belonging

Belonging Project Workshops

If you’re interested in learning more about the Belonging Project, join us at one of these two workshops open to the public!


Berkeley | Public Service Center
Today // Monday, December 10, noon-1pm

Brown Bag Lunch with Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Christine Wong Yap
Belonging in the Bay Area

Eshleman Hall Room 212 A & B
UC Berkeley

We at the PSC have talked a lot about the ideas of othering & belonging. And, sadly, there are no shortage of examples of othering happening every day.
But what does belonging look like? How can we build it? Where can we cultivate it? These questions have felt harder to answer, even as we need belonging more than ever.

Come meet artist Christine Wong Yap, who is exploring belonging in the Bay Area as an artist in residence at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley. Christine has invited anyone with a meaningful connection to the nine-county Bay Area to share their story of belonging. She’s currently exploring the region, collecting diverse stories that she’ll compile into an atlas of belonging. Cal students can also volunteer to interview their family members in exchange for free admission to the Othering and Belonging Conference.

Bring your lunch, come hear about her work, and join the dialogue!


Belonging Project: free public workshop Sunday, December 16, 2–3:30 pm Union City Library Drinks and snacks will be served. Everyone welcome. Free and open to the public. A Chinese interpreter will be in attendance. with a drawing of a book

Union City | Union City Library
Sunday, December 16, 2–3:30 pm

The Belonging Project: A Free Public Workshop

Union City Library
Community Meeting Room
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd
Union City, CA 94587

What does it mean to belong in the Bay Area? Together, let’s commemorate and amplify belonging with artist-made certificates, maps, and a book!

New York-based artist Christine Wong Yap will present behind-the-scenes photos of her process using calligraphy and letterpress printmaking.

Then you’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on belonging in a discussion and writing activity. Is there a place where you feel or have felt a sense of belonging? Or do you carry your sense of belonging with you?

Drinks and snacks will be served.
Everyone welcome. Free and open to the public.
A Chinese interpreter will be in attendance.

12墩16휑(槿퍅휑),苟敎2時逞3時30롸

聯북냘圖書館 ,區會議杆
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd
Union City, CA 94587

“歸屬먁”項커
출費무묾桔討會

瞳灣區這樣돨뒈렘,“歸屬먁”對콱個훙랍喇야唐부種雷義?

讓乖們拷過묏藝製鱗돨證書、뒈圖鹿섟書석,묾谿깊拉並瓊“歸屬먁”!

紐約藝術소Christine Wong Yap(葉黃셰聚)將嵐刻劒賈痰書랬結북攷경경畫創鱗돨캥遜製鱗직넋宮튬섞錦。

랍콱將唐機會롸權콱對這場桔討會돨였랬並參與寫鱗삶動。角뤠唐這樣寧個뒈렘、角讓콱먁돕샀鄧經먁돕唐歸屬먁돨? 샀諒,瞳콱內懃角뤠懷唐캐種歸屬먁?

將묩應飲죕與點懃。
歡短몹썹훙却參속。출費蕨무眾開렴。
現場將瓊묩櫓匡럇譯。

Standard
belonging

Belonging Project: Germination

A quick update about what I’ve been up to:

Mostly I’ve been working on outreach—contacting organizations and individuals about the different ways they can get involved.

I’m planting seeds and hoping that they’ll grow, but I don’t know if they will. I feel like I’m in that moment of just staring at the soil where the seeds are. I’ll sigh with relief when the sprouts finally emerge.

As with the earlier Belonging project in Albuquerque, it’s a challenge to get the word out and align with organizations’ program schedules. The heart of the project is the stories. The quality of the stories and the authenticity of the voices represented gives the project  salience and integrity. I can only invite people to contribute to the inputs. I can make the outputs as well-crafted and well-made as I can, but ultimately, the reader or viewer is connecting through the stories.

If you can, please submit a story.
(It would mean so much to me!)

