Author: William Xu
On August 2nd, Xusheng Art Museum initiated the ‘In Touch’ Art Exhibition, which would last until August 15th. The ‘In Touch’ Exhibition’ was fully conceived, managed and executed by a team of high school students. The exhibition displayed a wide range of art pieces from oil painting, 3-D designs to Chinese calligraphy, but the most prominently of all was probably a series of clip arts made by children aging from three to seven. Besides art displays, the exhibition also organized auctions for distinguished pieces of art contributed voluntarily by renowned artists. The profits from auction would directly go to charity, helping students in Xiaogan City of Hubei Province impacted by the coronavirus epidemic. Delivering the message of “staying in touch, in a time of physical separation,” the exhibition has achieved phenomenal success, attracting over 1000 people daily, and gaining recognition from municipal charity institutions as well as the municipal government.
Aiming to obtain a more comprehensive, sophisticated knowledge about ‘In Touch’ Art Exhibition and the stories behind its success, I have interviewed three major organizers. Yuyun Huang, the chief organizer of ‘In Touch’, Ziyin Zhou, responsible for managing the artworks and the social media account, Yifei Wu, the chief coordinator with sponsors and cooperating institutions.
-Why did you participate in organizing ‘In Touch’ art exhibition in the first place? What do you aim to achieve with ‘In Touch’?
In April, I have witnessed many initiatives online that raised substantial funds for pandemic-hit areas, most of which were arranged by my peers. As a high school student and a common human being experiencing the pandemic, I felt obligated and impelled to do something. Yet rather devoting myself to similar eleemosynary works, the idea of holding an art exhibition struck me. Art has the immense power to move people emotionally, make us empathize with those suffering from the coronavirus. Art delivers a share of love, pain, hope and mutual strength, and such emotional powers are appealing to all human beings, regardless of nationality, occupation, or race. Through this exhibition I want an important message delivered: though physically separated, we are on and we stay in touch emotionally with each other.
The pandemic has disrupted the normal functioning of society, putting everyone in an agitated state. On one hand I hope such an art exhibition could offer some positivity for the depressed society and provide a time for people to appreciate and contemplate on art, saving themselves from the mess of their lives caused by the pandemic. On the other hand, I hope this art exhibition could memorialize this “war without bullets” in some way, not just how doctors and nurses contributed but also how the Chinese people, as one entirety, have contributed to fighting this war against coronavirus. We have not won the war yet, but I believe we eventually will.
I paid a voluntary visit to Tibet Plateaus for supporting educational undertakings. I was shocked by how, due to economic disparities, the local children suffered from little educational facilities and resources. In a time of epidemic, such children would only suffer more, which made me feel impelled to do something. When learning that ‘In Touch’ was entirely conducted students to help those students in need in Hubei, I did not hesitate to participate with such a motivated, determined, and able group of students.
Besides contributing to fighting the pandemic (as Huang and Zhou have already mentioned), I hope I could gain a more complex understanding of art’s power to make people enlightened as they stop to think about the meaning behind art.
-For a student to organize such a grand art exhibition like this, there must be immense difficulties. What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered? Are there plans that failed to realize?
In the process of organizing this ‘In Touch’ Exhibition, maintaining everybody’s enthusiasm is probably the biggest difficulty that I’ve met. From the overarching themes to all trivialities, the to-dos and the deadlines are crushing everybody’s motivation—we cannot but feel frustrated. Many quitted the project due to their personal plans. But in the end, I feel just so gracious and happy that we’re able to pull it out together.
While we were seeking cooperation and sponsorship, our working plan was inadvertently leaked, and an almost identical activity was reproduced by a study-abroad agency. Although we successfully solved the crisis, it also made us more defeated, and later work were conducted much more cautiously.
There is a final point: as our form is public, eleemosynary art exhibition, I forbade all commercial activities such as advertisements. Because the conditions of sponsorships required advertisements and propaganda, refusing such conditions made seeking sponsorship especially difficult.
Our ‘In Touch’ project team are made of students only. When we planned and organized this art exhibition, we also found that there are similar art exhibitions held by students in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. However, these students often have more powerful backgrounds and strong connections, making it easier for them. At the same time, I found that such students did little besides putting them names on the list of responsible organizers, while we wish to devote ourselves to the entire plan and execution.
