The Print as Medium and the Print as Artistic Work

Issuing time:2015-05-20 10:50Author:Liu Libin

After photography was invented, traditional artistic media, especially painting, faced challenges, which to some extent resulted in the transformation of painting. Initiallythe print was able to meet the functions of reproducing text and images, including the Chinese Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden and the prints of the Middle Age in Europe. To meet such functional purpose, the prints pluralitybecame one its most important characteristics. But with the development of modern printing technologies, the print’s function as an inexpensive reproductive medium had disappeared. The print became purely an art form. The plurality made prints different from other artistic media resulting in limited editions.In places like Europe and the U.S. with relatively mature print markets, some printmakers have become famous and their work has been collected by museums and important individual collectors.Years ago the depressed Chinese print market was directly related to the inability of print artists to achieve prominence. Of course, the misgiving about prints and some sculptures as multiples was also the important reason. Thus monotypes, super-large print works and installations were attempts at pursuinguniqueness.


The efforts mentioned above have actually expanded the boundaries of printmaking.The characteristics of prints other than plurality have been exploited, transformed and expanded (such as the creation by Xu Bing in the 1980s and his famous work Book from the Sky).Other characteristics of the print media may be used to reactivate the prints function as a contemporary medium.


Some printmakers are especially infatuated with“languages, and this could be a “two-edged sword”. On one hand, they can enter, create and enlarge their own artistic worlds. This could enable artists to transform and develop their artistic imagery. On the other hand, they may becomeobsessed with the languages and place too much value on print materials, marks and effects. The result is their becoming a“technological lover”and separating themselves from social and cultural issues. The question is whether the reactivation of the print as a contemporary medium can also reactivate both kinds of artists?


Some artists have tried to reactivate the print’s function as a contemporary “medium”. Andy Warhol reproduced popular commercial images repeatedly via screen printing; artist QiuZhijiecaused the audience to think about the living conditions of this generation via screen printing on glass and installations in the early 1990s, and in addition he then exhibited in the “Post-1989 Contemporary Art Exhibition”; artist Wang Jin screen printed the image of U. S. Dollars on bricks embedded in the Great Wall; artist Kang Jianfei invited the volunteers to engrave plates, and in doing so gave up the identity of artist to the artistic concept of “every person being an artist”. All these represent successful creative approaches to printmaking.


All the aboveworksused printmaking, connecting the different aspects of print creation with social and cultural reality. This was also an important social function of painters throughout history.Then is it possible to retain the core values of print creation” while enabling artists to deal with socially relevant images? Or does this weaken the role of the print specialist? Of course, I have no intention of changing the identity of printmakers to become web designers and flash producers. What I want to do is to expand the extend the purpose of print creation by introducing these factors. To renew the prints relevantsocial commentary, one of the roles art has played in the historical and contemporary art history of China.


The works selected for this Guanlan International Print Biennial are mostly by printmakers working on the highest level. The emphasis on artistic technique actually to some extent limits the potential of works.Of course, the selected works of this Biennialhave high artistic standards and demonstrate fine technical abilitythat shocked the juries and reflect the development of international printmaking in recent years. As one of the curators of this Biennial, I feel happy for the printmakers achievements. Meanwhile, during the evaluation, the above questions are still haunting me and I wrote them down to discuss with the peers.

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