I am currently here in the Bay Area, with one week left in my five-week stay. (I did the entire project in Albuquerque, from the outreach to sign painting and installation, and zine release, in a five-week stay.) I’ll come back in January to install certificates and print bandanas). I figured December 20 or so, until January 1, wouldn’t be productive for outreach. But I’m already learning the hard way that these first two weeks of December are challenging too, too. College semesters CBO programs are already wrapping up for the year.

I approached the project in Albuquerque with more of a sense that it was an experiment—I’m not from Albuquerque, and the project was inherently limited by the shorter residency duration. With this project, the Bay Area is huge, I’m hoping to represent the nine-counties, and I lived here 30+ years. I have five months to do this project. We’re planning to print 1,500 books (10x the Albuquerque zine edition). There’s the irony about mapmaking: maps convey comprehensiveness, though, by nature, are abstractions and limited representations.

 

Haas1d6-colored-illos-no-text-white-BG-11

The Belonging Project aspires to represent voices from the nine-county Bay Area: San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Napa, Marin. Anyone with a meaningful connection is invited to submit a story!

 

This project will be the culmination of many collaborations. I will literally have mil gracias (thousand thanks) to say by the end. Right now, I especially want to thank the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society; Evan Bissell for all his support coordinating the residency, advising, assisting, and encouraging me; Elizabeth Travelslight for inviting me to do a workshop with her SFAI class; Jaime Austin, Bryndis Hafthorsdottir at CCA Exhibitions for coordinating and/or facilitating workshops with students at CCA and Live Oak School, whose stories will feed into the Haas project; Ben Gucciardi for inviting me to do a workshop at the Soccer Without Borders program at Castlemont High; Carrie Donovan for spreading the word and organizing a Brown Bag lunch at the UC Berkeley Public Service Center; Abby Chen, Hoi Leung, and Yuanyuan Zhu from the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco for jumping in 100% and organizing a bilingual workshop at the Union City Library as well as future possibilities; and the many college professors who have shared the project with their students, including Alicia Caballero-Christensen and Dana Hemenway who invited me to introduce the project in their classrooms at Laney College and UC Berkeley; Binh Danh and Mel Day, whose SJSU students are volunteering; and especially Kevin B. Chen and Kathy Aoki, who went above and beyond in rallying their students at SFSU and Santa Clara University to volunteer to conduct interviews with their families. 

I am here in the Bay Area one more week. If you’d like to meet, discuss, workshop, volunteer, coffee, high five, etc., let me know!

Standard
belonging

Making a Letterpress Print, Step-by-Step

The steps I follow to make a letterpress print.

In my current project exploring belonging in the Bay Area, I’m asking the public to share their story about belonging. If they nominate a place where they feel belonging, I will commemorate that place with a letterpress-printed certificate.

Letterpress printing is an obsolete technology. It was used for proof-printing newspapers in the olden days, but these days it’s great for artist’s projects like mine.

Here are photos showing my process, using a combination poster-postcard-map marker I made for an project about Belonging that was recently exhibited in Take Action at the California College of the Arts.

Draw and Design the Artwork

doodles-600x482.jpg

I use a calligraphy marker to do quick thumbnail sketches/doodles.

calligraphy-sketch

Next, I draw a pencil sketch with my final composition.

calligraphydrawing

The next step is inking. I layer a clean sheet of paper over the pencil sketch on top of a light box, and copy the composition using a calligraphy marker.

safe-seen-accepted2-02a-400x600.jpg

Then I scan the inked drawing, and clean it up in Photoshop.

Make Polymer Plates

You can make polymer plates yourself, or just order them. Because I didn’t have access to a printmaking studio at the time, I ordered them from Boxcar Press. When I print the certificates, I’ll make my own plates at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.

filmoutput.jpg

If you’re making your own plates, you’ll need to output a film positive, like I did with this previous project at Kala Art Institute.

polymerplates.jpg

I bought special plates with photo-sensitive emulsion, and exposed the plate with my film in a plate maker. Then I washed out unwanted emulsion and hardened the remaining emulsion with more light exposure. This left the artwork in emulsion that is raised a few millimeters, sort of like a rubber stamp.

Printing

When you have your plates and paper ready, you’re ready to print.

mixingink.jpg

The first step is to mix ink. I brought paint swatches and paper samples to color match with a Pantone formula guide.

rollers-plate.jpg

Apply the ink to the rollers. The coolest thing about this type of press (a Vandercook) is that the press has a motor and it distributes the ink on rollers and and inks the plate for you. (The downside is there’s a lot of rollers to clean.) You can see one of the polymer plates on the press bed in the bottom of the image.

stack.jpg

You can only print one color and one sheet at a time. This shows the stack of 200 sheets I printed. The design used two colors, so I had to operate 400 cranks through the press. Printing—from setting up the press, mixing the ink, making sure everything was aligned properly, actually printing, and clean-up—took me most of one day.

press-2-color

This is from a different project, but it helps to explain layering colors. In the upper left, you can see the first color, yellow ochre, was already printed. Then the second color, purple, is being printed on top, resulting in the finished print in the upper right. Because the purple is layered on top of the yellow ochre, it results in a brown.

Finishing

For this project, I needed to perforate the sections: the top is a poster, the bottom parts are a postcard and map marker.

perforation1.jpg

I perforated in the short direction using a rotary paper cutter outfitted with a perforation blade.

perforate2

These 17″ long sheets won’t fit in the rotary cutter lengthwise, so I use a hand tool to perforate between the postcard and the map marker. To save time, I set up a jig on a cutting mat to align the paper and ruler that was acting as a guide.

print.jpg

The finished print.

 

Standard
belonging, Citizenship

Belonging: Points of Reference on Othering and Justice

 

Some points of references about why belonging is urgent.

I haven’t shared these references in discussing belonging much. I don’t want my own perspectives to overly influence the stories of belonging that participants share with me. But these are some of the references I think about…


Audra D. S. Burch, “He Became a Hate Crime Victim. She Became a Widow.” NY Times, July 8, 2017

This is a true story at a tragic nexus of islamophobia, xenophobia, white fear, gun violence, love, and grief.

In some ways, what one man shouted in anger and one woman uttered in grief capture one of America’s most troubling intersections.

“Get out of my country!” the gunman would yell, before opening fire on the two Indian men he later said he believed were from Iran.

“Do we belong here?” the widow would ask in a Facebook post six days after the shooting.

The assailant approached the friends. Witnesses recall him wearing a white T-shirt with military-style pins, his head wrapped in a white scarf. He was intent on finding out one thing: Did the men at the table belong in the country?

Adam W. Purinton, a white Navy veteran, turned to the two brown-complexioned men, both living in the United States for years, and demanded to know their immigration status.

Mr. Madasani said he and Mr. Kuchibhotla had decided to leave, but were stopped as other patrons apologized and assured them they were welcome. One guy paid their tab; the bar manager gave them another round of beer and fried pickles, a favorite of Mr. Kuchibhotla. “Everybody kept coming up to us saying this is not what we represent, you guys belong here,” he said.

If you can, read the whole article.

 

 


Yes, he was mine and now I sing his song. But he was also no different from so many other refugees who have to leave their homes, people with names that some make little effort to pronounce who continue to build America. Nor am I any different from the millions of people who fell in love and made family here….

And in the story of Ficre is the lesson that we are impoverished if we remain strangers to one another and that what makes this country unique is that the world is in it.

 


Every Right Is a Hard Fought Win

When I came across Fred Barbash’s “Birthright citizenship: A Trump-inspired history lesson on the 14th Amendment” (Washington Post, October 30, 2018, H/T Asian Americans Advancing Justice), it reminded me how the rights we’ve gained weren’t just handed over.

