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Cardboard box graduation work sparks debate

By Xu Zhesheng | | Updated: 2024-05-28 01:44
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A graduation exhibition work at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing has ignited heated debate. The piece, titled Super Beehive and created by a student surnamed Qiao, features a stack of cardboard boxes and a projected image of hands climbing up them. Critics have dismissed it as merely a pile of garbage, while supporters view it as a thought-provoking commentary on consumerism and the transient nature of success and failure.

Super Beehive, also known as "This Too Shall Pass", includes moving cardboard boxes and a video depicting the lifecycle of a box being made, recycled, and crushed. Projected onto the boxes are images of two hands climbing upwards.

Responding to criticism that her work resembles "a big pile of garbage," Qiao explained that the piece features a functioning motor and that each layer of cardboard was meticulously cut by hand. She estimated the cost of the project to be between 10,000 and 20,000 yuan ($1,380 to $2,760). "I apologize for the misunderstanding and misinterpretations of contemporary art," Qiao said.

Qiao described the cardboard box as a symbol of today's fast-paced consumer society. "It is often used once and then discarded, recycled, and crushed into new ones, constantly cycling between being needed and abandoned. This impermanence resonates with the current work-life situations of many people," she explained.

Super Beehive (Chaoji Fengchao in Chinese) is also the name of a densely populated residential building in Beijing, housing 8,000 migrant workers.

"Success will pass, but failure will also pass. Passion will pass, but annoyance will also pass. Fortune will pass, but adversity will also pass. No matter what you are going through, don't forget, this too shall pass," Qiao wrote in the work's description.

Reactions from online audiences have been mixed. Some expressed confusion, stating, "I really don't understand" and "Even old people picking up cardboard boxes stack them neatly, not like this mess." Others questioned the project's cost, asking, "Where did the 10,000 to 20,000 yuan go?" and "The graduation project is beyond my appreciation! The more she explains, the more I believe her graduation project is just a pile of garbage. Can't art students from prestigious academies stop playing with concepts and seeking attention? Can't they get closer to reality, life, and the masses?"

However, several audiences advocated for respecting artistic expression. Some supporters commented, "A professional shouldn't seek recognition from ordinary people." Others offered interpretations, stating, "To appreciate this work, you first need to understand the artist's theme and then see what the artist wants to express. What if they are advocating for environmental protection? As long as the value orientation is correct, it's okay. But if you don't understand anything and start criticizing it, it shows a lack of depth."

Red Star News commentator Jin Yu said, "Everyone has the right to comment on art and the freedom to express their likes and dislikes. At first glance, the work is indeed not easy to understand, so it's normal for those who are not in the art field to express confusion."

"Without the continuous innovation of artists, art itself will become rigid and lack vitality. Merely repeating historical styles and techniques will reduce art to a mere craft. From this perspective, 'Super Beehive' has its unique expression and reflection, but whether it truly possesses the artistic spirit and value of innovation remains to be judged by professionals," Jin added.

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