Coexistence of Civilization

Issuing time:2017-05-20 17:06Author:Sheng Wei

Printmaking is a time-honored art, but not that ancient as Chinese ink painting, Italian fresco or Persian miniature. The foundation of the birth of printmaking lies in modernization, which relies upon the handicraft technological revolution and early-stage globalization prior to the modern industrial revolution. In Ming Dynasty of ancient China, Europe was at the peak of the Renaissance, during which time printing gained large-scale use, and printmaking emerged as a popular art pattern. Slightly later, Japanese Ukiyoe woodcut was evolved out of Chinese water-based woodcut, and then spread to Europe, influencing the development of modern art including Impressionism and Post-impressionism. It is just in this period that printmaking has been the earliest global art.


This conclusion depends upon a series of co-evolution of mankind, rather than a unique product of different regional civilizations by coincidence. Hereafter, in the different eras, the course of printmaking has always been on the common track globally. The 15th century, is not only the era of human discovering the world and re-self-discovery, but also the era of early capitalism at its infant stage. Since then, the Great Navigation Era unveiled its mask, which set stage for the global market and globalized manufacturing. It is at that time that European countries, in succession, launched early-stage overseas colonization, and capitalistic economic foundation and order formed the rudimentary shape. In regions of Tianjin, Jiangsu Province, Zhejiang Province, Anhui Province, Fujian Province, and Guangdong Province in China, free market opened and foreign trade was in full swing, and even specialized export prints tailored for overseas markets appeared.


In this progress, printmaking not only played the role of “art”. Transmitted through books or other carriers, printmaking distinguished itself from “ artistic works” which set as isolated aesthetic objects. In an era of pre-newspaper, printmaking functioned as primary “public sphere”, while in the 18th century, with the dramatic development of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, printmaking became a platform for public discourse and a sphere for social practice by its tight bond with mass media. Similarly, in the mid-to-late Ming Dynasty of ancient China, printmaking intervened deeply into social life through engraving printed books and traditional New Year paintings. Thus, in terms of time dimension, printmaking possessed a coherent history; in terms of space dimension, the emergence and development of printmaking shared a common pace in the whole world.


By virtue of the connections with capitalism and bourgeoisie, strong ideologies are added to printmaking. In the tide of new round globalization since 19th century, this future of printmaking revealed in a more intensive and unified way. This tide not merely inherited the internationalization of capitalist market, but at the same time reconstructed the world by means of nation state. In the progress of resolving scrambles for international market and problems of modern nation states, World Wars were triggered and various social and political trends of thoughts emerged one after another. Communism was proved to be one of the most crucial choices to solve these problems globally. Printmaking, precisely, established itself as one of the most significant cultural outlets.


In the European printmaking history, artists such as Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) and Franz Masereel (1889-1972) are outstanding. The former is an unswerving socialist, and the latter is a vital pacifist. Although the “Revolt of the Weavers” and “ Peasant War” created by Kollwitz failed to represent the social reality of Germany at the end of 19th century, she suggested the high-strung political atmosphere between civilians and nobles, civilians and the bourgeoisie in times of her life by retrospecting the history of Riots of German Textile Workers in 1844 and even earlier German Peasant War in the 15th century. Masereel, however, revealed more directly the street politics and labor movements under the background of World War. Prints from the post-revolution Soviet Union and prints relevant to this theme accentuated the ideology in this kind of art.


Printmaking turning into a global art, it lay in not only the pervasiveness of the combination of prints and communist movements in Europe, but in its considerable practice in China via Lu Xun. He set Kollwitz and Masereel as the dual models of artist and statesman for the printmaking artists in 1930s China. The “Cement Painting” created by German printmaking artist Joseph Carl Meffert, which was based on the novel “Cement” by Fidelity Gretcock, a pioneer of the Soviet literature, also had a far-reaching influence. All of them dramatically promoted the Chinese emerging woodcut movement and both of them constructed the landscape of the world revolutionary art.