Immigrants have helped America fulfill its professed principles of equality by fighting for our survival and rights through lawsuits, advocacy, activism, wiles,  people power. See: 

Ronald Takaki, Strangers From a Different Shore, Little Brown & Company, 1998.

Standard
Projects, Research

Studio Notes: A Poster on Angel Island Liberty Association for Celebrate People’s History

Research notes on small acts of immigrant Chinese people’s history.

The Angel Island Liberty Association (or “Self-governing Association”) was a mutual aid society run by Chinese detainees at the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1922 to about 1952. With the help of Chinese American kitchen staff, the Association smuggled letters to help detainees pass detailed immigration interrogations. Letters were folded inside wax paper and taped to the bottom of dishes. 天使島自由協會(或“自治會”)是一個約在1922年至1952年間由被拘留在天使島移民局的華人們所組成的互助協會。在美籍華裔廚工的幫助下,該協會為被拘留在島上的華人走私信件,將信件蓋上蠟紙折疊其中並粘貼至餐具的底部,幫助同胞們通過嚴格縝密的移民審訊。Celebrate People’s History. 擁抱人民的歷史
Christine Wong Yap, Angel Island Liberty Association poster for Celebrate People’s History, a project by Josh MacPhee/Just Seeds.

A Prompt, and the Challenge of Celebration

Josh MacPhee invited me to develop a poster for his Celebrate People’s History poster series, which “shares the stories of events, groups, and people who have moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world.” He’s printed over 100 different Celebrate People’s History posters over the past 18 years. Learn more at Just Seeds.

Just Seeds is a powerful platform for radical affirmation. I love that they are not at all interested in being reactive. [I still think back to their call for art for their propaganda party in January 2017: “We will be avoiding all art with an explicit focus on Trump and his catchphrases. The more we represent him—no matter in what light—the more we re-inscribe him with power. Instead, focus on graphics that support the social movements that existed before Trump and will be fighting to exist after he is long gone.” Linguist George Lakoff has been saying the same thing: stop parroting Trump, even in outrage, instead ignore, redirect, and reframe the issues.]

In the context of family separations and heightened xenophobia, I wanted to share  a profile of Chinese American resistance against exclusion and racism.


Angel Island Immigration Station

I started by researching Angel Island Immigration Station. I visited in 2001, as part of the Chinese Culture Center’s In Search of Roots program, the only program of its kind in the US that helped Chinese Americans research and visit their ancestral villages in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong. The immigration station (which seems like a euphemism for what we might call it today, a “detention center”) detained tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants from 1910-1940, under harsh conditions and for indeterminate periods.

Historian Him Mark Lai, who co-led the Roots program, described the immigration station as a “major facility of the bureaucratic apparatus established to administer the Chinese exclusion laws.” While European immigrants were detained for an average of one to two days, Chinese immigrants were detained for an average of 16 days, with over 200 Chinese immigrants detained for over a year. Chinese detainees were subjected to unreasonably detailed interrogations. They were subjected to hours of questioning about things like, “How many windows were in your house? Which way did the door face? How many people lived in the house two houses to the East?” Answering incorrectly could result in being sent back to China. Husbands and wives were separated and barred from communicating. Despair led some detainees to suicide.


Angel Island Liberty Association

In my research, I learned about a mutual aid society run by male Chinese detainees. The group was named 自治會 (“self-governing association”), which was anglicized to “Angel Island Liberty Association.” They were active from 1922 to about 1952. Their activities varied, from advocating for better food (a major complaint that led to riots) and basic necessities (such as access to toilet paper and soap, which had been automatically granted to detainees of other races), to pooling resources for books or records and organizing diversions. Alleviating detainee’s boredom and despair is important to the wellbeing, and I don’t want to discount it. But I became enchanted by the Association’s covert activities.


