People agree that art is important to cultivating a creative society, however, there is less agreement about how art enhances creativity. At Handshake 302, we believe that art praxis does not emphasize making something new, but rather emphasizes using materials already at hand in new ways. This is a slight but important difference. We are interested in the creative process more than we are interested in creative products. In fact, artists are simultaneously curious and pragmatic, asking a simple question: what can I do with this?
Consider for example the “Coral Garden (海底花园)” curatorial workshop. Sponsored by Esther House at Shantou University (汕头大学淑德学院), the workshop took place over three consecutive weekends (5/5-6、5/12-13、5/19-20). During the workshop, Handshake 302 used extant art and educational resources in a new way to simultaneously create a different learning environment and a new artwork.
So how did Handshake 302 use artistic thinking to create a workshop for Shantou University students? We took into consideration two specific elements of 淑德书院 and thought about how to interpret them in new ways. First, Ester House commemorates the role of Chao-Shan women in promoting women’s education in China. Second, Shantou is a coastal city which had depended on the ocean to sustain its life and culture. After deciding to explore these two ideas, we asked: what do Chao-Shan women and the South China Sea have in common? This question stimulated conversations about the many contributions that women and the ocean have made to Shantou even as mainstream society has taken these contributions for granted. And suddenly the workshop theme appeared: 视而不见的贡献.
We decided to crochet a coral garden because it brought together these two themes.
On the one hand, crochet is a traditional women’s craft that has a deep history in Shantou. All participants remembered that their grandmothers crocheted for them, warming homes and bodies one stitch at a time. Nevertheless, people often overlook grandmothers and their contributions to the home. This exhibition hoped to make more people aware of the women who have enriched their lives.
On the other hand, over 71 percent of the earth’s surface is underwater, while 96.5 percent of the earth’s total water is contained in our oceans. In environmental terms, the ocean is important to life on earth because of the role it plays in both the hydrologic cycle and the carbon cycle. The hydrologic cycle refers to the relationship that exists between the circulation, evaporation and precipitation of water on the planet. the carbon cycle determines the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. In simple terms, without oceans human beings would not be able to live! And yet, when we think of environmental problems we often overlook how our actions impact our oceans.
Crochet takes time and so many participants began carrying their yarn and hooks, working on their project on trains and in coffee shops. This element of the project illuminated several unexpected gifts of artistic praxis. First, many people were excited to see young women carrying on a tradition. Second, when they learned that the project was being used to celebrate Chao-Shan women’s culture and the ocean, they immediately understood the meaning of the artwork. Some remembered a scarf that their grandmother had made them, while others talked about making shoes for their children. Third, when people saw us using a traditional craft to create art it stimulated their imaginations and they suddenly had all sorts of ideas about how we could use crochet to make new kinds of objects.
During each weekend of the workshop, Handshake 302 introduced Shantou students to different aspects of curatorial work. The first weekend (5/5-6) focused on the importance of big ideas to meaningful exhibition. Yang Qian gave a theoretical lecture about how society creates “blindspots,” while Wang Yanxia introduced students to Chao-Shan’s women’s contributions to education. Zhang Kaiqin spoke about different kinds of textile art. Mary Ann instructed everyone on how to crochet “seaweed” and “cakes,” which were the fundamental techniques for making the Coral Garden.
Over the second weekend (5/12-13), the workshop focused on how to promote art through activities and design. Liu He analyzed the importance of activities for bringing visitors to the exhibition and for introducing them to the meaning behind the exhibition. Liu He emphasized that event planning and educational activities are fundamental to a successful show. Wu Dan introduced the importance of graphic design for promoting an exhibition in different contexts. Wu Dan reminded students that the influence of an exhibition can only be extended beyond the concrete time and space of the exhibition through posters, documentation, and propaganda. Students then broke into events, VI, and art working groups to plan the event opening. Xiaoming joined the art group contributing her “Medusa heads” series of sea anemone!
During the week leading up to the exhibition opening, the activities working group initiated two events that brought “Coastal Garden” both to the Shantou university and neighborhood communities. On Wednesday May 16, the activities group organized a coffee and crochet evening, bringing together more participants into the Coral Garden. They also worked with several shopkeepers from outside the campus. These “East Gate Aunties” also made sea anemone, shells, and seaweed for the exhibition. Meanwhile, the VI group successfully created two digital posters and one hand drawn poster, which all participants signed.
The resulting exhibition not only reminded students and teachers of how environmental and feminist concerns intersect, but also encouraged students to consider how solutions to current problems can only be found in the details of everyday life.
Impressions from the opening day, below: