therefore like to thank all the artists, curators, print studios, authors, magazine editors, commercial companies, art school lecturers and professors who took the time to respond and show interest. Without their invaluable contributions this dissertation would not have been possible.
I would also like to thank my husband, Geir Herland, for all his support and encouragement.
Figure 1: Mamata Herland, Thank You, 2001, Giclée on water-colour paper
Mamata B. Herland (Winchester, 3rd February 2003)
To be able to establish a discussion on the shift towards digital print, it was necessary to research whether this process has been accepted by leading museums and galleries. To witness such development, I made number of visits to leading galleries and museums in London exhibiting works using inkjet print technology. Based on the knowledge I gathered sets of questionnaires were prepared. One type of questions were sent to selected artists [Appendix 1], another set of questions to museums and galleries [Appendix 2] and a third set to printing studios and suppliers [Appendix 3]. Other sources responded, including authors, professors, lecturers and magazine editors, mainly in UK and USA, sending useful information and referred to further supporting study materials [Appendix 4]. Around two hundred and eighty letters and emails were sent during summer/autumn 2002, and around eighty of them responded. When, in the dissertation, I am referring to a specific received response, reported in detail in the appendices, a footnote with resource reference and response date (dd.mm.yy) is used. Without Internet and the World Wide Web I could not have done extensive research on this particular subject area.
In chapter 2 the Giclée process is described with a proposed definition of Giclée and Digital ink jet. How to ensure permanence and longevity of digital prints are also discussed.
It is stated that digital technology has led to a blurring of the conventionally accepted distinctions within printmaking. Creating art of 'synthesis' is possible by integrating print, painting and photography, as well as other art forms. Such creative impact of digital print and technology is discussed in chapter 3. Whether a digital ink jet on canvas should be regarded as a painting is also included in the discussion.
In chapter 4 issues regarding originality and authenticity are discussed in relation to Walter Benjamin's essay 'The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. It is argued that with digital art there is no physical original. Digital artworks might be seen as the ultimate reproducible art on the threshold of real democratised art. Internet and the World Wide Web are also having an impact on these issues.
Digital technology offers artists broader possibilities and greater control and freedom to create, output, exhibit and market their works. Indicators of a shift towards digital print in future art are discussed in chapter 5, and the scepticism regarding Giclée and digital ink jet has gradually diminished.
Chapter 6 concludes that Giclée and digital ink jet
have a significant impact on Fine Art. The content, form and
context of an artwork can now be broadened and diversified by
the new creative possibilities offered by digital technology.
Figure 2: Mamta herland, Mine or Mine, 2002
Commercial print companies saw an interesting market within the art segment. Entrepreneurial artists and print studios like Cone Editions, USA, were involved in the development, and the Iris printer was the first digital printer introduced for Fine Art, thereof the term 'Iris print'. Paul Jackson, being one of the first artists who employed Iris print technology states his reason:
The Iris printer was an answer to Hamilton's hard copy problem. The vibrant rich colours were appealing, but the dye-based ink of the Iris printer had no long-lasting, archival quality and therefore led to scepticism towards work of art produced by the digital process. In 1996 David Hockney wrote:
Figure 3 Mamta Herland, Tangible, 2002
Dorothy Simpson Krause has the computer as her primary art-making
tool, and she has used inkjet, thermal, laser, lightjet, dye
sublimation and dot matrix printing techniques to take her images
from the screen to a fixed form, and she states:
2.2 Digital Printing
Figure 4: Computer devices involved in digital printing process
The scanned image can be digitally manipulated and in many cases the artist co-operates with the printmaker to crop, size, adjust or manipulate all or selective parts of an image. To ensure quality, the image resolution, measured in dots per inch (d.p.i.), needs to be considered, since it affects the system's ability to create fine details. File size is important when it comes to calculating how large the final print can be.
Before printing an image, the hardware devices need to be calibrated to ensure colour matching. When data is transferred between different hardware devices, software application and printers, colour change is inevitable since they use different colour ranges. The monitor uses RGB (Red, Green and Blue) as the primary colours and is an 'additive' system. Printers, however, use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK) that subtracts certain frequencies of light and reflects others. The conversion from RGB to CMYK is extremely difficult since CMYK has a smaller colour gamut. If the image is transferred from one platform to another, as when the artist is transferring the image to a print studio, the problem increases. There are software programs helping to reduce the colour management problem, but still manually evaluating and correcting proofs by the artist is crucial before accepting the BAT (Bon à Tirer) proof and printing the edition.
Artists' choice of substrates depends on their idea and intention for the final output. Substrates that are commonly available are different types of papers e.g. photo-glossy, matte or many types of watercolour papers and different types of canvas. Paper and canvas can also be found coated and uncoated, and more or less waterproof. Other substrates available are vinyl, leather, film, banners, plastic and etched aluminium plates. However, not all substrates can be used with any kind of ink. The ink reacts to various coatings and chemicals. For example, dye-based ink works best on glossy and uncoated substrates, while pigment-based inks work best on coated substrates. Dye based inks have bright vivid colours, but are likely to fade and are not waterproof. Pigment based inks are less vivid, though rich and earthy, and are often more waterproof and more permanent. The Iris printer, for example, can only use dye-based inks in contrast to the ColorSpan Displaymaker Mach 12, which can have both dye and pigment based inks. Today there are number of manufacturers like Epson, Hewlett Packard, Roland, Mimaki, and ColorSpan with Giclée print quality. They all have, however, their benefits and drawbacks, e.g. ColorSpan Mach 12 can have 12 different inks including the original 4 CMYK colours. Other printers have 6 or 8 colours, and some have 4 different variations of black. Different printers more or less have problems with banding (a horizontal path on the image), metamerism (when colours change relative to on another in different light sources) and continuous tone (smooth tonal transitions). Figure 5 shows some functional details of a digital wide-format inkjet printer, exemplified by a ColorSpan Displaymaker.
Figure 5: ColorSpan Displaymaker XII, functional details (click image for larger view)
To achieve the artist's intentions it is crucial to understand
the possibilities and limitations of substrates, inks and printers,
not least how they all interact with each other. The interaction
of these factors are even more important regarding the longevity
of the prints with a ratio of 20:1, meaning that the difference
in light fading between the longest lasting ink-substrate combination
and the least stable combination is 20 years. Testing the combination
of ink, substrate and printer using the 'Blue Wool Scale' method,
accredited British Standard (BS1006) and adopted as International
Standard (ISO), the Fine Art Trade Guild reports that the latest
test results show life expectancy rates of 100 to 200 years for
some Giclée prints. When printed on good quality heavyweight
art paper the print should possess archival standards of permanence
or better than other collectable artwork. Protecting the print
from UV-light, humidity and acid-free materials helps to preserve
the print. However, artwork deteriorates over time. When questioned
if Tate Modern experienced any problems with colour fading or
effects of moisture and temperature, they replied:
Conservation plays an important role in preserving digital
prints. The Museum of Modern Art, NY, explains that:
Dorothy Simpson Krause defines Giclée as
Mr. Maklansky, assistant director at New Orleans Museum of Modern Art urges that the term Giclée should not be used, and Stephen Goddard informs us that 'the curatorial world is likely to use the term 'inkjet print''.
Nash Editions states that:
To have a consistent terminology I suggest that the term 'Giclée' should be applied to reproductions of artwork originally created by the use of another medium, and 'Digital ink jet' for artworks intended for, and finally created by the use of a computer and digital print technology.
The quality of the final print depends on the artist's ability
to combine the interactive elements where the
The Fine Art Trade Guild confirms archival standard when using the right combination.
3.0 The impact of Giclée
Printmaking has always been closely linked to technological development, since it is between the hand-made and mechanical reproduction, between the creative and the technical process, between art for its own sake and commercial possibilities. With digital printmaking the link to technology has become even stronger. Professional printmaking studios like Cone Editions Press and Nash Editions have collaborated with internationally well-known artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine and Helena Chappelin Wilson. The artist's physical presence at the print studio is, however, no longer required since it is now possible to e-mail the image, discuss with the printmaker using Internett and posting the proofs to be evaluated and approved.
