Art and science in­ter­sect in works of US artist

Amer­i­can uses ex­per­i­men­tal tech­nique and her ex­pe­ri­ences in Bei­jing to ex­plore new artis­tic worlds, Fan Feifei re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ni­cole Con­don Shih, 36, an Amer­i­can in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary artist, said she never could have imag­ined she would stay in Bei­jing for nearly eight years and hold ex­hibits to en­lighten peo­ple about the in­ter­sec­tion of art and science, and to ex­plore growth and space.

Shih’s projects ex­plore the city as a lab­o­ra­tory. Her re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion, Fab­ri­cated Cities, takes au­di­ences on a jour­ney through an ex­per­i­men­tal process of art and science, ex­pand­ing mi­cro cities and petri dish paint­ings, to dis­cover con­tem­po­rary life in Bei­jing.

“My in­spi­ra­tion comes from liv­ing in Bei­jing and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. I am con­stantly try­ing dif­fer­ent things in a sci­en­tific way, but from an artis­tic per­spec­tive. Life in Bei­jing has changed a lot as the city is grow­ing so fast, be­ing very dy­namic,” Shih said.

Her work starts with a tape and it goes into the stu­dio with the mi­cro­scope.

“Fab­ri­cated Cities is a pro­ject ini­ti­ated by my in­ter­est and daily con­fronta­tion with the Bei­jing air. As I cap­ture each mo­ment in time of the air par­tic­u­lates through the lens of my mi­cro­scope, I’m re­minded of Bei­jing as an ex­po­nen­tially de­vel­op­ing city that spreads and swells, re­lat­ing to the crys­tal­iz­ing process tak­ing place.”

She added or­ganic blue dye aims to cre­ate the rare “blue sky day” that she longs for in Bei­jing. “The work is left out of my con­trol and grows mi­croc­i­tyscapes re­veal­ing smok­ing chim­neys, blue­prints for ur­ban plan­ning, and canals flow­ing through each piece. It ap­pears as they form blue­prints for ex­pand­ing com­mu­ni­ties.”

It took her about one year to fin­ish the Fab­ri­cated Cities se­ries, which con­sists of eight paint­ings cho­sen from over 1,000 im­ages.

What she wants to bring to the au­di­ence through the ex­hi­bi­tion is cu­rios­ity. “Be­ing very cu­ri­ous about what they are, how and why I made them. I want au­di­ences also to ques­tion art. Peo­ple of­ten think of art as an oil paint­ing or Chi­nese paint­ing, but mine is a con­tem­po­rary art form and very ex­per­i­men­tal, so it is very dif­fer­ent.”

Shih grad­u­ated from Cor­nell Univer­sity’s Col­lege of Ar­chi­tec­ture, Art and Plan­ning. She got a master of science de­gree from Syra­cuse Univer­sity and also earned a master of fine art from Hunter Col­lege at the City Univer­sity of New York. Her work has been shown in the US, Italy, Hong Kong and Bei­jing.

She has an ed­u­ca­tional back­ground both of art and science. She started study­ing science in her first year of col­lege to be a doc­tor, but in her sec­ond year she switched to art. “My in­ter­est is also in science and I can make art about science.”

She is now ex­plor­ing the phys­i­cal and metaphor­i­cal prop­er­ties of crys­tal­iza­tion through another of her works, Crys­tal Lat­tice. The works are rem­i­nis­cent of Song dy­nasty (960-1279) land­scape paint­ings and re­call an essence of nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena.

She had never thought about crys­tal­iza­tion, which is both still and mov­ing at the same time. “It is re­ally very in­ter­est­ing.”

She ex­plains: “It started with talk­ing with a Chi­nese tra­di­tional medicine doc­tor. He showed me all of the medicine and the one that I chose was peng­sha, a Chi­nese medicine which is said to clear your lungs and stom­ach, but in the US we use it to kill cock­roaches. I think it is very funny.”

She took the peng­sha and put it into petri dish with some boiling wa­ter. Through the ex­per­i­men­tal process, she added color in the petri dish to cre­ate a paint­ing with peng­sha.

