Tracing the Future of Art & Design Education: Shanghai West Bund Welcomes the First Edition of FutureLab

We live in an era of new technologies, new functions, new methods and new prospects, an era based on integrations, including interdisciplinary, multi-technology, cross-border, and cross-culture. How will art education evolve in this particular context? Sponsored by the United Overseas Bank Singapore, the first edition of Art and Design Education: FutureLab 2019 that took place from November 25th to December 1st at West Bund Art Center, Shanghai, attempted to explore this issue. Over 30 established art and design schools and institutions from around the world brought their top educators, scholars and artists, as well as industry professionals to present edging pedagogies, curriculums and programs for this landmark event. 

The FutureLab featured 3 major sections: Each participating school curated an exhibition, that showcased the latest works by students independently or collaboratively with their tutors ranging from fine art to new media art, AI, fashion design, material studies and urban planning. Creative education for a variety of students from primary schools to academies was the theme of the forums that took place in West Bund Art Center and Museum and Tongji University. Besides that, over 70 workshops were presented by seven art schools demonstrating experimental pedagogical cases, whilst providing a very special learning experience for visitors. Through a richness of programmes, creativity of content and dynamic ways in which to engage, the discussions at FutureLab placed emphasis on advanced subjects, interdisciplinary curriculum design, conceptualisation and the social involvement of art. 


▲Shanghai’s West Bund Art Center

What Should One Learn in Art School?

During the talk “FutureLab Global Dean’s Talk: One Thing You Should Learn in Art Schools” last Monday, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost from the Royal College of Art, Naren Barfield pointed out that "learning to be difficult is the most important part of studying at art school, as well as curiosity and inquisitiveness."

The institution RCA itself attempted to be difficult by ceasing its world renowned car design program that had a history of over 40 years, and turning its attention to a new field - the airplane industry. The RCA's Flight of the Future project with British Airways is an exploration of the next 100 years of aviation. So what will aviation look like in a century? The project took into consideration factors that included advanced jet propulsion, hyper personalisation, automation, AI, modular transport, sustainability, health and entertainment. 


▲Installation view of Royal College of Art, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019


▲Installation view of Royal College of Art, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019

That fostering the students’ creative ability is a crucial task in art education was stressed by Allan Walker, the Dean of the School of Arts and Media at the University of Salford. Creativity is more than an embodiment of inspiration - "It is an ability to solve a problem step-by-step, a thinking process: from understanding a problem to proposing viable solutions and from making a choice to testing results in practice." The i4 exhibition curated by Yibing Wang, a Salford PhD research, lived up to its name and the Dean's idea, and included examples of pedagogy that were internationally focused, closely related to the creative industries and industry 4.0 and that were both interdisciplinary and interactive in the concepts, tools and media it showcased.

Future全球校长论坛-Allan Walker-英国索尔福德大学艺术与传媒学院院长-2.jpeg

▲Allan Walker, the Dean of the School of Arts and Media at the University of Salford


▲Installation view of University of Salford, i4: Interdisciplinary, Interactive, International and Industry-connected, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019

Gao Shiming, the Vice President of the China Academy of Art, also revealed that, "There is much to see within the concept of creativity as it is the best of all possible worlds and artistries."


▲Gao Shiming, the Vice President of China Academy of Art

On the other hand, "Today’s art production has been too defined by an overly regulated art education system," according to Qiu Zhijie, the Dean of the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. "Art schools as social institutions remain incredibly important for recreating the relationship between people and society," said the dean. With a commitment to break through this predicament, Qiu isn't looking to go down a similar road to that dominated by art museums, international art fairs, blue-chip galleries and other authoritative organisations, nor is he particularly interested in any scoring systems such as evaluation criteria. Rather, the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts is comfortable existing simply to provide more freedom within art education.


▲Qiu Zhijie, the Dean of the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts


▲Installation view of Central Academy of Fine Art of China, The Mission of SEA / Teaching On-Site, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019

What Does the Future Art Schools Look Like?

During our interview, Lin Min, the co-founder of FutureLab, emphasised that, "In art schools, students must learn to participate in their present and their future instead of merely imitating the past." The exhibition section offered the ideal place to showcase this spirited idea. These shows offered a unique opportunity for visitors to explore the frontiers of art as well as the concepts and practice of design. 

From new media art to AI, fashion design, material studies and urban planning, the schools seemed to consider that crucial topics for the future would be exploring the unknown and interdisciplinary elements. A project presented by The College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University was called Mars Players. Since ancient times, Mars has been a place of human imagination and research into understanding our universe. The exploration of Mars is an investment in the future of mankind and a reflection of our current civilisation.What could we learn about our own civilisation, how to face survival challenges, how to start a new civilisation, and how to develop more sustainably, on a different planet?

Designing for the Mars exploration exhibition was such an experimental ground to consider our future civilisations. With both the familiar and unfamiliar design background of Mars, young designers from D&I attempted to answer a series of challenging design propositions relating to mobility, exploration and survival on Mars. The exhibition consisted of three stages: Exploration, Expansion and Colonisation. Thirteen exhibits presented their own thinking and exploration from the perspectives of terrain, climate, and the development of civilisation.


▲Installation view of College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, Mars Players, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019


▲Installation view of College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, Mars Players, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019

Berlin University of the Arts's interest about the unknow world is, instead, several thousand feet beneath the surface: the Deep Sea. Imagine the environment of the deep sea, with the only source of light being bioluminescent creatures, and with the level of oxygen extremely low. As far as we humans are aware, only a few select species can survive there. One of these is the vampire squid that inspired the cultural theorist and philosopher Vilém Flusser (1920–1991). Flusser’s book, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis is a philosophical work of fiction that transports us into the everyday life of this animal – as the ultimate “other” from a human perspective–and analyses different phenomenological events of human life.

