Sapphires, ocean tides, twilight skies, and the murky depths of a jumbled dream—these were the visuals that came to mind when I first saw the cyanotype prints of Chinese artist Han Qin. Her use of blue, which seemed to rove through every possible shade of the color, forms azure expanses swarmed by swimmers in white. These figures, some with arms interlocked, move with pressing urgency as if ready to surface from the paper. Han’s works are as mystifying as they are riveting.
With blue occupying nearly every inch of her prints, some may ask, “What’s the significance of the color?”
Han explains that blue can establish a sense of distance and calm. It’s a color of mystery, divinity, and regality that carries a certain timelessness. The mere mention of blue brings to mind unclouded skies and the boundless seas. It feels close, yet out of reach, like the sliver of cerulean where the sky meets the ocean on the far-off horizon. “Even when you look at my prints up close, they still feel distant,” she says. “It also represents the spirit of exploration—the exploration of the unknown, of life’s uncertainties.”
Han’s experimentation with cyanotype printing began in 2017. In these earlier works, she staggered paper cutouts atop a sheet of parchment paper coated with a light-sensitive solution and exposed it to sunlight, which turned the uncovered areas to cyan-blue. “There’s an element of unpredictability with the medium, whether it’s the angle that the sunlight is reaching the surface or maybe the solution was mixed differently,” she says. “The intense blues and the hazy lines produced by the method make each work unique.” The fickleness of the medium itself seems suitable for the theme of uncertainty that’s often deliberated on in her works.
2017 年，韩沁开始用“蓝晒法”在皮纸上创作。脱胎于真实的人物，她把脑中的形象先剪成各种各样的形状，再把剪纸放在预涂的皮纸上，在光线下暴晒。而光线作用在皮纸上产生相应的投影轮廓, 创造出一个青色到蓝紫色之间的图像。然后用流水冲洗，把重重叠叠的影像“嫁接”在一起，再让最终的图像显影于薄如蝉翼的纸面或者绢面上。“由于阳光的不可预测性、表面的角度和预涂溶液的不同效果, 每件作品中模糊的群体和神秘独特强烈的氰蓝色都是独一无二的。”韩沁告诉我们。而这种不确定性在某种程度上，又反过来诠释了蓝色之所以重要的原因，它太独特了。
Han recently showcased ten prints at the Nassau County Museum of Art, each a different meditation on departure, memories, uncertainties, transformation, and—morbidly enough—drowning. Of these pieces, one of the most notable is The Direction of Migration, a large-scale piece that examines human migration. Han invited over twenty individuals to share their experiences of making a new home in a foreign city through a static pose—their bodies formed the white silhouettes that cover the piece. All of the participants were people who moved from China’s countryside to Hangzhou in search of better opportunities. “One of the participating artists was an older individual,” Han recalls. “She described her pose as a show of strength, a way of capturing the hardships she’s had to endure to stay in Hangzhou.”
From a distance, the silhouettes are hazy; encased within the swaths of blue, they’re like bits of sea foam being relentlessly being tugged, pulled, and set adrift by forces outside of their control. But Han believes there’s plenty of meaning to be found in the riptides of life, and she converts these diverse experiences into a visual format. In the series of Age of Migration, she even looks inwards, using her own immigration experiences to better understand the complexities of human migration.
韩沁最近在纽约拿桑郡美术馆（Nassau County Museum of Art）展出了 10 件作品，其中包括一张巨幅蓝晒作品，《迁徙的方向》。这是一副展示漂泊人生千姿百态的蓝晒作品。在创作《迁徙的方向》时，韩沁邀请了二十多名从异乡迁徙至杭州的朋友，请他们用不同的身体形态表现出各自的辗转经历。有一位艺术家前辈也参与创作，她说，‘我用尽全力好不容易才留在杭州，这就是我的奋力姿态’。”而每个人在迁徙过程中的姿态，远看就宛如一簇簇白色浪花，裹挟在蔚蓝色的海洋里。
Two of the paintings from Age of Migration were inspired by her move to the U.S., specifically the 16-hour flight from Shanghai to New York. “After the landing gears leave the ground and the engine begins to roar, you’re given a God’s-eye view of the world; you feel above everything,” she recalls. “With the sky filling my field of view, I found myself lost in thought. I looked around the cabin, observing the passengers. Some were focused, some were weary, some were anxious, and some were frustrated. But they were all looking out of the window, gazing into the sea of clouds. I suppose that’s why we travel—we’re all in search of bluer skies that we can call our own.”
