Weiji, an idiomatic term that might be considered a concept rather than something definable, implies that when encountering difficulties there are often many options one can take. The idea of a crisis, real or insinuated can often take us from our normal course and redirect our attention to alternate ideas, requiring us to rethink our assumptions and open our minds to new opportunities. As such, the students from the Schools of Photography at the Beijing Film Academy and the Art Department of the University of Minnesota have constructed visual analogies to the concept of Weiji or Crisis = Opportunity.
The course of history is replete with examples of world, and national crises’, from the struggles for social justice to the fall of empires. The past three years have brought to public attention environmental, and economic challenges that have shaken our confidence and our sense of security. In turn, such issues bring to our own door crises' that are often the direct result of these seismic shifts, a crisis such as job loss are devastating because it is difficult to see the opportunities that lay ahead. We posed these issues to the students, asking them to respond to the world around them, whether that was the larger world or the world of their own daily lives.
The images seen here reflect the deep and often difficult transitions that today’s student’s feel in their everyday lives. As our two cultures move into the 21st century the rate of change and development often outstrips our ability and willingness to understand the change. However, it is critical that we make ourselves aware of the coming changes and to learn from the mistakes of the past, while not forgetting our own values and histories. The collaborative discussions held on the project in Minneapolis and Beijing have proven to be both informative and revealing and I believe that the images seen here reflect that. Each of the students selected an aspect of the topic relevant to their experience and used it to open their thinking to others in the collaborative process.
The range of work visualizes aspects of the contemporary world we live in, asking questions such as how we manage the flood of refuse, how we treat the environment, and more. Some created dream like new worlds built on the decay of old ideas using new photographic technologies, and others reflected on personal loss and the pain of separation form friends and family.
Change —evolution —transform —
We awaken each day to new circumstances, circumstances that require new understanding, tolerance, and awareness. The nature of existence is accommodating to change, and how we manage that change is what determines our success. The ability to use the accumulated knowledge that we have gained through experience, education, and training provide the ground upon which we stand, when this ground shifts, do we see this as a crisis or an opportunity?
This yearlong project, involving the students from the Photographic Institute of the Beijing Film Academy and the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, has provided an opportunity to examine the concept of transition and the effect it has on their lives. Students were asked to explore visually some aspect of change that they have come to understand as altering the way they perceive and understand the world around them. Some use personal narratives while others illustrate through a documentary style, the evolving landscape. As students it is often difficult to perceive change when living in real time, this project provided the medium and the opportunity to step back and to reflect on their own assumptions.
Each of the students as well as their professors has had the opportunity to visit another culture and to experience the differences in the underlying assumptions upon which the cultures have been built. Each student arrived at his or her work through their individual experience, often finding in each other’s culture and background remarkable similarities that unite the work. The transition in contemporary photographic technology has led to new means of representation and students have responded with many images that would have been difficult or problematic with film technology. The digital transition has given students and professionals alike a new immediacy and a freedom to experiment.
The intention of this project and the larger program Working and Discovery is predicated on the belief that we are better off learning form and with each other.
- Thomas Rose
2013 - 2014
Mirror/ Window, the 2013 collaboration with the Beijing Film Academy photo school, is the third collaborative project done with the students and faculty of the Beijing Film Academy. Arranged with students from the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota and the Beijing Film Academy, students envision and interpret the theme taking into consideration their individual or collective understanding. Professors Thomas Rose and Paul Shambroom, taking an active role coordinating this collaboration, traveled to Beijing this past May with seven students for the exhibition of work at the Film Academy and to enable our students to interpret their experiences in Beijing.
Mirror/ Window is a topic with multiple possible interpretations — viewing out to the larger world or turning inward to examine the self. In 1978 MOMA curator of photography John Szarkowski organized an exhibition with this title to explore emerging developments in contemporary American photographic Imaging. This exhibition uses the theme in a much more individual way with the Chinese and American students exploring their diverse visions for the future as well as how they see themselves in the world. Much of this work is positive and “upbeat” with little indication of the strife and anxiety so prevalent in the news.