From September 2014 to August 2015, I was an Honorary Research Fellow at the Birkbeck Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture (BIRMAC). During my time here, I gained new perspectives with regard to academic knowledge and practice skills from the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies and would especially like to thank Dr. Lorraine Lim and Dr. Sophie Hope for their help during my time at Birkbeck.
Basically, my research experience can be divided into three parts. The first was ‘auditing’, which took place from September 2014 to March 2015. During this time, I was able to attend and audit six courses offered on the MA Arts Policy and Management with a particular focus on the curating modules. The second part of my fellowship was when I conducted research on my research interests through visiting various exhibitions in Europe and attending symposiums in London. The third and final part was bringing together what I had learnt from my auditing and my research so as to be able to develop my own curating practice.
In my original proposal for my fellowship, I had initially wanted to look at the ways in which arts management was taught within Birkbeck, being able to audit various modules on the MA was the best way for to collect, compare and contrast how arts management was taught here as opposed to my teaching experience at Zhengzhou University. During this time, I was fortunate to be able to see how there was a systematic way in which students were expected to develop their knowledge and skills through engaging with a reading list and participating in discussions and presentations in class. There are definitely differences in the teaching approach between Birkbeck and Zhengzhou. Teaching at Birkbeck focuses on encouraging students to discover and develop their own lines of questioning, whereas in Zhengzhou the tutors are more directed in their approach to student enquiry. At the same time, I do feel that there are similarities too in our teaching aims where we attach importance to cultivating the student’s interest in using theory to develop their practice and the importance of always keeping informed with the latest developments in the sector. For example, I learnt about crowdfunding via platforms such as Kickstarter in a module taught by Dr Lim and have since thought about using it for my future projects.
As for being able to visit exhibitions and attend symposiums, I think that London is the best place for not only studying about curating but also practicing it. The many types of exhibitions I visited were very impressive and the one that left the strongest impression on me was the exhibition Disobedient Objects at the V&A Museum curated by research fellow Gavin Grindon and V&A Prints Curator, Catherine Flood. I went from having no idea about this exhibition to writing a review of it with Dr Hope via my three visits. The knowledge I gained from activist art and mounting exhibitions from the module, ‘The Inside Out of Culture Theories and Institutions,’ contributed a lot in helping me understand this exhibition.
During this whole year in Birkbeck, I also participated in various discussion group and events organized by BIRMAC and other universities. One such event was Storming the Citadels? Changing attitudes and frameworks to arts practices and research in community contexts organized by Dr Hope. Another event was the UCL Art Museum and Zabludowicz Collection Symposium: Collecting the Emerging. These two events are just a sample of the various activities I took part in. At the same time I had the opportunity to share my research experience and projects with the staff and PhD students in the Department. My last presentation was on my research on Zhuxian Town Woodblock New Year Painting which took place as part of Doctoral Student-led Conference.
The culmination of my fellowship and one of the happiest events of my time at Birkbeck was being able to curate my first work in London which took place in Burgess Park on 16th August 2015. I curated it as an open air event, firstly to try and find a way to distinguish it from a ‘traditional’ exhibition form and secondly, an open air exhibition allowed me to work with the type of art works presented by two young artists from the Chelsea College of Arts. We described the exhibition as ‘A coincidence in the jungle and a struggle in the underbrush. Let’s say goodbye to the roof of gallery and celebrate our graduation in Burgess Park.’ This exhibition drew quite a lot of interest from people in the park and both artists were satisfied with my curation. I will cherish and keep a record of this memory forever as a conclusion of my academic visit to Birkbeck.
GAO Yun is a Lecturer in Visual Communication at the Department of Fine Arts, Zhengzhou University, China. Her research interests include the design of books, folk arts, cultural and creative industries, curating and activist art. In the year 2011-2012, she was awarded first prize in the Social Science Excellent Achievement Award of Zhengzhou for a paper she wrote. In addition, two of her book designs have been recognised with awards from the Henan Star Art Design Competition and The 6th National Exhibition of Book Design in China. Her book designs have also been selected for The 7th National Exhibition of Book Design in China.