Projects

Guiding Stars: a public artwork at Bay Meadows, San Mateo

My first terrazzo.

How will you stay on course? What are your guiding stars? What moves you to race ahead or slow down? When do you soar?

Christine Wong Yap, Guiding Stars, 2017, terrazzo, 31 x 31 inches. San Mateo, California // Photo Source: cityofsanmateo.org

The Project

Last year I was invited by art advisor Lisa Lindenbaum to develop a public artwork to be permanently installed at Bay Meadows in San Mateo, California.

As many Bay Area residents know, Bay Meadows was a racetrack. It closed in 2008, and has been converted into a housing development. There’s a publicly-accessible town square lined with shops and restaurants, with Jeppe Hein’s mirror installation in the middle. And a few steps away, you can find my little terrazzo.

 

Research

When I got Lisa’s invitation, I thought about how Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to California racetracks before being sent to internment camps. But I learned that Bay Meadows was never an assembly center. It was the only West Coast racetrack to stay open and in operation, because owner Bill Kyne made a deal with the government to donate 92% of profits to the war effort.

Over several months in 2017, I conducted research. I knew that Ohlone are indigenous to the region, and I learned about Bay Meadows’ history as an airfield; that the wildlife observed in 1797 included grizzly bears, black bears, antelope, and sea otters; that Bay Meadows was home to Seabiscuit’s records in 1937 and 1938; that there were even Indy car races in 1950-51 and NASCAR races in 1954-56; and more. (For better or worse, to this day, Google’s algorithm informs me of every mountain lion sighting in San Mateo.)

I also had a very pleasant chat with Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA Captain Jeff Christner. He confirmed that there still are coyote, lots of jack rabbits, and burrowing owls in the area. It’s always nice when you reach out to a stranger, and when you explain your art project, they think it’s fun and are happy to help.

 

Paths Not Taken

I got a lot of information, and incorporated some into my sketches. I couldn’t possibly fit everything. The materials of terrazzo—an aggregate like glass or stone in cement—and the small square footage available require limited detail.

Here’s an earlier design I was pretty fond of…

like all who wander, find sanctuary, or savor freedom here, we move to experience the world, our selves, and each other. take the lead, take flight, prowl, sprint, soar, slow down, shift gears, swoop

A preliminary sketch with a thoroughbred racehorse, mountain lion, Mission Blue butterfly, coyote, cyclist, jack rabbit, biplane, and red-tailed hawk.

 

I liked thinking about how Bay Meadows has always been about movement. It made me think about enjoying the body’s capacity for self-propulsion—just how nice it can feel to move your body through space.

Public art projects involve so many partners. Huge thanks to Lisa, who coordinated the stakeholders, met with fabricators, and even checked in with stonemasons who would be setting the terrazzo, not to mention interfaced with the client and architects.

On another note, early on, I’d considered doing a mosaic, and I reached out to Stephen Miotto. He’s created around 40 NYC subway mosaics over the decades. When we talked, he was nothing but friendly and helpful. I hope one day to get to work with him. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy seeing his work around town differently, knowing that a master craftsman made the mosaic by hand.

 

Guiding Stars

Like much of my work, the final design is less of a picture to be viewed, than an invitation to reflect and interact. Here’s what I wrote for the plaque:

Guiding Stars uses a compass as a metaphor for the continual evolution of a place and its inhabitants. Approached from any direction, it invites viewers to center, re-orient, and pivot, as they consider moving forward in space and time. Movement is characteristic to all phases of Bay Meadows, as a place where Native Americans gathered, airplanes took flight, thoroughbreds raced, and people commute, live, explore, and celebrate life.

 

Fabrication

I bought pure pigments from Kremer Pigments in NYC. The sales people were super helpful, which I appreciated since I’d never made a terrazzo before. Kremer is a painter’s wonderland. When I left the store, I felt like my eyes had had an optical experience—I just wasn’t used to seeing so much pure, vibrant color. It was a special treat. I love that small specialty businesses like this still exist in NYC.

From there, I shipped the pigments to American Terrazzo in San Francisco. They were founded in 1906 by an Italian immigrant, whose family has kept the business going in the same location for four generations! They have a huge shop hidden behind a house in the Laurel District in San Francisco.  I hope they get to stay in SF for many more generations. (If you haven’t given terrazzo much thought, start looking around, and you’ll notice how quintessentially San Francisco terrazzo staircases are.)

