Wuon Gean Ho graduated with a BA in the History of Art from Cambridge University, before taking up a Japanese Government Scholarship in 1998 to study woodblock printmaking in Japan. She has held print residencies in Kyoto, Japan; Caldera, Crows’ Shadow Institute of the Arts and the Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology in the United States; Intaglio Printmaker and Printspace in the UK, and exhibits both nationally and internationally. She makes prints and artist books with a fantastical narrative exploring the borderline between beauty and beast, and the energy shifts between life and sleep, and sleep and dreams. She is an instructor in Japanese woodblock technique and teaches in East London Printmakers, UK, and various other countries every year. She has work in the collections of Aberystwyth University, the Crow’s Shadow Institute of Arts and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Recently she was awarded the Printmakers Council Prize (2009) and the Birgit Skiold Memorial Trust Prize (2010).
Art and Life: Selecting the 3rd Qijiang International Print show Thank you for inviting me to be part of the 3rd International Qijiang Print Festival. I am honoured to join Chinese artists in Chongqing in meeting artists and printmakers from all over the world.
The selection process for the International portion of the 3rd Qijiang Print show was conducted by David Barker, Weimin He and myself, with some input from Yili Li. Due to constraints of time and finances, we decided to run the call for print submissions online and in various newsletters, and the submission process was also digital, with 3 images being submitted per artist, with a maximum file size of 2MB. We advertised the show with this website, by emailing mailing lists and artists who had previously submitted work, and by websites such as Printeresting and McClains, as well as the best method, word of mouth!
The jurors viewed each image four or five times. Firstly we all had access to the submission email account and could familiarise ourselves with the work as it came in. Then, sitting in the same room together, we viewed the whole selection of prints in a slideshow format, without any information as to artist, size, title or medium. This could be called a blind selection, but allowed us to get to know the work that had been submitted. Then we went through each print individually noting technical details about it, and with discussion and sometimes heated debate on its merits and demerits. When we had a rough selection we went through the prints a final time to evaluate whether we had the prints that we agreed on. Finally, a couple of prints, which perhaps only one juror strongly believed in, were added to the mix.
The advantage of this system was that there was healthy discussion about every image, and it challenged all of our preconceptions about what is right and good. The disadvantage was that the selection process was digital, and so the tactile nature of print surface, quality, size, and subtleties of colour were lost with the viewing of works on a screen.
For me, I value work that has an element of the suspension of disbelief. I love works that take me to another world, an intangible space where things are unusual and fantastic. As a printmaker, I am impressed by seeing a bold and technically brilliant use of the medium, but also enjoy seeing works that take me away from the fact that the image is a print, and into its own world of humour, narrative and impact.
For the other jurors, David Barker and Weimin He, the emphasis was on whether the work had visual impact. Did the technique fulfil its purpose? Was the printmaking approach in unison with the subject matter? At times we had heated debate over the validity of works because our individual criteria were so different. We had differing opinions on the use of colour, whether digital media was valid, whether diptychs and triptychs had strength or whether they were lazy ways of concealing poor composition. We also had personal preferences which coincidentally tended towards work that had narrative and that was black and white, but this could have also been reflective of the works that were submitted. We all had different backgrounds, and different aesthetics, and because of this, I believe that a good balance of works made its way through.
Art records life, history and events. Art embellishes life, enriches and entertains. Art also communicates culture and ways of seeing. Many artists in this show were chosen because we saw some of the artists’ vision and culture in their work. As Marcelle Hanselaar wrote in her email to us when she was accepted, “Prints are a great way to communicate ideas and visions between people without misunderstanding, because the visual is a language universally understood.”
There are works in this selection that record and celebrate the everyday process of living, such as Monica Farrar’s “Bound and Confined”, a beautiful observation of fruit and vegetables in a market, and Jimin Lee’s “At Dusk” that shows a familiar scene out of a car window from the point of view of the passenger, with a mysterious straw hat visible in the rear view mirror. On a more alarming level, Chris Pig portrays an accurate and unsentimental vision of London life with his print “Shot, Block, Flip” that shows a man on a stretcher being ferried into a waiting ambulance by police and paramedics.
There are prints which made us laugh outright, for their fantastic imagination and humour. Sylvia Taylor’s quirky “Escape Velocity” shows an absurdity of animals in precarious coexistence with each other, and Yuji Hiratsuka’s “ Futago Kannon” show two identically dressed girls, or goddesses, dancing with abundant fruits.
Other works deal with political and social issues. Notable amongst these are prints by Peter Rapp, “Fallacy of Choice”, that shows a multitude of television sets each displaying a different part of a huge image of a gagged face, and Andrew deCaen’s “Pop Family”, that shows a goggle-eyed family sitting like zombies on a sofa, with popcorn spilling between them. These prints seemed to us to contrast most with images of family and social unity and happiness so common in the Chinese Farmer printmaking tradition.
Our relation to our homes and our cities was a common theme: Louiz Kirkeberg Nielsen’s “In the picture,” a girl dances in the centre of a city, surrounded and protected by the buildings, whereas in Deborah Chapman’s “ Reflet d’origine au coeur de l’ultime reve” the houses are on precarious stilts that perch up high in inky blackness.
Finally, printmaking’s mastery of technique combined with content was celebrated with many of the works. Guy Langevin’s “Au Reveil” is a mezzotint that captures movement and light, and Victoria Goro-Rapopport’s “Cultivated Mind” is another beautiful print that combines mezzotint, etching, digital and engraving to create a richly historic image that recalls Archimboldo and Leonardo.