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Feature

Some digital images on wall.

Digital images line the wall of the Quarter Gallery on the Twin Cities campus. Several short films are all on exhibit at "Between Collaborations: Beijing-Minneapolis," which runs August 2 to 23.

Faces of Beijing in Quarter Gallery

U's art department is collaborating with the Beijing Film Academy

By Pauline Oo

July 31, 2007

Vivid colors and unlikely subjects--an egg yolk, water droplets on a window pane, the bird's nest (better known as the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics)--will vie for your attention as you stroll through the U's Quarter Gallery this August. The gallery is hosting "Between Collaborations: Beijing-Minneapolis," a showcase of about 100 digital images and video pieces by faculty and students of the Beijing Film Academy.

The free exhibit includes a public reception on Thursday, August 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. for the 15 visiting artists and an Artists Talk on Friday, August 3, at 9:30 a.m. The exhibit is part of a budding partnership between the film academy and University of Minnesota's Department of Art--that has flourished because of a couple of mutual visits.

In April 2006, the Beijing Film Academy sent a delegation to Minneapolis and several other U.S. cities with the intent of establishing institutional collaborations. "The Beijing Film Academy is to China what Hollywood is to the United States," says M.F.A. candidate Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, who is the current 10-day tour planner. "I hear the group was very impressed with our Department of Art and with the people they met."

Since that visit, members of U's art department have traveled to Beijing twice, and more visits--in person and through cyberspace--are forthcoming.

In June, a small contingent of students and film faculty, including Wilgren Clyne, were invited to exhibit their work at the film academy--the biggest and oldest film school in Asia--which incidentally is the alma mater of internationally acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower). In October, several U students and faculty will participate in the Bamboo Festival, an international photography exhibit at the Bamboo Forest National Park outside Shanghai. And during the fall semester, University art students will correspond via e-mail with their Chinese peers from a variety of disciplines on thematic projects. The end result of this cyber exchange will be published in a catalogue by the film academy.

"[This alliance] will diversify our program and provide our students with access to world culture," says University professor and project leader Tom Rose. The students will also gain a better understanding of technique in the areas of animation and film and video production. (Film academy students are strong in those areas, but they aren't exposed to experimentation as much as U students.) "This is an opportunity for the faculties of both institutions to benefit from the cross-fertilization of ideas."

U faculty with instructors from the Beijing Film Academy
(From L to R) U faculty members Andrea Stanislav and Diane Willow with instructors from the Beijing Film Academy Jing Mi and Meng Tang. Photo by Cheryl Wilgren Clyne

For visiting artist and film academy instructor Meng Tang, the partnership--and resulting exhibits--offers her a chance to both learn from her peers in the United States and share her views as a artist from China.

Art--the way it is conceived, produced, and viewed--is "totally different" in the West than it is in the East, she says. And that's largely because "we have different backgrounds and we choose different content." Just like "the artist idea in New York is different from the artist idea in the Midwest," adds Tang, who teaches lighting design and composition for photography in the Beijing Film Academy's cinematography department.

At the University exhibit, Tang explores human existence in her pieces entitled "Butterfly," four fairly large, color photographs printed on an almost twin-bed-sized backdrop of Chinese characters. "As an artist, I have to travel a lot," she says. "I learn a lot from seeing how another artist works."

For University graduate student Wilgren Clyne, the creative collaboration has meant, among other things, a trip to China--her first outside North America.

"Any time you take yourself out of your everyday situation, you begin to think differently about your work," says Wilgren Clyne. "And you start to develop new ways to do something that you've done for a long time. I was very inspired by the work I saw [in Beijing] and I don't even speak Chinese."

The University of Minnesota has had academic connections with China since it formed the China Center in 1979. Today there are more than 1,200 visiting Chinese scholars and students at the University--the largest population of Chinese students on a North American campus.

"Between Collaborations: Beijing-Minneapolis" runs August 2 to 23 in the Quarter Gallery located at street-level in the Regis Center for Art on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. The gallery's summer hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.


Further reading Did You Know? The Minnesota-China connection Red envelopes for China study Carlson School program rated No. 1 in China