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Through Our Door: An exhibition in and about Jingyuan

MAY . 17 2021
“…‘我,門’ tells stories about identities and relations. Drawing from Jingyuan’s 95 years of history, it speaks to who we are as a community; it is a door that opens deeper links between Yenching Academy and Peking University, Peking University and society, and society and the world.”
—Joyce Fung Wai Yung, 2020 Yenching Scholar

Peking University, May 17, 2021: These words capture the essence of the student-led interdisciplinary exhibition created in and about the century-old architectural site, Jingyuan (静园), located at the western axis of Peking University (PKU). Titled “《我,門》| Through Our Door,” the exhibition shares the Culture (人文), History (历史) and Art (艺术) of Jingyuan, bringing to life its people, its architecture and its natural setting. Led by Joyce Fung, a 2020 master’s student at the Yenching Academy (YCA) of PKU, and curated by Zhu Ye, a 2020 doctoral student at the School of Arts of PKU, the exhibition launched with the support of over 30 students from across PKU, other universities, as well as China, South Korea, India, and the United States.


Opening Ceremony

After months of preparations, “Through Our Door” was born with an opening ceremony on May 5, 2021. Over 50 guests were in attendance, including Wang Bo, Vice President of PKU; Peng Feng, Dean of the School of Arts; Fan Shiming and Brent Haas, Associate Deans of Yenching Academy; Chen Changwei, Assistant Dean of Yenching Academy; He Jin, Deputy Director of the Department of History; Zhang Tianxin, Associate Professor of the College of Architecture and Landscape; Dong Hao, Assistant Professor of Guanghua School of Management; and Tang Hongfeng, Assistant Professor of the School of Arts.

 


Following a musical performance by Yenching Scholars Liu Yanjun and Joshua Fung (Malaysia), Vice President Wang shared his story of Jingyuan, which started in 1982. He emphasized the connection that Jingyuan fosters for all who pass through its halls — a connection that transcends time and space.


As both the exhibition advisor and a professional curator, Professor Peng applauded how the exhibition epitomizes the interdisciplinary nature of PKU.


Likewise, Associate Dean Fan shared his thoughts about the uniqueness of the exhibition and how it aligns with the intercultural and interdisciplinary nature of the YCA program. He added that the exhibition is the best gift to celebrate YCA’s 7th and PKU’s 123rd anniversaries, respectively.

 
As for Associate Dean Haas, he praised the team’s research into the Jingyuan’s historical heritage, which illuminates the life and memories of this site, its materials and people. Furthermore, he congratulated the team on the manipulation of light to present different colors, shapes and designs to turn the space into a new visual experience of unquestionable beauty.


Closing the ceremony, Director Joyce Fung shared her love for creation and how it is her approach to know others and the world. She told the story of how the exhibition was conceived and born over 7 months, guiding the visitors to interpret the exhibition not only as product, but also as process. In addition, the curator, Zhu Ye stressed the role of the exhibition in connecting the past and the present, as well as people, nature and space. She lauded the team’s efforts in bringing these connections to life through interviews, architectural relics and mind maps.



This is Jingyuan: Culture, History and Art

The exhibition team organized several guided tours and workshops to welcome visitors into Jingyuan. These tours expose the details of the works and designs of the exhibition that do not only show and tell the stories and histories of Jingyuan, but also take part in writing them. The visitors are led through Jingyuan 4’s red gates, a structure in red covered by a brick roof and embellished with dragon stones. In through these gates, they walk together with the guide onto its pathway lit by solar-powered lamps and flanked by tree lines, blooming flowers and red cubes that function as both objects to admire and chairs to sit on.


During the day, this breathtaking scenery features the blend of colors (red and green) and the intermingling of lights and shadows, which draws the visitors into relaxation. At dusk, the strategically positioned lamps on the pathway would light up, bright enough to show the trail but at the same time dim enough to preserve the serene mood and poetry of the garden.


One is immersed in the exhibition’s three interdisciplinary themes – culture, history and art – as they proceed through the door leading into the building’s interior.

人文 | Culture uncovers memories of the people of Jingyuan, their countless arrivals and departures, as well as their life and activities. The stairway on the left side of the building presents Jingyuan’s biography. On the lowest step is a line about it in 1921, and on the highest step, that in 1945. The stairs on the right-side display quotations taken from interviews of the faculty, staff, and students who have lived, worked and studied at Jingyuan since the 1960s.


 
Though from different eras, these memories have a lot in common as they show groups of students who add their scripts to the never-fading tales of Jingyuan. From the pictures of the Yenching women’s baseball team playing in 1929 to the games of the Yenching Pumas (YCA’s women’s football team) at Wu-Si Sports Field in 2019, and the Easter Service in 1940 to the Halloween celebrations in 2019, what continues throughout Jingyuan’s 95 years of history is a team spirit and cultural exchanges meant to break the binary between East and West.





历史 | History, or more or less ‘hertories’ since Jingyuan served as dormitories for female students and later international students, pieces together a narrative of its architecture and design. Constructed in 1926 by Henry Murphy, an American architect, it is a living symbol of the interplay between cultures and academic pursuits. From 1952 on, it has served as offices for PKU’s Departments of Literature, Philosophy, History, and Law and now, since 2014, Jingyuan 3 and 4 are the home of YCA-PKU, welcoming students from all over the world. By combining historical texts, archival images, as well as architectural fragments, the team formed a mind map to enable the visitors to relate with and self-evaluate the site’s aesthetic glamour and spatio-temporal trajectories.

 

艺术 | Art invites its visitors into a conversation that transcends the borders between subjects and objects through works such as red cubes, color gels, and solar lanterns. Since Jingyuan is a national heritage that prohibits permanent changes, the works were made not to hurt the architecture. The team described it best: “Our cubes reference the American artistic tradition of Minimalism, but, with paint-matched to the red of Jingyuan’s 4 doors, they feel as if they are part of this site.” The team made a total of 192 cubes, 100 keychains, 18 chairs, 2 tables and 6 vitrines, and installed color gels on the site’s doors and windows which emits warm red-colored shadows when sunlight permeates the building through the windows and doors. Over time, the solar lanterns, which reveal the path and beauty of the garden after sunset, collect dust on them. As this happens, their light warms, and radiates more and more.


 
 
Through a series of tours and workshops between May 5 and August 8, 2021, the team aspires to make Jingyuan a public space open to everyone interested in the site’s rich heritage. It also invites vistors to closely follow the different activities, onsite as well as online, through a virtual reality (VR) translation of the exhibition and Jingyuan. This way, “Through Our Door” becomes the link that connects visitors with Yenchingers and Pekingers. The exhibition is designed to be open-ended, enabling the visitors to interpret and fill in knowledge where it is absent.


Written by: Dickson David Agbaji
Edited by: Joyce Fung Wai Yung, He Yiran, Hadley DeBello, Zhang Jiang, Li Na
Photo credit to: Joyce Fung, Yenching Academy, Yale University
Graphic design by: Elfie Chang, Teresa Xiong, Joyce Fung