The 4th IAPA Biennale Symposium Speech Ⅱ Chen Qi


On November 13, 2022, the two-day academic seminar of “The Fourth IAPA Printmaking Biennale” was concluded in Kunming. The theme of this seminar is “Tomorrow's Printmaking”, exploring the future development of printmaking in the post-pandemic era. Yin Jinan, a well-known art theorist and professor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and Guan Yuda, a professor of Yunnan University, co-hosted this seminar. There will be 17 domestic and international guests made keynote speeches, including Joseph Scheer, Alicia Candiai, Peter Bosteels, Zhang Lian, Song Guangzhi, Kong Guoqiao, Yang Feng,etc. This seminar employed a mix of online and offline methods. Some domestic experts will discuss and speak on the spot, providing a brand-new communication and exhibition platform for Chinese and international artists in a special period. They plan the future development of printmaking by gathering printmaking leaders and elites from around the world. This issue is a speech by Professor Chen Qi, Central Academy of Fine Arts.



Imprints and the Extension of Plurals

Chen Qi, Central Academy of Fine Arts


It gives me great pleasure to attend today’s 4th IAPA Printmaking Academic Symposium organized by Yunnan Arts University. The Symposium is themed on “Tomorrow’s Printmaking” which includes four subjects whose establishment is of strong academic value and practical significance.

My speech this time is titled Imprints and the Extension of Plurals, echoing the second subject of the Symposium. As we say, the art of printmaking now has a new look beyond the boundary of painting, especially with its combination of digital art. I would like to interpret this subject with how I created the Notations of Time series.

Imprint and plural are the two most important basic attributes of printmaking. Of course, the plural is not necessarily the basic attribute that is unique to printmaking. All the mechanical or electronic products we see today, whether practical or cultural consumer products, such as music CDs, movies, books, pictorials, clothing, luxury goods, cars, video games, and so on are produced in plural. It is the plural nature of these products that allow them to be shared by the public. The purpose of production is to serve the public, which also shows that plural will not devalue products. Instead, multi-quantitative production serves the whole society, and the total value of products is not depreciated but appreciated since there is greater demand.

Indeed, from the study of printmaking, the imprint is undoubtedly the most important basic attribute, and also the basic feature that distinguishes printmaking from other arts. Many of my creations are based on the imprint, the most basic physical characteristic of printmaking. It is based on the extension of the concept of the imprint that I have created works of spatial installations and digital immersive videos in the past five years. All of my inspiration came from this concept. Perhaps these works can serve as good examples of the cross-media application of printmaking.

I. Imprint of Time


This series began with my creation of the watermark woodcut prints of Notations of Time. This work was born out of an interesting experience. In the summer of 2006, during my solo exhibition in London, I lived with Mr. Christer von der Burg, founder of the Muban Foundation, who is a collector of ancient books. One day I saw the Landscapes of Taiping Prefecture which was created in the 17th century. In the book, a piece of work on two opposite pages deeply impressed me. On the pages, there were many wormholes. Through these holes, I seemed to be able to see the life of it. The existence of this kind of life made me think that it was also an imprint, but it was created by a creature, a worm. From this, I saw the time. So from then on, I began to create the Notations of Time.


ii.Expression of the imprint of time


After nearly 3 years of preparation, I began to create the Notations of Time series at the end of 2008 with the hope to present the abstract time and life form in a clear and tangible way. Therefore, I began with watermark woodcut, the form I’m most familiar with, to create a series of watermark prints of the series. I have also been constantly trying to adopt methods such as colorprint and reduction to present those symbols of time. The work Plate No.1 is the final version after the reduction printing. Among the dark black, those symbols of time carved into the work carry the meaning of time itself.



II. Dimension of Space


 i.From 2D to 3D
If the wormholes between the pages are the imprints of traveling through history, can the history of all things run through them by the prints of time? I then expanded the Notations of Time series to include Ming-style furniture, traditional musical instruments and study supplies to, once again, transform it from the artistic expression of two-dimension to that of multi-dimension. I try to materialize “time” into an object of art, making “time” something that can be touched, appreciated, and even experienced and contemplated. In the engraving of these works, in fact, the source of inspiration was still closely related to the wormholes in the book. In my mind, its concept has not changed but expanded through different media. Among all works, Notations of Time – general jar is made of filigree enamel into which I integrated the symbol of time, endowing the ancient objects with a deeper artistic connotation in addition to the ornamental value. The craftsmanship of this work is ancient, but both its shape and color, as well as the notations of time interspersed with it lead to a very modern effect. From the works, I hope to transform the traditional watermark woodcut into an expression medium suitable for contemporary art creation.



ii.From handmade books to paper carvings


After these works were done, I returned to the engraving of handmade books. It is different from the natural wormholes we just saw in ancient books for this is created by the artist. Each wormhole on the leaves has a logical change, similar to the growth of living things. When we are browsing through books, this figure is changing, and it is logical with its own growth law. It is not a composition of a picture. It seems like a cycle of a creature growing little by little in a book, until its death, and then regrowth after the death. In the process of creation, I carved page by page by hand with a cutter knife. I did not make a design draft first, but to follow its life growth line step by step according to the graphic logic that has been formed in the book. Of course, the workload of engraving this set of books is very large. A total of eight books have been engraved, and each book has a logical connection.

In these books, the paper is full of enigmatic holes instead of any character. However, each symbol of time in the book is forming sentences like characters, making it touchable and readable. I am drifting with these figures in the long river of time, not knowing what waits ahead is the riptide or the end of the world. Every page carved is a hole in time, and every page awaiting is the world of the unknown.

The Exploring the Original World series is my attempt to sublimate from paper books to a more abstract concept of art. The reading of a book is specific. There may be an experience of reading throughout the turning of pages. But does the paper itself have the possibility of containing all? The huge handmade paper from Sichuan provides me with the basic conditions for the experiment. The symbol of time is once again engraved between the natural flow of paper fibers, turning into a myriad of vastness.



From The Cloud Cube to A Place without Whence or Whither



The Cloud Cube is a spatial installation at the 3rd International Print Biennale held in Shenzhen in 2011. This is an outdoor structure. The concept is still an extension of the imprint in our printmaking. From that work, I further expanded the concept. This is what was exhibited during the 4th annual Golden Lake Biennale held in Suzhou in 2018. With the hollowed-out roof, the light reflects on walls and the ground via the carved shapes. This is the first time that I tried to connect the symbols of the Notations of Time with the space of a structure, in the hope of more immersive interaction with spectators. Through these carved hollows, spectators within the structure can watch the swirling of clouds and the glittering of stars.

This is a spatial installation I presented at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. I named this work A Place without Whence or Whither. This is its framework. It is a large work of 10 meters in diameter in the form of a pink octagonal box. This octagonal “eastern box” attracted many spectators and was widely appreciated. The previous work was to present the grace of time via the lights and shadow reflected on walls and the ground through the carved shapes on the roof. But this one seems to need no more explanation. The spectators can understand what the artist wants to express once entering the space of the work.

I hope to use the space to let people of different nations, regions, and cultures feel our eastern philosophy’s Chan about the time when entering this box. One of Su Shi’s poems says that being still can feel the changes of all things and being empty can accept the realm of all things, which is the best summarization of this. The work is named after a scripture of the Diamond Sutra, which writes ‘Buddha (Ru Lai)’ means ‘he who never comes from anywhere or goes anywhere’. When spectators enter this space, they are inside the time. From the inside of time and the flowing and changes of light, they experience the phenomenon of time presented by light. This is what the eastern philosophy called vipassana. Inside the time has no substance. The light and shadow of multiple colors and forms compose the poem of time. In this space of emptiness, through experience and imagination, we grip the essence of time out of the void and sense the infinite from the limits. The work presents the moving of time via the stillness of space; the void of mind via the substance of view; and the etherealness of the inside via the splendidness of the outside.



