Lithic Impressions is an itinerant event dedicated to ancient Chinese technique of copy and printmaking known as rubbing. The event partners with local institutions to cast a Chinese antiquarian eye on the lithic heritage of the host city.

The show is devoted to an ancient Chinese technique of copy and printmaking known as rubbing. Contemporary approaches to the tradition of rubbing bring about issues of copying, transmission and memory. 

Rubbings are monochrome impressions in ink on mulberry paper. The fragile, fine-grained paper membrane is applied with water to the rock surface and inked, to render intaglio and relief. Since at least the 7th century rubbings have been for scholars and antiquarians the main transmission medium for sculptural and calligraphic models. Rubbings are: (1) Among the earliest printing system in human history; (2) A 1:1 scale physical imaging system; (3) An image acquisition system for non photographic equipment; (4) A practice that fits outdoor environments.

Lithic Impressions: From Stone to Ink on Paper is an itinerant project that departed from the wish to explore the toolkit of the Chinese antiquarian, especially the technique of full scale replication by rubbing. Calligraphy, landscape painting and seal carving form a prism through which visual and material realities can be revisited and are part of the same toolkit as travelling, collecting and rubbing steles. Literati and antiquarianists are but two faces of the same figure, one turned towards creation, the other one towards the study of the past. Interestingly, the literati reproduce the past in the future, while the antiquarianists revisit and reinterpret the past. The double arrow is a mutually enforcing one. Chinese antiquarianism appeals to us because of its contrasting attitude to matter, its strong reliance on text, and the distorting - and creative - lens it applies on sites and artefacts.

Important questions arise when reconsidering the technique of rubbing today, about the impact of such techniques on visual cutlure and the history of art, in particular when it meets with other traditions of looking at the Past. What is the role played by visual recording in the understanding of volume, light and texture or materiality? What are the relationships between recording and copying techniques and how do they impact innovation and change in material culture? How do such techniques impact the way history is written? How can we revisit such techniques to elaborate our own cross-cultural attitude to the Past, keeping in mind that the ‘Past’ encompasses material culture, representation, and transmission?

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Venice 2018

EMGdotArt Foundation

“Lithic Impressions” was held in EMGdotART Foundation, Palazzo Zen, Venice, from the 25th of September to the 15th of November 2018.

  “Lithic Impressions” displays rubbings by Lia Wei and Zhang Qiang collected in the years 2009-2018, which capture funerary, Buddhist or Taoist contexts. The impressions are from stone carvings dating from the 2nd to the 6th century CE, located in present day Shandong and Sichuan provinces. The experimental rendering of pictorial or scriptural signs in space through monochromes on paper offers a refreshing view on the history of Chinese art and provide an introduction to antiquarian practices in East Asian literati circles.  

The project partners with a China National Arts Fund 2018 project led by Zhu Fang at Changchun University of Technology, which similarly revisits the antiquarianist’s toolkit, entitled “Urban Memories”. Zhu Fang and his team have rubbed streets, walls, windows, furniture and objects of everyday life, providing a privileged lens on the challenges of technological progress. Ghostly presences evoke textures and surfaces from the cities of Changchun, Harbin and Chongqing, a feeling of “industrial nostalgia”.

To mark the opening of the exhibition on the 25th of September at 6pm, Zhu Fang will capture a urban memory of the entrance at Palazzo Zen, Cannareggio 4924, Venezia.

A gallery talk will be held from 10 to 12am on the 26th of September in Palazzo Zen, and from 4 to 6pm on the same day a roundtable of discussions about the rubbings in a contemporary context will be held at We_Crocieri in Campo dei Gesuiti, Cannareggio 4878, Venezia.

Three days of workshop will be held on the 27th, 28th and 29th where the Chinese art of rubbing will be experimented on the "stones of Venice", reconstructing a history of stone carving from Roman sarcophagi to medieval tombstones and baroque architecture through ink on paper. The workshop is open to all and will be held in the courtyard of We_Crocieri in Campo dei Gesuiti, Cannareggio 4878, Venezia.


Lia Wei

Academic supervisor:

Zhang Qiang

China National Art Fund project director:

Zhu Fang

Institutional partners:

EMGdotART Foundation, China National Art Fund, Changchun University of Technology, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Taishan University, Renmin University of China.


Brussels 2019

Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire

Lithic Impressions travels to Belgium at the occasion of the Ink Art Week in Brussels (6-11th May 2019), where one day will be dedicated to rubbing and antiquarianism at the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire (MRAH). On this occasion, a series of Eastern Han funerary stone slabs, as well as medieval Buddhist and Daoist steles from the MRAH collection are presented in dialogue with rubbings of homologous time periods and regions by Lia Wei and Zhang Qiang. 

At the occasion of Lithic Impressions Brussels 2019, 36 students and teachers in graphic design and illustration from the Ecole Supérieure des Arts St-Luc and 11 students and teachers in Chinese painting and calligraphy from the Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises are given four days in Mount Tai and its surroundings to produce their own compilation of rubbings which would describe the place. The workshop is hosted by the Institute of Fine Arts and the Institute for Advanced Study on Contemporary Visual History at Taishan University, with the support of the Department of Archaeology and Museum Studies at Renmin University of China. The hall leading to the China Galleries at the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels will exhibit the result of this fieldtrip. A day devoted to epigraphy, rubbing techniques and antiquarianism will mark the opening of the exhibition on the 11th of May 2019.A day dedicated to epigraphy and rubbing techniques at Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire (MRAH) and Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises (IBHEC)

Saturday 11th of May

10 to 11 AM

Location: China Galleries of Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire

Vernissage of rubbings exhibit, rubbing session of a Tang dynasty epitaph and guided tour of epigraphy, stelae and funerary carvings on display

 12 AM to 2 PM

Location: Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises China Library

Open day of Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises (IBHEC)

2 to 4 PM

Location: Salle de Conférences of Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire

A report on the process of learning, and experimenting with rubbing techniques by the students in graphic design, illustration, architecture, calligraphy and Chinese painting from ESA St-Luc, ULB and IBHEC during their study trip in Mount Tai in collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Visual History (当代视觉史高等研究中心), Taishan University (Tai’an).


Nathalie Vandeperre (curator MRAH), Bernard Pierre (IBHEC), Lia Wei (coordination IAW 2019), Zhang Qiang (academic supervision IAW 2019), Simone Schuiten (ESA St-Luc), Kiran Katara (La Cambre Horta ULB), Liu Gang (Taishan University), Mei Ling (IBHEC), students from ESA St-Luc, ULB and IBHEC.



to be continued…