The zinc water jetting was done by their partners, Manhattan American, in North Carolina.

David at American Terrazzo was upfront about how working with new pigments would require making test tiles. When I visited their shop, they had this 14-foot rainbow waiting for me.

Color test terrazzo tiles.

After we adjusted the colors, they made the final artwork. I love how it all came together.

Finished terrazzo, before installation.

 

Guiding Stars, installed. // Photo source: cityofsanmateo.org

 

I feel so honored to create a public artwork in San Mateo County. I grew up on the peninsula, and my family still lives there, including many relatives in the city of San Mateo. My mom and aunts and uncles may be immigrants from Vietnam, but the peninsula is where they feel most at home now. The compass in Guiding Stars sort of marks a spot where you can think about where you are coming from and where you want to go, and how you will get yourself there.

Guiding Stars is installed in the plaza at the corner of Delaware & Franklin Parkway, in San Mateo, California. You can go see it, and answer for yourself:

What are your guiding stars?

What moves you to race ahead or slow down?

When do you soar?

How will you stay on course?

 

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organization

Organization: Tools for Teams

How to Collaborate: Try MoSCoW or the RACI matrix.

I like learning productivity strategies. I don’t mind if they’re borrowed from business. Some artists are allergic to productivity. It reminds them of work.

There’s a time to be creative—to experiment, play, brainstorm. Then, after you’ve chosen a direction, there’s a time to make tangible progress towards the shared goal.

I love clear communication around goals, roles, tasks, and timelines. I think this helps people have appropriate expectations and minimize the unpleasant surprises that lead to bad feelings. Here are some strategies I’ve learned.


MoSCoW

Simply put, this just means prioritizing aspects of your project by:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have (this time)

Which parts are the heart of your project, that you must do?
Which parts are non-critical but important, that you should do?
Which parts are optional, that you could do?
Which parts can you let go of now?

In collaborations, MoSCOW could identify shared priorities so you can shed lower-priority tasks. For example, sometimes I’m afraid to ask a partner about eliminating one of their contributions, because I don’t want them to take it personally. But asking them to rate it on the MoSCow scale gives more nuance than choosing between doing or not doing it.

MoSCow could also help you manage your time on your own projects. If you have limited time, start with your must-do’s, then do your should-do’s. Don’t worry about could-do’s unless there’s time leftover.

This could help people avoid procrastinating on more difficult must-do items.

 


RACI Chart

In 2015, I did a survey project at Harvester Arts about creative collaborations. Many respondents expressed frustration around lack of clear roles and responsibilities.

Spread from Co-laboration zine about the most successful or most challenging creative collaborations you've participated in, and what made them that way, and why,

Spread from my 2015 CO-LABORATION zine. Download it at http://christinewongyap.com/work/2015/allthesteps.html.

I’ve also recently reflected on how, when criticism feels arbitrary—chaotic in its target or timing—it’s frustrating. Does everyone need to be consulted about every task? Can collaborators (including myself) be informed of something, withholding criticism for other areas?

M told me to look this matrix up. It’s typically presented in a different format, but for  newbs like me this version seems easiest to digest:

For each task in a project, the RACI Matrix ensures you assign individuals who:

  • are Responsible
  • are Accountable
  • need to be Consulted
  • need to be Informed

I haven’t used it yet, but the RACI Chart looks like a great tool for larger teams with hierarchies.

For example, if you’re making a publication, different people are contributing art, photographs, or text. Who’s copyediting? Art directing? Designing? Is there an organizational partner that wants to have input? At what stage do you involve them? Too early and you don’t have anything to show them. Too late and you’ll risk wasting time and having to ask people to re-do things they thought were approved.

For collaborating artists or non-hierarchical collectives, it can be hard to differentiate who should be consulted and who should be informed. For example, I once tried making decisions with 10+ collective members. Everyone consulted on everything. Individuals largely held themselves responsible or accountable. Only people who felt confident taking on complicated tasks did. It might have helped if there were smaller work-groups, where non-work-group members were informed, not consulted.

