In order to create an engaging and memorable creative arts program for a group of talented AP Art students from the Nansha College Preparatory Academy (NCPA), The Hutong organized for a jam-packed week of programming that connected the students with contemporary artists of China throughout Beijing’s various art districts: 798, Caochangdi, Songzhuang and the hutongs of the Drum and Bell Tower.
Working hand-in-hand with Nansha’s AP Art teachers to find ways to “hook” students, we were met with the challenge to encourage students to ponder big questions while seeing contemporary art, visiting artists’ studios and making art themselves.
The Hutong’s Creative Arts Program Mission:
How do we retain our commitment to engaging students in authentic, exciting and contemporary modes of making and studying art, while ensuring they are part of a ‘community of practice’?
First Steps for Students:
Step 1: Invite students to observe, think, speculate and wonder
Step 2: Require students to use rich language and their developing art vocabulary to examine, analyze and interpret a work without second-hand ideas
Step 3: Invite students to ask “What if?”
Step 4: Invite students to consider the relationship of the art they see to their own art-making
Challenges for The Hutong:
What impact do traditions and contemporary tensions have on the work of artists in China now? How is this seen in their work and how can this benefit our students?
How can we design lessons for our students using the provocative contemporary art work we will encounter?
How can we structure learning to assist and engage the students in understanding contemporary art?
How will the students grow from engaging with contemporary practices to their own art-making?
Applying art terminology
Developing research skills
Using IT and social media
Selecting a contemporary artist among the artists whose studios we visit and engage with. Selecting a few works from studio visits and/or contemporary art museums in Beijing that will intrigue/confuse/surprise students
Upon Nansha’s arrival to Beijing, our first visit was to the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Bejing where we spent the afternoon exploring the academy’s chronological history in their school auditorium and CAFA’s art gallery where students engaged with the international art installations on display hile also seeking out a dialogue with other art students who work as interns at CAFA.
The next day, students went through a time-warp in Ditan Park on a quest to hunt down different historical art figures (from Zhang Zeduan to Guiseppe Castiglione, Qi Baishi and Sui Jianguo) to interact with through dialogue and questions and then prepare a presentation to the rest of the group to share their artist’s life story through a performance skit. Attracting the curiosity of locals spending their leisure time in the park, we gathered quite the audience for our Nansha students’ entertaining skits!
From there, students settled into their designated spots to sketch two different scenes of Beijing’s legendary Drum and Bell Towers.
Their task was broken down into two sketch drawings – 1. to find and sketch the current scene from the same point of the historical picture to illustrate how it has changed from the past to present (three different perspective shots were given to the students) and 2. Choose to either fill in the missing part (a point in time between when the historic photo was taken and present day) or what the scene will look like in the future as we step forward in time.
Exploring art studios tucked away in Beijing’s hutongs, we visited the Institute for Provocation (www.iprovoke.org) where students met with resident artist Maurice Bogaert who brilliantly engaged with them about his past and current art projects, installations and goals.
On our visits to 798 Art District, students embarked on a sculpture hunt, followed by a visit to the widely respected UCCA gallery that was currently displaying their biggest art exhibition of the year – the Los Angeles Project that combined an anthology of seven shows of contemporary artists living and working in Los Angeles (Kathryn Andrews, Aaron Curry, Alex Israel, Matthew Monahan, Sterling Ruby, Ryan Trecartin, and Kaari Upson). Since students had already looked up this exhibition pre-trip, they were able to see their prior research brought to life. After a lunch at Timezone 8 students were introduced to Texan Robert Bernell, one of the founding members of the 798 Art District. He gave a detailed recap of 798’s transformation from a decommissioned communist-era military factory zone constructed in the German Bauhaus architectural style using funds from the Soviet Union into Beijing’s most vivacious and popular contemporary art district today. After soaking in the beautiful PACE and Galleria Continua art galleries, we made our way over to Caochangdi Art District to compare and contrast these two creative hubs, just a stone’s throw away from one another but a world of difference. Our first visit was to the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre designed by Ai Wei Wei. It displayed a Dutch Still Life exhibition. Saving the best for last, our final gallery visit was to INK Studio gallery with a private tour by our most gracious and knowledgeable art expert, executive director Nataline Colonnello.
Our visit to Dandelion migrant children’s middle school was an absolute delight as we teamed up with 7th grade students to make colorful tie-dye curtains with ropes and paints to brighten up their classrooms. After joining Dandelion’s students for lunch, we said our heartfelt goodbyes and made our way to the developing Songzhuang art district. From meeting artists who travel globally to meeting local artists who live and work in the community, students met and engaged with a wide variety of visual artists who came from all walks of life but were equally generous in sharing their time and imparting students with their wealth of knowledge and artistic talents.
After experiencing art districts and analyzing and interacting with visual art, The Hutong wanted to give Nansha a taste of performing art on the final day of their Beijing arts program. Breaking the ice in the morning with an improv workshop, students then moved on to practicing the art of body control and movement with a miming workshop. As part of The Hutong’s cultural heritage preservation initiative, we brought students to two historical sites that have been beautifully preserved as either art galleries or public spaces for anyone to enjoy. We met with a conservation planner and relic hunter from the Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University, a representative of the Temple of Wisdom and an architect turned fashion designer whose style concept incorporates the theme of cultural heritage in each of his pieces.
Throughout our action-packed week of exploring the fabulously creative art scene in Beijing, students highlighted their most memorable and meaningful experiences: their interactions with the different types of people who all play a unique role in the world of art – the aspiring students and professors they met from CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts), the impressive international gallery directors of 798 and Caochangdi and the dedicated local studio artists who all live and create art in Songzhuang. They were all examples that contemporary art in China is growing, developing, and spreading globally. It was an eye-opening experience to see how widely the interpretations of art may vary, and a challenge for students to step out of their comfort zones. Nansha students were praised by the artists they met who noticed their deep level of thought, their eagerness to learn and their tenacious dedication to develop their own talents and artistic flair.
“Our program was tailored to our own specifications, it was very well researched and gave our students a great insight to Chinese modern art and artists.” – Stefanie Goebel, Arts Teacher at NCPA China