Since its official opening to the public on May 1, the Graduation Season 2023 of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) has successively gone through three stages: Graduation Exhibition for Postgraduate Students, Graduation Exhibition for Undergraduate Students (Part I), and Graduation Exhibition for Undergraduate Students (Part II). Continuing with the intensive use of the specialized professional indoor exhibition spaces of the Art Museum, Plaster Museum, Building No.7, and West Hall of CAFA History Museum as seen in the past two years, the graduation exhibitions this year featured compact schedules for different exhibition stages and periods to ensure that all the works and research results of CAFA’s 1,300+ bachelor, master and doctoral graduates were fully presented. Apart from the unprecedented enthusiasm of the audience to visit the exhibitions offline, this year's graduation season themed "Fresh Power" remained hot on Internet platforms, which formed a stark contrast with the online exhibitions of the previous two years.
After going through the unique teaching and work creation modes in the pandemic period, graduates of the Class of 2023 returned to a collective life. In their graduation works, they directly or indirectly responded to an era, social groups and individuals, all of which underwent recovery and resurrection. On the other hand, they have also reflected on and resonated with the international vision, technological revolution and widespread social anxiety. Besides, bearing the imprints of rapidly developing online practices, the graduates are also active on short video platforms, enthusiastically communicating, showcasing and exchanging their ideas on various social media. Moreover, they have been able to more freely state their ideas and works to the offline audience.
While paying attention to the outlook, psychological and creative characteristic of the graduates as a group, CAFA has also made multiple note-worthy attempts to showcase the images of the graduates as a “reborn” group. These attempts represent the expectations from CAFA, society and the era alike: what dimensions of vision should these contemporary young artists and researchers possess? what issues should they care about and reflect on? and, what attitude should they take towards art, work and life? As the 2023 Graduation Season at CAFA was approaching its end, this article looks back at the special “cross sections” of the three graduation exhibitions through five keyword phrases.
Boundary and Inclusiveness
Withstanding the limited exhibition spaces at CAFAM or the overall increase in the number and size of the graduation works, there has been more overlaps and mutual “intrusion” in the display spaces of different schools and departments in the graduation exhibitions this year. During the Graduation Exhibition for Postgraduate Students from May 1 to 15, the 4-storied space of CAFAM showcased more than 3,000 graduation works from various schools and departments, with quite number of them being voluminous works in various media. Under the dual pressure of unprecedented work number and volume, clearly dividing exhibition areas and exhibition lines by school, department and specialty no doubt posed a huge challenge.
The exhibition area on the second floor of the Graduation Exhibition for Postgraduate Students of CAFA in 2023
From these forcibly overlapped exhibition areas, we saw some general thoughts and experiments that attempted to turn the well-defined “heterogenous intruders” into inclusiveness and opening up. In the oil painting section of the Graduation Exhibition for Postgraduate Students, there was an “exhibition-in-graduation-exhibition” called “From Threshold to Threshold”. Jointly masterminded by Heinz-Norbert Jocks, a German curator, and Professor Liu Shangying, Deputy Director of the Department of Oil Painting at CAFA, this exhibition derived its theme from a poem by German poet Paul Celan. Comparing the numerous hurdles that one has to overcome in his or her lifetime to “thresholds”, the exhibition intended to send best wishes to the graduates in taking a crucial step from “academy” to “society”.
Exhibition View of “From Threshold to Threshold” in 2023
In this story about “coming” and “going”, the planning team holistically accepted the works by the graduates from other schools and departments which “accidentally” entered this exhibition area and granted them the crucial connotations aligned with the theme and broad narrative of the exhibition. Furthermore, the theme “From Threshold to Threshold” also represented new thoughts deeply rooted in CAFA’s traditional studio-based teaching system, in an attempt to “break down the boundaries between studios in the postgraduate-level graduation exhibition and showcase the creative works of 33 graduates in their overall outlook, which will help to connect and interweave the teaching and styles of various studios.” 
