The Course on Visual Culture Studies of the Department of Art History of the Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University Explores a New Teaching Mode for Graduate Students


On the afternoon of 20 November 2017, the “BITES· Ding·Into Life·New Art Exhibition” was open. As the outcome exhibition of the public elective course “Visual Culture Studies” for graduate students of the Academy of Arts & Design, this exhibition made bold explorations and attempts in art theory, creation and exhibition methods. This term, the course was co-instructed by Professor Michael Dutton, social theorist from the Smith College of the University of London, Dr. John Reardon, artist, and Associate Professor Chen Anying from the Department of Art History. Professor Dutton and Dr. Reardon have been teaching “Art and Politics” in the University of London for 9 years, exploring the creation of site-specific art and art in the social sphere combining theory and practice. The course is oriented toward projects which are carried out through group discussions under teachers’ instruction, with a new topic for each year. It explores this new teaching method as part of the teaching reform for graduate students of Tsinghua University.


19 students from different departments of the Academy of Arts & Design in this course were divided in five groups. Each group chose one from the five sub-topics under the main topic “city”, i.e. Boundary, Identity, Transition, Eating, and Slogan, according to their interest for their art creation projects.


The initials of the five sub-topics constituted the exhibition title “BITES” or “Ding” when translated into Chinese. The students and teachers hoped that their art creation could “bite into life and the reality”, enter the real life and become a part of the real world. The highlight of the Exhibition was that the students and teachers tried to walk out of the “white walls” and break through the “white cube” exhibition mode for art galleries, and “implant” their artistic creation into specific space in an environment-oriented fashion for the purpose of revealing or changing the context.

They put a red scarf on the statue of Mr. Zhang Ding which stood by the entrance of the lobby in District A, and placed evergreen tree installations in commemoration before the statue. They named their work so to pay respect to Mr. Zhang Ding, founder of the Academy and cleverly turned the statue part of the exhibition.

They interviewed the artist about his memory or feeling of a specific food, “melon seeds”, to explore the subtle relationship between food and art. Dr. Reardon appeared in the video at the exhibition site as an interviewee.

Performance Art “?” by Wang Jing

In the performance artwork “?” by Wang Jing of the Boundary group, 10 students wearing masks and red armbands rode shared bikes into the lobby and parked the bikes in the exhibition hall in hope to lead people to reflect on the random parking of shared bikes.

Professor Uradyn Bulag from the Department of Social Anthropology of the Selwyn College of Cambridge University commented on the work “Transition· Circle” by the Transition group. He recognized that the students, as the younger generation, still maintained passion for history, and also suggested they should clarify their stance in their work and express more personal points of view.