Last week saw the launch of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China, created by Zheng Bo at the City University of Hong Kong. I have written about Zheng’s work before, specifically ‘A Wall: Art and the online public sphere in China’ a showcase of socially engaged art which he first created back in 2014. Commissioned by The Space in collaboration with British Council China and Cass Sculpture Foundation, the project offered a reimagining of China’s Democracy Wall for the digital age. Zheng has significantly updated and expanded that original digital archive, which can now be found online at seachina.net. In this post I would like to look briefly at both projects, assessing the impact of these digital learning tools and archives for the study of contemporary art.
The MOOC is a six week online course that runs from the 6th February to the 19th March, users anywhere in the world can access the course by registering online here. As Zheng outlines in the introduction to the course:
“This 6-week free online course serves as an introduction to Chinese socially engaged art. We produced it over the past eight months. We traveled to multiple cities (Wuhan, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing …) and worked with a number of artists/ collectives (Xiong Wenyun, Xu Bing, Wang Jiuliang …). This course covers 16 socially engaged projects and a number of theoretical issues. It also contains excerpts of 12 artist interviews, and six 360-degree videos of the actual sites where the projects took place. The artworks address a wide range of social issues, ranging from ecology to equality.”
Each week’s lesson contains a selection of digital media which are designed to introduce key themes and social issues. These are grounded in specific case studies which do much to bring these issues to life while also highlighting the diversity of socially engaged practices within China. Week one, for example, contains a case study of Xiong Wenyun’s ‘Moving Rainbow’ (1998-2001) complete with a ten minute video of the project and a five minute interview with the artist. Xu Bing’s ‘Forest Project’ is also profiled, as is Wang Jiuliang’s ‘Beijing Besieged by Waste’ (2008-2010), which includes two videos accompanied by a 360 degree view of a landfill site. After these individual case studies have been reviewed, there is an 8 minute video in which Zheng discusses some of the common themes and issues which unite these socially engaged practices as well as looking at the evolution of artists’ responses to their changing social environment over the last twenty years. The lesson concludes with a discussion which asks participants to contemplate which of the profiled projects they find the most engaging and challenging. Continue reading