Besides the practice in Europe and China, the combination of printmaking and appealing to revolution and politics had distinct demonstration in America. Deeply affected by Maereel, Lynd Ward, an American printmaking artist, had similar practice in his works. His creation gave full and vivid manifestation of the Great Depression, hard life of ordinary people and social turbulence in 1930s America. Works from different regions and artists were unique to some extent in terms of theme and style, but to more extent, they share the commonalities. The commonalities in the same era were condensed to a strong Expressionism under the background of international communist movements.


In the era of the Cold War, traditions of printmaking gained continuity, reinforcement and development. On the one hand, printmaking inherited its innate advantages in ideology and public opinion; on the other hand, printmaking grew into a kind of independent Fine Art and crucial power when it set as a major in the academy of fine arts. In western countries, the condition of printmaking was different, but meanwhile it underwent profound changes. Due to lack of concentrated support from economy, society and academy of the state, printmaking suffered insufficiency in development. Printmaking was not mainly taken into the account by academies of fine arts, and usually it self-organized itself in business with the support of social power in the traditional mode.

The advantages and disadvantages of this condition were equally clear. For the advantages, many printmaking artists changed their identities, turning into the same kind of artists like painters and sculptors as they were admitted to the academies of fine arts. By means of this transformation, they commenced with construction the ontic concept and language system exclusively belonging to printmaking. Conversely, the transformation isolated printmaking from general commercial production, losing the possibility of acquiring driving forces from the society. In the case of disadvantages, though impossible to dominate an art museum, printmaking had diversified chances for development and could easily seek inspiration from ever-changing and dynamic social life and production. Andy Warhol is such an exemplification.


Today, global revolutions and group cold wars are all gone. In the time of post-communist movements, the traditions of printmaking are inherently intact in China, Eastern Europe, and many countries in the Balkan regions. Viewing from the international layout of contemporary printmaking, printmaking artists and their creations are still quite active in countries such as China, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. This is a remarkable trait in the participated works of all previous sessions of the Guanlan International Print Biennial and at the same time it truthfully reflects the geographical distribution of contemporary printmaking. What differs from the era of international communist movements, is that the previous internationalist style is gradually weakening though still exists.


Correspondingly, different inherited factors as civilization, culture, tradition, race, territory and social reality play vital roles in promoting printmaking creation in different countries and regions. In terms of China, printmaking in “new era” has many common features of pre-communist movements and international communist movements. Additionally, reconstruction of printmaking by art traditions in ancient China and current reality since the Reform and Opening Up policy is noticeable. At the same time, on another clue of Fine Art, printmaking of academy also constitutes the new form and lays important foundation for current printmaking. The transformation of printmaking itself and its language have been conducting with the change of “art” as a whole.


Certainly, epoch-making transformations of printmaking not merely occur in these countries and regions. Printmaking also goes through tremendous changes in Europe, North America, Central and South America, Australia, East Asia, Central Asia and Africa. Their impetus are mainly reflected in international environment, social production, commercial trade, technical update, daily life and artistic innovation. Furthermore, the transformations are not confined within one country or region. Instead, all of them co-occur with the advent of re-globalization in the era of Internet just like what happened to printmaking in the 15th century but with more features in localization.


This is not an abstract cultural diversity, but rather a representation of current reality. Samuel Huntington depicts a world map reconstructed by civilization disparity in his book “ Confliction of Civilizations and Reconstruction of World Order”. In this new international political and cultural order, disparities of civilizations replace differences of ideologies, which become the new way for us to understand the world. The new order affects our understanding of contemporary printmaking in different countries and regions. Equally, it has profound influence on their production in the same way. All of above constitute the macro context for contemporary prints and their printmaking.


When faced with over 4000 printmaking works from all over the world, we see not only the complex history of printmaking since modern times, but also far-reaching historical influence and revival of existing civilizations, as well as all sorts of current social and cultural reality. Thus, this session of Guanlan International Print Biennial has a complete framework for understanding concerning printmaking history and reality. According to the mode within which civilizations conflict and coexist, the curatorial team and the jury committee formulated the scheme and selected the honorary works. All the works gathered together here, show us both the internal art and external world.

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