III. Extension of the Plural



i. A Place without Whence or Whither Infinite Version

This immersive digital work is born out of A Place without Whence or Whither exhibited at the Venice Biennale. After returning back, I was thinking about how can this work of light and shadow be presented in such a philosophic manner indoors, and how to let more people experience the passing of time and the blossom of life in the changing of the light. Then I got in touch with professor Jiang Ni of Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, and EnlightV, a technical team from Beijing. In 2019, we had our first collaboration on the immersive digital installation of the A Place without Whence or Whither 1.0 version at The Splendid Languages of Paper exhibit held by the Zhejiang Art Museum. At that time, this indoor installation attracted numerous spectators who experienced and meditated among the everchanging light. This work used 16 HD-4K projectors to project the four walls and the ground. Meanwhile, our roof was hollowed out and added with a layer of projection, imitating the sky mainly. In the projection, there were sunlight, moonlight, flying birds, and drifting clouds. This work, in comparison with nature, has one more expression, which is not only an imitation of the light and shadow we see daily. It is implanted with some subjective expressions of the artist. Also, in the expression of the phenomenon, we integrated many elements, such as water. After the exhibit, this work was invited to many other exhibitions. For now, this A Place without Whence or Whither has developed to the 7.0 version. We are constantly expanding the connotation of this artwork and the digital technology, with the hope to provide you with an unprecedented realm for a spiritual experience in this digital space.




ii. Highest Virtue Like Water · River Spey New Media Interactive Installation


The interaction with spectators seems to be in the gene of printmaking. The Notations of Time has been playing this role during my creation. Afterward, these works start to be used in public spaces. This is the installation placed in 2019 at the subway station at Shenzhou University. It also shows the changes in light and shadow. Layers of stainless steel were hollowed out with shapes, presenting various effects with lights behind each layer. In 2021, upon the request of a brand, I integrated the new media interactive technology into the Highest Virtue Like Water · River Spey for the first time in Shanghai. The technology allows the work to capture the spectators’ gestures in real-time and make the image follow the viewers’ movements continuously. The music used in the exhibition was also specially created by us. When it comes to this work, our graphics are no longer done with animation but are created by written programs. Meanwhile, an interactive relationship was created between spectators and the water, and also the fish swimming among it. The direct interaction with spectators was done by the new media.




iii. Giant River


The Giant River is a cross-media work with the expression of contemporary art, which is created by traditional filigree enamel craftsmanship. It is a work newly completed this year, a water-suppressing beast. This beast is an auspicious creature in ancient China, with the ability to tranquilize water, conquer demons and pray for blessings, on which rests the respect of Chinese ancestors for nature. This work, whether its spatial form or the black-and-white transition of complex graphics on the surface, especially the adoption of the symbol from Notation of Time, leads to a dazzling visual tension. The creation of this work of contemporary concept with the ancient filigree enamel craftsmanship of over 600-year history is not only the inheritance of the essence of excellent traditional art but also the exploration of transforming the traditional art for the contemporary time and an innovative revitalization of it.





iv. Endless

Endless is an art car I created in collaboration with Hong Qi. It is named after the saying that as heaven maintains vigor through constant movement, a gentleman should continually strive for self-perfection from the Book of Changes. There is a spirit of independence, self-reliance, long-standing history, and endless growth that the Chinese people have had since ancient times. Hong Qi car is not only a symbol of China’s national industrial brand but also a symbol of the spirit of independence and self-reliance of the People’s Republic of China. I integrated the symbol from Notation of Time into the whole car, with designs not only on the appearance but also within the car using many traditional handicrafts. For example. the central control panel used the technology of raw lacquer embedded with gold and silver materials; the seats were woven with brocade, and; the gear stick used filigree enamel. In this way, the artistic concept of Notation of Time is closely combined with the automobile industry, which further shortens the gap between art and public life. Endless helps the modern industrial design and production encounter the artistic spirit of the ancient Chinese nation, showing a unique artistic sense.






At last, I would like to say that printmaking has never been as stereotyped as we thought. Instead, it is the most dynamic medium, which can not only carry out the industrial production of images and information but also can be used by artists. It is precisely because it is an information carrier and medium, so it is always closely related to the development of new materials and new technology, and also people’s lives. We can adopt the printmaker’s unique thinking of the imprint to the cross-media artistic creation. I think this is also one of the important reasons why printmaking can continue to grow and become an art medium with creative vitality. I look forward to seeing more cross-border works of art with printmaking thinking and printmaking logic. Thank you!