Memories of this trip have stuck with her, and in 2017, she finally turned them into a series of cyanotype prints populated by tiny swimmers. These water-bound figures would serve as the basis for the paintings of Age of Migration, which saw the same swimmers navigating much larger expanses of blue. “They are passengers on their own journeys,” Han says. “Depending on where they are in life, some may be floating while others may be sinking. With the advent of travel, mass migrations are commonplace now. The travelers are not happy, but nor are they sad. They’re content.”
《迁徙时代》系列中的两套作品，是韩沁最初从上海飞到纽约的那 16 小时联想而来的。“当飞机滑轮离开地面的一刹那，伴着引擎轰鸣声，产生俯视众生的自豪感。随后，空无的天际让人的联想毫无征兆地展开，从哪里来，到哪里去？细看机舱里每一个人的神情：专注的，倦怠的，期待的，落魄的，都在同一个机舱中，看窗外云海翻滚。我们爬山涉水，为的不就是那片更高更远的蔚蓝色风景吗？”
这个场景和当时的心情在韩沁心中一直挥之不去，后来逐渐形成完成一副描绘迁徙场景作品的想法。直到 2017 年，在完成一系列蓝晒小作品之后，她便将这些作品中的小人儿作为素材，创作了一幅时代迁徙大军的画作。“他们是旅途中的乘客，也是在生命不同阶段沉浮的芸芸众生。全球迁徙的时代，纵浪大化中，不喜亦不惧，应从容应对。”
From Hangzhou to New York, Han’s art has been showcased in as many places as she’s lived, and the evolution of her work directly reflects all that she’s experienced in these places over the years. She moved out of China at the age of 24, and in the decade since, she’s completed college, built a home abroad, and gotten married. These transitional moments have enriched her art, pushing her to create even more ambitious works.
In 2019, for her exhibition at New York’s Fou Gallery, Ethereal Evolution, Han decided to incorporate a performative aspect to her works with the inclusion of live dancing. In continuing her exploration of migration and displacement, the invited dancers were all either non-American or exchange students. “The curator Hai Liang and I discussed how performance art could be included in the show,” she recalls. “The creation process and the performative dance could be one and the same. We envisioned it as something dynamic, capturing the sense of uncertainty that is inherent to migration. This would give additional dimensionality to the show.”
In the series, the dancers’ movements are rendered as blurry silhouettes against the deep-blue backdrops. The lack of definition is a deliberate feature of the series. These ill-defined forms visualize the struggle of the immigrant experience in their search for identity—for outsiders, these experiences can often be difficult to see and understand, but for the individuals experiencing them, the hardships are as clear as day.
从四海而来，在杭州创作，到纽约展出，翻山越岭的并不仅仅是作品本身，也折射出作品背后的个人经历。韩沁是 24 岁离开中国的，其中经历求学、移民、结婚定居，短短十年间文化环境与身份的转变，让她的艺术创作就此丰富起来。2019 年，在纽约否画廊举办个展的过程中，韩沁邀请舞者参与了创作全过程，其中很多是留学生和外国艺术家。“我和策展人海良讨论，将创作过程同时发展成为一段行为舞蹈，叙说动态的、不确定的状态给迁徙和旅行带来的意义，给精神层面带来的震动和冲击。”
In recent months of lockdowns and border closures, relocation and travel haven’t exactly been relevant topics for Han. She says this is the longest that she’s stayed in one place in recent memory. Her full-time job as a professor means she’s mostly stayed at home, teaching online. Traveling has been the furthest thing from her mind. She isn’t starved for inspiration though; the internet and global politics have provided plenty of creative fodder.
Outside of her artistic endeavors, she’s also eager to do her part in fighting the pandemic. When Covid-19 was at its worst in China, Han worked with Chinese art institutions and media platforms to organize donations. When the virus reached New York, she helped exchange students figure out ways of returning home and even offered free counseling. “Every day was a new crash course on how to navigate the pandemic-stricken world,” she recalls.
As for the future, Han reveals that she plans to turn her focus toward the changing relationship between people and the place they call home. She also plans on merging together performance art and visual art again. An eagerness to further her art keeps her motivated and optimistic. “Nowadays, I’m often reminded of Henry Matisse’s work, and one specific quote by him,” Han says. “‘Each of us must find his own way to limit the moral shock of this catastrophe . . . For myself, in order to prevent an avalanche overwhelming me, I’m trying to distract myself from it as far as possible by clinging to the idea of the future work I could still do, if I don’t let myself be destroyed. ‘ This quote motivates me to keep making art.”