Studio View, work in progress, ASC Studios 2021. (left)
Peacock, Kristina Chan & Itamar Freed, piment print on Kozo, 2019 (right)
Kristina Chan is an artist maker working primarily in traditional printmaking, alternative photography and bookbinding. She creates large scale public installations focusing on local histories and sense of place, exploring boundaries between individual and collective memory and how these overlaps affect our interpretations of space. She has had a studio with ASC since February 2019. She received an MA in Printmaking from RCA and a BFA from the Parsons Paris Institute of Art and Design. She has been exhibiting her work since 2007. She recently completed an artist residency & exhibition at Vault Project. She is exhibiting at the RSA Annual (April) and NordArt in Germany from June until October.
Is there a starting point for your practice?
It’s hard to say. I’ve been an artist and worked in many mediums over the years, but my passion is in printmaking and that I remember very clearly. I fell in love with print during my Erasmus year of undergrad. I went to New York where I saw an exhibition at the MOMA about print and revolution. It looked at the history of print as a voice for the people.
I was studying bronze and public sculpture at the time, but was so moved by the exhibition I immediately changed all my electives to study any and every print technique available. I fell in love with lithography, how it was both painterly and photographic at the same time. I also found a correlation between the chemistry used in patination and in plate development. Afterwards, I set myself a goal of printing in every major print capital around the world. Since then, I’ve editioned prints in New York, Paris, Edinburgh, London, and South Africa with various artists and edition houses. I began to develop my own practice alongside this. My practice is primarily based on narrative and site-specificity. I started collecting stories. Stories of people and places – those I connected with during my travels, in a way reminding me of that exhibition in the MOMA so many years ago now.
What artists have been your greatest inspiration?
William Kentridge, Tacida Dean, Julie Mehretu, Guiseppe Penone
Studio View, work in progress, ASC Studios 2021. (right)
What piece of music is a constant in your studio?
Fur Elise, Saint Motel
What trip have you always wanted to make?
Do you collect anything in particular?
I collect stories. My practice is all about site-specific narratives and the tradition of storytelling, so it’s a big part of my work.
Studio View, Sites & Mention series, woodcuts & engraved bronze, 2018. (left)
Studio View, work in progress, ASC Studios 2021. (right)
Is your artwork where you want it to be?
I think it is always a process. I’m always experimenting and trying new processes and techniques. As a printmaker, I’m constantly trying to find contemporary techniques to merge with traditional processes. Alongside my own work, I teach and lecture, particular on this idea of expanded print. In other words, what is Print in the contemporary art world? I think it’s such a versatile medium. I ran a masterclass at the V&A once looking at just this: exploring the medium of woodcut and engraving and how to use technology to incorporate photography into traditional relief printing. This was around the time the Photography Centre opened and we got to use their wonderful archives as inspiration. I do a lot of this mixing across mediums and industries: sometimes it’s sculptures and installation, other times its contemporary bookbinding, publishing, or even architecture. There’s a lot of playfulness and experimentation in this and I enjoy the challenge. But there is also an ambiguity in it I enjoy. The most common question I get with my work is, “What is it?” Is it a print, a photo, a drawing, a sculpture? This is important, because it begs the question, why? Why have you chosen these mediums, this combination? Does it speak to the place? It’s history? Your experience? It becomes part of the story it is trying to tell.
Ferns, Kristina Chan & Itamar Freed (@itamar_freed), Cyanotype, 2019.
How do you order your time?
I’d like to say methodically, but I think there’s no avoiding an element of chaos in an artist’s life. Since my work is site-specific, I tend to split my time between the studio and very remote research trips.
I have long term projects (2-3 years). I will go and research a specific place and build a body of work based on the narratives surrounding that place. This means I’ll spend months away on research, documenting, researching, exploring and learning as much as I can. Then I go into the studio and try to make sense of it all through print. The resulting series and exhibition is displayed, usually in the format for a large scale print installation and artist book.
What’s your favourite meal?
Definitely breakfast! I’m really quite hopeless without it. That and coffee.
Kristina Chan in her studio, 2021.
Do you have a mantra?
It’s not so much a mantra really, but there is a quote from one of my favourite authors, Aislinn Hunter, in her poem The Story As I See It, that I come back to time and time again,
“Like a book already written we consider how to hold memory in the mouth. It’s rather tantalising. And the first time I came across it I remember thinking, “Maybe that’s why we devour a good book.” Stories can have this seductive obsessive quality. And the adjectives we use to describe them back this up. It’s all part of what draws you in.
Tell us about a piece you are currently working on
I’m currently working on a series of prints inspired by the Australian bushfires. It is an ongoing series that documents the changing climate and immense nature surrounding the Blue Mountains and Wollemi National Parks in New South Wales, Australia. Inspired after an artist residency at Bilpin International Grounds for Creative Initiatives (BigCi) from October – December 2019, I witnessed a land and people’s incredible capacity for renewal and growth, strength and resilience in the wake of natural disaster.
These works serve as a document, a still moment of preservation as the Gospers Mountain fire spread southwest. During six short weeks, the fire grew from 20,000-300,000 hectares. These are the days before the fire. The days we waited and the world we captured. It is a portrait of a landscape forever changed.
Is there any advice you were given that you would like to share?
Dismiss nothing. It all feeds in somewhere anyway.
What sources do you turn to for inspiration when you are creatively stuck?
Writing and walks have long been a source of inspiration for me, even before lockdown. But now they are doubly so. I’m always looking, noticing, and noting. The most interesting things happen in these quiet moments.
Cypress Tree, Kristina Chan & Itamar Freed, etching with chine colle, 2019. Detail. (left)
Pheasant’s Cave, etching with chine colle, 2020. Detail. (right)
Is narrative important in your work?
Narrative and place define my work. But it is interesting, with lockdown, my practice has shifted slightly. With travel restrictions, I’ve spent much more time locally than I normally would. Because of that, the narratives in my work have shifted as well. I’ve started to become obsessed with window frames. I think they are such an appropriate metaphor for the past year. I find myself shifting towards a more theoretical landscape, maybe even a daydream. I’ve become intrigued by the idea of what lies just beyond our frame of reference/understanding. It’s similar to photography in a way, this attempt at getting everything into focus and realising, inevitably, that there will always be something out of frame. And how we tackle this acknowledgement of limitation, this impossible variable, well, that’s always been an interesting question.
Does place inform your work?
Absolutely. I’ve always thought of place as a metaphor. It is a way of looking at displacement, be it geographical, ecological or cultural. Where and how we chose to place ourselves, position ourselves in our surroundings as it were. These questions go beyond physical places. That’s why I am drawn to such remote places in my work. The distance is important. There needs to be a level of decontextualisation. These stories are so individual that they become universally relatable. In many ways, it’s a kind of reorientation that occurs, asking ourselves to find how we fit into the narrative presented, its impact and our experience of it. It’s about this reciprocity: how we mark the world and how it, in turn, marks us.
Do you like mistakes?
Love them! Always learn the most from our mistakes, even if frustrating at the time. I find patience is a key factor in this equation.