Interview with the RCA Graduate Zhenhan Hao
ART.ZIP: Could you tell us about your studying experience in the UK? Why did you choose the RCA? Did you study in Art school in China as well?
ZH: I had my Bachelor’s degree of Design in the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in China. During the four years of study, I was taught to question things and find solutions. However, what I learnt couldn’t solve the questions that kept popping up. My understanding of design was also moving further away from the general definition – I was so confused. One day, I saw some RCA students’ portfolios and felt a connection with them. At that moment, I decided that the RCA was the place for me.
ART.ZIP: What kind of questions kept popping up? What do you think of the definition of design? How did the RCA students’ portfolios dispel the confusion you were feeling at that time?
ZH: In CAFA, the teaching approach is to solve problems by designing new things. But I found that solving problems through designing and producing products introduced more issues than it solved. Their portfolios involved in depth social discussions, which opened my eyes to more possibilities. There are so many avenues of design; the definition viewed through different perspectives is also very varied. So nowadays, I just simply do my best to complete a subject by thinking about rather than defining it.
ART.ZIP: Did you face any difficulties when you applied for schools?
ZH: It was about appropriateness rather than difficulties. If your portfolios are suitable for the RCA and their courses can enhance your study and abilities, then the mentors will choose you.
ART.ZIP: What advice will you give to Chinese students who want to apply for UK schools?
ZH: Firstly, you have to know exactly what you want before you apply for schools. Then check whether the RCA provides the courses you want or not. When applying, it is more important to show the applicants’ personalities and what they are good at, rather than guessing what the recruiters like.
ART.ZIP: During two years postgraduate study and living in the UK, what was the biggest change?
ZH: There were two major changes. The first was to further my understanding of myself. During these two years, I had a clearer version of what I wanted and also gained more confidence. The second change was my circle of friends. I met a lot of like-minded friends through study or work experiences.
ART.ZIP: Can you roughly describe the teaching style of the RCA tutors or lecturers?
ZH: In RCA study schedules are split between theory and practice depending on the subject – each studio has its own style and preferences. I was in platform 13, which was led by lectures Onkar Kular and Dash Macdonald. Lecturers designed specialised topics based on students’ degrees and background in the first year. Students could explore any concept as they wished – there were no limits. They could then choose a concept they were interested in to develop further as their design project in the second year.
ART.ZIP: It is well known that tuition fees are quite expensive in RCA. Is there any scholarship that can help out talented students that can’t afford the fees?
ZH: It is a shame that there is no scholarship for international students. Students can always work in the bar or library on campus, although the working hours are limited for students and the income isn’t much.
ZH: 皇藝每個系的教學安排都不同，同一個系不同的工作室也有自己的教學傾向和風格，我所在的platform 13是由導師安卡·庫拉（Onkar Kular）和達什·麥克唐納（Dash Macdonald）帶領的，導師會在一年級的時候根據學生的程度和背景設計專門的課題，每個課題又有很大的自由度，所以一年級的學生在很大的程度上是在嘗試盡可能多的方向，所以在二年級的時候才能確定自己的選題並將一年級的實驗發展為深入的設計項目。
ART.ZIP: Could you talk about any of your projects? In which area do you think that the RCA influences you the most?
ZH: My project ‘Imitation/Imitation’ uncovers the social, political and economic implications of Chinese imitation culture and stimulates a positive future through my direct interventions. I have taken on the guise of an agent and am managing two research-practices simultaneously under different social contexts. In China, I have proposed a new production model for craftsmen in Dafen village and Jingdezhen to imitate and create at the same time. Together, we co-produced a series of improvised products that sought to inspire the imitators to explore their imagination and creativity. In London I introduced Chinese imitation culture through a workshop with the absurd aim of drawing perfect circles by repeatedly drawing circles freehand. This is similar to millions of workers’ and craftsmen’s daily jobs in China- making the impossible possible.
It seems like I’m doing an artistic project rather than designing a project that I’m studying in. RCA and my friends give me lots of support and help. My lecturers guide me through how to discuss a thing in depth, it doesn’t matter how I do it. This is the biggest support I’ve got.