Another nice thing about RACI is it makes transparent who’s doing what. This could help make the distributions of labor and criticism more equal.


How Long to Spend on this? Is it a 1 or a 10?

BB, a chief preparator (basically a foreman {fore-person?} for art handlers), once explained a neat communication method for conveying how long to spend on a task.

Explain the level of finish of a task on a scale of 1–10.

10 means, “Take your time, and do the best possible job.”

1 means, “Just get it done, don’t sweat the details.”

In an ideal world, everyone does their tasks to a 10. But if you’re short on time, this helps you quickly express which tasks are worth a higher level of finish.

For example, if you’re patching a seam that falls under the artwork, where visitors will be looking closely, you would want a 10. Or, before someone puts three coats of paint on the underside of a shelf no one’s going to see, sanding in between coats, you could explain that it’s a 2.

 

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Impressions, Values

Points of Reference: Public Servants

How I know what I know about social practice.

I’m collaborating on a participatory project and advising a social practice grad student right now. It’s made me think about how I know what I know, and why I approach and shape projects the way I do. I didn’t major in social practice—I majored in printmaking, working with Ted Purves as a thesis advisor. Though I sometimes wonder what I might’ve learned had I majored in social practice, it’s gratifying to come across references that are intellectually stimulating because they resonate which my existing practice.


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Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, edited by Johanna Burton, Shannon Jackson and Dominic Willsdon. // Source: MITPress.MIT.edu.

The dialogue spurred by Ben Davis’ “A Critique of Social Practice Art: What Does It Mean to Be a Political Artist?” still poses fresh, relevant questions. Originally published in 2013 on an activist website, Davis’ critique generated a remarkably thoughtful debate on Facebook between Deborah Fisher (director of A Blade of Grass), Nato Thompson (then artistic director of Creative Time), Tom Finklepearl (NYC Commissioner, Department of Cultural Affairs), artist Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses, and many others who have dedicated their life’s work to socially-engaged art or social practice.

This debate was reprinted in Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, edited by Johanna Burton, Shannon Jackson and Dominic Willsdon (MIT Press, 2016). [That an MIT Press book would reprint a Facebook thread is sort of amazing.]

The debate spans:

  • Weighing the political efficacy of social practice projects versus their symbolic power. Davis provocatively asks if social practice projects are a distraction from activism. Many respond by defending the importance of the symbolic power of art, and the “need for a poetics of social change” (Fisher).
  • How socially-engaged projects relate to power, privilege, appropriation, and exploitation.
    • Projects should be guided by ethics, specifically, treating people with care and respect and not being co-opted by power it intends to reshape (Fisher).
    • Be wary of when the image of social consciousness is used to gain social capital (Thompson) [in other words, “performative wokeness“].
    • Does a project help or harm? Is it merely tolerated? (Fisher)
    • Socially-engaged art is not inherently good. Likewise, neither is creative place-making. Indeed, developers use artists to create “vibrancy,” rather than critically-engaged projects, and resources can be diverted away (Lowe).
  • Social practitioners shouldn’t get too “self-satisfied” (Davis) because social practice cannot replace activism and organizing. [I would argue that no one person or role builds a people’s movement. It wasn’t explicit but the solutions hinted at seemed Alinskyist.] Davis says that artists have an important role to play in political struggle, but they don’t have special access to political wisdom. [I think any artist who’s read any writing by Davis or Gregory Sholette knows that political education is a serious endeavor distinct from art practice.]
  • How to assess socially-engaged art, such as through ‘participatory action research’ and ‘collaborative action research’ and involving stakeholders (Elizabeth Grady). While you don’t want to rely only on artist’s first-person accounts, you can define efficacy first in terms of artists’ goals (Fisher).
  • The impossibility of not being co-opted by capitalism and the possibility of momentary acts of resistance. Davis cites Rosa Luxemburg on how many small victories and tiny inspiring acts are needed in the building of a movement.

Some thoughts expressed exceptionally eloquently:

“A great artwork embraces paradox and contains multiple, sometimes contradictory, truths. …this quality… gives a great socially-engaged art project the ability to reframe, reshape or, for a moment, redistribute power.”

—Deborah Fisher

Fisher also described the Rolling Jubilee as:

“a gesture that punches through that which oppresses us in a way that is infectious and influential because of its profound elegance.”

This “profound elegance” is my primary criteria for successful social practices: how they balance relations and forms, through process and ephemera. The projects I most admire are ethical and non-exploitative. They honor participants’ dignity, agency, intelligence, and time. And they are enticing and welcoming.

At the same time that I want to hold artists accountable to high standards, I also think it’s important to let artists be creative, experiment, and fail. The rules and forms of social practice aren’t codified. We don’t need any more predictable art or social relations.

The Public Servants editors wisely end the chapter with a passage from Louisa MacCall, co-director of Artists in Context, which connects artists and non-artists to collaborate on addressing issues. When I read MacCall’s words, it was like she was describing the goals in my practice (emphasis mine):

“What if we consider artists as researchers who can design, experiment, fail, innovate, and contribute to society’s knowledge production?

“To regain our sense of connection, agency, and empathy—which are vital to a just and sustainable society—we must consider the different kinds of questions and outcomes artists are proposing as indispensable to our systems of knowledge production.”


I’ll keep diving into Public Servants.

I’m also looking forward to the US Department of Arts and Culture’s “Citizen Artist Salon: Art & Well-Being” this Wednesday which connects social justice and wellbeing.

“how social justice is a chief indicator of individual and community health; how art can nurture well-being; and what you can do to build a culture of health.”

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organization

Organization: Nerd Game Strong

How I organize my projects is itself a constant project-in-progress.

Sometimes I surprise myself with the levels of nerdiness I reach.

Since I wrote my one-year goals two weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about organization, especially:

  • Useful past strategies.
    • Like hand-drawn tables of studio production phases in my sketchbook.
  • Strategies for collaborations.
    • Should I try Asana, Trello, or Google Sheets for collaborative task management? I experimented and I still don’t know. (Sometimes apps are too much, with the upgrades, gamifying, notifications.)
  • The simplest way to decide what to do next.
    • My one-year goals and weekly checklists are in Evernote, but every few days I hand-write a simplified checklist on a scratchpad. It’s great. Better than an app.
    • I try to use the urgent/important matrix, and the bias for the urgent but not important rings true for me: “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks” by Tim Herrera (NY Times, July 9, 2018).
  • How to maximize your focus.
    • If you can, reserve your most productive hours in the day for your creativity- and focus-intensive art tasks (thanks Creative Capital and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).
    • I’m still struggling with how to minimize distractions (and how not to get slot-machine-addiction on mobile devices).
    • I’m also trying to get better at resetting when my focus nosedives.
  • How to strategize longterm, ambitious projects with lots of contingencies.

I’ll share photos and screen shots of these periodically, in a new blog category, Organization.

 


 

Today’s Organization Moment: A Custom 13-month Calendar

weekly-cal

Sometimes you just need a 13-month calendar that shows the months flowing into each other.

Doing graphic design is sometimes a curse, because it makes me more intolerant about how information is presented. Calendars that break months into discrete chunks don’t make any sense to me. Time doesn’t work that way.

For project management, I like to think in terms of weeks. For example, it helps me to plan if I know an exhibition opens in 10 weeks, but I’ll be traveling three weeks, leaving seven weeks to production. So I prefer to see months as a continuous flow.

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Art Competition Odds

Eleven Months in Art Competitions, 2017-2018

Stats on my art competition applications from August 2017 through June 2018.*

In the past, I have set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. Eleven months ago, I decided to set more quantifiable and focused goals, specifying how many art competitions I’d apply to across different categories. My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  1. Six residency or studio programs in NYC
  2. Three public art open calls/registries
  3. Six exhibitions in NYC
  4. Three grants ($3k minimum)

…for a total of 18 competitions.

I also wrote in a lower-priority option of applying to residencies elsewhere. I decided not to specifically pursue:

  • fellowships
  • professional development programs

In the past twelve months, I actually applied to:

  1. Two residencies + two studio programs 4/6
  2. Three public art open calls/registries = 3/3
  3. Four exhibitions + (one fellowship + one professional development program due to the solo show opportunities involved) = 6/6
  4. One grant = 1/3

I also applied to two residencies outside of NYC, bringing the total up to 16 out of 18 applications.

