The “China Woodblock Printing Youth Program” was launched by artist Chen Qi, who is also a professor of China Central Academy of Fine Arts, at the end of 2019. The program intended to facilitate the development of Chinese young woodblock printing artists and promote the industry of woodblock printing in China through holding annual exhibitions featuring woodblock printing, academic seminars, and organising publications as well as establishing archive rooms, among other activities. The program is expected to be of ten-years duration so it can contribute to the long-term development of woodblock printing in China.
On 26 of June, 2021, “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium—China Woodblock Printing Youth Program 2021 Annual Exhibition” opened at the Asian Art Center (Beijing). The exhibition invited Duan Shaofeng as the curator to display more than forty woodblock printing artworks by ten artists including Cheng Guoliang, Gu Yiming, Huang Yang, Lian Zhuoqi, Liang Yejian, Shi Lei, Wang Yan, You Yu, Yu Wufeng, Zhang Xiaofeng.
Meanwhile, three themed forums developed from the exhibition were held on 25 and 26 June, 2021, namely, “Backflow and Interflow”, “Case Study and The Ecosystem”, and “Image and Media”. The three forums focused on the history of Chinese woodblock printing education, the current creative position of young artists as well as the future of China woodblock printing and invited art history scholars, critics, curators, young artists to discuss issues.
After two-year preparation and getting over the challenges brought by the pandemic, the launch of the first annual exhibition and the related forums undoubtedly boosted the further development of “China Woodblock Printing Youth Program”. However, it also gradually revealed many questions brought up by the exhibition theme, presentation style, artist section and artwork connotation, etc., that were worth discussing and solving. Furthermore, all these questions were precisely in line with the challenges, dilemma and opportunities faced by the development of China woodblock printing nowadays.
The exhibition “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium” put forward a notion of “the fourth generation” of Chinese woodblock printing artists, and introduced the two concepts, “image” and “medium” to refer to two aspects that young artists and teachers within the academies need to be aware of during their creative and teaching practice. However, when we consider the education history of woodblock printing in China while proposing the notion of “the fourth generation” it is controversial which resulted in one of the topics for discussion within the three forums. The controversies of this proposal are inseparable from the development and educational practice of woodcut, engraving, printmaking, woodblock printing in China.
According to the article “The Fourth Generation: Born at the Right Time” written by curator Duan Shaofeng, “After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the teaching of woodblock printing has been passed down through four generations, and today it has formed the fourth generation of people born in the 70s and 80s.”
While for most of the participating works this year, the so-called “literati character” is a noteworthy feature, which might be caused by the tradition and history of woodblock printing in China, as well as the delicate control of water as a medium and the special printing techniques during the creative process. It also reminds us to reflect on the development of new media in the current era, how should contemporary connotations and concepts fuse with the traditional technique? How could the imprints that bear traditional culture and memories combine with the current social picture? Obviously it is hard to solve all these problems in a single exhibition; however, it definitely proposes some worthy directions in terms of artistic and teaching practice of woodblock printing for reference.