Mutual Aid in an Unjust System

The Association colluded with Chinese American kitchen staff to smuggle coaching notes from detainees’ family or supporters in Chinatown to detainees. The kitchen staff would wrap the notes in waxed paper and tape it to the bottom of plates, which they served to Association leaders. Sometimes code phrases indicated the presence of notes, such as “extra serving” or “the chicken is especially good today.” Association leaders would find and hide the notes to distribute later to intended recipients. Coaching notes were a way to survive and resist a system designed to exclude based on racism and xenophobia.

I love this story—its ingeniousness, the solidarity shown by fellow immigrants, and the centrality of sharing food. The way I was raised (by Chinese parents who may not have always enjoyed food security in their own childhoods), eating is the sun around which everything else revolves—the day, family, life, even death (with Ching Ming). I know food is central to pretty much all cultures, but there’s something about Chinese voracity and emotional connection. (If you call someone, instead of asking, “How are you?” you ask, “Have you eaten yet?”)

This story also ties in to my interests in social practice, and how much social practice is related to food and/or radical hospitality. You could say that many social practices of sharing food are about passing messages of cooperation, mutuality, and dreams of freedom.

Though the Angel Island immigration station may now be a relic, immigration policies based on fear-mongering, xenophobia, and racism are not. When the system is unjust—teargassing children, rejecting asylum seekers—you can see how othering is about dehumanization.


Process Notes

I knew I wanted to depict this moment of solidarity and collusion, of the sharing of sustenance and information as keys to freedom. I also knew to show the giver and receiver both using two hands to handle the plate. This symbolizes respect in Chinese custom.

Once I identified the subject and the media, the rest was relatively straightforward. For the benefit of friends interested in drawing, I’ll de-mystify my process.

I use a lot of drawing aids. Fitting two people and the bottom of a plate in a portrait format requires foreshortening, which complicates any figure drawing. So I shot a few photos using myself as a model and composited them together (which was actually pretty funny).

From there, I printed the composite, sketched on a light box, inked my sketch, scanned, cleaned up digitally, printed, layered the print on colored paper to make the paper cut using an Xacto knife, scanned again, digitally colored, wrote the blurb, and added the text.

I thought about Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, and using a typeface contemporaneous with the content. I searched for 1920s and 1930s typefaces. Many were the same I’d seen in letterpress printing, like Kabel. I like Kabel. It’s is a little too quirky for many contemporary contexts, so I was happy to use it here. I wasn’t able to apply Bringhurst’s principles to the Chinese text, choosing visual consistency with Kabel instead. [I’ve been typesetting Chinese texts or other projects and jobs, and this web designer’s research and findings have been a helpful resource.]


Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about the Chinese American experience on Angel Island, or about the Angel Island Liberty Association, I recommend the following:


Here’s the text of the poster:

The Angel Island Liberty Association (or “Self-governing Association”) was a mutual aid society run by Chinese detainees at the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1922 to about 1952. With the help of Chinese American kitchen staff, the Association smuggled letters to help detainees pass detailed immigration interrogations. Letters were folded inside wax paper and taped to the bottom of dishes.

天使島自由協會(或“自治會”)是一個約在1922年至1952年間由被拘留在天使島移民局的華人們所組成的互助協會。在美籍華裔廚工的幫助下,該協會為被拘留在島上的華人走私信件,將信件蓋上蠟紙折疊其中並粘貼至餐具的底部,幫助同胞們通過嚴格縝密的移民審訊。

Standard
Citizenship

WAGENCY: What I Would Wish for Every Artist

Why artists should empower themselves with a low-cost artists’ fee structure.

When a writer asked why I joined WAGENCY—an artist-run fee structure for negotiating fair pay from non-profits—I wrote in depth about why WAGENCY supplies sorely-needed information and professional standards. The article was recently published and it focused primarily on British art activity. Since WAGENCY was only briefly mentioned, I’m posting my writing here. 


 

I signed up for WAGENCY because for years I’ve been waiting for such a well-considered, much-needed advocacy tool. 

I’ve been obsessed with artist’s agency, even creating projects and conducting surveys asking artists about how they feel about the art world, how they exercise their own agency as artists, how they interdependently support and receive support from other artists, and if they use the tactic of non-participation. 

Too often artists see themselves as lone, powerless individuals hoping to gain power, money or influence by way of more powerful, more established entities in the art world—non-profits, galleries, museums, curators, collectors, foundations, etc. Artists are often marginalized when actually our artworks are central—none of these spaces or staff would have anything to show or see without the legions of hardworking artists making art. Many institutions and artists perpetuate a system that exploits artists’ hunger for exposure and justifies offering little to no compensation.

I have exhibited with non-profit organizations for years. The experiences have been good and bad. Some non-profits have a culture of scarcity and offer little to no compensation or support. When that is paired with a small audience reach, it makes you wonder what your efforts amount to. Why am I paying for a studio, a storage space, materials, a website? Why am I using my “free time” leftover from income generation away from friends and family, subsidizing my labor for the very organizations who should be my allies and champions? How long can I sustain a life as an artist? Should longterm sustainability be a privilege? Is an art world that rewards privilege an art world I would want to participate in? 

When either party in a partnership feels the rewards don’t justify the effort, that’s a poor partnership. Why should artists continue to engage on these terms?  

I also think, generally, there is a lack of transparency in the art world. This has been born out especially in my interactions regarding money with non-profit organizations as well as commercial galleries and museums. Many partner organizations avoid contracts like the plague. In any other business or industry, the art world’s lack of contracts, invoices, and timely payments would be completely untenable. A few partner organizations have sent me clear, thorough agreements detailing fees and payment plans, offering stipends and increasing them according to additional talks or writing, and those are—by a huge margin—exceptions. 

This leaves artists in the awkward position of asking, sometimes repeatedly, for information or money, when many artists feel that broaching money is taboo, or they don’t want to seem pushy, or that the amount they are asking for is subjective or speculative. It can feel like the amount given to artists is based more on the programming staff’s whims, the organization’s “budget”, and the clout of artists, perpetuating emerging artists’ emergent status.

Compare this to my experience supplementing my income as a freelance illustrator and designer. From the beginning, I based my illustration fees and hourly design rates on the fee structures outlined in the Graphic Arts Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines handbook. I’ve cited the GAG Handbook countless times over the years to educate clients on industry standards around pricing, payment terms, cancellation fees, rights transferred, deliverables, and more. I also embraced NO SPEC: designers should decline any job on speculation, such as open calls where clients solicit designs and only choose and pay a designer upon finding a design they like. Spec work is unfair and unethical, and it undervalues the work of designers. I have declined working on spec and explained why, linking to NO SPEC’s site. 

When design clients have asked for free or discounted design work, the logic always seemed faulty to me. They will pay printers for printing and paper. They will pay the shippers for shipping. The value of those services and goods are self-evident to them. It should also be self-evident that if they want a designer’s services, skills, and labor, they should pay for it. This is exactly the same principle that artists must embrace. Museums pay their employees, contractors, and suppliers. They should also pay artists—whose work is central to their mission of exhibiting art—a fair, non-exploitative fee that represents all the labor that goes into making or supplying art for an exhibition, giving a talk, or writing. 

Nothing like the GAG Handbook or NOSPEC has existed for US artists until WAGENCY. Only CARFAC came close—for Canadian artists and organizations with Canadian funding. I looked forward to a fee structure like CARFAC for US artists for years, and now WAGE has finally created one. 

I have just signed up to be a WAGENT this week, so it’s too soon to say what any disadvantages are. 

I think it’s fair and ethical that WAGENCY asks WAGENTS to pay assistants a fair hourly rate. I don’t hire assistants, but when I do, I’ll have to think carefully about whether I can ethically afford it or not. As an artist who has also worked as an artist’s assistant, I certainly wouldn’t want an assistant to feel undervalued, nor to perpetuate a culture of scarcity. Fair is fair.

