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When Tradition Meets the Future: The Palace Museum Celebrates International Museum Day with Seven Themed Events

Updated: 2019-05-18 12:52:05
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The forty-third annual International Museum Day was held on 18 May 2019. The Palace Museum organized seven events surrounding this year's theme “Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition”, including a large-scale art project, seal carving with over a hundred participants, volunteer lectures and informational desks, hands-on printing experiences, a concert, an educational program focused on heritage architecture conservation, and a guided tour at the Gallery of Historic Architecture. These events and activities were aimed at facilitating communication and interaction between the Museum and the public and fulfilling the Museum's role as a cultural hub.

Collaboration: The Art Scene at the Palace Museum

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From 11–18 May, the Museum hosted six creative events collectively called “The Art Scene”. With participation by visitors of different age groups, a large-scale tangram-shaped installation was built. The Museum has hosted this highly popular annual event for many years.

With the theme “When Tradition Meets the Future”, this year's event was inspired by the traditional Chinese ideology of the Five Elements (wuxing). Using the colors white, green, black, red, and yellow in correspondence with metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, participants were invited to create installations on topics including “freehand monochrome ink wash”, “auspicious red”, “lucid waters and lush mountains”, “pristine white elegant porcelain”, and “auspicious union of the dragon and phoenix”. Participants from diverse age groups and professional backgrounds—including families, adults, primary and secondary school students, and students from art institutions—were guided by professional instructors to create a contemporary art collage with materials such as polymer clay, EPE foam, and mosaic-tiles. A total of 612 individual pieces were created and, then, in jigsaw-puzzle fashion, combined into a free-standing tangram installation. Such a transformation from the two-dimensional into a three-dimensional form is a departure from the convention of previous sessions in which the art was laid flat for display. Crowds of visitors enjoyed the unique spectacle as they stopped to view the art project.

Connection: Seal Carving with over a Hundred Participants

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As a cultural hub, the Palace Museum continues to contribute to cultural exchange programs that strengthen ties between museums and schools. On 18 May, a hundred students from Xierqi Primary School participated in a seal engraving activity.

Chinese seals boast over 3,000 years of history while the art of seal carving has developed into an art form that has been passed down for generations. In order to gain a better understanding of this traditional Chinese craftsmanship, the students, under the guidance of their teachers, worked on their own seals while taking inspiration from seals in the Palace Museum collection. They were also able to affix their own seals on printed reproductions of paintings and calligraphy from the Palace Museum collections. Aside from these first-hand experiences in seal cutting, the students enjoyed being immersed in the traditional Chinese cultural environment of the Forbidden City.

Steadfastness: Volunteer Lectures and Information Desks

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Each year on this special day, the Museum's volunteers host their own events for visitors. This year, the active volunteers were, as usual, found in every corner of the Museum and created their own unique kind of scenery within the Forbidden City. Clad in brightly colored uniforms, they set up information desks at locations such as the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihe men), the Treasure Gallery, and the Sculpture Gallery and responded to inquiries from visitors, provided exhibition information, and raised public awareness on following museum rules and regulations during their visit.

Over the past decade, the Palace Museum’s volunteers have been steadfast in their service to visitors. Since the opening of the Furniture Gallery in September 2018, a new group of highly competent volunteers began conducting guided tours in the gallery. Today, experienced members from this group offered a themed lecture on “How to Understand the Furniture Gallery” and guided visitors on a tour introducing them to the furniture of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties.

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Exchange: Hands-On Print-Making Experiences

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On the morning of the event-filled day, the opening ceremony for the project achievement exhibition “Win-Win Cooperation: Belt and Road International Printmaking Exchange” was held inside the Hall of Abstinence (Zhai gong). The exhibition brings together works by artists from countries along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative. Presenting artistic creation in a wide spectrum of styles deepens cultural exchange among countries located along the ancient trade routes.

A large-scale printmaking event followed the ceremony; over a hundred participants were guided by experienced artists as they learned the principles and process of printmaking. Some of the activities involved experiencing techniques such as screen, moveable-type, and woodblock printing in creating decorations on canvas bags, bookmarks, and prints with the artist's autograph. Learning about the characteristics of this art form as manifested by artists from different countries helps to facilitate effective communication and exchange between different cultures.

Music: Choral Concert in the Forbidden City

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The familiar melody of “My Beloved China” (Ai wo Zhonghua) filled the air in an exciting choral concert held in the court in front of the Archery Pavilion (Jian ting). The Chinese Musicians Association Philharmonic Chorus offered musical delights to the many visitors in attendance. During the concert, the choir performed a dozen popular patriotic songs such as “My Motherland” (Wo de zuguo) and “I Love You, China” (Wo ai ni, Zhongguo) led by prominent singers, “Where is Spring?” (Chuntian zai nali), “Let Us Row with Two Oars” (Rang women dangqi shuangjiang), as well as the polyphonic “Road to the Sky” (Tian lu) and “Hometown of Beijing” (Guxiang shi Beijing). Spectators were deeply touched, and many of them joined in the singing to express their patriotism.

Practicum: Education on Heritage Architecture Protection Empowered by Technologies

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The Bower of the Spirit Pool (Lingzhao xuan) is a distinct work of early-twentieth century architecture inside the Forbidden City. The design and construction materials used provide a wealth of information on the period in which it was constructed. Creatively called the “Crystal Palace”, it was the first aquarium in China, and, as such its historical significance can hardly be overestimated. In March 2019, the Museum officially began “The Palace of Prolonging Happiness: Research and Conservation Initiatives”. On the morning of International Museum Day, the Department of Architectural Heritage in collaboration with the Department of Conservation Science and experts from Tsinghua University carried out a public education program introducing how heritage architecture can be protected with the help of technology. Specialists from the Department of Architectural Heritage first presented the history of the building. Next, conservation experts explained tests and analyses needed prior to conservation work. Participants were then divided into five groups and carried out tasks including sampling and analyzing how chemical elements are identified through preliminary tests. Recording test results gave them a glimpse of the daily routines of conservators. The participants' project reports—reviewed by the experts in attendance—shed further light on the interior of the “Crystal Palace”.

Visit: Guided Tour at the Gallery of Historic Architecture

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Heritage architecture experts conducted guided tours and introduced papier-mâché architectural models, illustration archives, glazed components, caisson ceilings, bronze decorative objects, and interior decorations. The exhibits are material forms of ancient craftsmanship and reflect different perspectives of the beauty and exquisiteness of the Ming and the Qing palatial architecture. With the theme “Yu Zhuoyun’s Journey as a Practitioner of Heritage Architecture Preservation”, the temporary exhibition “Yu Zhuoyun's Centennial Exhibition: Stories in 60 Years” presents several important events in Yu's life against the backdrop of the period to tell the stories of the development of the Museum's architectural conservation and the reflections and accomplishments of that generation of devoted experts.

The cultural festivities offered throughout the seven themed-events by the Palace Museum were a unique way to celebrate this year's International Museum Day. As a cultural hub, the Palace Museum will continue to interpret traditional elements in multiple forms for the general public and promote the culture as represented by the Palace Museum with its architecture and collections so the public may engage with the future in traditional ways and pass on them on to the next generation.

Translated and edited by Zhuang Ying and Adam J. Ensign

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