CAFA Beijing ‘SightSEEing’ Two Weeks Teaching Project

For the last two weeks, I have been to CAFA in Beijing (Chinese Academy of Fine Arts) for teaching different grades of students majoring in jewellery design.

The first day started off with a general introduction and explanation of the project brief. The first group of students wanting to participate in the project were BA and MA students in their fourth and final years. The project they had to work on was called ‘Beijing SightSEEing’. The idea for the topic came up after a talk with the CAFA Jewellery Course Director Teng Fei. She had invited me last year already to come and teach a ten-day project with her students, which turned around the idea of using one specific Chinese poem as starting point for the designs. Within ten days, they had to make one piece of jewellery, created from materials of their choice and based on their individual concepts. The outcomes then were pretty diverse and Teng Fei was now intrigued to work with a topic turning around a Chinese historical background as main theme for the project again.

So, this time, I decided not to go with a poem but with all the major different sight-seeing spots Beijing has to offer. For all of you who haven’t been to Beijing yet, it really is a MUST to go and see the Great Wall! This thing is super impressive and hard to wrap your head around, even when you’re standing right on top of it!

The students could choose from the following sites: Lama Temple, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall and the Ming Tombs.  They were then asked to go to one site and have a very close look at the surroundings, in order to find something new in a well-known environment. They had to take at least 10 landscape photographs and 10 macro photographs. Based on one chosen picture, they were asked to identify their interests and develop their concepts. Most students chose the Lama Temple and the Forbidden City, since they were closest to school.

I quite like this kind of open exercise, since it makes students go out and get active. From my experience, especially in China, a lot of students don’t want to leave their well-known surroundings of the campus. They are used to only look inside of the same old boxes they usually refer to for inspiration, not really leading them anywhere new. By making them leave the studio, they are forced to explore and work with something unknown, which in most cases is super inspiring and exciting for them and for me!

After the general introduction, the BA students decided to keep going with their final projects of their CAFA course and came to see me during the week to have individual tutorials about their progresses. Five out of six MA students signed up for my project.

In the afternoon of the same day, I went downstairs to talk to the students of CAFA IFC (International Foundation Course) and I gave a lecture with the topic ‘Material Mania’, focusing on the use of different materials in Contemporary Jewellery and their interpretation. I think the students were a little overwhelmed by the diversity and mass of information but they seemed pretty interested and excited about seeing this kind of jewellery. I then introduced the ‘SightSEEing’ project to them as well and they were asked to finish it within the next ten days. Since they were on a tighter daily schedule than the BA/MA students, I could only see them twice a week in the afternoon. So, in total, we had three afternoons worth of contact and discussions followed by a big presentation on the fourth afternoon.

Given that the IFC students really had to manage their time well and the amount of tutorials I could offer them, they did a really good job. I was positively surprised about the outcomes on presentation day. I think quite a lot of their concepts and ideas are worth being pushed further, since there is still a lot of potential in them. I really hope they can find a way to do so! The 3D Studio Coordinator Adrienne Erickson was very pleased about the outcomes too and said she would think about carrying on the project! This made me leave with a big smile on my face. It makes me happy to know that the students learned something new and that I could contribute to the outcomes of this year’s IFC teaching modules.

Here are some images of the IFC’s students’ work.

Hua Yi Yun. Headpiece inspired by the roof of the Lama Temple.

Deng Li Qi. Neckpiece ispired by the lake at the Summer Palace. The part of the piece worn on the chest shows elements of the long bridge at the Summer Palace. The back of the piece shows the frozen surface of the lake, remembering traces of life in form of carvings in the wax surface.

Shi Nuo. Armpiece based on the idea that faith and belief is not always something that has roots on the inside. She said that some people who like to worship and pray just do so in order to satisfy other peoples’ believes and social expectations, when in reality, they are rotten on the inside. The piece is made from food chips and noodles, materials that are used for worshiping but that can also show the process of decay.

Gao Yi. Face Mask inspired by the Lama Temple, especially screens and room dividers.

Liu Tian Qi. Headpiece inspired by the Lama Temple’s roof, made from chopsticks, tooth-picks, fabric, pearls and a little duck figurine that is meant to protect the wearer.

Liu Min Yang. Body Piece inspired by the clothes of a monk at the Lama Temple, made from incense sticks.

He Jing. Neckpiece based on the burning of incense sticks at the Lama Temple. The colourful batches are made from incense powder that is ‘drawn’ on PVC in the shape of fire. The gray parts are made from the ashes of the powder.

Hang Feng Ling. Series of brooches based on the trees of the Summer Palace. She said that the trees are the only witnesses around the palace that could see what happened during the course of history. Therefore, she started to work with wood and wood bark to make pieces that resembled the shape of an eye.

At the end of the presentations, one of the girls, Shi Nuo, came to see me to show me pictures of her previous works, since she is very much interested in studying jewellery design in the future. Frankly, I was astonished by the pictures she presented! It does not happen very often, especially in China, that I meet students who are as devoted in what they are doing as she is. The girl in the picture is herself! It is great to see that there are students who put their mind, body and soul in their creations.

On Friday morning, the BA and MA students came together to present their outcomes of the last two weeks working with me. Unfortunately, from the five MA students who had signed up for my project, only three could show their work to present.

Here are the pieces of two of the MA students:

Brooch inspired by the ruins of the Summer Palace that burned in a big fire.

Gu Li Mi La. Brooch based on the walls of the Forbidden City.

After the presentations, I was invited to a very nice lunch with my new CAFA colleagues and great food at the CAFA cafeteria, before I had to head to the airport and back to my daily life in Shanghai.

Although the teaching period was again very tight and there was a lot of pressure on the students and myself to work on this project, I enjoyed the process a lot and I very much hope that the students had the chance to learn and grow from it too. It certainly was another great experience for me!

CAFA design department main entrance.

The CAFA campus itself is a great source of inspiration. For some reason, I have a thing for fences….

….and chimneys….

…random whale/plane sculpture on the campus…

…really lovely but very quirky trees…

…CAFA main entrance….

…CAFA Art Musuem….

…and finally, I couldn’t resist to include this picture. Another really great example of the use of Chenglish in China. Loving it! 🙂

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