Organized at the initiative and with the efforts of KulturDialog Armenien in Yerevan from September 7 to November 7, 2019, the Second International Print Biennale, Yerevan 2019 continues to live and enliven both the organizers and the international artists and participants in the circle of communications and discussions, developing new connections and projects, thereby taking steps towards the Third Print Biennale.
In the frames of the Second International Print Biennale, Yerevan, the main contest-exhibition along with a series of collateral events (meetings with international artists, additional exhibitions, workshops and presentations by experts of the field, etc.) was one of a kind. All this was quite a novelty to the participant viewers and aroused special interest in terms of interacting with distinguished professional experts and artists from around the world, exchanging knowledge and experience and facilitating further achievements. The guests enabled the Armenian artist to get familiar with both local and international artists, their works and artistic excellence, get into contact with them and gain invaluable knowledge, as well as identify personal abilities and skills. Meanwhile, they discovered Armenia, the Armenian audience and, most importantly, the Armenian art students.
It has been repeatedly noted that the main exhibition-contest of the Biennale, including other projects and exhibitions held within its scope, had brought together a vast number of guests, experts and eminent masters of the field. And one of them was the renowned Chinese artist Minjie Zhang, the Second Prize winner of the First International Print Biennale, Yerevan 2017.
Minjie Zhang was born in Tángshān, China. He started making art in 1975, working as a stage artist for a troupe of actors based in his hometown. During the Great Tángshān earthquake of 1976, he was trapped under the rubble for some time, and after being rescued, upon his recovery returned to the troupe as an actor. He studied at the Printmaking Department of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts from 1988 to 1990; then worked as a printmaker at the Qinhuangdao Mass Arts Centre. Since 1991, he has been a participant and award winner of various international biennales and other print exhibitions in the field of printmaking. He has previously been the director of the Visual Art College at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou.
The 61-year-old artist currently lives, works, and creates art in Beijing. He is the vice director of the Printmaking Committee of the Chinese Artists Association, a professor at China Academy of Fine Arts and Literature and Art Joint Printmaking Department of the Chinese Artists Association.
His work spans a wide range of media, including lithography, woodcuts, oil painting and sculpture, etc. Influenced by his stage career, Minjie Zhang’s artworks, which leave the viewer breathless, depict stage scenes mostly on a grand scale.
Minjie Zhang travelled to Armenia for the first time at the invitation of KulturDialog Armenien and the Organizing Committee of Yerevan International Print Biennale. The initiative was aimed at not only introducing the artist’s works and artistic mastery to the Armenian public but also making Armenia and the Armenian artists recognizable at relevant international platforms through direct communication.
As part of the invitation, the Organizing Committee of Yerevan Print Biennale organized an exhibition featuring works by the Chinese master, as well as initiated a color woodcut workshop for Armenian artists and other interested people.
Minjie Zhang’s month-long solo exhibition “Solo on the Stage” was held at Martiros Saryan House-Museum on October 5, 2019. Upon its completion, the Chinese artist and KulturDialog Armenien donated a large-scale print to the house-museum, which became a part of the great Armenian artist’s collection.
Besides, on the initiative of KulturDialog Armenien and with the support of Eurasia Partnership Foundation, the expert printmaker Minjie Zhang conducted a workshop on color woodcut printmaking technique at the National Center of Aesthetics after H. Igityan from October 7 to 17 with the participation of the students of the State Academy of Fine Arts of Armenia, Armenian artists and other interested people.
During that process, the participating student-artists each created over four prints, which were highly appreciated by the Chinese master. KulturDialog Armenien intends to present the results of Minjie Zhang’s workshop in Armenia to the public during the period from 2020 to 2021.
Furthermore, an additional meeting was organized for a broader circle, during which the artist demonstrated his works created in Armenia, talked about printing skills and techniques used in color woodcuts, and introduced a documentary on his life and work.
In just a little over two weeks, Minjie Zhang was deeply impressed with Armenia, also having the chance to travel around the country. His notes on the Second International Print Biennale in Yerevan and other Armenian impressions presented below will subsequently be included in the catalogue of the Second International Print Biennale, Yerevan 2019.
