2009 Student-Faculty Fellows: Macalester College
Independent Student Research on Visual Art in China
Mentor: Gary Erickson
Students: Eartha Bell, Myoungah Park, Pei-hsuan Wang
The faculty mentor and three students traveled together in China from June 15th to July 9th to facilitate independent research on visual art in China. Our travel took us to Jingdezhen (the porcelain city of China), Beijing, Shanghai and Guizhou province. Looking at historical, traditional and contemporary art we explored museums, galleries, and studio workshops. The group members interviewed university professors of art history and visual arts to gain their perspectives on current trends in art and also met with art and art history students. We learned a great deal from interviews with contemporary artists working in different medium such as ceramics, photography and installation art. A unique perspective on Chinese art was gained through exploring art districts such as 798 Art District in Beijing and 50 Morganshan Road in Shanghai. Each student worked independently looking for the connections most meaningful to his/her personal research. Our time in Guizhou province, though complicated by rain and mudslides, gave the group a perspective on the difficulties of rural life in China, along with visits to craft studios and the visual scenery that has been an influence on Chinese art for centuries. As researchers know, sometimes the most meaningful learning comes from experiences. Now that we are back in the States, students will give presentations to our Asian art history classes on their research. We will also create an evening presentation open to the campus and public. Pei-hsuan Wang will visit a neighboring Chinese emersion school to talk about China and demonstrate art techniques she has learned. Each student will also be using his/her research in their capstone paper/art exhibits in May, 2010.
For me personally, my research in China was an extension of my study and travel in Indonesia, primarily Bali. Prior to arriving in Shanghai, I had spent four and a half months studying feminist art and visual culture through the School of International Training in Bali. The Freeman Foundation provided me with a unique opportunity to see China through several different artistic communities. In particular, I was interested in womenâ€™s involvement in the arts. Through interviews with artists, hearing lectures by Chinese professors, speaking with gallery owners, and learning traditional ceramic techniques, I was able to expand my knowledge of where art comes from in China, what its function is, and conjecture about what may be the future of art in China. In my study of women in the arts, I stumbled upon a range of different feelings Chinese have towards Western discourse and gender issues, and was forced out of my comfort zone. Being able to communicate cross-culturally and learn how to ask the right questions and make oneself accessible to artists, students and professors is a valuable skill I developed through this experience.
Before heading to China, I was immensely excited about the opportunity this research experience allowed me to immerse myself in the realm of art, a field that I had studied only in a textbook setting. My research focused upon gathering information about the development of modern photography in China after the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedongâ€™s rule. My primary means of discovery centered upon collecting data through qualitative interviews with various college-level professors, art curators, and artists. As a result of these endeavors, I plan to write an econometric based paper assessing the growth of the photographic industry in China as it has been impacted recently by the accessibility of improved camera technology. In hindsight, as I recall my experience in China, this academic aspect of the trip is only a small component of an unexpected and incredibly rich cultural experience.
The focus of my research in on “Patterns on Forms and Forms on Patterns: A Look at Art Surfaces in China.” Throughout my time in China, I visited art museums and galleries, small towns and villages, and met people from all over the world. I set out looking for patterns on art surfaces and ended up learning about more than simply two-dimensional decoration techniques on three-dimensional forms, but also different ways to create such forms themselves, particularly with ceramics. My travel throughout China allowed me to see how materials, techniques, and processes differ or share common traits, and also enabled me to compare these factors in relation to the United States. While in China for a two and a half month period, first participating in a ceramics residency program at Jingdezhen then in this research project, I was surprised by the varying levels of intensity of my experience. The places in which I found most direct relevance to my research interests were Jingdezhen and Yaoli in Jiangxi Province and Yixing in Jiangsu Province. Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces, however, also provided me with lots of visual and mental stimuli that will help my work in the future.