Online Graduation Season of CAFA | Zhou Jirong: How can online creations maintain the language features of printmaking?

TEXT:CAFA ART INFO    TIME: 2020.5.27

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Editor’s Note:

In order to cope with the impact of the COVID-19, for the first time, the Central Academy of Fine Arts (abbr. CAFA) has launched virtual art galleries for students who will graduate, building a solid platform to display students’ academic achievements, which to a greater extent is bound to attract participation and attention from everyone. Offline exhibitions can collect the feedback from the audience as soon as they visit, and they can accurately receive information from the art market and become a stage for exchange and learning between students ... In comparison, we know very little about the online graduation exhibition. How do teachers from CAFA look at this new form of graduation exhibition? How do they guide students to create? What challenges did they encounter? CAFA ART INFO has interviewed Professor Zhou Jirong. He talked about the course of graduation creation and the student creations in the Printmaking Department at CAFA. Additionally, he also discussed topics such as how can online creations maintain the language features of printmaking, etc.

Interviewee: Zhou Jirong (Professor of Printmaking Department, the School of Fine Arts at CAFA)

Interviewer: Yang Zhonghui/CAFA ART INFO

Interview Dates: April 25th, 2020 and May 10, 2020

Photo courtesy of Professor Zhou Jirong and graduates.

Translated by Emily Weimeng Zhou and Edited by Sue.


CAFA ART INFO: Hello, Professor Zhou. Because of the pandemic situation, CAFA’s graduation exhibition has changed a lot this year, so we have paid attention to the topics related to the students’ graduation creations. Would you first of all talk about the Graduation Creation Course in the Printmaking Department?

Zhou Jirong: The Graduation Creation Course in the Printmaking Department can be discussed from the 1980s, because I graduated from the Printmaking Department in 1987 and have been teaching in CAFA since then. I think that from the 1980s to the present day, the graduation creation teaching mode of the Printmaking Department can be roughly divided into two types. The first type is “class as a unit,” focusing on certain types of printmaking. It emphasizes the importance of digging into reality to express real life, which is a creative teaching method requiring a realistic style.  The  “Beijing Series”, my graduation creation in the 1980s, expressed the real life of the traditional Beijing Hutong through the medium of silkscreen printmaking. Other graduation works at the same period also used a certain type of printmaking as a medium and carried out realistic depictions and expressions of the ethnic customs as well as workers and peasants’ lives. The other type is conducted under the studio system, which transcends the limitations of printmaking and emphasizes self-experience and individual feelings. Today, the subject matter of students’ graduation creations is not limited to the scope of realism. The graduation creations of various studios have different directions and requirements under the guidance of different supervisors. The medium in which the work is expressed includes the creation of videos and installations on the basis of printmaking and the students’ works are full of vitality. This year’s graduation creation will show a different look from the past through the "Virtual Art Museum" display.

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Zhou Jirong, "Beijing Series", Silkscreen Prints, Variable Size, 1987

Zhou Jirong, "Hometown" I - III, Mixed Materials, 2011

CAFA ART INFO: Due to the pandemic, the academy is closed until further notice. Tutors and students have to shift to an online teaching mode. What are the specific challenges to your graduation creation teaching?

Zhou Jirong: The pandemic has had a great influence on our normal teaching and creation of graduation classes. The creation of printmaking on paper requires studio space and printing equipment. However, the sudden changes have disrupted our original plan for a graduation creation. Students cannot use the school studio to produce works. They can only use the limited conditions at home to adjust their original printmaking creation plan to the form of painting and computer production. What we can do is to try our best to guarantee the artistic quality of the graduation creation. Tutors from our department use free online resources such as Tencent Meeting, WeChat, and mailboxes to guide students’ creations. Tutors and students are gradually adapting to this remote teaching method.

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Before the pandemic, Zhou Jirong was guiding students' work.

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During the pandemic, Zhou Jirong was teaching online.

CAFA ART INFO: In addition to the impact on tutors’ teaching modes, how about the influences brought up by the pandemic to students’ work content?

