A New Mark in Chinese Print Art-
Survey on the Innovation of Chinese Contemporary Printmaking

Venue: OCT Art & Design, Shen Zhen
(www.oct-and.com)
2009.3.28-5.03
Curators: Tony Chang, Peng Jie
Curators Assistant & Exhibition Designer:
Chen PengYu
Translator: Jeff Crosby


[Exhibition Introduction]

A New Mark in Chinese Print Art-Traversing the Labyrinth of the Contemporary Spirit, an academic exhibition surveying the innovation of Chinese contemporary printmaking takes place in OCT Art & Design, a Museum at the fore front of contemporary visual culture in Shenzhen until May 13th, 2009. More than one hundred new works by artists from China's leading fine arts academies are on show. Born in the '70's and '80's, these artists are casting off the restraints of conventional printmaking language as they examine contemporary issues. The exhibition is co-organized by Amelie Gallery, Beijing.

A New Mark exhibition uses the labyrinth to mirror the complex spiritual challenges faced by sharp young intellectuals in the midst of the China's social transformation. Diverse and experimental, the works all tie together to weave the spiritual journey of life from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. Through this labyrinth odyssey of theirs runs a microscopic narrative that brings together contemporary sociology and the subconscious.

Chinese printmaking, with the ancient technique of woodcut at its core, is rife with oriental wisdom; New Mark exhibition reflects the fresh rediscovery of aesthetics and conceptual power within the Chinese culture, which is now inspiring more Chinese artists.


Hutong Memories



Mischievous Youth



Social Observation


Dreamtime


Gardens of Emotion



Feminism


Mystery of Existence


Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Traversing the Labyrinth of the Contemporary Spirit

Curator: Tony Chang

The extraordinary revolution that is taking place in Chinese contemporary society and culture poses a challenge to Chinese artists. Their critical thoughts towards themselves and the social spirit are accompanied by a sense of duty to change artistic concepts and refresh artistic language. Chinese printmaking is also experiencing a rebirth. Print artists born in the '70's and '80's are casting off the restraints of stale printing language just as they are examining contemporary issues. A New Mark in Chinese Print Art-Traversing the Labyrinth of the Contemporary Spirit exhibition explores the existential conundrums faced by young artists: the break between individual existence and cultural identity, the conflict between historical heritage and reality, the global onslaught of consumerism...It is becoming difficult to manage the diverse community of ideas, a situation akin to being dropped in a labyrinth. But for the pure of heart, those who uncompromisingly face their inner selves, this labyrinth becomes a playground for the soul. Groping around in the unfathomable depths of the labyrinth, their passion for life and creativity burst forth.

Spiritual Drama in the Labyrinth
In ancient religious mythology, the life of man is seen as a sacred labyrinth, with the turning point of life at the center. Only through the arduous journey of the pilgrim can one depart from the past and find the meaning of existence. This exhibition uses the labyrinth to mirror the complex spiritual challenges faced by sharp young intellectuals in the midst of the transformation of the contemporary spirit. The works are diverse and innovative, and take the language of printmaking to the extreme as they join together to take a hard look at the contemporary spirit. The Minotaur and the lover attract them to the depths of the labyrinth. For them, the labyrinth is a playground for awakening their vitality. The path out of the labyrinth is one of spiritual release and finding the self.

The curator has paid particular attention to the internal narrative connections between different themes. The connections between figures in the works are like a play in multiple acts, Hamlet's passion meets the elegant restraint of Peony Pavilion, ancient and modern are entangled, and the artists, who are trapped in a vortex of the spirit, have together formed a narrative in the chaos of China's contemporary spirit: bald children playing in the Hutongs, feminism that examines the self through story from the Book of Rites, a robe-clad boy feeding coca-cola to a crane, a blackbird galloping through society and the collective unconscious...they all tie together to weave the spiritual journey of life from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood, from the growing pains in childhood memory to reverence for individual as adults in social groups. Through this labyrinth odyssey of theirs runs a microscopic narrative that brings together contemporary sociology and the subconscious.

The exhibition is split into eight parts, tracing the spiritual path from childhood to adolescence and adulthood: in Hutong Memories and Mischievous Youth, the present and the past of the old Hutongs are jumbled together (Huang Kai), and indignant youth sit on the banks of a river, mocking the passage of this mortal world (Xu Hongxiang). Social Observation and Dreamtime are two sides of the same coin; the artists' observations of reality are subjective, and the dream realm illuminates reality's impressions on the soul. In Gardens of Emotion and Feminism, female self-awareness is straightforward and incisive, but full of irrationality: the naked fruit of life is bursting with sadness (Chen Xiaodi); a lovely ancient woman's face is covered with birthmark-like flowers (Li Mingjuan); a woman's shadow swings among Song Dynasty lotus leaves (Tian Hua), a naked man and woman duel in a mist-covered garden (Wang Qing), while Jin Songmin rears her sword against the wood, boldly chasing after the schisms of the self; these bodies in the dark explore the Mystery of Existence. Kang Jianfei is one of the more mature artists in this exhibition. This rebellious youth has spent the last decade in the rigid art academy system. The image of the blackbird has accompanied him in the growth of his art and life experiences, with his themes moving from a symbol of the release of self to one of individual alienation in the collective conscious. In youth, we can play, rebel and wander endlessly, but outside the labyrinth of youth lies the labyrinth of adulthood, and it is just as clouded in mystery. Kang begins his explorations of the social labyrinth with Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

From Carving Games to the Recreation of Images
From the start of Lu Xun's New Woodcut Movement to the socialist period of communist China, Chinese print art has evolved from realism to modernism. If we are agreed that moves towards the contemporary by print artists since the '90's have mostly appeared as innovations in the language of marks, then it was this infatuation with marks that dragged printmaking art down into games of techniques, and these abstracted marks of the soul retreated into a cultural, elitist ivory tower. In the works of young contemporary printmakers, however, the artistic language of printmaking has broken through this infatuation with marks and taken nourishment from contemporary visual culture to express sentiments for the here and now; also, the conceptual doors have been swung wide open. With their sharp styluses, young artists have been carving out the enchanting faces of change in contemporary China.

In this exhibition, the heartfelt and unconventional print works by the artists show us a new face of contemporary printmaking in China. Huang Kai uses a style borrowed from comic panels and the faded-color feel of woodcut to recreate childhood stories in the Hutongs. The nostalgia is permeated with a contemporary sense of anxiety. Huang Kai's strong personal style stands out from a generation of Chinese artists influenced by Japanese manga. Fu Bin's lithography has the richly layered texture of fashion photography, capturing the spiritual anxiety of the middle class; Zhang Ying's free-flowing vertical lines symbolize the fall of the spirit, and create an illusory feel; Jin Songmin uses a combination of drawing and woodcut, using freeform and serendipity to break the rigidity of print art. In their works, Chinese contemporary print art breaks out of its linguistic cage and boldly borrows from other art forms such as photography, comics and ink painting. The artists focus on using more expressive language to convey the passion in their hearts, yearning for a more vivid depiction of cultural life in this world. Their creations take the intricacy of print art into the rich sociological imagery of contemporary art.

Opening and Reconstruction of Artistic Language
American pop art master Andy Warhol used silkscreen printing to recreate the stars and social events of his era, blurring the boundaries between commodity, consumption and art and subverting the concepts of originality and reproduction. Using plurality and reproduction to strike against the deluge of images and the increasing superficiality of the spirit, he employed the spiritual orientation of print language to convey the styles of the times. The storied art form of printmaking is also starting to show intellectual incisiveness in China. Contemporary Chinese artists no longer view printmaking as the creation of repeated marks on paper or as inconsequential displays of sentiment. Xu Bing used dust from the 9/11 ruins to make Where Does the Dust Itself Collect, and in Tobacco Project, uses the marks of burning cigarettes to convey the relationships between active and passive, serendipitous and expected; Cai Guoqiang's gunpowder sketches can be seen as explosive prints... Chinese printmaking, with the ancient technique of woodcutting at its core, is rife with oriental wisdom, and is now driving more Chinese artists to ignite tradition with contemporary inspiration.

For Kang Jianfei, experimental language has an important metaphysical significance: in his 2008 works, he has broken the patterns of image layout; he first uses woodcut to create his imagery, then prints these images either intentionally or serendipitously on the paper, the resulting picture creating strange story plots on the page; the same images produce new stories when placed in different combinations, with the plurality of the images and the uniqueness of each story creating a tense, paradoxical relationship. In his installation scenes, print boards of hundreds of people and animals are stuck in the sand under a withering tree, and stories are implied in these arrangements: people traveling, a housewife crying in anguish under a tree, a bird surveys the scene from a tree branch, a child grasps a knife with evil intent¡­it is like a darkly humorous fable of life. The flat surfaces of the wood mix together in the space in strange ways, conveying unique sentiments. Kang Jianfei has opened up new possibilities with his conceptual innovations in print art.

In this global art trend where concept takes precedent, Chinese new media, installation and other experimental art forms seem to lack a deep cultural foundation for their explorations. For the eager and enterprising young print artists in this exhibition, the language of printmaking, rooted in the traditional Chinese woodcut, is something that cannot be replaced by other mediums, and is full of conceptual potential. The indirectness, the concept of plurality and the conflict between mechanical participation and handcrafting form an open system, a fulcrum for creating the extraordinary in Chinese art, and they are affirming the future through their brave practices.


The Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges used the verse of Macbeth, saying, "Our movement continues, I slew my sovereign so that Shakespeare might craft his tragedy". This generation of young artists is on the path through the spiritual labyrinth, swords drawn with relish, full of audacity. They will one day inspire even broader and deeper change in Chinese print art.