“Sud­denly, it starts grow­ing with crazy pat­terns, look­ing like bam­boo and wa­ter. Af­ter one month it be­comes a lit­tle bit solid, two months they be­come lit­tle bit white, three months they be­come clearer. But af­ter six months, they would break and bub­ble. It is like whole life cy­cle.”

She added the shape in­side the com­po­si­tion looks like Song Dy­nasty paint­ings. “Ac­tu­ally, I don’t choose to make Song Dy­nasty paint­ings, but so many peo­ple keep telling me that they just have a feel­ing that the paint­ings look like Song Dy­nasty.”

“Ev­ery­thing is chang­ing with a cy­cle. It is not good or bad, it’s de­vel­op­ing. Just like Bei­jing, you see a street here, but it may dis­ap­pear next year.”

Apart from re­search, she is also a teacher, be­ing the head of stu­dio prac­tice and full-time fac­ulty in the In­ter­na­tional Foun­da­tion Course at the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts. Her art train­ing in­forms her teach­ing just as teach­ing is in­te­gral to her train­ing as an artist.

“When I was liv­ing in New York, I didn’t know much about Bei­jing, but I knew it has a dy­namic art theme, like a very ex­cit­ing art world.”

Shih came to China in 2007 with her hus­band, a Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can film­maker, imag­in­ing she would stay here only for two years. How­ever, “I love it here, so we stayed.”

“I chose to teach be­cause I like teach­ing. To me teach­ing is part of my art prac­tice. It’s not sep­a­rate. The pro­gram I teach is an in­ter­na­tional foun­da­tion course, the first one in Bei­jing. The year I joined is the first year that the univer­sity started the in­ter­na­tional pro­gram, which is very ex­cit­ing for me. It is a way that I was able to in­ter­act with Chi­nese stu­dents and bring in my per­spec­tive as an Amer­i­can and my teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in US, also putting Chi­nese and Western teach­ing method­ol­ogy to­gether.”

Un­der the pro­gram, stu­dents need to study in China for one year and then go to the UK, US or Canada for fur­ther study.

Her teach­ing ranges from fine art to de­sign, and in­cludes draw­ing, paint­ing, print­mak­ing, ba­sic 2D de­sign and re­search and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. “My aim is to de­velop and teach cur­ricu­lum that inspires us to be ac­tive cul­ture pro­duc­ers in a global so­ci­ety.”

“I am teach­ing stu­dents what­ever they want to be, artist, de­signer or maybe ar­chi­tect, and how can you re­search sub­jects they are in­ter­ested in, and teach them to be will­ing to be ex­per­i­men­tal, that’s some­thing that they re­ally strug­gle with.”

To her de­light, the stu­dents change a lot af­ter she teaches them for a pe­riod of time. “They be­come more cre­ative, more thought­ful, and they use their own cul­ture in ex­cit­ing ways,” she said, adding they start to think in a crit­i­cal way.

Xiao Wei, an art lover who ma­jored in paint­ing, told China Daily that “the process of cre­at­ing such paint­ing is the most in­ter­est­ing. Her paint­ing is a com­bi­na­tion of art and science, which is re­ally very rare in China. More­over, her cre­ations make changes ev­ery day, like a life­cy­cle.”

Samp­son Ho, the founder of Workjam, which is the big­gest co-work­ing space in Bei­jing, where Shih’s ex­hi­bi­tion was held, said: “There are about 30 to 40 peo­ple vis­it­ing the free art ex­hi­bi­tion each day. We chose Ni­cole for she is an es­tab­lished artist, teach­ing at the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts. More im­por­tant, her work is unique and in­ter­est­ing, close to life.”

Shih said she likes the com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Chi­nese peo­ple and plans to ex­plore more op­por­tu­ni­ties or spa­ces to hold her ex­per­i­men­tal gal­leries, maybe in hu­tong, the tra­di­tional court­yard houses. Con­tact the writer at fan­feifei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Art­work of Ni­cole Con­don Shih:

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