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Art or No Art? That is the Question…

November, 2010
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Teaching by day and creating by night, seven artists who teach in Beijing’s international schools teamed up for an art exhibition of their own artworks in mid-October, showcasing their talents beyond the classroom.

Titled “It’s All Art or No Art”, the exhibition at Cao Chang Di Gallery includes photography, sculpture, painting, mixed media and installations that deal with a variety of concepts and cover a range of artistic mediums. 

art-3sExhibiting artists include: Devin Allen and Richard Todd from the Beijing City International School (BCIS); Martin Derbyshire and KC Vienna Connolly from Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA); Jean Klimack and Douglas Lewis from the Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB); Tamara Palmer from The Western Academy of Beijing (WAB); and Wang Xinggang from Renmin University.

Curated by CISB art teacher Douglas Lewis, the exhibition was conceptualized to give art teachers a platform to exhibit their skills outside of educational routines.

"This is a great opportunity to give some credit to the art teachers,” said Lewis. “Many artists have to take a full-time job - teaching artists, so I hope this provides them with an opportunity to stop teaching for a while and make art, which is after all everybody’s first interest." Lewis has a background as a curator back in Canada and he has also set up shows in London. Nowadays, he is teaching art courses to Grades 7 and 8, and also IB art to Grade 11 students at CISB.

BWYA art teacher KC Vienna Connolly has often taken her students to the galleries before, but this is the very first time for her students to see her own creations. KC exhibited her photography works including an interesting series of visitors to IKEA taking a nap on the beds on sale - called “Beijing, Make Yourself at Home”, which is an ongoing project that began in 2007 when KC first visited IKEA in Beijing.

“I was inspired by China’s new-found materialism and this new interest in lifestyle trends. I began documenting visitors interacting with different show rooms and I spent many days inside the world’s 2nd largest IKEA here in Beijing. I decide to frame some of the images from this series and will place them in IKEA after the show for the public to consume,” she writes under her photos.

“I am not sure how they feel about it. I want them to find their own voice in art through this exhibition,” said KC. She likes the title – It’s Art or No Art, which leaves the unanswered question: What is art? “What is art? I don’t know. And I never tell my students my own definition for it in case I might influence what they create.”

In the classroom, KC said she teaches the students how to think like an artist and to research what has been done so as to create something new and inspiring. She believes it is also important to let the students see contemporary art in galleries and work alongside some influential artists, from which they can find their own ideas.

art-2sAn important attachment to the exhibition is a student workshop coordinated by WAB art teacher Tamara Palmer and BCIS art teacher Richard Todd on October 17. The workshop consists of several hands-on activities running from noon until 4 pm. Workshop activities include: guided tours of It’s All Art or No Art; a Q&A with participating artists; and an art making workshop.

Todd said the exhibition and workshop is a great idea to get the students together and talking to artists, not just listening to them. This is the first time for him to participate and get his work in front of other people.  Altogether, he is displaying 41 shopping bags with his drawings, texts, and images on them.

“The bags are very sculptural with interesting forms. I started drawing on shopping bags about a year ago, but the collection of small pieces of art on them is from the last 6 or 7 years,” said Todd. “For the exhibition, it occurred to me that I can unite all these different small pieces of work, and use it as an explaining surface because shopping bags are one of those things we all have a relation with; they mean different things to different people.”

11th Grader Aino from WAB attended the workshop with her friends and she really liked it. Her mom is a graphic designer and she used to go to galleries a lot with her.art-1s1

“When I first arrived at the exhibition, no one told me about the artworks, I thought they are so random. When they started talking about their art, I got to link it to what they have made,” said Aino. Her favorite are the series of shopping bags. “If you don’t go to the galleries, then you cannot really improve your own art. If you just do art in the classroom, it is kind of restricted.”

Melina, a 12th grader at WAB, also loved the event. She met her art teacher Tamara Palmer when she was in the 4th Grade, but this is her first time to see her teacher’s artwork. “Her creation is very nice and unique and I love it. I’ve loved art ever since I can remember,” she said. “In the art lessons, we went through one subject to another like actual painting, but here at the exhibition you just pick an idea and pull in different materials to create what you want … this is like a never-ending process, which I think is the best way.”

The workshop ends with comments on the pieces of work created by students on site by Lewis. Instead of looking at the artworks from a teacher’s perspective, Lewis commented as a practicing artist and curator. “I tried to telling them that I look at their artworks in different ways, and I talked to them like young artists, being more critical on them. I think that surprised a few of the kids because I wasn’t too soft,” said Lewis. “Anyway, I think the kids will walk away with something.”

Lewis hopes to do the show again next year. And one new idea he has is to issue a publication for the show annually.

“Teaching artists like us are moving in and out of China frequently, but with this publication we hope to keep the idea going for the teaching artists. If the publication can go into the libraries, it will become a great resource for people at school.”


By Xing Yangjian


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