Zhou Jirong: I have a postgraduate student who will graduate this year. His original plan was to create using a copperplate. However, due to the current situation, he adjusted his plan to use a computer as the primary creative method. In the online graduation exhibition, he will present his work via a digital version. Our studio includes four tutors and five graduates this year. All tutors are involved in the guidance of graduation creation. Regarding the teaching schedule, we have the weekly online teaching to supervise students’ creation through a Tencent Meeting. The students originally planned to create a variety of creative forms, including printmaking installations, video installations and copperplate creations. As I mentioned earlier, creating works through copper engravings (including wood engravings, screen engravings, and lithographs), needs to be completed in the studios. Students who created graduation pieces on the basis of the engraved creations now use painting and computer means to continue to complete the creation. Students who focus on videos and installations also use the conditions in their own homes and cooperate remotely as much as possible. They will finally display their work on the internet in the form of videos. The students’ mentality is rather complicated when faced with this change, but overall they are still more positive. Students who do installation works rent or borrow the space in their surrounding shopping malls to let their works be fully displayed.

BA and MA students’ creations are divided into the following types:

I. 2D Printmaking:

a. Postgraduate Student Liu Junwei, “Real Space Series” and Self Statement

Starting from a visual experience and memory, I deconstruct and re-organise the physical space and psychological space. In the interlacing, superposition, fusion and confrontation of memory and reality, space creates a visual illusion and the objects in space are related to the activity of unconscious psychology. The composition of modern space is inseparable from the existence of human beings, and there will be traces of where people are. Discovering and being discovered, highlighting and hiding, these seem to be the living conditions of modern people. This state is undoubtedly revealed here. Structure divides space and time. The other end of space will lead to nowhere, but it is worth noting that it provides a free place for conscious activities. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, from the lockdown of Wuhan on January 23 to the lifting of the lockdown on April 8, my creation was basically completed during this period. The space extends from prohibition to lifting, and begins to expand outwards. On the one hand, it corresponds to the current social environment; on the other hand, it is also a hint and guide to human subconscious activities. The space I constructed is intended to convey these layers of meaning.

Liu Junwei, “Real Space Series”, Digital Prints, 56x75cm,2020

b. Undergraduate Student Ge Yuchen, “The Story of Tonight” and Self Statement

The story is difficult to repeat, just like a dream, revealing the secret roots behind many complex fears, doubts and expectations, and then going back to itself to continue to affect understanding and judgment.

From dusk to night, the wild cat turned into a lion, but in the real darkness, what is a lion?

My story is finished, a lion appeared and the one who caught it first did not forget to open its belly.

My graduation work “The Story of Tonight” series has a total of 8: “The Story of Tonight,” “The Night Is Coming,” “Rose,” “Sweet,” “Daughter,” “Milk Orange Sunset Glow,” “Light,” “It Is Nice to Have Water.”

Ge Yuchen,“The Story of Tonight,” “The Night Is Coming,” "Sweet,"“Milk Orange Sunset Glow” 2020

II. Video-related Media

a. Undergraduate Student Wang Debin “Explosion—Circulation” and Self Statement

In the “Chernobyl Disaster” in 1986, an explosion caused the city of Pripyat to lose all signs of life, and now the city looks alive. In 2019, Australia can be seen almost in flames from space and 500 million lives were buried in the sea of fire and now there is a little green on the scorched earth. Everything is coming from nothingness and going to nothingness. The whole process from nothing to existence and to nothing will definitely rise from nihility to a climax point in a sense, and after this climax point it will definitely fall back to nothingness. The state of the world is originally a cycle, and the end not only means the finish, but also the beginning. There is no beginning and no end.

For my understanding of life, I created an animation piece and projected this animation onto water (representing time), flowers and bamboo forest (representing life), and a cube (representing space), to form this video work. I try to reach a dialogue between concept (2D animation content) and natural life.

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Wang Debin “Explosion—Circulation”, Video, 174x600cm,2020

III. Paintings and Video-related Media:

a. Undergraduate Student Li Chengshuo “Family” and Self Statement

This is a kind of self-control that gives birth to freedom. Such freedom restricts oneself and changes oneself. It is born from one’s ego and the experiment of oneself. It is like a portrait of oneself. There is no difference between humans and plants. The environment determines the appearance of life, resistance determines the state of life and the encounter determines the length of life. Everything in life has nothing to do with life itself. Only some emotions generated in the restricted environment are similar. It is the upward climbing of plants and people’s yearning for freedom.

Inspired by family relations and family chores, I created this video work that records the free growth of plants, and named it “Family”, which means the individual’s reaction and flexibility in the general environment. However, I am not satisfied with this. Thus, in addition to the video, a group of abstract works on plant themes were drawn with oil pastels to enrich and support the video installation at the sensory level.

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Li Chengshuo “Family”, Oil Pastels, 2020

IV. Mechanical Devices and Multimedia

a. Undergraduate Student Si Peilin “Growth” and Self Statement

The inspiration for my work came from the reflected light of a metal ashtray that was accidentally found on the wall of the smoking room during a trip to Japan. This small, imperceptible fragmented detail left a deep impression on me. In the preparation and production process of graduation creation, the fragmented details of life were enlarged and the element of movement was added to make the work dynamic. The wooden square matrix inlaid with glass is undergoing undetectable fluctuating movement. With the intervention of light, the work makes the viewer enter into a “subtle”atmosphere. The hardly perceivable ups and downs of the wooden blocks are as if life is growing, and the rebirth of the ripples is like the alternation of old and new life. It is repeated. The refracted light and shadow are derived from matter in life but do not depend on the existence of matter.

Si Peilin, “Growth”

b. Undergraduate Student Liu Ze “A Person Consuming Mountains” and Self Statement

I grew up in Daqing, an oilfield city, and my feelings about resources are constantly changing at every stage of growth. These feelings stem from the seemingly rich and fulfilling living conditions, from the rapid development of this young city, from the welfare brought by natural resources. They are also from the worry about this city’s future. The natural resources are abundant, but they will eventually be exhausted. Questions on how to choose and follow the resources constitute my thinking.

Liu Ze “A Person Consuming Mountains”, Making Process

In 2018, I made an outdoor dynamic installation using solar energy and simple mechanical principles in Suzhou Lion Grove Garden. “Dynamic” is a point that I have always been interested in. I used these technologies at the early stage of my graduation pieces. It is the resources that this robot needs to control and guide its movement. The process of conceiving and producing it is more like the process of visualising and outputting the problems I think about. The original plan was to make a dynamic mechanical installation and it was adjusted to a video piece later due to the pandemic.

CAFA ART INFO: Printmaking is generally done through platemaking and printing procedures, but you mentioned that students used drawings and computers to make works during the pandemic. Will this affect the expression of the printmaking language? If there is an impact, how should creators maintain the characteristics of the printmaking language?

Zhou Jirong: In terms of the pure printmaking language and its imprint characteristics, it is difficult to achieve the unique language and beauty of printmaking through other methods. The artworks of the art masters we can see today, such as Rembrandt, Degas and Picasso, all their paintings and prints show the beauty of different textures. This is the difference between direct painting and the imprints of printmaking. Of course, the painting quality of paintings is also an important expression method in the expression of traditional printmaking language and the use of digital media is also a new method for modern printmaking creation. I require postgraduate students to fully utilise the painting quality of painting and the rich means of production that a computer can realise to complete their graduation pieces. The completed digital works must have the conditions for production. After the pandemic, they must be able to use printmaking as the media to produce and print out their works on papers.

CAFA ART INFO: The exhibition halls in the modern museum and online virtual exhibition halls have huge differences in terms of technology, target audiences, ways of seeing, among others. From your point of view, how should artists adjust their works to cope with these two various ways of presentation?

Zhou Jirong: “Online Exhibition” is a new form of exhibition method, which changes the original mode of exhibition. Compared with the offline exhibition, the audience lacks the knowledge of the original work and the experience of presence. We still need to adapt, learn and study this new form of exhibition. However, the virtual exhibition also has its characteristics and advantages, that is, it is more communicative and even exaggerates space and time. Just like singular paintings and prints with pluralities, the spread of pluralities extends the value of uniqueness more widely, giving the work a new meaning.

CAFA ART INFO: It is the first time that CAFA announces “Virtual Art Museum of CAFA.” How do you view the future of this new form of graduation show?

Zhou Jirong: Virtual art museums and online galleries are no stranger to us today. Before the pandemic, visiting virtual exhibitions and art information online has become a unique way of viewing in the information age. However, for this special graduation exhibition, this kind of virtual display has become the only form of showcasing for this special reason. It is indeed a pity for the full-scale display of students’ creation. However, through looking at this exhibition method from another aspect, we can realise that it expands the exhibition space and students’ works are appreciated by more audiences.

CAFA ART INFO: We have talked a lot of topics on students. Let’s say something about your status during this period then.

Zhou Jirong: My life is relatively normal. I am quarantined at home, just like everyone in our country, to reduce the possibility of being infected and retransmitting the virus. I also experienced the lack of attention to the virus when it just began to spread and the fear and anxiety when the pandemic was serious later. This concern is not only for personal life and health, but also for society and the country. In terms of work and personal creation, I try to complete online courses as best as I can and make full use of the current network conditions to allow students to master the course knowledge more solidly. Since the studio at school cannot be used, I mainly rely on the computer to collect some creative materials and make the early production of printmaking to prepare for the further creation after the lifting of the quarantine.

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During the pandemic, Prof. Zhou Jirong was using labtop at home to make preparations for further creation.

CAFA ART INFO: Do you remember your graduation exhibition? From then to now, can you talk something about your feelings.

Zhou Jirong: My graduation exhibition was a relatively normal exhibition and it can be said to be lucky compared to the current situation. Every graduating student is full of anticipation for the graduation exhibition and hopes to have a good display of his or her academic achievements in the school for several years. I have been teaching and working in CAFA for more than 30 years, and experienced several situations where the graduation exhibition could not be held as normal. For example, the SARS in 2008 meant the graduation exhibition could not be held. At that time, the internet technology was just about to develop and the concept of the so-called “online exhibition”  was not available. Facing a similar passive situation, today there is another choice compared to the SARS period. Although it is not satisfactory, it also allows our graduates’ and achievements to be displayed in another kind of “space.”

CAFA ART INFO: Finally, please send your wishes to the graduating students.

Zhou Jirong: You all have experienced a special period that was unavoidable and had no other choice during your graduation creation stage. I hope that all of you will live up to your youthful ambitions and complete your satisfactory graduation creations, so that you can have a paragraph that is worth remembering.

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Zhou Jirong, "No.1", Mixed Materials, 49x130cm,2011


About Artist Zhou Jirong:

Born in Guizhou Province in 1962, Zhou Jirong graduated from the Printmaking Department at CAFA in 1987. He is the Professor of the Printmaking Department at CAFA, Director of Studio Two of Printmaking Department, Doctoral Supervisor, Member of China Artists Association.

He won the Excellence Award of the Twelfth National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 2014 and the Thirteenth National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 2019, the Best Work Award of the Beijing International Printmaking Biennale in 2003, the Lu Xun Printmaking Award (1979-1999) in 1999, and Outstanding Award of Beijing-Taipei Modern Printmaking Exhibition in 1991, Excellence Award of Beijing Printmaking Biennale in 1987. He has held solo exhibitions at Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts Art Museum, Red Gate Gallery, Cambridge, London, United Kingdom, Madrid, Salamanca, Spain, and Belgrade, Serbia. He Participated in the eighth, twelfth and thirteenth National Exhibition of Fine Arts, 2002 “Modern Art Exhibition of China” in Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb in Croatia, 2003 “Beijing International Art Biennale” in National Art Museum of China, 2004 “Officina Asia International Art Biennale” in Morandi Museum, Bologna, Italy, 2016 “Chinese Civilisation History Theme Art Creation Project Exhibition” in National Museum of China, 2018 “Chinese Printmaking Elite Exhibition” in National Printmaking Center of Italy, 2018 “Post-printing—The Second CAA International Printmaking Triennial”, etc.

His works are collected by the National Museum of China, National Art Museum of China, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Museum Ludwig, Museum of The University of Sydney, among others.