Printmaking in Hong Kong is like a fable—at times a prophecy.
In 2013, Thomas Kilpper from Berlin, Germany was a resident artist at Cattle Depot Artist Village in Hong Kong, where he carved social issues in Asia onto industrial pallets with a milling machine. His massive woodblock prints are both accusatory and satirical. In the spring of 2019, Sabah-based art collective Pangrok Sulap was invited for a residency in Hong Kong. With printmaking, they explored the impact of land development on cultural preservation. In their banner, sharp bulldozer blades raze farmlands, hollowing out our city with the wheels of development. Last summer, Tekkhean Lee from Malaysia visited Hong Kong and presented protest scenes withwoodblock prints. His blank papers embody an ineffable heaviness. Now looking at these prints, it is as if revisiting one prophecy after another.
Curator of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Kuroda Raiji points out that woodblock print is not only exhibited, dealt, and collected as artwork like painting or sculpture, but also acted as a media for conveying information and revealing the roles that artists play in political and social movements.1 The essence of social movement is to promote social changes, and it resonates with the core values of DIY printmaking culture.2 In recent years, DIY woodcut printing has become a trend in Asia. These prints introduce new possibilities of printmaking and social movement: hailing from Taiwan, Woodblock Printing Collective often depicts social issues in their works. In 2018, they were involved in the protest against the eviction of Daguan village, in which they confronted the history of the lower class by creating a woodblock printed flag collectively.
Apart from directly intervening in social movements, artists also make works to highlight the intersection of printmaking and society. Print & Carve Dept., formerly Woodblock Printing Collective, imagines a new hopeful world where music, parties and art are used to express dissatisfaction with capitalism. Last summer, Jaffa Lam and volunteers created frottage prints of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With long hours of labour, they reflected on the values of freedom and dignity. In the workshop “A Day in Hong Kong” organised by Hong Kong Open Printshop, participants carved their imagination of Hong Kong onto woodblocks and collaged them to print banners.
Italo Calvino once wrote: “One writes fables in periods of oppression.” A fable is a short tale intended to teach moral lessons and satirise problems in the society. Although fables are fictional, they often embody the writers’ resentment and melancholy towards reality, and document the present in imaginative ways. When one cannot freely express themselves, they present allegorical portraits of the real world with fables.
Another part of this exhibition reflects how artists make their voices heard with intaglio and screenprinting. Their practices centreon delicate emotions during uncertain and turbulent times: Jay Lau Ka-chun reflects on socio-political failures with metaphorical stories of the Chinese zodiac; Chivas Leung Wai-yan, Yu Kam-faat and Jeannie Wong Ho-ching weave moments of everyday life into imaginary scenes, easing their own anxieties by fabricating story narratives; Lam Lok-san spends hours to carve dense and fine dots on woodblock, articulating longing for his long-distance relationship partner during the pandemic; Glo Chan Cheuk-yan ventures into the interstice between fact and fiction with her gum bichromate prints, questioning people’s ability to grasp the truth. With printmaking, artists also highlight their daily observations in the city, such as Aki Sung Oi-yau’s white-on-white and distorted body, Sammi Mak Wing-sum’s abstract cityscape, Cheung Tsz-ki’s flickering flames, Cheung Chung-chu’s repeatedly torn down and replaced “Go for it! Hong Kong”, the uneven ground under Chan Yi-ting’s feet or the shape of smoke in Chung Sin-wa’s eyes.
The participating artists constitute a unique spectrum: some use bold lines to express satire or reveal contradictions, while others employ abstract metaphors and ambiguous visual language to respond to the society. With the looming fear of diminishing freedom of creation, the city needs fables now more than ever. As printmakers create images from matrices, what they are depicting is not only their personal emotions, but also snapshots of the present.
Pressing On attempts to explore the tension between printmaking and society, while presenting recent printmaking practices from two perspectives: to revisit prints from the past that resemble prophecies, and to focus on fable-like prints from the present. With works from both the past and present, Pressing On asks: how does one imagine the future of printmaking?
1. Kuroda Raiji, “Woodcut Movements in Asia: Genealogy of Modernization with Media of the People”, Blaze Carved in Darkness: Woodcut Movements in Asia 1930s - 2010s, Japan: Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, 2018. 2. Kano Ai, “How to Sustain a DIY Artist Collective?: In the Case A3BC”, Mapping on the Development of Self-Organised Woodcut Collectives in Inter-Asian Context, 2nd edition, 2019.