Our project was often in trouble because of many problems of resources, monetary support and site in its early stages. At the beginning, we settled on cooperation with the committee of Shenzhen Youth Development, which promised a municipal-level event held in August. However, because the activities carried out by the foundation were not approved by the government, we had to finally seek cooperation from The Shenzhen Charity Organization, which did not provide us with sponsorship fees. We were forced to contact several organizations to sponsor temporarily. The process was full of twists and turns: we had to start from the bottom and searched for contacts and resources all along the way. Finally, we decided to hold this activity in Xusheng Art Museum.
I think the biggest loss comes from the lack of time and funds. Due to the lack of funds, we were forced to abandon many art galleries originally selected in the center of Luohu and Futian, and chose Xusheng Art Museum instead located in Xixiang street of Bao’an District, a remote site on the outskirts of urban center. Due to the problem of time, we originally invited doctors, nurses and patients who had actually experienced the epidemic to share their stories. We were forced to abandon these two activities as well.
– YMM Art Education also contributed a significant amount of works for this exhibition, including imaginative, creative works done by children of very young age. Such a cooperation has also become the highlight of your exhibition. What would you say about this cooperation?
This cooperation originates Wu’s experience of studying at YMM Art Education when she was young. She was responsible for contacting the relevant teachers, and then facilitated the cooperation. It happened that YMM collected a batch of paintings under the theme of coronavirus attack in February, so the principal of YMM in Shenzhen generously accepted our invitation to cooperate with us.
Some people may think that children’s works of art are not suitable for art exhibitions. On the contrary, I think that since we accept contributions from paintings of all ages, we hope that when people come to the exhibition, they can not only appreciate the masterpieces, but also see the works of children. I think children’s works, which originates from a typical childlike, innocent and imaginative perspective, can better arouse the general public’s empathy, and also show children’s unique thinking and artistic presentation of the pandemic.
During the exhibition, someone told me that I was quite touched: “all children do not reject painting at the beginning.”. Because art is the most direct way to reflect personal feelings and thinking—in fact, no matter what personal artistic attainments are, it is also the simplest way to convey love and care. Therefore, children’s paintings can also be appreciated by everyone. To regard art as something untouchable and not to be simply appreciated is, in my opinion, a over-complication of art itself.
-This art exhibition has gained great social influence, with more than 4000 views on the social media, and many journalists coming to the scene. Why could ‘In Touch’ gain so much social attention? What are the highlights of this art exhibition?
I think our social platform on WeChat has played a positive role in attracting the public and various news media. Of course, I also think that the eleemosynary nature of our art exhibition, and the positive messages it conveys as they are urgently needed by the society are also part of the reasons.
I am sincerely delightful and proud that our project has attracted extensive social attention. However, I also feel that it is not so much the public’s sincere attention to the content and theme of our art exhibition, but rather for its sensationalism, such as the sitting of the bigwigs, the inscriptions of masters, the speeches of some distinguished guests, or the marvel that this activity is completely organized by young people. Most of the visitors wandered through the exhibition so quickly, although we had been planning it for several months. I know that a ‘tourist mentality’ has existed among Chinese people for a long time, but when I became the planner of an art exhibition in person, I couldn’t help but feel offended by and sorry for such a phenomenon.
I hope that more people can sincerely appreciate and respect art. I advise everyone to sincerely feel the empathy and deeper connotation of our art. I also hope that ‘In Touch’ art exhibition can really touch anyone, instead of becoming a real-time gimmick of daily WeChat friends circle or a hot news point of Nanfang Daily (a local Shenzhen press).
-It is advised for people to stay at home. Given such an advise, why do you still choose ‘In Touch’ as a theme? What is the implication of ‘In Touch’?
‘In Touch’ stands for staying in contact. Under the face mask, we have estranged and distanced each other. Due to the coronavirus, it is especially difficult for us to meet our family and friends. But all our hearts are connected within. In fighting against the epidemic situation, the Chinese people have determinedly stood with each other and made concerted efforts. The warmth, emotion and empathy during the epidemic are universal in all people’s hearts, and are not affected by physical barriers. This is my interpretation of the theme of ‘In Touch’.
