THE CULTURE & ARTS FESTIVAL OF CUHK-SHENZHEN:
AN EXPLORATION OF PUBLIC ART ON CAMPUS
Text/ Effie, Cici
Public art, as a symbol of mature urban development, crystallizes the feelings and character of a city, expresses the local cultural attitudes, and indicates residents’ sense of identity with the city. In this sense, it becomes an indispensable link in art and cultural education. University campus is a ‘fine land’ for creative thinking to emerge and thrive, and it also sets the stage for school culture to take root and flourish. The existence of various spatial forms on campus offers various possibilities for creating and presenting artistic works, thus sowing the seeds of unpredictable art.
CUHK-Shenzhen hosted the 2020 UAC Culture & Arts Festival (“the Festival”) with the theme of “Speed//Time” from November 2020 to February 2021. Eight Chinese and foreign artists were invited to design and produce in the designated spaces the works of “public art on campus” related to and co-existing in harmony with their surroundings. Through this event, the global-oriented university based in the Guangdong- Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area made a bold interpretation of its vibrant, avant-garde, and adventurous character from multiple perspectives.
Artistic breakthroughs in university
The “2019 UAC Literature & Art Festival – Science Fiction Conversation” organized by the University Arts Center (“UAC” or “the Center”) of CUHK- Shenzhen made a hit in 2019. Starting from the sci-fi culture, it represented the first attempt made by the Center to integrate and collide art with multiple disciplines, hence erecting a bridge of cooperation between the campus and art institutions. In 2020, the second Culture & Arts Festival was sponsored by CUHK-Shenzhen and organized by UAC. It was about “public art” with the theme of “Speed//Time”. Core members of the project team included CUHK- Shenzhen’s President Xu Yangsheng as Chief Project Creator; UAC Director Dorothy Wong as Producer; UAC Manager Cici Tang as Project Creator; Vice President of Shenzhen Art & Design Alliance Luan Qian invited as Academic Chair; and Li Rongwei as Curator. After nearly a year of preparations, the event officially kicked off on November 15, 2020.
The intention of the second Culture & Arts Festival was to enable aesthetics to take a deep root on the campus, infiltrate and spread the elements of public art into a broader range of spaces, and diversify the connections and dialogues between Shenzhen and urban development designers in the year when the Special Economic Zone celebrated its 40th anniversary.
The guest lineup and project density made the second Culture & Arts Festival a rare existence in university art activities. It exhibited eight artists’ cutting-edge installations on campus, threw more than 20 activities, and delivered two themed symposiums. The artistic works on display tried to deconstruct the relations between the theme of “Speed//Time” and campus spaces from unique perspectives. Interpreting the feelings of familiarity and strangeness in the surroundings, they touched visitors from the bottom of the heart with ordinary things.
The constant interactions, therefore, injected infinite vitality into the campus. At this festival, some large- scale public art pieces were exhibited in full size on the campus of CUHK- Shenzhen for the first time. From scale and form to conceptual design, the event was a bold artistic attempt. Furthermore, its partnerships with some contemporary art institutions even got the University better integrated into the ecosystem of the art community-based in the Pearl River Delta.
President of CUHK-Shenzhen Xu Yangsheng: We hope to create a good artistic atmosphere, where everyone can understand and benefit from the significance of art. Kant once claimed that “to take an immediate interest in the beauty of nature is always the mark of a good soul”. Our university is dedicated to cultivating talents. For the overall growth of a person, artistic influence bears great importance. This explains why we have very demanding requirements for the art spaces and art atmosphere on our campus.
Cross the border boldly to broaden artistic horizons
The abundance of activities available at the Festival beaten people’s conventional expectations. The organizer, the University Arts Center, scheduled 20-plus artistic activities in a time span of over two months, so that inspiring minds at the forefront of different disciplines could meet with each other on the campus. The boldly-designed art scenes that came in multiple forms involved various fields and covered different spaces, thus, providing students with diverse channels of interaction with artists, in an effort to make art easily accessible from the campus. Guests from different industries, including famous screenwriter and film critic Shi Hang, independent musician Ma Haiping, director of Shenzhen Center for Design Liu Lei, and director of the documentary China’s Van Gogh Yu Haibo, were invited to share their pioneering thoughts with students through well-received activities such as film screening, reading symposium, debate, and “One Day Artist” off- campus experience.
A Lecture from Shi Hang: “We Can Believe More”
Inviting well-known artists to campus is something easier said than done. UAC’s sophisticated arrangements for activities could be easily felt by taking a glance at the guest lineup, in addition to the frequency and quantity of activities. Shi Hang was invited to deliver a thought- provoking lecture and have face-to- face discussions with students, as part of the Culture & Arts Festival. This undoubtedly attested to the organizer’s planning ambition and innovative exploration from the level of activities.
During his lecture, Shi Hang told the audience various stories about “belief”, expounded what he had experienced and comprehended in an appealing way unique to screenwriters, and shared his personal thoughts on artistic creation with students. In the nearly 30-minute Q&A session following the end of the speech, he patiently answered all questions from the young audience with inspiring insights from his own experiences.
“One Day Artist” Experience Day at New WHO Art Village
“One Day Artist” Experience Day was a hands-on activity out of campus as part of the 2020 Culture & Arts Festival. Organized by UAC, a number of students went to the century-old New WHO Village, where they visited local artists and gained firsthand experience of actual artistic creation processes at artists’ studios. After one day of hands- on experience, students in small groups turned their ideas into proposals for implementation with the instructions from the resident artists. The selected works were then exhibited at the university library. This series of creation practices allowed students to intimately experience how a piece of artwork was created by artists within a short timeframe, enabling them to better understand “artist” as an occupation that they were not familiar with.
A Debate: Is Public Art A Kind of Aesthetic Governance?
The 2020 Culture & Arts Festival concluded with a debate about whether public art is a kind of aesthetic governance. Members of the CUHKSZ Mandarin Debate Team debated over a series of frequently asked questions. Discussions helped spark new ideas and perspectives.
Debating contests on the theme of art are not common in college activities. UAC decided to hold this debate after being informed in a prior survey that students had a strong interest in expressing their opinions about art and aspired to receive comments or instructions from professional artists. It is worth mentioning that some new elements, such as “freestyle 1v1 debate”, were added to the contest, which boosted the audience’s engagement and injected artistic imagination into the serious debating process. Gu Ling, Head of Communications at Design Society, Liu Lei, Director of Shenzhen Center for Design, and Li Rongwei, a curator based in Shenzhen, joined the panel and gave inspiring comments at the end of the contest.
Avant-garde public art on campus
It can be seen from the works on display that the organizer left enough room for imagination when selecting cultural and artistic topics. At the same time, it also provided ample freedom and support for artists to create their works. Artists from different academic and working backgrounds interpreted the event theme of “Speed//Time” from varying perspectives. As a result, their works took on unique looks and held considerable appeal. Artists got inspired and motivated by what they felt from the spaces, sensitively recorded their subtle dialogues with these spaces, and then demonstrated all of these perceptions on the campus in a professional and efficient way.
Thanks to the unique thinking derived from different experiences, every artwork could be seen as a stare at both the moment and the eternity, injected with endless energy by “Speed//Time”. While bringing vitality and imagination to CUHK- Shenzhen, public art on campus was more about dialoguing and co-existing with the University and coming up with new topics for students to discuss. In this sense, while illuminating the spaces on campus, it also helped students broaden their horizons.