Technology and “Techniques”
For those who are eager to get a quick understanding of what changes and developments are unfolding in the contemporary era, they can visit the annual graduation season at CAFA and acquire an ocean of information and rich facets. As early as several years ago, digital screens, multi-media and interaction and dynamic devices were already a prominent part of graduation exhibitions, fast spreading into the vernacular of work creation of pure art specialties in the traditional domain. Judging from the increasingly diversified topics and designs of the graduation works, it can be seen that the graduates majoring in various specialties, while earnestly mastering the language of classical modeling skills in painting, sculpture and prints, are endowed with considerably broad and free space for exploring the technical language beyond “pure art”, as well as the issues about cultural forms behind media iterations.
The exhibition scene and production of Sculpture Based on the Behavior Related to Genes by Ran Xiu from the Graduate School;
The exhibition scene of On Desire: An Account of the Series of Books ‘Naïve and Sentimental Shadow Thief’ from the Travel Notes in the Far East, Imported Goods, Souvenirs and Collection by Hu Haocong from the Printmaking Department
The screenshot of F2-310, a VR creation by Yu Fei from the Printmaking Department
The exhibition scene of Crows in the Innermost Mind (195×155×270cm, bags for express deliveries, metal cages, mechanical programming) by Zhang Haodi from the Sculpture Department, 2023
In the exhibition area of the Sculpture Department, dynamic mechanical installations and programming designs begin to gain an equal footing with traditional woodcarving, clay sculpture and stone carving. Stressing the cultivation of “the thinking of prints”, the exhibition area of the Printmaking Department embraces more conceptual works, screen images, game designs and even VR interactive works, in addition to works generated from solid and elaborate etching and process plate. Similarly, when staring between traditional grotto frescoes and digital media, the Department of Mural Painting, which is characterized by media experiments, infinitely expands the techniques employed behind the “mural painting” concept, the themes and the domains that are likely to emerge.
The exhibition scene of Biographic Sketches of Journey to the West by Shen Jie from the Department of Mural Painting
The exhibition scene of Gazing at Ruins (Composite material including cement +Virtual AR technology, 390×350cm) by Tian Fangfang from the Department of Mural Painting, 2023
The Exhibition View of La Vita è Bella (copper etching, 55×55cm×3) by Zhang Yueda from the Printmaking Department, 2023
The exhibition scene of the excerpt from Perfect Combination of Wood-carvings (woodblock printing, 26.5cm×21cm×12) by Wang Yining from the Printmaking Department, 2023
Since ChatGPT developed by OpenAI emerged, this continuously iterating chatbot program, has rapidly swept the world by virtue of its powerful and diversified functions. With AIGC becoming a catch phrase, the “AI anxiety” has taken grips on all walks of life worldwide, with unprecedented amplifications. In the spring of 2023, CAFA successively held the exhibition entitled “Crypto Art: A New Possibility”, relevant lectures, as well as the academic forum “AIGC: The Future of Digital World” and other events. All these show that the thinking and practice of AI, digitalization and technological revolution have been integrated into the research, teaching and creative vision of CAFA.
As the central show piece of the teaching achievements and students’ research and creative practices at CAFA, the 2023 graduation exhibitions of CAFA featured the technical application and ethical reflections of currently used buzz words such as “generative AI” . Its interdisciplinary features are present in the expressions of different media and concepts. While these works and designs are still exploratory, they undoubtedly reveal the advent of an all-new era.
The exhibition scene of AI·I: The Second Brain of Designers by Li Chaoqun from the School of Design
The exhibition scene of Prompt Shop (website, book, 2-3m) by Liu Jinbao from the School of Design, 2023
The exhibition scene of Oranges in the South and Their Acidy and Puckered Counterparts in the North (mixed media, dimension variable) by Wang Yuejia from the Department of Design, 2023
As Paul Buchhei, Founder of Gmail, once predicted, “Technological advances will surely completely change people’s way of obtaining information” . Today, the technological changes facing artists as producers of images and thoughts are embodied not only in the iteration of presentation media, but also in the drastic changes in the source of creation, namely, the method of contact with this world. Therefore, whether continuing the study of traditional skills of classical paintings and sculpture or adopting the most advanced media and technology for work creation, the younger generation is imperceptibly influenced and shaped by technological changes.
