Chang Yue-lam, Henry
J: What is the significance of printmaking to you?
C: My father runs a family-owned printing house, but printmaking was not where I started my art training. It was when I studied in Taiwan that I acquired a deeper understanding in printmaking, which prompted me to reflect on the relationship I have with my family, as well as the relationship between printing industry and our society.
Printmaking places emphasis on precision – every single step in the process is painstakingly meticulous with no room for error. This inspired me to create The Exceptions of Absolute Accuracy, a series of experiments for exploring other possibilities in printmaking beyond accuracy. For example, Unmanned Support features asparagus setaceus (fern) watered by natural inks of CMYK colours, to look at the connections or changes between human, machineries and nature.
Meanwhile, my Master’s graduation work, Microscopic Narrative, presents my observations and insights into the printing industry, through the combination of mechanical components from printing house, text, prints and videos. I chose to narrate stories of the printing house through a “micro-lens”, instead of a “meta-narrative” perspective, as it is in tiny things that we may find the embodiment of overlooked history and details. It is through piecing together the small that the big picture becomes whole.
J: What are your views on printmaking and the development of the printing industry?
C: Printmaking is at the heart of printing. From woodcut and intaglio of earlier times to subsequently industrialised offset and digital printing, the techniques and formats may be different, yet they are essentially the same in the sense that they were all invented out of the desire to reproduce text and image. Wider distribution in turn advances human civilisation and the dissemination of knowledge.
I prompted me to start contemplating whether traditional printmaking is still relevant in our day and age. I believe that art creation should closely aligned with our times, and traditional printmaking techniques may not be best suited to presenting modern ideas. Besides, printing techniques should continue to evolve. This prompted me to look for breakthroughs in my works, hoping to overturn people’s preconceived notions about printmaking and pioneer a new direction. The internet, for example, could be an extension of printing.
J: Can you tell us more about Nanman Syllabary and Nanman Chromatography? What motivates you to research on the Cantonese dialect, and to combine its phonology with movable-type printing, images and chromatography?
C: Nanman is a series of research-based works about the Cantonese dialect. I drew reference from ancient woodblock printing to create a set of movable type for Cantonese syllabary. An imprint is made for each syllable, which is exhibited along with its associated image. Later on, I separated each syllable by the principles of chromatography, and corresponded it to CMYK colour model, forming a Cantonese syllabary colour spectrum. By merging the two systems, I wish to transform unique Cantonese syllables into their exclusive colours, thereby showing the “true colours” of Hong Kong.
I work on the Cantonese dialect because I noticed that the approach to language preservation is so different between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Taiwanese learn to speak Mandarin through phonetic symbols, but there is no systematic method to teach Cantonese in Hong Kong, so that the spoken language is only taught and learnt through word of mouth. I think that Cantonese phonology deserves to be valued.
J: Taiwan’s influence on your works…
C: Taiwan places great importance on arts, with plenty of specialised arts universities and galleries everywhere. I majored in printmaking while studying in Taiwan. My academy is rather contemporary and liberal, and encourages students to innovate. This training has inspired me to experiment on a variety of mediums to present printmaking even after I returned to Hong Kong. Take A destined imperfect circle as an example, successive circles are engraved on the piece of wood to illustrate the repetitive and labourious nature of printmaking. Meanwhile, Soil, pain, holy, trace, crossing, desperate, beach, life, unknown is a combination of performance art, printmaking and video installation. Through mixing cement with my feet and leaving footprint in the process, I could feel the connection between my body and the earth.
J: For The Opposite Survivor: 1950 – 1995, your work at Taiwan’s Sianguang Second Village, why did you take on the theme of Kuomintang (KMT)’s historical presence in Tiu Keng Leng, Hong Kong?
C: Sianguang Second Village used to be a military dependents’ village built in in 1949, to accommodate KMT officials and their dependents. As an outsider, I was immediately curious about possible connections between Hong Kong and KMT when I received the exhibition invitation from the Village during my artist residency. After some digging around, I discovered the history about Tiu Keng Leng, which happened to be the Hong Kong version of KMT military dependents’ village. Those villagers waited to be repatriated to Taiwan but were left behind in Hong Kong. I hope by reconstructing what their life was like, my work would allow Taiwanese people to realise that some of their comrades met a very different fate.
Silkscreen printing on black iron | 2018
J: What are your views on colonisation, nationalism, and identity? How do your works reflect these topics?
C: Postcolonial theories often mention how disadvantaged groups reinforce their subjectivities through reconstruction of culture in their resistance against colonialism or great power. However, this could lead to national populism – the current political environment in Hong Kong is an example. People are eager to construct an autonomous ethnic identity, which leads to a variety of studies on Hong Kong. The irony is not lost on me that, as a Hongkonger, my research on Cantonese could very well be a form of cultural reconstruction as well.
Initially, I assumed that the Taiwanese must all be proud of their identity as a citizen of the Republic of China (ROC). When I was staying in Taiwan, however, I realised that not all Taiwanese necessarily feel that the ROC flag represents them. This rings true especially for the Taiwanese indigenous peoples, as the flag reminds them of KMT’s authoritarian rule in the past. Therefore, I created Implanting Taiwan in 2014 (the year of Sunflower Student Movement), with which I extracted the horizontal threads of a ROC flag, to sew a map of Taiwan, symbolising the colonisation of Taiwan by KMT. The remaining half of the flag happens to reflect that democracy in Taiwan is not yet fully developed.
ROC National Flag, sewing tools, canvas, frames | 2014
J: Any plans for the future?
C: In the coming year, I plan to redesign my book Nanman Research, to incorporate some of my latest thoughts, and seek publishing opportunities for it. Besides, I want to study the culture of incense, from its associated religious rituals and history of usage in daily lives.