The Opening Ceremony  for The Xiaoxiang Exhibition of International Printmaking

Monday 16 November 2015 at The Mei Lun Gallery, Hunan Fine Art Publishing House, Changsha

Pictured above: Luz Marina Ruiz, Dionne Haroutunian, Michael Barnes, Serena Smith and Paul Croft

The exhibition continued until December 7th

The Xiaoxiang Exhibition of International Printmaking

The Xiaoxiang Exhibition of International Printmaking at the Mei Lun Gallery, The Hunan Fine Art Publishing House in Changsha opened on Monday 16 November 2015. Attended by several hundred visitors – artists, academics, students and their friends and supporters, the opening ceremony included speeches by: Shang Hui, The Executive Editor of 'Fine Arts'; Professor Zhu Xunde, Chairman of the Hunan Artists Association; Professor Hu Jian, Secretary of Changsha Normal University; Professor Yang Feng, Vice-Director of China Printmaking Committee; Li Xiaoshan, Head of the Hunan Fine Art Publishing House and Paul Croft, curator and Head of Printmaking at The School of Art, Aberystwyth University.

The idea for the Xiaoxiang Exhibition was mooted only twelve months previously, as Professor Luo Xiangke from Changsha Normal University together with three other artists from Hunan were visiting Aberystwyth School of Art for the opening of Contemporary Chinese Printmaking: Prints by Artists from Hunan Province. Curated by Paul Croft, showcasing the work of over 40 artists and students from Changsha, that exhibition was extremely well received and it is due to tour to at least two further venues in the UK and Ireland during 2016.

As plans progressed, the scale, ambition and breadth for this show and the accompanying Xiaoxiang Portfolio developed to become what is believed to be the largest international exhibition of its kind to have ever been staged in Hunan Province - an extraordinary event including no less than a total of eighty artists from China and the International community of printmaking. A second associated exhibition of prints by a further sixty artists from Hunan Province – designed to complement the main event was held at the same time in the ground floor gallery at Mei Lun.

That these exhibitions occurred at all, is the result of increasing association between Changsha Normal University and Aberystwyth School of Art and the willingness and determination of all those involved, to mark this developing relationship with something that is quite remarkable and significant and hopefully will help place both Aberystwyth and Changsha firmly on the world printmaking map.

That it was possible to plan, organize, contact artists, select images, collate and curate prints, pack these up and ship them to Changsha and for these to be then framed ready for exhibition in a time schedule of less than a year, is actually, quite an extraordinary achievement. Aside from the exhibition, the logistics of compiling the accompanying Xiaoxiang Portfolio will require the collating of fifty editions of 35 prints – some 1750 sheets of paper – all of which will need to be documented, divided up into purpose-made presentation boxes and shipped back to artists – sometime during the Spring of 2016.

Financing this activity has not surprisingly, needed considerable effort, negotiation, form filling and commitment to raise funds for gallery hire, framing and catalogue costs. Thanks are due to everyone in Changsha and we would like to acknowledge the support of The Printmaking Committee of the China Artists Association, The Hunan Fine Art Publishing House, The Hunan Artists Association, The Hunan Provincial Department of Education (Famous Foreign Professors Fund) and not least Changsha Normal University.

As curator, responsible for inviting thirty of the international artists, criteria for selecting work was left deliberately open, to allow for as broad a selection of images as possible, reflecting current art practice in contemporary printmaking. Geographically, half the artists chosen are from the UK, more-or-less equally distributed between London, England, Wales and Scotland. The remaining artists come from Ireland, North and South America and Australia. Selection of such a finite number of artists was quite challenging and it would have been perfectly possible to have chosen several alternative combinations that would have resulted in quite different exhibitions.

In the event, the artists represented, selected themselves. Some of them are independent practitioners, professional painters and printmakers, who have developed high profile careers both nationally and internationally. Others are members of independent studios, workshops and prestigious institutions such as The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers in London. Many of the artists are involved in Higher Education, and like their Chinese counterparts, are Professors and researchers at leading art schools and universities.

From a technical perspective the prints included, demonstrate process and varying approach across all print media, from monotype, collage and chine collé, woodcut, linocut, wood engraving, drypoint, etching, mezzotint, lithography, screenprinting and digital printing. During the selection procedure, artists were asked to submit images that demonstrate innovative approaches, new techniques and mixed media. As a consequence, quite a few of the prints exhibited show preponderance towards monotype, preference for variable unique one-off images over editioned prints, use of diptychs, and the combination of techniques in multi-media. In some cases relatively new processes of photopolymer plates, waterless lithography and various forms of digital printing are being favoured. Inclusion of sculptural prints, film and animation could also have occurred, however the logistics of transporting such work to China was prohibitive on this occasion.

Naturally the prints reflect the interests of artists, they are the expression of an eclectic range of ideas, themes and subjects, as unique as the individuals who made them. In common however is the sophisticated and intelligent use of process, thinking through making and using the inherent technical qualities of material, process and procedure to develop ideas that would not necessarily be possible in other media. In this manner, printmaking maintains authenticity, capable of producing 'original' works of art in multiple form. Across the works selected, there is also in common, playfulness in approach, a desire to experiment within the printed format to show how printmaking can animate an idea through reversal, repetition, and through working in series. In this respect it has been useful and important to include at least two and in some cases up to four prints by each artist since this helps to demonstrate the artist's broader intentions.

Curiously, all of the artists included in the exhibition are part of a developing worldwide Printmaking Community, a community that increasingly is being serviced and facilitated by the World Wide Web and the Internet. Printmaking is of course, and always has been an inherently social, communal activity anyway, commonly requiring shared workshop facilities and encouraging cooperation and collaboration. Open-access-studios such as at Guanlan in Shenzhen, Glasgow Print Studio in Scotland or The Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne – not only provide facilities for working but also opportunities for artists to meet, discuss and exchange ideas and to work together.

Collaboration in printmaking is thus an important and inherent part of practice and manifests itself in many different ways through formal artist-printer collaborations, communal working, group projects involving artists, writers and poets; portfolios and exhibitions. In the virtual world too these connections, increasingly are occurring through social media sites, on websites solely dedicated to printmaking, workshops and studios and through email. As a consequence the artists included here have international 'presence' and their work is linked, interconnected as part of that international community. Exhibitions such as this are in effect an extension of this idea of exchange and collaboration and it is very much a part of the culture of printmaking.

It has been an honour to have been involved with the Xiaoxiang Exhibition and to have had the opportunity to meet with other artists, to get to know them and their work and to also introduce them to each other. All of us who have been involved in the organisation of this event would like to thank all of the artists who have participated and special thanks are due to those artists who have agreed to donate works to Collections at The Hunan Publishing House and Changsha Normal University. It has also been an excellent opportunity to further develop relations with our counterparts in China and we look forward to developing future projects together.