Based on Flusser’s ideas and organised by Anita Jóri, Alberto de Campo and Hannes Hoelzl, students from Studium Generale and Computational/Generative Art reflected upon deep sea-related philosophical questions such as immersion, animality, otherness, distancing and the plastics pollution of the ocean. The Society for Nontrivial Pursuits (students, teachers, alumni and friends of the Computational Art class) grouped together to present an ensemble of hypothetical deep-sea creatures. This constituted a network of extremely divergent specimens (artificial individualism) which nonetheless had ways of deciding upon the behaviour they wished to share via coded collectivity. In this way, a model of autonomous, acephalous decision-making was created – with all creatures having equal influence - and the negotiation processes they initiated could possibly have resembled evolutionary selection processes.

Prof.Ursula Neugebauer of the school told us that the "imagination of students is based on the knowledge they acquired at art school. However, the unknown outcome produced by making the most of their know-how was the greatest surprise."


▲S4NTP, Deep Sea, 2019, Sound Installations


▲Installation view of Berlin University of the Arts, Deep Sea Creations, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019

The interdisciplinary programme is another broad trend. The School of Arts, Design and Architecture from Aalto University presented an exhibition with a focus on its interdisciplinary programme Math and Arts through introducing the course Crystal Flowers in Halls of Mirrors to the audience. In Finland, enhancing interaction between mathematics and arts became possible after Aalto University was founded in 2010. A concrete opening was the first implementation of the course Crystal Flowers in Halls of Mirrors: Mathematics Meets Art and Architecture in spring 2013 after nearly two years of planning and practical preparation.

The exhibition consisted of three sections: Past, Present and Transition, that showcased the development of its Math and Arts programme as well as the course Crystal Flowers in Halls of Mirrors: Past told the story of the Aalto Math and Arts programme through videos, posters, graphical information material, hands on pedagogical models and activities related to surface design. PRESENT continued the story by showing the latest course outcomes from the exhibition, In Transition – Mathematics and Art, via an interactive virtual exhibition and textiles, FUTURE communicated the pedagogical ideas implemented by students of Tongji-Huangpu School of Design & Innovation, showcasing a large scale model that the students had built together.

Among these, the most interesting featured part was several small-scale models of a “space hub” that were placed at the front of the booth. As Laura Isoniemi, teacher at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University and Juho-Pekka Virtanen, M.A. Project Manager of the School of Engineering at Aalto University pointed out, "The incentive to get the public to participate more actively in students’ artworks is one of the most significant educational concepts at art schools." By allowing the visitors to play with the small-scale “space hub” models and to create all kinds of model shapes, the school offered a platform to test visitors’ feelings and reactions to the artworks.



▲Installation view of Aalto University, Math and Arts, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019


▲Visitors to Aalto University booth at FutureLab. Photo courtesy Art Market Journal 

Where Is the Art Education For Kids Heading?

Apart from higher education, FutureLab also involved kids in art education with a series of workshops that turned the FutureLab venue into school classrooms, allowing children to interact directly with professional tutors and discover their innner creativity through hands-on participation. 


▲View of the Workshop, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019

The kids workshop from Plymouth College of Art stood out in the often too rigorous field as it embodied an artistic spirit of relaxation, cheerfulness and effortlessness. In the workshop called “MINI-MEs” run by senior Plymouth lecturer, Natalia Eernstman, students created miniature sculptures of themselves using clay. A reflective process guided them through sculpting with their eyes closed. This enabled them to concentrate on the shape and sensation of their bodies and suspended the fear of failure in order to create a perfect representation of themselves. In the workshop “Coming to the Table” led by another Plymouth lecturer, Caroline Wilkins, and a digital content officer at Plymouth, Sarah Packer, students worked with linocut printed blocks of food to stamp fabric tablecloths in order to explore food, family and community. In addition to this, through the use of cross-cultural foods and the setting of a table, students could explore common cultural and social threads which in turn made the similarities and differences more alive and visible.

Plymouth remains dedicated to traditional art education. “We called this workshop ‘Return to Innocence’ because since it offered a very cosy space for audiences to use the most primitive and basic of materials that included clays, papers and pens in creating their artworks, ,” said Dr. Stephen Felmingham, the Head of the School of Critical and Cultural Studies. “We’re pretty sure there’s something new and fresh coming from those old-fashioned art materials for our visitors,” added Selby Thomas, Plymouth artist and instructor. In addition, the hope was to liberate people’s nature, while simultaneously memorably exploring profound emotional and intellectual matters through the revival and reinvigoration of the oldest methods of creation.


▲View of the workshop for Plymouth College of Art, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019


▲View of the workshop for Plymouth College of Art. Photo courtsey Plymouth College of Art

Over 60 primary and secondary schools in Shanghai were set pilots to conduct art pedagogical research projects. This exhibition was not only a demonstration of the results of teaching, but also verified the results of the improvement in the teaching ability of the teachers. More importantly, this exhibition actually created a scene that expanded time and space, allowing art educators from different countries and with different identities to work together to explore more specifically from different perspectives. 


▲Installation view of Shanghai Primary and Secondary School Student Artwork Exhibition, The first edition of Art & Design Education: FutureLab, Shanghai, 2019