«It was the long-awaited visit to the church of Etchmiadzin, where a young couple was getting married in a candlelight wedding ceremony. In the middle of the church, a chandelier hung from a granite ceiling on top of the nave, making this mysterious building, built in 301 AD, mind-blowing. An enigmatic atmosphere permeated the surroundings as if I had travelled through time and space into another world. The melodious music spoke of this ancient civilization.
Across the Republic Square, the road led to the Hay Art cultural center, on the outer wall of which, a large poster of the Second International Print Biennale, Yerevan, stood out in the sunlight. From the hall beneath the beige rock walls of modern design, I was waved to by Mrs Sona Harutyunyan, the founder of the International Print Biennale, Yerevan, who had brought together artists from all over the world. After we made acquaintance, the atmosphere immediately became warm, and we seemed reunited like long lost friends. The opening of this year's Biennale in the autumn time added an extraordinary luster to this ancient city. Undoubtedly, the Print Biennale in Yerevan became the central focus of the international arts society.
This exhibition featured outstanding prints by 214 artists from around the world. In the circular halls, the side-by-side hanging prints made using wood, copper, stone, screen, and other materials were dazzling. Filling the large space from the first to the third floor, the countless works produced by traditional printmaking methods moved me deeply.
I saw works created either by developing the form of line typical of woodblock printing or by multiple heavy colour overlays, highlighting the beauty of the texture and colour obtained by the knife. I also saw works using the original handmade copperplate that added new aesthetic trends to the techniques of engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint. The surreal lithographic masterpieces were made by using scraping ink and lithographic pencils. There were also the works of direct printing made by the rational method of transferring and skipping onto a thick or delicate screen plate, demonstrating the amazing technique of instant direct photography. Despite the limited number of presented works, the variety of the applied techniques magnified this microscopic world infinitely with metaphors, symbols, irony and humour, subtly rendering visual images that appeared sublime and astonishing.
In the entrance foyer, at the staircases of each floor, there was a commentary presenting the variety of the materials and techniques used, as well as, content interpretation of the prize-winning and other participating works of the exhibition. All this gave visitors a deeper and more three-dimensional understanding of the origin of the works; we were overwhelmed by the organizing committee’s meticulous work done behind the scenes.
The graffiti on the walls of old Yerevan is vivid and poignant. A hundred meters from the Hay Art Cultural Center is the Yerevan printmaking studio, where I worked during my stay in Armenia. Interestingly, when delivering my PowerPoint printmaking presentation, multilingual enthusiastic greetings made this quiet studio alive, and a dozen students from the State Academy Fine Arts worked and communicated with me simultaneously in English, Russian, French, and other languages at the studio. Surprisingly, even though all students created using the colour woodcut technique for the first time, they seemed to convey particular emotion into the carving knife, becoming vibrant by their different themes, shapes, methods, polychrome and monochrome expressions; layers of rich colour and texture compensated for the monotony and heaviness of the carving. In the late evening, the laughter and songs in the still brightly-lit studio made passers-by stop, and this mysterious space seemed to fill with more and more colour.
The founder of the Biennale, Sona Harutyunyan, the Biennale Committee members and all the students who had participated in studio workshops were sitting with me in a tavern, opposite the Opera House. Looking at each familiar, affectionate, smiling face, I couldn’t help but express my gratitude and appreciation by drinking a full glass of wine, according to Chinese etiquette. After some applause, I received gifts and blessings that they had prepared. Just at that moment, the song Auld Lang Syne played, and with a farewell hug, I left for my next destination, Georgia. This city that continues the legacy of its ancient civilization made me experience lots of feelings and emotions.
As the train moved into the sunlight, through the curtains, I watched people leisurely strolling around the park. I wondered when I would again be able to visit Mount Ararat, in the land known as the fabled landing of Noah's Ark» - wrote the second prize winner of the First International Print Biennale, Yerevan 2017 Minjie Zhang.