FACeTS (Fine Art at Coventry Talk Series)

Let the teaching continue at one of the five universities I’ve been working at this academic year…this time at Coventry University with second year Fine Art students. I’ve not worked with Coventry University before, but done a lot of work in the city during my days with Wolverhampton Art Gallery and through odd courses and events. Here’s a shameless wordgirl selfie from the Fine Art studios…also a random neon kitsch kitten image that had me smiling during a tutorial. I miss being in a studio, a shared creative environment like that…and the smell is so familiar…so comforting almost…

kitsch kitten

Rachel Marsden wordgirl

The morning began with individual tutorials with three second year Fine Art students. The first two students were actually identical (or near identical) twin brothers from Hong Kong…rare, immediately reminding me of  ‘The Benjamin Project’ with Dafen Art Museum and the Dafen Oil Painting Village curated by Wang Dong (cited at the ‘Transnational Dialogues 2014’ event I recently took part in, in Rome, Italy). The project focussed on reproduction and mass production, the copy factories in China of Western paintings from all over the world…the idea of “made in China”, quality and copyright – ‘it is time for us to face these questions’. He used Walter Benjamin’s book  ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ as initial inspiration. Three German artists were then invited to go to Dafen Oil Painting Village asking artists to appropriate and paint Benjamin’s book. Benjamin’s book was displayed alongside the series of paintings, where twins from across China were invited as readers and participants to respond.

Coventry University Fine Art 5

Coventry University Fine Art 7

Coventry University Fine Art 6

Their practice was never collaborative, always individual…both figurative in part using either traditional drawing or painting techniques referencing the influence of other cultures on art/their practice such as Chinese and Japanese painting, and Italian sculpture, whilst referencing how this changes an understanding of China/Hong Kong. There was a need to define symbolism in their work…and reasoning as to what they were trying to say through their work. We spoke briefly about the Hong Kong protests, the Umbrella Revolution-Occupy Central, of last year where they said they wanted to be there, with their friends, that Hong Kong needs and wants independence from the control of China. They said they hadn’t really been to China, and don’t want to, even though they have family there. They asked my opinion of the art scene, and art from, Hong Kong…where I noted a void between social and community arts practice and the commercial, art market scene.

Coventry University Fine Art 1

Coventry University Fine Art 4
Coventry University Fine Art 3

Coventry University Fine Art 2

The next tutorial was with a Romanian student who had fire inside…dynamism, energy, love for what he did, in thought, concepts and creation. So much going on, it was near hard to pin down exactly what he was doing. As an artist, he created original work, then creating another separate body of work by his pseudonym ‘Eggs and Ham’…’Eggs and Ham’ created copies, re-manifestations, multiples, prints…ephemeral material, not the “real” art itself. He decoded then recoded through line only famous tradition works of art. Simple abstraction. His art practice showed a tension between formalist and constructivist constraints of a refined, planned, considered, ritualistic art practice…versus the freedom of a more raw and expressive art action that works less on formula and more on emotional reaction. We spoke of the importance to question, to listen to your (self-)questioning voice where he said one recent thought was – “is the notion of beauty/beautiful a residue”? The importance of listening to critique and response no matter how selfish you want to be. The hard fact that there will always be some people who will never understand your work.

After a salad lunch at the Herbert Art Gallery’s café, it was time for my one-hour lecture to the third and second year Fine Art students, and the odd member of staff. It was part of ‘FACeTS’ (Fine Art at Coventry Talk Series). Posters of my wordgirl face were plastered across the university building to advertise it.

FACeTS Coventry University 1

FACeTS Coventry University 2

FACeTS Coventry University 3

In the lecture, I presented ‘Curating the Contemporary: Strategies of the Transcultural Curator’ talking the last ten years, from finishing my Fine Art degree, my text and book arts practice, curatorial projects I’ve worked on across the UK, USA and China, and current PhD research including the curatorial outcome of ‘The Temporary’. I always feel like I cover a lot of ground, to a partially overwhelming degree, for the students. All positive feedback though…and a question from the audience about the gallery culture in China. Oh the “museumification” of China! I could talk forever about it…

The afternoon poster presentation-style group tutorial had been cancelled so I had the opportunity to have further tutorials if wanted…only by one student in the end (thanks Rob!). This student’s practice was constructed in three parts through a three-person written wordic narrative, a series of paintings and a series of sculptures, referencing playwrights and literary giants, performance and theatre practices all bred from an almost inner monologue. The narrative is written so that you can follow the story but often don’t know who is saying what yet understand what is happening, being able to pick and the story at any point and still be able to make sense of it. It is like talking to the figurative person behind you and in front of you, in dialogue with them as if they existed. The sculptures and paintings take the narratives beyond the page. He coined himself as a ‘method artist’, where I said the two words could exist on their own as “method” and “artist” and together as “method artist”, two very different meanings. He asked me for input as to whether the narratives could stand alone as artworks…to which I responded saying I’d send him a world of information. Text (art) is one of my worlds after all. Of course it can stand alone as art. Art and language…one of my favourite research areas.

Further teaching to come in February at the University of Lincoln…can’t wait to see what the students have been up to since I saw them at the end of last year…

Coventry University Fine Art 10

Coventry University Fine Art 8

Coventry University Fine Art 9

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