The emerging practices in digital print technology are leading to a 'synthesis' of art, making it possible to include a painting, drawing or photography into a print and allowing for further manipulation. The cultural shift this represents may blur, remove, or even reinforce boundaries commonly associated with the activity of printmaking. Digital printmaking offers the possibility of generating radically new physical, aesthetic and conceptual frameworks and process routes within printmaking.
Figure 6: Mamta Herland , Raymix, 2001
It can be argued that the appeal of the traditional prints is partly based on the techniques themselves, and with digital technology there are no physical objects manipulated by the actual hand of the artist or printmaker. According to this argument a Giclée or digital ink jet cannot therefore be called a 'fine art print'. The definition of 'original' print, as defined in the 1960's, also emphasis the importance of the manual involvement in making the print. Digital technology however, does not only give exciting new possibilities, but it is also less labour intensive then traditional techniques, giving the artist more time for creative work. I would therefore argue that digital technology allows for a transfer, 'from the artist's hand to the artist's mind', and that it is the artist's vision and quality of the art work that would define it as Fine Art.
Ink jet certainly has re-inforced the link between traditional fine art printmaking and art photography to a point where the two blend.
The photographic origin of many of the digital prints reflects the high level of interest amongst photographers in Giclée processes being used to work in the darkroom and manipulate their images. In the early 1960's Jerry N. Uelsmann created techniques for seamlessly blending photographic images in the darkroom, and the same effects can now be achieved by using Photoshop. However, the extraordinary control digital methods offers far surpass traditional darkroom techniques for negative and print manipulation. Scanned photographs can be edited, partly masked, transformed, collaged, layered or otherwise combined.
Figure 7: Mamata Herland, Lifeline, 2001, manipulated photo with multiple layers (digital ink jet on canvas)
Another advantage with digital technique is the possibility of enlarging photo negatives, eliminating problems with dust spots, loss of information in translation through two generations of film images or difficulty in controlling the contrast and density range of the final negative.
With inkjet printing, the image forming process and the paper it is printed on are, for the first time, functionally separated. Photographers are now able to make prints on virtually any absorbent material in variable sizes that can be fed through the printer.
Some viewers expect a photograph to be a direct representation
of an object or event. Is it still a photograph when it is manipulated,
either in the darkroom or by the use of a computer? John Isaac
In my view the artist's intention is the major issue to whether an artwork is a photograph or not. As Stephen Shore says: 'I regard what I do as 'art', and don't draw a distinction between photography and painting.'
A painting, formerly unique and one of a kind, can now be reproduced by using digital print and then the digitised painting can be exhibited on a virtual web-gallery, opening up a broader audience and market for the artist.
Figure 8: Mamta Herland, The Cottage, 1999
In his coming book 'Painting and the Digital Adventure' James Faure-Walker describes the immense possibilities of digital technology:
He further argues about
The question arises whether digital painting on canvas can be regarded as a painting?
Works by artists who employed untraditional tools, materials and methods, are still addressed as 'paintings'. If it is a painting when John Hoyland splash the paint on a canvas, Peter Blake use gloss house painting, Roy Lichtenstein use Ben Day dots and Andy Warhol use stencils, then it can be argued that artwork 'painted with pixels' using digital print technology also can be considered a 'painting'. The Museum of Modern Art would regard an inkjet print as a painting 'in the same sense that a Warhol screenprint on canvas is considered a painting'. According to Lambert, inkjet prints are also defined as a stencil process, supporting this view.
Gerard Hemsworth's opinion is:
ePic Digital Technology argues that ink jet is not a painting in the traditional sense, but
Kenneth A. Kerslake argues, however, that:
Victoria & Albert Museum seems to have a supportive view, stating that 'the process is more defining than the support', Tate Britain view is that 'painting is a human action as well as an activity' and Manchester Art Gallery 'would not accept Giclée on canvas as painting although the effect can be similar'.
