Whether it is the traditional mentoring system or the studio education in art schools, it can be said that art education can always emphasize the demonstration and direct guidance of teachers in person. Due to the sudden COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 the situation has changed. As the reopening of school in the spring became impossible, tutors and students were forced to start an online course schema. Within the new trend, art education has been focused by social attention due to its particular nature. In order to cope with the impact of the pandemic, as well as online courses, the Central Academy of Fine Arts has launched the "Online CAFA" virtual exhibition hall for the first time for the graduating students. It intends to build an online platform to display students' academic achievements, which will attract more social participation and interest to a greater extent. The graduation exhibition is the first step for graduates to enter society. Whether it is from the graduation exhibition itself—a performance that reflects the hard work of the graduates over several years, or the new situation, new look, and new form of the show this year, CAFA Online Graduation Season 2020 is bound to attract the public's attention.
While the physical exhibition can get audiences’ feedback immediately, receive the information of the art market accurately and provide a platform for students to communicate with each other, an online degree show has rarely been attempted. Hence, it is hard to imagine its real effect and response. In this case, how do students view the online exhibition? Do they have any experiences to learn from? How do they transform their thoughts to prepare for graduation work? How is their mental situation in terms of creating work from home? CAFA ART INFO has conducted an online interview to invite students from 12 departments at CAFA to discuss their creative state and psychology. In this session, we introduce six students from the School of Chinese Painting, Oil Painting Department, Sculpture Department, Printmaking Department, Mural Painting Department, Foundation Department from the School of Fine Arts.
Interviewees丨Students from CAFA
Interviewer丨Yang Zhonghui/CAFA ART INFO
CAFA ART INFO: Hello everyone, can you introduce your majors and departments?
Dai Qin’an: I am Dai Qin’an from the School of Chinese Painting. My School is divided into the Chinese Painting Department and Calligraphy Department. I am majoring in Figure Painting. My BA focused on Chinese Realistic Painting Personages and my MA is focusing on the Freehand Figure Painting.
Lian Wuchu: I am Lian Wuchu from the Sculpture Department of the School of Fine Arts. I am now in the third year of my MA programme. The Fine Arts School was founded in 2003. It is one of the eight schools under the Central Academy of Fine Arts, including the four majors of oil painting, sculpture, printmaking, and mural painting, as well as the foundation department. As a freshman, students study basic courses in sketching and colour in the foundation department. In my second year, I chose to enter the sculpture department. There are six specialised studios in the Sculpture Department, covering the four directions of realism, materials and concepts, public art and traditional Chinese modelling. In addition, the Sculpture Department also includes the sculpture foundation department, graduate teaching and research department, and advanced student teaching and research department. When the undergraduate students first entered the Sculpture Department, they studied clay sculpture basic courses and materials basic courses together in the sculpture foundation department. After entering the specialised studio, students can begin to study the courses offered by the studio.
Yang Hang: I am Yang Hang from the Mural Painting Department of the School of Fine Arts. Our department follows the studio system with their teaching structure, with five studios and one material studio. I am in Studio Two, which is based on the design of modern large-scale public arts, learning traditional murals and sculptures from the East and the West and gaining practical ability in engineering practice. We advocate that artworks should be an art that is accepted by the general public which can fully demonstrate the creativity of the artist and promote the continuous improvement of the public's aesthetic interest.
Liu Junwei: I am in the Printmaking Department both BA and MA. I chose the Printmaking Department as early as the second year of my BA. Based on this, I gradually learned from the basic contents and moved onto printmaking thinking. In the third year of my BA, I entered Studio Two, where I was exposed to more materials. The exploration of comprehensive media and material research in printmaking is the main research direction of Studio Two. It starts with the formal materials that students are interested in. In the process of playing and practicing, I realised and perceived my inner needs. Eventually, this kind of encounter and the thinking that comes from the encounter are combined and expressed in artistic language. As for the copper plate, the special properties of the material give birth to more possibilities. At the postgraduate stage, I had a deeper understanding of the media. The continuous transformation of the media became a normal state in the language of printmaking. The continuous sublimation of self-cognition also paved the way for my creation.
Ouyang Yaoming: I come from Studio Four of the Oil Painting Department from the School of Fine Arts. The direction of my studio is free painting, which means our tutors guide us to find our own ways to paint. My research direction is in painting language. During the three-year postgraduate study, we seek ways to paint through the communications with supervisors and friends, as well as our own self-practices.
Li Yifang: I am a postgraduate student from the Foundation Department of the School of Fine Arts. My research direction is in the foundation teaching. Ye Nan is my supervisor. The first stage for undergraduate students to enter the Fine Arts School is to learn the basic skills required for modeling in the Foundation Department, such as human anatomy knowledge, body-dynamic capture, perspective, etc., which is the training stage for basic skills. What I study here as a postgraduate student is more about the foundation of creation, not only the basic skills of the operation at hand, but also the creative thinking, the comprehensive use of basic skills, among others.
CAFA ART INFO: Before the outbreak of the pandemic, have you imagined your degree show? What is your perception in terms of the graduation exhibition?
Liu Junwei: I had a basic presupposition for my graduation exhibition. Every year, the graduation exhibition of CAFA attracts broad attention and friends from all walks of life will come to the exhibition. I also want to make more friends in different fields through the graduation exhibition, get some feedback on my work from different angles, and more importantly, I want to develop a summary of my three-year postgraduate life through the graduation exhibition.
Lian Wuchu: Before the pandemic occurred, I had been thinking and making pre-productions for the graduation for several months in school. At the time, I planned to use a combination of biology and sculpture to make a group of works. The final piece would be an integration of installation and video. I believe that the graduation exhibition is significant for every student. I think it carries the results of our study and research over the past three years, and it is also an opportunity for us to show our works to the public and people in the art circles.
Yang Hang: I do not have many presumptions about my degree show. What I believe in my heart is that every year's graduation exhibition is held in the CAFA art museum. So there is no difference. For me, the graduation exhibition is more a summary of my postgraduate study stage and some initial attempts for the future art path. During the exhibition, I think I can also receive feedback from everyone on my work and I can see the works of students from different majors. The graduation exhibition allows us to learn from each other. It provides a good opportunity for communication.
Dai Qin’an: Whether it is before or after the pandemic, I do not have any special ideas about the graduation exhibition. As I am always creating large-scale paintings from my first year of the postgraduate course, I do not specially prepare for the graduation piece. I used to imagine that if it is an offline exhibition, due to the close distance between works and spectators, it might require more exquisite modelling and different perspectives. When I was informed that we would have the online graduation exhibition, I was surprised about the increase in the quantity of works. Currently, every student has an eight-meter-long space to present, which means, as a student focusing on freehand figure painting, I do not only use one piece of work to fill the whole space. To cope with space, I need to create two or three large-scale paintings. I would say the online exhibition hall influences my graduation work. However, the influence is not about the content and form of my creation. The theme of my work comes from life and my feelings about life.
I think both graduation creation and exhibition are significant. They are a summary of my three-year study, which refers to the forms of painting and personal artistic language. From my perspective, I am still insufficient in many ways. I hope I can gain suggestions from different areas through the exhibition. I am expecting more breakthroughs in the future.
Li Yifang: I had a rough idea about the graduation show. Let’s say not merely the graduation exhibition. I am thinking that if I could hold a solo exhibition, what kind of work should I present? How should I show them? Can these works represent me at a certain stage?
I believe the degree show is a rather significant exhibition for me. Although I had some exhibition experience, it was as a student presenting my achievements at a certain stage. However, the degree show would allow me to present myself to the public as an emerging artist. From the academic perspective, the CAFA graduation exhibition will provide me with an opportunity to gain professional suggestions from experts in various fields, which might illuminate the direction of my further development. I can also view the role I am playing within the same emerging artist group. It is a good chance for communication. Moreover, the exhibition might provide me with a channel to step into the art market and allow me to reach various art institutions. Art is not utilitarian; however, no one can avoid the survival problem.
Ouyang Yaoming: Before the pandemic, I was thinking of combining the graduation piece with a video. I was planning to gather materials in places which attract me as the first step. Then I could come back to school to concentrate on my creation. The graduation exhibition for me is a summary imprint that presents my three-year postgraduate study and a chance to communicate with others. I am interested in making contact with people from various fields as I can gain feedback from the communication. Besides, I can then clearly realise the position of my work in various artworks, so that I can make a decision for my future.
CAFA ART INFO: How do you view the online exhibition? Do you have any experiences to learn from?
Yang Hang: Everything occurred in a minute. I believe all students would not expect that our graduation exhibition would be shifted to an online version. Before the winter vacation, I wondered if I should take my laptop with me. However, nobody can imagine that I would rely on this to complete my graduation work now. At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it was only a relatively severe flu, so that I spent my life as usual, visiting exhibitions, eating out with friends, etc. Gradually, with the confirmed number rising day by day and various reports by the media, I realised the seriousness of the epidemic. Later, I was informed that we would have an online degree show. I can fully understand the decision as I know the graduation exhibition always attracts numerous people to visit it every year. Having the offline exhibition this year would no doubt be risky.
I think every coin has two sides. The online exhibition might be easier to disseminate and attracts more viewers, which gives us more pressure to create work. I believe the new attempt at the online exhibition is also a challenge for the Academy. From this perspective, I do not have any experiences to refer to.
Li Yifang: I think the online exhibition is a product in line with the era of the internet. There are both advantages and disadvantages to it. For the public, they can visit an entire exhibition anytime at home without the restrictions of a schedule. However, the obstacles lie in the technical problems such as image distortion, the accuracy of image revivification, etc. Also, the immersive interaction between spectators and artworks that happened in physical exhibitions is lost in online exhibition experience. I would say the principle of "survival of the fittest" is to be believed. The elements such as art and era, work and market, form and content, among others, are the result of mutual adaption and selection.
This phenomenon has happened in the music field before. From the physical album to digital album, audiences have lost the pleasant sensation of collecting physical stuff but been provided with more ways to listen to music. The musical experience can be anytime and anywhere. Also, from live concerts to online concerts, the sense of gathering is lost while the influence of work is expanded. Meanwhile, with the development of digital technology and information, electronic musical instruments, sound samples and synthesis effect processors, etc. are developed. Urban, Cyber and other music types appeared to echo the times. Regarding art exhibitions, they are facing the same developing process. We cannot deny many problems arise from the change, but we expect that the new artworks and technologies that are appearing to adopt the trend, such as new media art, video art, and VR-based exhibition, etc. When it comes to art forms such as paintings and sculptures, which largely feature the physical materials, there must be some difficulties. But they are solvable. I have participated in some online exhibitions based on WeChat and websites, which could be my experience to cope with the online degree show at this time. However, it is my first time to contact the virtual art museum in person.
Lian Wuchu: It was a little bit hard for me to accept the online degree show at the very beginning because I need to make a significant change to my plan to adapt to the new form of graduation show. Also, I think an online exhibition can be very restricted in some way. However, after rethinking and reorganising my creation, I gradually realised the potential of the online show. It breaks the previous method of creating art. Though it is a new challenge for us, it provides us with an opportunity to present our creative talent. It is my first time to engage in an online exhibition, but the experience of making video art helps me a lot. Video art is an intermedia that can transfer physical stuff to virtual work, which is quite suitable for an online show.
Lian Wuchu, Recent Meeting of Graduation WorK
Ouyang Yaoming: I was not very pleasant, even passive, when I was just informed about having an online show. However with the pandemic, we all need to compromise, and I understand it is a good platform that the Academy endeavours to provide to graduates. I heard that many overseas students are going to graduate online. I used to introduce my work through WeChat, so I may have some experience in colour and definition of images.
Dai Qin’an: I can fully accept the online show. The Academy made great efforts to build the platform to present our achievements due to the pandemic. Personally, I have some experience to refer to as I am always paying attention to the “online art museum” series provided by CAFAM. I think the 3D simulation effect this time is amazing, which cannot only be presented on our phones but also restores the physical exhibition hall. Based on my understanding of the “online art museum series,” I have some anticipation for my graduation pieces and final effects.
Liu Junwei: I believe nobody has ever thought of having a graduation exhibition online. I did not take the pandemic very seriously at the very beginning. However, as the situation becomes more severe, we began to worry about our graduation show. Many students recalled the experience in 2003. After the end of the epidemic in 2003, CAFA had organised an offline degree show for part of the graduate students. Most of us expected to have a physical exhibition this year. However, the epidemic gradually developed to a pandemic that spreading around the world. We realised the physical exhibition is impossible under the circumstance. The online degree show is an alternative solution, which provides both tutors and students with new possibilities and challenges. It helps a lot with the dissemination and promotion of our graduation work. The new form also requires many students to learn computer software. In this case, we bond more closely with the internet. I think it is the trend of the era, thinking that online exhibitions could not replace physical displays. There is no doubt that the new exhibition form enables more reasonable resource allocation. The dissemination of art can be more immediate and allow more people to access it.
It is the first time for me to participate in such a panoramic online exhibition. Compared to the physical exhibition, the virtual exhibition space can avoid many problems and expand the information capacity, including self-introduction, videos, context of work, etc. The previous offline exhibitions can be our great examples.
CAFA ART INFO: When did you start to prepare your graduation work? To what extent does the pandemic and online show influence your graduation creation?