Applications submitted:
RRRR   SS   PPP   EEEE    F   D   G

Awards received (highlighted in color):
RRRR   S?   PP?   EEEE   F   D   G

I was a finalist, but not recipient, of one residency. One exhibition application is leading towards inclusion in a show. One public art registry has not responded, as is the nature of these things. One studio program is delaying their program and subsequent announcement of recipients.

Of the 16 total entries, my overall success rate was 1/16, or 6%. Of the 14 entries that have responded to date, my success rate was 1/14, or 7%.*

I paid $45 for two application fees ($10 and $35 respectively). The other 14 applications were free.

000$   00   000   0$00   0   0   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*I can do what I want. 🙂 It was just a good time for me to revisit my goals today. I’m excited and energized to start fresh right now. Some resources that were helpful for me to review:

**These odds align with a 1:15 rule of thumb I learned in a Creative Capital professional development workshop. I’m pleasantly surprised, since I believe that focusing on NYC competitions means worse odds due to larger applicant pools. As I found in 2011, “seven of the nine New York programs ranked among the top 11 most competitive” in an analysis of 26 competitions on Temporary Art Review.

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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2016-2017

Stats on my art competition applications from the ‘goal-year’ before last: August 2016 through July 2017.*

At the end of July in 2016, I set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. In a modest effort to be strategic, I decided to focus on:

  1. Three “major” grants
  2. Solo exhibition opportunities
  3. Fellowships or residencies in places I wanted to travel to
  4. Supportive studio programs with funding

I actually applied to:

  1. Two grants = 2/3
  2. One exhibition open call = 1/?
  3. Two fellowships and six residencies  = 8/?
  4. One studio programs = 1/?

For a total of 12 applications out of the goal of 18.

Applications submitted:
GG   E   FF    RRRRRR   S   

Awards received (highlighted in color):
GG   E   FF   RRRRRR   S

I was awarded two residencies.

Of the 12 entries, my overall success rate was 2/12, or 16%.

I paid $50 for two application fees ($15 and $35 respectively). The other 10 applications were free.

$0   0   $0   000000   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*Better late than never. 😉

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soldiers, rolling a cigarette, watchtowner, marching, reading an order

Panels from 442, written by Koji Steven Sakai and Phinny Kiyomura and illustrated by Rob Sato // Source: kojistevensakai.com

442 is a graphic novel following a regiment of Japanese Americans fighting in WWII even as their families were housed in concentration camps in the US. It was written by Koji Steven Sakai and Phinny Kiyomura, and the artwork is by Rob Sato.

You can read 442 by downloading the Stela app and subscribing.

Rob, a classmate from undergrad, posted about his grandfather’s and great-grandparents’ detention in a concentration camp in Rohwer, AR. He also wrote:

As fewer and fewer of those who experienced [Japanese American internment] firsthand remain in the world I hope their stories remain very alive, that this history can be as much a part of collective human knowledge as possible, and not for wallowing in pity but to arm minds against xenophobia and fear mongering. If there’s anything that should be taken away from the whole mess it’s these simple but somehow still bafflingly misunderstood facts—Japanese American Internment was not just “unfortunate” but wrong, it was unnecessary and protected no one, it was inarguably racist, it could happen to anyone, and actions like it will be tried again and again and again.

See also:

Though “the court had finally overturned the 1944 decision that the United States government could force more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent into internment camps,” Japanese American internees “lamented that it came as part of the decision that upheld President Trump’s ban on travel into the United States by citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries.”

“‘This was absolutely the wrong case to include Korematsu in,’ said Alan Nishio, who was born in a California internment camp, Manzanar, in 1945…. ‘We are continuing to use the guise of national security to limit the civil rights of immigrants and people of color without really any basis.'”

Jennifer Medina, “For Survivors of Japanese Internment Camps, Court’s Korematsu Ruling Is ‘Bittersweet,’” New York Times, June 28, 2018

See also:

“These immigration policies are for people who conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.”

Charles M. Blow, “White Extinction Anxiety,” New York Times, June 24, 2018

#KeepFamiliesTogether

Families Belong Together MoveOn June 30 Day of Action

Citizenship, Works

See: 442

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