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Utopian-Bands, 2008
A boxed suite of six woodcuts and DVD of Utopian-Bands concert, Beijing, China.
Wood blocks are 7"- 8" x 10" printed on 14" x 15" Rives BFK paper
Edition of 20, (1/20 - 10/20 Boxed with DVD)

These six woodcuts are based on photographs from the “Utopian-Bands” concert that I organized with Yang Licai to take place in Beijing on July 14, 2006. The six Beijing bands that played were Carsick Cars, Fantastic Pharmacy, Hang On The Box, Mafeisan, Naza, and Re­establishing The Rights Of Statues. The concert title, and the spoken introductions by Yang Licai and myself on the evening, invited the audience to consider these performers as microcosmic utopian entities in relation to a history of community consciousness amongst Beijing rock and roll bands and the political allegory of an unconventional music celebrating pleasure, performance, and narrative. The concert publicity poster explained that these bands consider themselves part of an “underground” scene, alternative to mainstream Chinese pop music. Such bands often hybridize Western musical examples from late 70s punk rock, a particularly idealistic moment in popular music.

   Design of these prints is derived from paper cutouts of the same images. I made those cutouts in reference to a popular Chinese tradition of “paper cuts” that has many regional variations and applications. During the Cultural Revolution some paper cut artists modified their procedures to incorporate quotations from Mao Zedong (like “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”) alongside imagery drawn from widely circulated motifs that were, in turn, usually based on official propaganda posters. Such political paper cuts were invariably made on thin red paper. The woodcut prints incorporate fragments of imagery from original Cultural Revolution paper cuts. Also embedded in the woodcut images is text taken from each band’s lyrics or press statements. The text for each piece is selected for suggesting utopian ideals.

   The print matrices were produced by laser-cutting blocks of cherry wood with a Beam Dynamics LMC 5000 which has a 250 watt CO2 laser. The proprietary software for this machine is LaserLink. Photographs of the paper cutouts were first converted to vector-based images before output to the laser cutter.

   The “Utopian-Bands” concert celebrated Beijing rock bands as the return of the repressed, as utopian communities once stifled by a Chinese Communism focused on national social reorganization. The quality of their music and their method of organization were factors in the selection of the bands. An appreciation of musical inventiveness, and flexible or open communities of performers, were considerations in choosing the bands. Fantastic Pharmacy, for example, pulls in other players from a large community of musicians. Hang On The Box however, is an all-female band still together, at the time of the concert, after several years of record releases.

   A successful concert, in terms of performances and audience enthusiasm was always the aim of the project. The footage on the DVD, included with these woodcuts, is a record of some of the events of the day. The DVD features short introductory clips from each band as well as longer concert segments from Fantastic Pharmacy and Hang On The Box.

Mark Harris, 2008