Lian Wuchu: I started the pre-preparation stage in the second half of 2019. The pandemic and online show have significantly influenced my creation. Due to the limitation of conditions and the transformation of display, I have to stop what I have done and attempt to utilise the resources in my hometown. Through inspecting the surrounding environment and problems, I restarted a piece of work. I am now creating artworks in a rural mountain several kilometres from my home. I used the rotten wood in the forest as material. I poured plaster inside the wood to visualise its invisible parts, which inosculated the natural state and unnatural state of a natural object. Then I put these sculptures back to the forest. Visitors will not be only human beings but they also beings from nature, such as spiders, ants, rivers, etc. They will use their own way to perceive and interfere with my work.
Lian Wuchu was at his temporary studio at home
Lian Wuchu was with his work.
Li Yifang: I started to consider my graduation work from the beginning of my postgraduate study. With the continuous research and practice, the plan of the work has been overturned and developed. The final version was confirmed a year ago. The primary influence of the pandemic is that I cannot have face-to-face communication with my supervisor. Some problems cannot be explained very clearly over the phone. The online graduation show does not affect me very much because we will draw the work by ourselves—I have experience in painting.
I decided on the theme of traditional Beijing culture and urban environment in the new era last August and began to discuss the details with my supervisor. I did a lot of work in preparation, such as location shooting, experiencing Beijing Opera, etc., which ensured the progress to the next stage. After the outbreak of the pandemic, everyone is required to stay at home. Luckily, my work does not require a strict creative environment. As a student majoring in painting, I have sufficient painting tools at home. Although I cannot meet my supervisor Ye Nan in person, she is always following my progress and giving me suggestions.
Regarding my artwork this time, “New View of Garden Party” and “The Witness” are featured. I used figures in Beijing Opera, ancient doors in Beijing Hutongs and urban elements as the components of the picture. By using fairy tales and reality representation, I would like to elaborate on the theme “the condition of traditional culture in the contemporary.” In order to coordinate with the theme, I have also added some small-size paintings as supplementary. For example, I introduced the element of steampunk into the work “Fantastic Theatre,” which presents the attitude of both nostalgia and reformation. I also want to deliver the message about the inheritance between past and current cultures. The innovation does not mean to discard tradition, while reminiscence does not mean to keep distance with the times.
Li Yifang, “The Witness”
Li Yifang, “The Witness”
Dai Qin’an: I started my graduation creation last December. I did a lot of preparation work before, including material gathering, sketch training, among other things. I have finished around 13 pieces. The largest size of these workpieces is up to 2 meters * 2 meters. Initially, I plan to present three formal pieces. However, in order to create for the online show, I decided to select one piece of work to modify and recreate from 3 pieces as my formal graduation work. Regrading my thoughts on the graduation creation, I feel like it is only one piece in my painting career. I do not regard it as a summary to be completed as I think you are facing your life every minute. Your life and people around you are always changing, which might shift my mind and therefore influence art creation. What can only be settled is my temporary painting language, as well as form and structure. In a word, I feel pleased about my graduation creation and I made it positive.
Liu Junwei: I started my graduation creation during this winter holiday. As I am majoring in printmaking, I initially planned to make a copperplate photoengraving. I thought of completing the draft during the winter holiday and make the copperplate when I go back to school. However, with the pandemic, it is impossible to make a copperplate as I cannot return to school. After a discussion with my supervisor, I decided to use the computer to present my ideas. I can name it digital-plate now. I think when you are doing work, you actually need to be prepared for everything to change. Any sudden situation will affect your work. It reminds me of Professor Xu Bing’s experience. He created the work entitled “Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?” after 9/11. At that time, Professor Xu wanted to bring the dust under the Pentagon to the exhibition in Wales. However, the international regulations did not allow materials such as soil and seeds to be transported from one continent to another. In this situation, he turned the dust, water, and mud into a doll for his daughter, so it became a small sculpture and successfully passed customs. After reaching the destination, the sculpture doll was smashed and turned into dust again and then the exhibition was successfully held.
Liu Junwei was working on the labtop
I think this is a good example. For us, the current pandemic situation is the challenge we encountered when we made the work. It broke our original plan, and the materials around us are very limited. Should we stop it? Complain? Obviously, it is useless. At this time, we should make the necessary changes or more appropriately, to transform, which can be formal, material, etc. In fact, good works are shaped by continuous transformation. My graduation creation mainly explores the relationship between space, people, and unconsciousness. Because of the limited tools and materials, I chose to use a laptop to achieve it.
Ouyang Yaoming: I did not specifically paint for the concept of graduation creation. I have been painting my own work since the first year of my postgraduate study. I also plan to select some satisfactory pieces from the works I usually paint to participate in the exhibition. The occurrence of the epidemic has a relatively big impact on my life and enthusiasm for creation. Many ideas do not have enough conditions to complete. After all, the pandemic restricts our travel and freedom. My graduation creation continues my previous creative ideas, primarily to show the true feelings of some personal experiences in life.
