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UK Hosts Chinese Art, Design Students

Recently the University of Kentucky's College of Design and School of Art and Visual Studies in the College of Fine Arts welcomed to campus a group of students and faculty from Shanghai University with interests in the fields of art and design.

The visit is part of an annual exchange program developed last year by the UK School of Art and Visual Studies with help from Huajing Maske at the UK Confucius Institute. The program presents UK students and faculty with a valuable opportunity.

"I see this relationship as a very important one for the School of Art because it gives our faculty and our students the opportunity to develop connections in Shanghai, an important art center in China, and to learn first hand how different people in different cultures approach the visual studies and the creation of art," said Benjamin C. Withers, professor of art history, who helped create the exchange program during his time as chair of UK Department of Art (now the UK School of Art and Visual Studies).

Following a visit this May by 12 UK students to Shanghai led by Hui Chi Lee, a lecturer in painting and foundations, the Chinese institution sent 26 students and four professors to the United States where they spent two weeks in studios at UK, as well as soaking up Kentucky culture.

On campus, 17 students took part in a workshop in ceramics led by Assistant Professor Hunter Stamps. The workshop was composed of one wheel throwing exercise and two hand-building projects in which students translated two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional wall reliefs and vase forms.

"Even though China is the birthplace of ceramics, most of the students had never touched clay before this workshop and were amazed by the expressive nature of the material," Stamps said.

Stamps also led the class through a modern version of an ancient Japanese raku firing practice in which the bisque fired glazed pieces are heated up in kilns to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit. The glowing hot pieces are then removed with tongs from the kiln and placed in metal trashcans full of paper. The process was an exciting and engaging way for students to learn about the effect of oxidation and reduction on ceramic glazes.

Several of the students from UK School of Art and Visual Studies who took part in the May exchange in Shanghai came by the ceramic workshop to converse with and help the Chinese students with their projects.

"It was truly wonderful the see the interaction between students from Shanghai University and the University of Kentucky," Stamps said. "Engaging in hands-on activity with one another enabled both students and faculty to overcome any language barriers and communicate in a purely visual format."

In addition to ceramics, the art students from Shanghai took a landscape drawing class with alumnus and part-time instructor Derrick Riley and were presented with several opportunities to put newly acquired skills to work drawing at Henry Clay's Ashland estate, The Arboretum, the Art Museum at UK and around the UK campus.

Nine of the exchange students participated in a six-day workshop that introduced them to digital design and fabrication in architecture. The workshop, instructed by UK School of Architecture faculty members Kyle Miller and Rives Rash, sought to promote innovation in design through the understanding and use of contemporary techniques. The workshop introduced and showcased rapid iteration of plausible design solutions generated in a digital environment and the equally rapid production of them by employing readily available digital fabrication technology, in this case three-dimensional printing.

"The workshop’s design project focused on developing "soft" forms in the virtual design environment using a handful of creation and manipulation techniques enabled by Rhinoceros 3D, a digital design software widely used in the College of Design's architectural design studio courses," said Miller.

As part of the architecture workshop, the group produced drawings and images to describe the geometry of their digital designs and printed physical models of each design. The outcome enabled a discussion about how digital design and fabrication techniques contribute to innovation in the field of design and making.

"The workshop participants were actively engaged in a discussion and event about the changing nature of the profession and gained an understanding about how architecture can be generated in a digital environment and actualized by employing digital fabrication technology," Miller said. "They were also able to use the tools that make complex architectural designs more attainable and the construction of them more cost-effective, sustainable, and expedient."

The Shanghai students seemed to really appreciate the hands-on opportunities to learn more about the new technology from Rash and Miller. 

"I am impressed with the classroom, the access to technology, and that the teacher’s work so closely with the students," said Lu Zike, a second year student at Shanghai University.

Fourth year Shanghai University student Zhang "Amber" Bijun agreed, "I am very excited to have the opportunity to learn this software. Generally, at home, students must purchase and teach themselves how to use this technology."

When they weren't in the classroom or relaxing in Ingles Hall, the Shanghai University group was learning about Kentucky culture and taking in the sights around the Bluegrass. This year's visit, included excursions to the Woodford Reserve Distillery, Winstar Farm, and museums in Cincinnati, as well as a homemade American dinner and the Lexington fireworks show on Independence Day with trip coordinator Allison Hays.

"They love the pace, beauty, and welcoming nature of Lexington," Hays said. "This is a bit of an oasis for them because the rest of their time in the U.S. will be spent touring major cities at a lightning pace, so this is meant to be about art, fun and sharing. They really seem to enjoy everything and love the beauty of Kentucky." 

"Lexington seems very nice," Bijun said. "I love the historic buildings, and seeing people out jogging, walking and relaxing.