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In prints, Veronica Ceci holds a lens up to our digital adaptations

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Veronica Ceci doesn't have a smartphone.

She has a cellphone, sure, and an email address, but she eschews other trappings of our hyper-connected cyber society: a Facebook account, for example, or even owning a personal computer.

Ceci, 34, is not a Luddite, though.

It's just that she prefers the actual interpersonal interactions to the virtual ones — the tactile qualities of a direct experience with the world around her rather than the pixilated version delivered through a smart device or computer.

The inspiration for her latest series of prints — which go on view at Flatbed Press and Gallery in an exhibition opening Saturday — solidified when she was in Venice last summer.

Taking a break from the Venice Printmaking Studio where she had a residency, she wandered over to the Rialto Bridge, one of the four bridges spanning the Italian city's Grand Canal. And there, she spotted a man standing on the centuries-old resplendent Rialto Bridge staring at his iPad while he Googled the Rialto Bridge.

"I was aghast," Ceci says.

Since then Ceci has become artistically fixated on how people move through the world as their experience of that world is entirely mediated by one digital toy or another.

In colorful large-scale lithographs, Ceci focuses on the way our digital habits shape our bodies, the way using technology as our lens on the world changes our posture, alters the gestures we make.

In Ceci's prints, silhouetted figures stand hunched over smart phones or tablet devices, earbuds strung in their heads, totally ignorant of anyone else, even someone right next to them. Others sit awkwardly slouched as they stare into their handheld screens.

Ceci works from photographs she snaps of people in public.

"The airport's a great place," she says. "Nobody is paying attention to anything around them when they're waiting at the airport."

Layering the images in her prints, Ceci places many of her figures in front of — and hence covering up — architecture and cityscapes.

The irony is that though the image-driven internet demands greater visual literacy, that clutter of images also proves numbing. We forget to look.

Call it the curse of the pop-up image.

"We're trained to ignore so many visual things these days," Ceci says. "Your eyes are being conditioned to tune out certain kinds of visual information."

With as many as 12 or more layers to her prints, Ceci forces the viewer to look closely, and to look again.

Ceci dubbed her exhibit "The World is Flat," a reference to the ubiquitous flat-screened devices so many can't seem to live without. And if there's an ironic double meaning, it's this: Humankind's intellectual advancement is measured via discoveries like the proof that Planet Earth is round.

"The way we see the world now is not even in 3-D anymore," Ceci says. "We're kind of moving backwards."

Ceci is hardly an antisocial curmudgeon. If anything, her eight years of working at Flatbed Press have given her considerable experience with intense, interpersonal creative collaboration.

Now a master lithographer, Ceci's role at Flatbed has been to assist the commissioned artists as they create their limited edition fine art prints under the Flatbed imprimatur.

"There's a lot of negotiation," Ceci says of the printmaking process. "No two people really describe color in quite the same way."

Growing up in Milwaukee, Ceci was the only girl in her high school's advanced printmaking program. She readily copped to the technical artmaking process and the smell of the ink.

After college at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and a stint studying lithography at the noted Tamarind Institute, Ceci landed in Austin in 2004. She's about to pull up roots though. Later this summer she's off to pursue a master's degree at Kent State University.

It's tempting to ask Ceci how she'll stay in touch with folks in Austin once she leaves.

Surely, it will be by handwritten letters.

Contact Jeanne Claire van Ryzin at 445-3699

'The World is Flat'