Group picture Lee ann and students

Creative Globetrotter in CQ – Sichuan Fine Arts Institute

I’ve been in Chongqing for a few weeks now, and the less jetlagged I get, the more I enjoy being here.

Students are working hard on their projects and I make it my mission to keep things fun. Graduate students remind me of myself in my time at the  Willem de Kooning Academy. You can really spot them borderlining between “haha, the Dutch teacher is a funny dude” and “Crap! My deadline is so close!”. The fact that most of them have never worked on a project from beginning to end isn’t really helping either.

To drive the students away from their practice of coming up with an idea and then looking for media to apply to it,  I created what for them would be a reversed strategy template that involves research, targeting, messaging, USP’s and then creative idea development. We’re working hard and getting there.

But this particular entry is not about the MIADA, but about my visit to the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute.

Believe it or not, Chongqing has the largest art based community in China. With its four art academies, Chongqing supersedes cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, which are more widely known and promoted internationally.

Companies I visited last year like Publicis, JWT and DDB all have offices located in Shanghai. It is a natural choice, considering that these cultural and economical hub attracts major businesses to the area. Be where the money is.

And if you want to be where art is, be in Chongqing. Eventually, creatives will stream towards places such as Shanghai and Hong Kong to thicken the workforce of advertising and other creative realms but not being singled out for its cultural and artistic core allows this city and its people to maintain a high level of authenticity and free spirit.

Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI) is the oldest arts academy of higher learning in China. The Institute consists of two locations: the old establishment across the river bankt where CTBU is located (I’ll write about this one next time), and the new site in the city’s suburbs.

The new location is almost at the end of the metroline so it took our Dutch delegation – Rens, Kym, Loes (teachers at MIADA) and Wanda (intern at Yunma Design) and myself 1 hour to reach our destination in an overcrowded cab.

First we walked around campus. It is quite different from the MIADA campus and from Dutch campuses for that matter, as each building has it’s own designated purpose (Multimedia Art Building, Old School Print and Press Building, Contemporary Art Building, etc.)

The Institute’s mission is to advance new ideas and promote enduring knowledge. Not only the students and the staff but the entire campus represent a new breed of art and creativity. Walking around campus is like visiting an art gallery: statues, murals and art representations everywhere.

Kym led us through the gardens and a part of the campus. We had coffee in one of the cafe’s outside the campus. After the break, we had an appointment with Lee Ann, one of the teachers of the New Media Art Department. We even had a small chat (well, Kym did, in Mandarin) with the director of the department. We spoke with some students who are studying Contemporary and Autonomous Art, and got a glimpse at ther graduation projects on subjects like public space, lighting, vegetable specimens study, etc.

Towards the end of the day, we had dinner with Lee Ann and strolled through the stunning gardens. We were all treated to picturesque landscapes of colourful blossoms in red, yellow and green, splashed against the typical Chinese wooden structures and stone bridges, and damped by a refreshing rain burst.

After completing the garden tour, we visited the Oil Painting Department and saw several ways of painting and press techniques, like Stone Press, Lithography and Oil Painting. The Chinese have a deep consideration for their cultural heritage and traditions.

By the way students have to make a test for this Arts Institute if they want to have lessons here. That is also a difference between MIADA en SFAI. The expectations are high and students ask themselves the question if you don’t like art and creativity what are doing here anyway? Students are free (and willing) to make long days if they choose to. The class of traditional stamp making was still half full around 20.00 hrs. They showed us how to make traditional stamps from stone, and Wanda and I even gave it a go. I also made an attempt to do some Calligraphy. You’re supposed to sign all the characters in one smooth flow on the paper sheet. Let’s just say I am not a natural at it.

After a long, satisfying day we went back home (read MIADA).

I would definitely come back in a few months to visit the graduates’ exhibition or even better get more in touch with Sichuan itself.


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