Ouyang Yaoming's work
Yang Hang: My graduation creations were started before the winter vacation. We were unable to return to school during the pandemic. There is nothing at home for painting materials, tools, etc., so I can’t continue to do the previous creation. And because of the large size of the work, after searching on Taobao and asking the painting shop I usually go to, I discovered that I could not get the large-size frame. Thus, I had to give up the original creative plan and restart. After communicating with my tutor, my graduation creation was changed to board painting. Although I have been exposed to some board paintings before, these experiences are immature, so I tried a lot in the early stage.
Yang Hang's working desk at home during the pandemic
CAFA ART INFO: During the period of creating work at home, how is your mental state? Do you have anything to worry about? And how do you resolve the worries?
Li Yifang: My creative state is not bad. After all, after entering the atmosphere of painting, many external factors do not easily invade my mind. In life, I have encountered some things that have a great impact on me, but that comes from other aspects and has little to do with creation. There are many ways to solve this problem. Drawing is a matter that requires your concentration and dedication. At the same time, the Internet also provides us with a channel to overview the world, as well as books, music, daily TV shows and big data every day tailoring information for every individual. All of these will eventually inadvertently jump to the canvas one day to become my creative material. It will not be monotonous and boring.
This is a drawing room in my house. Although it is a little crowded, it has a different atmosphere. I have put all the paintings that are temporarily finished in a place where I can see them at any time. The works that I am still satisfied with today may not look good tomorrow, but I can take them out and change them. In this case, my paintings have not been completely finished. I am still working in progress.
Lian Wuchu: During the period of creating at home, my mental health has actually changed quite a bit. My family is located in the mountainous area of Fujian. When the pandemic started, the express delivery stopped. At home, I have no state at all. What I thought about was the creation in the school beforehand. Gradually I began to deal with the reality and had to give up the previous plan. In order to come up with a new plan, I went to climb the mountain every day. No one is in the mountain, so it was particularly safe. I could feel the fresh air without wearing a mask. I had an unprecedented sense of freedom. I remember that I might have been climbing mountains for 20 days a month. I feel that although this special graduation exhibition brings us many difficulties, challenges always come with opportunities. This pandemic caused me to create art in a completely different place than before and such a special environment stimulated me to think about more issues that are close to social reality. Online exhibitions are actually the virtual creation of art activities, which may be the way artists work in the future. The virus has informed the new trend to us in advance. In the future of virtual creation, the way sculptors should work may also be an important issue faced by us.
Yang Hang: My mental health is rather normal. As I enjoy staying at home, I rarely go out during the holidays. Therefore, the impact on my life during the pandemic was not great. In addition to creating works every day, I also read books that I usually have no time to read. Since I still have to do an online internship, I have to attend four junior high school art classes every week. I need to take notes after class and summarise the meeting every week. Life is still very fulfilling. At the same time, I also pay attention to the development of the epidemic and gain more insight into life. The pandemic also provides me with a rare opportunity to be alone. I can think better about what I can do and what I should do in the future so I have a better plan for the future.
Now the domestic epidemic situation has been well controlled. While lamenting the strength of the motherland, I also hope that the international pandemic situation can get better. I hope we can resume normal life as soon as possible.
Dai Qin’an: My family is in Changde, but now I am in Changsha because I returned to Changsha last year to start planning some future developments. The graduation creation has always been done in Changsha. There is not much influence on the mental health. I have been staying in the studio where I am working for almost a year. Due to the familiar environment and the people around me, my working process is going smoothly. I am following the time node step by step. When I am painting, my mind was very calm, without any distracting thoughts. I was painting with my whole heart. If I was tired for a while, I would go out for a while to observe new inspiration, release myself and adjust my vision.
Dai Qin'an's graduation work
Ouyang Yaoming: Being home makes me a little bit lazy. There is no concept of time. At the node of graduation, I am anxious about the direction in the future. At this time, I choose to play billiards with my friends in the village, fishing, or riding a motorcycle to relieve stress.
Liu Junwei: I am good in terms of mental health. I pay attention to the development of the epidemic when I am creating every day, and I have more awe of life. I hope everyone can be safe and well and patients can recover soon. In addition to this, what I am doing is to take care of myself and my family. I am reading and exercising and I also want to reflect and plan for the future during this time.
Liu Junwei was growing flowers at home
CAFA ART INFO: Thanks for all your time. We hope you have a bright future!
Translated by Emily Weimeng Zhou
Edited by Sue