My visit to China this time was a little different. I was invited to participate in a 3-week international teaching and artist residency collaborative project between Falmouth University and the International Art Program (AIP) at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art (GAFA), South China. (Funded by Falmouth University and GAFA)
In partnership with Fanfan Yang, a dynamic young designer, fine artist and teacher on AIP we devised a short 3-week course for 2nd year students. This involved asking students to select a group of objects that had meaning to them (no mobile phones allowed) and getting them to abstract a number of different ideas and outcomes from one starting point. We taught the students what it meant to ‘abstract’ starting points from looking at selected objects in new ways. The students participated in a number of drawing games and took their one theme through a number of outcomes in sculpture, painting and fashion design. We encouraged continual reflection and sketchbook work.
As well as teaching I focused on developing a new body of work for a solo exhibition in the schools gallery space; a vibrant and trendy contemporary art gallery in the Redtory district of Guangzhou. The ‘Redtory’ area consists of wonderful old soviet style red brick factories that have architecturally designed and converted into studio spaces, galleries and cafes.
The gallery space enabled me to develop a new body of work based on drawings and research started earlier in the year whilst in Iceland. The environment couldn’t be more different, yet within the dust and ruins similar themes emerge. For this exhibition and residency I have drawn directly onto the gallery walls, made a short animation and soundscape using sound sampled from the NASA website. And there is dust, a lot of it collected from a demolition site nearby. Piles of dust and debris are common in China making it in some ways a perfect location to show the kind of transient ephemeral work that I make. The Chinese easily relate to the themes within my work as they live amongst transitory ruins all the time. Old China is disappearing at an alarming rate. I have created an environment that reflects the feeling of a pause, and ‘interlude’. It is left open and ambiguous.
This is my 5th visit to AIP GAFA in South China. I have been working with the AIP students since 2013 running portfolio workshops and interviewing for a range of courses at Falmouth University. The students spend 3 years learning English intensively alongside an art foundation program. It is a progressive and experimental course enabling the students to study creative subjects at university in the UK. It is a relaxed and messy environment; unlike the traditional Chinese art education they would otherwise receive. The students are a delight. They are eager to take on new ideas and concepts, which must be challenging given the fact that their education prior to this has been entirely traditional. I am surprised and enjoy the pace in which they have embraced it.
I have particularly enjoyed conversations with the artists and teachers here. Positive working relationships have been formed paving way for future international collaborative projects to take place between staff at Falmouth University and AIP GAFA. Despite the huge cultural differences it is interesting to explore common ground. The academics were particularly interested in how Chinese fine art influences could be interpreted from a contemporary Western perspective.
Whilst there I immersed myself fully in the cultural experience. I was lucky enough to be invited by Fanfan’s family ‘tomb sweeping’ a public holiday for remembering one’s ancestors. This consisted of thousands of families attending the cemetery at the same time, lighting firecrackers to scare away any unwanted ghosts and burning a lot of paper money and gold for the dead relative. It was a fascinating yet rather smoky and noisy affair! I was also taken to a Cantonese opera by one of the student’s families- another unforgettable experience. I find the Chinese people kind and gracious. They are willing to go out of their way to make sure you experience the best of their culture- which I most definitely have.