Although the message of ‘In Touch’ is especially important and much-needed during the coronavirus, I think that it applies more broadly to any instance of socializing among people.
-The domestic epidemic situation has not yet subsided, yet the foreign epidemic situation is on the rise again. What do you think is the role of art in this turbulent year of 2020? Should art bear a social responsibility to convey love, care and warmth?
I think only a part of art is complex and implicit enough to be reserved for specialists and expertise, most of it is rooted in its cathartic appeal to the greater public, so it must play a social responsibility. In the context of the epidemic in 2020, I do think the warmth, care and empathy that art conveys are urgently needed by the depressed society.
– ‘In Touch’ is divided into three themes: bronze, wheat and root. Why choose them as themes?
“Bronze” is our first theme. Bronze ware is one of the most ancient cultural manifestations of China. Bronze is strong, persistent, and even stubborn, which is the embodiment of the firm quality of “man can conquer nature” which has remained the central attitude of Chinese people towards natural disasters, unchanged throughout Chinese history.
“Wheat” is our second theme. As early as 3500 years ago in the Western Zhou Dynasty, Chinese began to grow wheat. Wheat is the food that Chinese people have long depended on for survival. Its form is the truest portrayal of millions of individuals under the epidemic situation. However, when power of numerous individuals is combined, it can become a turbulent and spectacular force, just like a splendid wheat wave.
“Root” is our third theme. The works under this theme are created around the idea of “reflections during the epidemic”. We often say that the root is the heart and foundation of human beings – we grow down, make efforts to take root and advance after careful self-reflection, and derive crucial experience from crisis events again and again; we should not forget our original intention and make steady progress step by step.
In fact, our theme was not “bronze, wheat, root” in the beginning. At the beginning, the two themes were “light” and “solitude”, among which I prefer “solitude”. Many people in the epidemic are forced to be isolated and estranged. Originally, the project team and I hope to use the theme of “solitude” to reflect people’s psychological state of suffering, solitude, and longing for care, to achieve a cathartic effect and sincere resonance with the audience. Because this theme of “solitude” is relatively negative, we had to reach a compromise with the art gallery by replacing the two with these three themes of “copper”, “wheat” and “root”, which are more meaningful and positive, reflective of the vitality of Chinese culture.
-The three themes of “bronze”, “wheat” and “root” all signal strong Chinese characteristics and traditional cultures. But the overarching theme of ‘In Touch’ promotes communication and empathy regardless of borders, gender or race. Are there any conflicts between the two?
We don’t think it’s a conflict. First, we choose traditional Chinese culture as the carrier of art themes and concepts, but the content is still the focus of the epidemic. On the one hand, I believe that the warmth and coldness of human beings in the epidemic situation will be shared by all people, and there is no national boundaries, race, or gender. On the other hand, the themes of “bronze”, “wheat” and “root” endow art with a unique aesthetic feeling of Chinese flavor, making the connotation of art works more profound and touching people’s hearts, echoing the era theme of “community of human destiny”. We believe that the spirit of perseverance, unity of mind and Reflection on progress reflected by them is also worth learning from in the fight against the coronavirus.
-What do you want to say to the medical staff who are still fighting the epidemic on the frontline?
The people who fight the front line contributed their solid, down-to-earth efforts to fight against the epidemic. They are the people who let the Chinese nation stand firm and invincible in the face of epidemic. Their spirits of risking their lives and devoting themselves humbly are certainly praise-worthy. However, when these qualities are flaunted as the spirit of the times and deified as lofty social models by the public opinion, it puts a heavy moral burden on the medical staff – they must be strong and unyielding, and there are no reservations; and the medical staff, like us, are ordinary people, with armor and weaknesses. Rather than blind praise, I hope the society could deliver some solid help and encouragement, such as a rich meal, a box of mineral water, a word of care and some humanistic understanding.
In the ‘In Touch’ art exhibition, regarding the paintings and photographic works we present, the medical staff are not supermen and superwomen. Simple photographic capture, natural style, and sad and heavy colors are all the most humanized and real presentation we hope to provide for medical staff. As far as I’m concerned, I want to say: you have worked hard. If you are tired, just take a rest.