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RED project offers students a cross-cultural art exchange

All month long, The Piano Factory Art Gallery in Boston’s South End (791 Tremont Street) is hosting a selection of pieces from Art Institute of Boston (AIB) students as part of an exhibit focused on Chinese art. The work on display is part of an international collaborative project called “RED” between AIB students in two of Carmin Karasic’s digital art classes and Chinese students at Zhaoqing University in Guangdong Province, China.

Artwork by April Jasak

Last fall, Karasic — an instructor of digital media in AIB’s Photography Department and an alumnae from the MFA in Visual Arts program — devised the RED project with Tom R. Chambers, an American visiting lecturer in digital/new media art and digital photography at Zhaoqing University. “Collaboration, especially online collaboration, is an essential element of my classes,” Karasic says. “So when the opportunity to have my students work on a project with art students in China presented itself, I saw it as a unique learning experience for everyone involved.”

The assignment was to visually explore the color red using digital tools; the results illustrate how these two very different cultures interpret the same thing. “I've experienced the color, red, in many different forms here in China,” says Chambers. “Knowing this and its various meanings in Chinese culture, and coupled with how we perceive the same color in America, I thought it would make for an interesting project.  And indeed, the results indicate those cultural differences.”

Artwork by Bonnie Moses

In China, the color red has cultural, political, and even sacred significance. Not only is it the dominant color on the flag, it is also considered the luckiest of all colors, and gifts of money are often presented in red envelopes. From wedding ceremonies to revolutions to Communism itself, red is symbolic of the Chinese psyche. Mao Zedong is even sometimes referred to as a “red sun.”

For Americans, red also has political meaning, being one of the colors on the flag, and it is used to differentiate the Democrat and Republican parties (i.e., blue states and red states). But more often it is associated with romantic and carnal love, violence and bloodshed, and a state of danger and emergency. “From the beginning, we expected to see sex and danger in the American work and more political themes in the Chinese work, and that’s basically what we got,” admits Karasic.

Artwork by Julia Hobart

Photography student Julia Hobart explored both the positive and negative connotations of the color red using a collage of images to convey her interpretation. “I wanted to show the many different things that red can symbolize in my mind,” she says. “So I put in the city and I used a nude image to represent passion. I also put in images of war and an apple to represent sin.”

While the work from the Chinese students basically adhered to a universal design standard and featured overlapping political and cultural themes, the AIB work integrates mixed media as well as digital tools. “As Chinese society and culture go, the images reflect a sense of pride in their long history and civilized society…but what seems to lie deeper is the formalized approach due to the long-standing adherence to recognized forms and proper procedures,” says Chambers. “As American society and lifestyle go, the images reflect a much looser existence with a lack of well-defined societal values.”

"Battle Green" by Lino Ribeiro

Chambers believes such a difference reflects the collective spirit of the Chinese versus the emphasis Americans place on individuality. That individuality is apparent in senior Fine Arts student Lino Ribeiro’s piece. He didn’t even use the color red but instead created a photo montage of himself and his roommate, Ko. The flag Ribeiro waves, which he calls “The Americkan Flag,” is actually the U.S. flag with its colors digitally inverted so it appears green and black rather than red, white, and blue. “I didn’t just want to respond with the opposite meaning of the same color,” he explains, noting that his piece was more about the symbolism of what red means to him rather than an obvious use of the color.

Artwork by Rob Coshow

Rob Coshow, now a Photography alum, saw RED as an opportunity to use his work to reach across cultural and language barriers. “I first tried to envision what the color red really means to me and tried to incorporate pieces of my environment into a visual means of communicating with people who don’t speak English,” he says. His finished piece, he says, represents an emotional state and embodies his passion for the human form, various textures, and the relationships in his life. “Originally I wanted it to be fairly literal, but as I began to work, I started to think about where I live, my apartment, my friends, my girlfriend, and how the color brought all those things together.”

Artwork by Lily Hyde

For the Piano Factory exhibit, Karasic choose the pieces by Hobart, Ribeiro, and Coshow as well as Lily Hyde, April Jasak, and Bonnie Moses. In addition, six pieces from the Zhaoqing students are displayed alongside the AIB work. Since last fall, AIB alum Jo Rhodes has been helping Karasic find gallery space in Boston to highlight the project and she was instrumental in introducing RED to Piano Factory galleryist, Teresa India Young. While Young does not have the space to exhibit all the pieces, Karasic is hopeful this exposure will open the door for a full exhibit elsewhere in the city.

Overseas, RED has been exhibited at Zhaoqing University in November 2005, and via projection at “The Carnival of e-Creativity & Change Agents Conclave” in New Delhi, India in January, and in March at the “AniGma 2006 Digital Media Art Festival” at the State Art Museum in Novobirisk, Russia.

Karasic is also featuring all the works at HyperArtSpace, the Boston Cyberarts’ online gallery, of which she is the Assistant Director. Images from the opening in China can be seen here.


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