Interview with Professor Chen Xiaowen,the head of RobotArt Lab

from: time:

Artist, educator, curator, expert among “The Thousand Talents Plan”, lifetime professorship of Alfred University School of Art and Design, Distinguished Professor and the head of the art and technology discipline of CAFA School of Design. He is also the Awards Judge of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a researcher at the East Asia Program of Cornell University. Used to be the professor at the Cornell University School of Architecture, Fine Arts, and Urban Planning and the visiting professor at RISD School of Design.

Main research directions:
Digital Media Art Theory, Art and Science, Interactive Video, Printmaking/Oil Painting.

Interviewee: Chen Xiaowen
Interviewer: Zhang Yueyan (intern reporter of CAFA VAII)
Time: August 27, 2019
Venue: CAFA School of Design


VAII :Hello, Prof. Chen! Thanks very much for taking the time to receive the interview by CAFA VAII.As the head of the RobotArt Lab, can you talk about what makes you focus on the research of RobotArt and wearable smart technology designs?

ChenXiaowen : More than a decade ago, I saw an exhibition of Robotic art at Neue Galerie in New York, which shew a bio-robot that mimicked the laws of human growth and could digest food normally. I was quite touched because it was a work developed by a team of engineers seemingly without any artist involvement. In 2016, as recommended by the Central Academy of Fine Arts, I was recruited as an expert in the “The Thousand Talents Plan” to set up a new discipline in the School of Design. With the support of the leaders in the School of Design, I was in charge of the construction of the “Art and Technology” discipline. There was one accidental chance that I had a talk with Prof. Yao Yan’an, the robot expert of Beijing Jiaotong University, who was hoping to establish a joint education platform of RobotArt. In 2017, we opened courses as “Art and Technology”, “Robot Dynamic Sculpture” and “Wearable Smart Technology Designs” at CAFA School of Design and began to recruit graduate students in the direction of “RobotArt”.

VAII : Now being in charge of the VAII RobotArt Lab, what are your work plans?

ChenXiaowen : "RobotArt" is a relatively broad concept and our researching focus is not market-oriented for service, entertainment or medical treatment, but on biomimetic robots. Biotechnology is the research of advanced technology on biological growth or sustainable development of life. The previous dean of MIT once predicted that the next age of technology would be the age of biotechnology. Therefore, I hope that China can keep up with the development and plan an active role in the biotechnology and art research, if not in advance of the age. From this year on, we will launch a series of “Master Open Class”, inviting experts of various nations to give lectures, and we will collaborate with New York University, Harvard University, Peking University, Beijing Jiaotong University and other leading universities both at home and abroad to engage in the creation and research and development of bio-robots. The RobotArt Lab of CAFA VAII, bearing the goal to build a guiding theory of "scientific and technological aesthetics" and obliged to develop high academic and artistic standard products with social influence, will enhance the education of innovative talents on art and technology.

VAII: As a tenured professor of Alfred University in the United States, what do you think is the difference between domestic teaching and American teaching?

ChenXiaowen : Specifically speaking on the field of RobotArt education, the American has been developing the same for nearly four or fifty years, while we might just have begun. Yet, China’s development seems faster than them. I spoke with my colleagues in the U.S. of the support that I have received from CAFA VAII for the setup of RobotArt Lab, and they were surprised upon hearing the investment on the scientific research and education within several years. Things that cannot be achieved in many U.S. art schools for many years are conducted in China within just a couple of years. Meanwhile, there also emerge some problems of technology ethics. The U.S. is more sensitive to ethical issues than China. To give a simple example, I recently read in a pushed article that one Chinese school uses surveillance cameras and smart big data to observe students’ class status. In the U.S. it will become quite controversial. Though it is more of a kind of display in China to show the society how wide we can apply this technology, in U.S. the first concern would be the side effects to the younger generation and the society when having developments in the field of art and technology.

VAII :CAFA is one of the most important art schools in China, and VAII is a top functional department of CAFA. What will be your mission as the head of RobotArt Lab of CAFA VAII?

ChenXiaowen : As an educator, I have more of a mission for education rather than for business. As the head of the CAFA VAII RobotArt Lab, I have my basic duties in the academic and teaching &research areas. At the same time,VAII is an education department open to the public and shares the responsibility for the social benefits. I often consider that the establishment of today’s design and plastic arts disciplines in art schools was adapted to the production patterns of the 1st and 2nd industrial age, which was supposed to meet the social needs at that time. Now, we have entered the 4th industrial age, and our disciplinary construction in the specific areas has not changed much, still based on the most basic and the lowest level of intelligence requirements. However, there is need we clearly understand that art is of constant development following the advancement of technology and industry. The age of the advanced intelligent has come, and the biotechnology of forefront is changing the way we live. So We hope to provide a platform for students to synchronize the learning with the whole age of technology, rather than always making up classes.

Chen Xiaowen "Study of Gravitational Field-Imaginary Suspension" video installation, 2018-2019 (1) 

Chen Xiaowen "Study of Gravitational Field-Imaginary Suspension" video installation, 2018-2019 (2)

Chen Xiaowen "Study of Gravitational Field-Imaginary Suspension" video installation exhibition scene

Chen Xiaowen "Nomad" Printmaking 33cm X 71cm 2010

Chief Editor / Dong Huiping
Editor / Zhang Yueyan, Liu Fan
Interview Shoot / Zhang Yuexi
Photos of the work / CAFA VAII RobotArt Lab