Ecology and Plants
As climate and ecological issues attract growing attention worldwide, humans are profoundly rethinking their dominant position in nature. As far as artistic creation is concerned, some “non-human” perspectives in combination with technological iteration and disciplinary hybridization have begun to enter the creative thinking of artists. At present, it seems that art, technology and ecology have formed a stable triangular structure. The interplay of aesthetic, technological and realistic issues stand as a warning that mankind is about to reach a “critical tipping point” of nature and ecology.
Chaotic Wisdom (Oil on wood) by Liu Fangxiang from the Department of Mural Painting, 200×240cm, 2023
The exhibition scene of On This Bulging Land (mixed media) by Fan Jiacheng from the Department of Mural Painting, 200×120cm, 2023
The exhibition scene of Deserted Blood by Guo Yunfei from the School of Urban Design
The model of Data and Garden by Li Jiayue from the School of Architecture
The issue of ecology and environment and the creative perspective transcending anthropocentrism are equally the hot spots in this year’s graduation exhibitions. In this context, “eschatology”, “wasteland”, “human desire”, and “evolution” become the key words of the works. This tendency is also closely related to the assimilation and application of other cutting-edge disciplines including material engineering, information technology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence, as emphasized by some schools and departments in artistic creations in recent years. In fact, in the theme and primary vision of the graduation season this year, the verdant vines growing in an unbridled manner in “Fresh Power” and the dynamic posters reveal a rosy vision of “renascence”. On the other hand, they also consciously or unconsciously happen to coincide with the issues “ecology” and “sustainability” in the current era.
The primary vision of “Fresh Power” of the 2023 Graduation Season of CAFA
Taking “Learning from Plants” as the theme, the Graduation Exhibition for Undergraduate Students of the School of Design this year has directly responded to the relevant issue. A visual system largely invaded by all kinds of plants is the initial impression which the exhibition area gives to visitors. Some of these plants are “cultivated” in the exhibition hall, while others “grow” on the digital screen. The graduates have carefully studied, disassembled, alienated and recombined the plant organisms in different ways. With reference to the anxiety and predicament in today’s society, they have attempted to reverse, hang, exchange and equal the power relations between humans and other beings in their conceived wasteland and exceptional space-time beyond the Anthropocene.
Digital Herbals by Li Dong from the School of Design
The Habitat of Beings by Dang Han from the School of Design
The Burning Forest by He Jing from the School of Design
Like grass—Design of a Meditative Space by Chen Zheng from the School of Design
Looking for Arabidopsis by Ding Aiwen from the School of Design
Identity and Anxiety
Returning to a collective life after 3 years of online learning and home study, the Class of 2023 have faced great uncertainties. The graduation works of the previous years already featured the responses and rethinking of the graduates on queer social phenomena in the post-pandemic era. As far as this year’s graduation exhibitions are concerned, we can more obviously feel that work creation itself has become a way of “therapeutic healing” and a vent for emotions and anxiety. In their works and thoughts, the younger generation endeavors to reconcile with a fast-changing era.
The World in the Bookcase, Oil on canvas, 125×165.5cm, by Yue Wei from the Department of Oil Painting
The Theme and Its Variations, Oil on canvas, dimension variable, by Liu Yuning from the Department of Oil Painting
Plateau, Glass fiber reinforced plastics, oil on canvas, tempera, 187×50×50cm, by Liu Zifeng from the Department of Oil Painting
The topics of this year’s graduation exhibitions are diverse, including reflections on the disputes and crises in the world today, in-depth studies of the imprints of the times on home land through the lens of personal growth, concerns about the subsistence and status quo of different social groups, as well as sentimental resolutions returning to inner selves. The fact that the infinite expansion of information on the Internet has broader and deeper corners which means that college graduates who were once labeled as the “aborigines of the Internet” are no longer the generation growing up in the “ivory tower”. They have touched society and the world from another dimension ahead of time and squarely face the more complicated predicament of identity and social anxiety.
As a classical topic that has not been absent from the graduation seasons in recent years, the feminism-themed graduation works have taken on more realistic and specific social plights. Faced with higher expectations from their families, systematic discipline and accelerating social tempo, their anxieties about early marriage, child bearing, workplace, survival and contemplation all constitute a typical facet of their graduation works.
