Issue #30-31, 2008
Gallery 2

Archaeopteryx Lithographica
Simon Starling

This insert for Idea Magazine explores a moment when in the 19th century the evolution of offset printing directly impacted on our understanding of the fundamentals of evolution in nature. Archaeopteryx Lithographica, a series of 6 single colour lithographic prints produced at Copenhagen Editions, Denmark in December 2008, takes its name from one of the most important fossil finds in history.

The discovery of an ancient fossilized feather in Solnhofen, Germany was the direct result of the quarrying activities that resulted from the invention and rapid success of lithographic printing. Lithography was invented in 1796 by, of all people, an actor and playwright – the Austrian born Johann Alois Senefelder (1771–1834). Senefelder had fallen into debt as a result of problems with the printing of his second play Mathilde von Altenstein and as a result was unable to publish any further work. He began experimenting with a novel etching technique using a greasy acid resistant ink on a piece of Solnhofen limestone – this process evolved into the first planographic print ing process. Originally known as “stone printing”, lithography was patented in 1818 and in 1819 Senefelder published A Complete Course of Lithography that remained in print until the early 20th century.

The feather fossil depicted in Archaeopteryx Lithographica was discovered by Hermann von Meyer in 1861, just two years after Charles Darwin published On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection and its discovery lent great weight to Darwin’s thesis. This seemingly humble feather had, some 150 million years prior to its discovery, belonged to an Urvögel, a primitive bird and distant cousin to the dinosaurs. The bird, of which an entire skeleton was also found, was later named Archaeopteryx Lithographica on account of its discovery in the same soft, smooth, fine grained Jurassic limestone that was being quarried in southern Germany to produce lithographic printing stones. During the late Jurassic period, this area, now in Bavaria, was an archipelago at the edge of the Tethys Sea that included salty lagoons, perfect conditions for the creation of both exceptional fossils and lithographic stones.

When von Meyer published his findings in an article in 1861 the text was fittingly illustrated by a lithographic print of the feather copied from the Solnhofen fossil. This lithograph and a 19th century photographic image of the fossil made by the Humboldt Museum (its eventual home), became the source images for the six lithographs Archaeopteryx Lithographica that return the images to their source – back once more on a slab of 150 million year old limestone. (Simon Starling)



Simon Starling was born in Epsom, GB, in 1967. Education: College of Art, Maidstone, Polytechnic, Nottingham, School of Art, Glasgow. Lives and work in Copenhagen and Berlin.

Selected exhibitions: 2008 Cutting (Supplement), Power Plant, Toronto; Three Birds, Seven Stories, Interpolation and Bifurcations, Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Project for a public sculpture (after Thomas Annan), The Modern Institute, Glasgow; 2007 Simon Starling – Kintsugi, Appenzell biennale, Schaukasten, Herisau (CH); Simon Starling – Nachbau, Museum Folkwang, Essen; László Moholy-Nagy & Simon Starling, Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver; Particle Projection (Loop) Wiels, Brussels, Casey Kaplan, New York; 2006 Heidelber ger Kunst verein, Heidelberg; Wilhelm Noack oHG, neugerriemschneider, Berlin; 24 hr. Tangenziale, Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; 2005 C.A.M., World, Derry (IRE); Cuttings, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel; 2004 Tabernas Desert Run, The Modern Institute, Glasgow; Exposition, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona; One Ton: neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Casey Kaplan, New York; 2003 Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome; Djungel, South London Gallery, London; Carbon, Städtische Ausstellungshalle am Hawerkamp Münster; Villa Arson, Nice; 2002 Museum of Contemporary Art (with Mathew Jones), Sydney, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kakteenhaus, Portikus, Frankfurt am Main; Djungel, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee (GB); Flaga (1972–2000), Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA, Casey Kaplan, New York; 2001 Poul Henningsen – Simon Starling, Cooper Gallery, University of Dundee; Burn-Time/Reading Room, Galerie für Gegenwartskunst, Barbara Claassen-Schmal, Bremen; Burn-Time, Lichthaus plus neue Kunst, Bremen; Work, made ready, Les Beaux de Provence, Kunstverein Hamburg, Hamburg; CMYK/RGB, Frac, Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier; Inverted Retrograde Theme, Rescued Rhodo dendron Seccession, Wien and neugerriemschneider, Berlin; John Hansard Gallery, University of Southhampton.