When asked if John Hilliard's digital prints on canvas are about painting, Ian McKeever replied: 'no, not really' and that it lacks clarity of medium. John Hilliard's response is:
John Hilliard also states that 'there's no hierarchy as far as I'm concerned - just different specificity'.
In spite of variations of opinions in the discussion above, I would argue that an original digital print on canvas does not lack any more clarity of medium than screenprints or other accepted methods, and should therefore be regarded as a painting in the same manner.
James Faure-Walker, in a discussion with his German gallery representative, states that:
Painters have always used traditional and untraditional methods and tools, and their artworks are referred to as paintings. Artworks produced and presented by the new digital technology should therefore be referred to as paintings as well, in the same way as when Andy Warhol used the new screen print technique to create his paintings.
4.0 Original Reproductions
4.1 Originality and Authenticity
Originality and authenticity were, in the twentieth century, debated also based on other issues. Pablo Picasso copied African masks, and appropriation artist Mike Bidlo copied Picasso, with e.g. Not Picasso 1988 - originally Mother and Child (1921). Bidlo's paintings are, however, always presented as Bidlo's, and he argues that everything has been done and all that is left for an artist now is recycling the art of the past. Andy Warhol was also indifferent to originality in art, and his soup cans and Marchel Duchamp's Mr. Mutt are examples of 'ready-made' art.
Digital technology has, however, raised the question of originality in a totally different way, since it is art designed for reproducibility. In a computer everything is represented as numbers, binary digits (zeros and ones). It can therefore be argued that the original of a digital image is the binary code, intangible and cannot be perceived until reproduced by some electronical means - like on a monitor or as a digital print.
In the essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' (1936), Walter Benjamin states that 'aura' of art, based on uniqueness, scarcity and ritual, is eliminated by mechanical reproduction and mass production. Instead of being based on ritual, art begins to be based on another practice - politics. Art will become more accessible and in short, be more democratic. The 'aura' and value have, in recent years, been replaced by another ritual, the exhibition value.
Art produced by mechanical reproduction also lacks the 'presence' of the original work according to Benjamin. A lack of presence, it can be argued, that can partly be made up by the ability to be perceived in many places.
The Internet and the World Wide Web are blurring the concept of 'authenticity' and ownership. The Internett has also given geographically separated artists new ways to collaborate, e.g. Exploding Cell where a visitor to the web site could create an 'original' image by manipulating the initial image, place their own signature alongside the artist's signature and print the result.
Generation/Mutation is another example, where artists all over the world were invited to choose an image, download it to their own computer, modify it as they want and return it.
The digital opportunities combined with the increasing use of Internet and the web brings art even closer to people and is even less authoritarian and more democratic than Benjamin could anticipate. Can art created by use of digital technology then be unique and keep the 'aura'? It is possible, in my view, by having the digital image transferred to a single canvas and thereafter deleting the digital file, then the art perceived on the canvas will be the only and unique object of that art work.
4.2 Limited Editions
Digital ink jet can be used to print both single images (monoprints), editions of multiple 'originals' or open editions, without loss of quality. The 'rules' of traditional printmaking can be applied including a print documentation record containing information about the artist, the printmaker, the technique, the edition size, the file cancellation method, paper and ink used and so on. A 'Certificate of Authenticity' can accompany every print with this information. The digital print is signed by the artist, and numbering can follow the traditional rules with a 'trial proof' (TP), Bon à Tirer (BAT) proof, 'presentation proof' and a 'cancellation proof'.
Some critics argue that there is nothing stopping a digital artist and/or printmaker from making more copies before deleting the digital file. Although there are methods to prevent such misuse, like paper watermarks and digital watermarks , the only real guarantee within new as well as traditional print techniques, is the artist's and printmaker's honesty and integrity.
In spite of the connections with the reproductive trade the limited edition has become associated with the original end of the market. The value of a print depends on, amongst other things, whether it is a unique mono print, a limited edition, multiple prints or if it perceived as mass-produced copies.
4.3 The Art Market
James Faure-Walker's gallery representative points out, however, 'how a small limited edition of Giclée prints was more appetising to the client'.
Digital technology also makes it possible for artists to test the market by printing a few images before deciding on a full edition. The probable consequence is that more prints, with a variable quality, will be available at the marketplace, and probably lower the prices even more.
The value of an artwork depends, however, not only on the availability, but also above all on the quality of the artwork and the marketing skills of the artist and his/her representatives.
An image being digitised, composed by the use of a computer, sent by Internet to another artist who works further on the image, raises questions regarding which image is the original and who owns the output.
Digital ink jet gives new possibilities to the existing art
market as well as opening new markets, and digital ink jet can
be a monoprint, a limited edition or an open edition. The potential
for large numbers of people to collect and appreciate artwork
created with a computer cannot be overlooked as a significant
breakthrough for artists and the art market.
5.1 Artists and Digital ink jet
In the USA, Giclée and digital ink jet have developed at a faster pace than in Europe. Major print studios are dealing exclusively in the creation of digital prints, like Muse [X] Editions, established in 1995 'to meet the creative needs of the expanding synergy between the worlds of contemporary fine art and digital technology'. To get an indicator if a shift is occurring, digital print studios were asked who their clients are, and the replies shows that both nationally as well as internationally well-known artists use their digital print service.
David Hockney, Roni Horn, Vinca Petersen, Stephen Shore, James Faure-Walker, Catherine Yass, Sarah Lucas, Uta Barth, John Hilliard, Richard Hamilton, Matt Collishaw, Julian Opie, Catherine Opie, Robert Rauschenberg and Peter Haley were among the artists mentioned when museums and galleries were asked if they could name some internationally well-known artists using the inkjet technology.
Artists and museums were also asked if they had received any
negative reactions or criticisms against Giclée or inkjet
print. None of the museums responded that they had received any
negative reaction, but one third of the artists had. As Pedro
Meyer says: 'Very much so. Any change always creates a lot of
negative reaction at first. It goes with the territory.' Paul
Jackson's view is that:
John Isaac experienced:
Gerard Hemsworth 'have not received any criticism regarding the use of ink-jet, it was the right medium for the job.'
James Faure-Walker argues:
Figure 9: Mamta Herland, wood, 2002
Even though there has been scepticism towards the use of digital technology among artists and curators, an increasing number of internationally well-known artists are using this technology to create and print art. As Stephen Shore says: 'Artists use what works for them'.
From May 2002 till March 2003 the Design Now space in the 20th Century Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum is turned into a digital laboratory. Eighteen artists have been invited, and an on-line interactive exhibition digital>responses will show new works every month to mirror the changes in the actual exhibition. The project is curated by Professor Paul Coldwell and is a contribution to a joint research project, The Integration of Computers within Fine Art Practice, between Camberwell College of Arts and Chelsea College of Art and Design. Artists working throughout Britain at other centres of research including Goldsmiths, Gray's School of Art, University of Lancashire, Wimbledon School of Art, University of Plymouth and Norwich School of Art are included.
Since the beginning of the 1990's there has been an increase in exhibitions focusing on digital art and print technology. Some galleries like Colville Place Gallery in London specialise in exhibiting digital prints. There are also a growing number of web galleries like www.londonart.co.uk, www.podgallery.com and www.dam.org.
There is still a tendency for many collectors and printmakers to be cynical about digital processes. The Museum of Modern Art states however, that:
and many US curators today will say:
Tate Britain has a policy on display or purchase that is not process led.
Instead of a question of media and technique, it is more a question about the appropriateness of the technique, the quality of idea and materials chosen to support the artist's vision. According to The Museum of Modern Art
This opinion is shared by Helena Chapellin Wilson who is a member of the Committee on Photography at The Art Institute of Chicago, and on the acquisition committee for the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago.
Southampton City Art Gallery informs that among others the Guggenheim, Museum of Fine Arts, the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts, the National Museum of Mexico, the San Jose Museum and The British Museum have mounted exhibitions or purchased Giclée/digital ink jet for their permanent collections.
5.4 Other shift indicators
The EU, through the European Commission's Culture 2000 initiative, supports a year long project, 'The Digital Surface within Fine Art Practice', and Tate Britain will host an international conference in summer 2003 to disseminate the results.
Another element in evaluating how well digital ink jet and
Giclée is accepted is how the market accepts these works.
According to Hunter Editions, USA, the Giclée market is
growing at more than 60 percent annually. In a $2.8 billion print
market dominated by lithographs and serigraphs, Giclée
sales now total $160 million annually. Brad Faine at Coriander
studio in London says that the
Sources report that, in the USA, approximately 80 % of new images are now being produced by digital print technology with stagnation of traditional print methods, especially lithographs and screen prints.
PODGallery, however, predicts a different digital future and believes that:
Digital technology is such a great innovation, and digital ink jet is used by an increasing number of internationally well-known artists exhibiting and selling their works. Even though there is still some scepticism among curators, it is evident that internationally well-reputed museums and galleries accept and buy digital ink jet on the same basis as other works of art. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of digital exhibitions involving many artists as well as universities and other art institutions. Organisations like British Standards Institute and Fine Art Trade Guild have included standards for Giclée and digital ink jet prints.
As John Hilliard states:
and Pedro Meyer asserts that 'IT is going to be the way Fine Art is going to be printed.'
Based on the discussion in this chapter it can be concluded that there has been a change in direction during the last few years proving a shift towards digital print in future art.
Art is about ideas, and technology gives new possibilities for ideas. The medium has always been closely linked to the idea and intention of the work. Digital technology requires, however, another set of skills than those traditionally associated with being an artist. Managing these skills opens up new process routes and enables new ways of thinking, increasing the scope of art and contributes to its diversity.
An artwork is basically defined by its content, form and context. By use of digital technology the content can be broaden by 'synthesising', hybridisation and global collaboration between artists. The form of the image can be altered by new printing possibilities and substrates, and the context widened by the use of global electronic media.
The computer technique significantly speed up the process of moving an image from the artist's mind to presentation. Digital technology offers the opportunity to manipulate, control and re-digiti-se for further creative development. Digital images have the potential to become 'indefinite images' open to revision, evolution, collaborative manipulation and cross-disciplinary utilisation via the Internet. Images can exist as both printed and electronic data. Virtual museums and galleries open new opportunities for exhibiting, marketing and selling digital ink jet and Giclée.
The challenge now is to move on from the legacy of traditional art to a broader definition of its possibilities, creating a synergy between old and new processes, opening new areas of freedom and diversity. Instead of replacing traditional media, it seems that digital technologies are giving some of these media new life and encourages new process routes.
Giclée and digital ink jet can be regarded as a print, a photograph or as a painting depending on the artist's vision and intention. In the evolving development of digital technology, artworks can now be duplicated, distributed, and transformed quickly and easily. Rules and regulations cannot fully resolve the complex issue of originality, authenticity and ownership that digital art raise.
Walter Benjamin's essay 'The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' is essential when discussing the consequences of reproducible art. It can be argued that with digital print there is no physical original, and digital print might be seen as the ultimate reproducible art, having a 'presence' both as a physical object and virtually on the World Wide Web. The 'aura' has diminished, and with Internet and World Wide Web there is a possibility of real democratised art. The concept of limited editions and the art market are also influenced by the ability to print unlimited numbers with the same high quality.
Digital ink jet is being used by many internationally known artists, exhibited and bought by internationally well reputed museums and galleries, accepted by international standards and taught at many art schools all over the world. Based on these facts it is evident that there is a shift towards digital print in future Fine Art.
Figure 14: Mamata Herland, Where to?, 2002, Digital ink jet on canvas
Copy of the received responses is presented in Appendices 1 - 4.
Appendices 1: Artist Response
Appendices 2: Museum and Gallery Response
Appendices 4: Response from other resources
Mamta B. Herland
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