Giving Birth to Babies (of varying sizes and oil on wood) by Peng Shiyun from the Department of Oil Painting, 2023
The exhibition scene of Xing Yilin, a Young Person Eligible for Marriage by Xing Yilin from the School of Design
The exhibition scene of Beginning with a Cucumber (performance art) by Zhang Jisu from the School of Experimental Art and Science & Technology Art
In addition, art creators with strong individual consciousness have also expressed in their graduation works this year a strong desire to return to their hometown, historical and collective reminiscence: some are inspired by the new look and new attributes brought to their hometown by urban renewal; some are perplexed by different intergenerational thinking; some revisit the episode of history which is mentioned and rehearsed again, and some ponder over the epochal renewal of traditional intangible cultural heritage.
Some inside pages of Red Flag Iron-making Plant with the size of 18.6×41.6cm by Wang Zijia from the School of Urban Design in 2023
The exhibition scene of The Boat of Theseus by Guo Yuqi from the School of Design
Non-finite Flight (composed of reed, silk, bamboo and timber, size: 2×2×2.3m) by Wang Xiaotong from the School of Design in 2023
“Self-Recommendation” and “Face-to-Face Appraisal”
Thanks to the lingering influence of “online exhibitions” and relevant publicity strategies, this year’s graduation season, though returning to offline, has remained hot. Unlike the graduation work presentations of the previous years which were held with CAFA, and led by institutions and social media platforms, most of graduates this year have proactively run their own accounts on various media platforms, thus constantly “updating” their work creation processes, exhibition scenes and work interpretation.
A close look at the contact information left by CAFA graduates of this year at the graduation exhibition venues will reveal that bedsides WeChat, e-mail addresses and other traditional private domain platforms, more graduates have left their personal accounts on Xiaohngshu, bilibili and TikTok platforms. Moreover, invitations have been issued to viewers to scan QR codes to watch some non-exhibited graduation works. What’s more, derivatives from graduation works are no longer confined to picture books or other specialized items. Postcards, bookmarks and miniature blocks have become the choices for most graduates of this year. In a sense, the on-paper space for derivatives has extended to become an “exhibition line” for every graduate. Many series of works other than graduation works can also be presented in the bookmarks and postcards.
Perhaps it is because of the foreground, repeated and continuous display paths on social media platforms that this year’s graduates have been able to more confidently articulate their views and thoughts before the camera and the audience. However, at the same time, they have to face the challenge of the swift transition of the communication context from the closed and private domain of the “Wechat Moments” to the open and extensive internet space. Yet the most intuitive influence lies in that young graduates will receive more resonance, praise and likes. However, it is hard for them to avoid more vicious remarks, sarcasm and peek. How to face the mixed evaluations and accommodate different views is perhaps the direct challenge that they need to face.
The era of internet traffic today provides young artists with good opportunities, but, it also brings the evaluation by society and the scrutiny of diversified audiences. In CAFA’s graduation exhibitions this year, the graduates no longer simply discuss the pressure of getting “employment” and the perplexity of making their first entry into society. What they are faced with is a world that is faster, more folded and more polarized.
It is delightful to observe that the CAFA graduates are still able to focus on refining their techniques and skills in the face of the widespread anxiety caused by the iteration of technology and media. Carrying forward the fine traditions of CAFA, they continue to care about the fate of society and the times. In the face of perplexity, unfairness and harm, the young generation still keeps a high morale and dialectic spirit and boldly and clearly express their views. In a fast-changing age and environment, they are constantly having to adapt and grow. In 2023, CAFA’s “Fresh Power” Graduation Season has laid out the expectation of re-birth, while implying that a generation of resilient and aspirant young artists has come onto the stage and is ready to take on new challenges ahead.
Text by Emily Weimengzhou, edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
Images Courtesy of all the Schools and Departments of CAFA, as well as 2023 graduates.
 Excerpted from An Interview with Professor Liu Shangying, Deputy Director of the Department of Oil Painting conducted by CAFA ART INFO.
 Father of Gmail: With ChatGPT, search engines can hardly last two more years! Google urgently rolls out a counter product, Wechat Content published by China Social Sciences Press: