Tongji Philip Qian’s current exhibition, Staycation in Greene / Away in the Catskills, at the Prattsville Art Center is composed of leather structures, which are created outdoors under the sun and near a bonfire over the past three years. The artist discusses the sensitivity of the material with this statement:

“If I place a sheet of vegetable-tanned leather al fresco, the exposure to the sun will darken the surface. If I put a piece of burning wood on top, the leather will morph because of the heat. I find it fulfilling to see the changes in color and form as I position myself as a preparator. I call such work ‘prepared structure.’ Of course, it rains sometimes, but it, too, is part of the process. I am committed to both the conceiving and the implementation of the idea.”

In the works on view, Tongji Philip Qian abstains from applying additive materials such as ink and paint on the surface of the leather. Rather, the artist trusts in organic development and only at times incises linearly into the material. Because leather is essentially the by-product of the meat industry, the rich patina and the dramatic undulation invite paired negotiations such as recycling versus violence, natural versus artificial, sustainable versus durable, and direct productivity versus staged episodes.

Tongji Philip Qian moved a portion of his studio practice outdoors in the beginning of 2020, when access to facilities became restricted and perhaps a privilege. Therefore, these leather structures allude to the code meshing among an artist studio and other places and situations. The installation of Psi Zashiki Room by Yutaka Matsuzawa in rural Japan in the 1960s provided Qian with the energy and the framework to analyze location and reach. 

Because this exhibition takes place in Prattsville, a historic town in Greene County in the Catskill Mountains which once housed the largest tannery in the world, the artist hopes to share the presentation through not only documentation of the exhibition but also photographic juxtaposition with pre-existing contexts in and around the Art Center.

Tongji Philip Qian was born in Shanghai, China. He received his BAs in art history and mathematics from Carleton College, and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He is currently a Harper-Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago.

Staycation in Greene / Away in the Catskills is on view from September 1 to October 1, 2023. For reproduction requests, interview with the artist, and general inquiries, please contact TPQ Studio at +1-646-320-5932 or

* The Prattsville Art Center is a rural arts laboratory with a gallery, a library, and an interactive Music Box on Main Street performance space. Artists and staff members at the Center are using the inclusive energy of the arts to rebuild a flood-damaged town and strengthen connections between rural and urban America. Bringing communities and cultures together through free art, music, video, classes, residencies, healthy meals, and social services, the Center celebrates the diversity that enriches us all. 

** Prattsville is in Greene County, New York, United States. It was established in 1824 and later named after Zadock Pratt, a congressperson who founded a tannery larger than any other in the world in the late 1820s. As a result, it became a major town in upstate New York. Unfortunately in 2011, Hurricane Irene caused record flooding which destroyed large areas of Prattsville. The rebuilding process continues today.