WAGENCY doesn’t require artists to decline all substandard opportunities. Artists can remain WAGENTS  if they accept fees below WAGE standards (though they will lose WAGE certification). This gives artists a degree of autonomy and flexibility that allows artists to consider their current financial status or the intangible benefits and personal rewards of a partnership. It also compels artists to use the tactic of non-participation when they can. It clarifies that artists are agents and have choices. Artists don’t have to feel that they need to accept every “opportunity” that comes their way. They can, and should, decline unfavorable conditions. Doing so reinforces the value of their labor, as well as all artists’.

For me, the benefits of WAGENCY are obvious. Having a clear fee structure helps shape a more objective and fair dialogue, beginning negotiations with a reasonable starting point. It shifts the conversation from, “What scraps are leftover in your budget for me?” to “How will you fairly compensate me for my time and labor?” Being a WAGENT states at the outset that I expect to be treated as a professional. My enthusiasm to be a WAGENT—to advocate for fair compensation and to decline unfavorable terms—is a direct result of my experiences as an exhibiting artist over the past twenty years. 

Standard
Sights

See: Patrick Killoran: Passage, and more

What I get from Killoran’s conceptually-oriented practice.

I keep thinking about Patrick Killoran’s intriguing artist’s talk yesterday, delivered at the beautiful Central Branch of the Queens Library in Jamaica. It was part of Opening Day of the library installations in the Queens Museum’s Queens International.

Killoran’s projects are often conceptual and phenomenological. His projects offer aesthetic situations in unorthodox media and environments. His practice relates to other practices at the merging of art and life. He spoke about how dependence on the white cube to frame something as art is almost a political liability of exceptionalism. 

Killoran is interested in making art as simply and elegantly as possible, trimming away anything that’s unnecessary. He doesn’t locate ‘the work’ in the objects he makes solely—he locates it in viewers’ interactions with each other as mediated by the object, with their bodies in the space.

man sticking his head into his t-shirt that has a grommet in the center of the fabric.

Patrick Killoran demonstrating “Insight,” his project that turns a t-shirt into a camera obscura. This is the first project he made when he moved to NYC 20 years ago. I think it’s so smart to introduce his work with this. It helps audiences come along on a journey of his thought process.

The new book cover reads, "To whom it may concern, I am a book intended to be passed on and shared. If you choose to read me, please sign-in on my back cover. When you are finished reading, give me to another person. Do not keep me in storage or put me on the shelf, deliver me to the next reader. If you find me in storage, or with someone who is not reading me, you are authorized to take me as your own and read me. I HAVE NO OWNER, ONLY READERS."

Rebound is Killoran’s dispersed library project. He re-covers books he’s reading with the instructions that commit the book to become a common resource, meant to stay in circulation at the responsibility of each reader. Here is the front cover, which explains how people participate.

A book with a fold-out back cover. It looks like an inter-office envelope, but the top says "readership," and the table headers say, "Name, location, date."

The back cover of the Rebound books have a sign-in form. While it resembles a inter-office envelope, I liked thinking about it as a counterpoint to the sign-in book you’d find at a trail summit. The latter marks a place and an achievement. This sheet, in contrast, documents whose hands the book has passed through, marking movement via sharing.

Shelves of library books, with a plywood box with no face. Inside the box is a photo of shelves of library books.

Killoran’s Passage, an intervention in the stacks at the Central Queens Library. The inside of the box is laminated with a photo of the actual stacks that the box is located in. It’s actually a little hard to find the artwork in the library—I walked right past it. Discovering it is part of the pleasure.

A view of Passage, a portal of perfectly-lined up boxes that create a negative space through the library book shelves.

When you squat down and look through Passage, this is what you see. At first, when I saw a similar photo on a flyer, I thought it was an illusion created with mirrors. When I looked through the actual artwork, I had an “Inception” moment: what seemed like 2-D or shallow 3-D is actually deep 3-D. In other words, the project isn’t about the illusion of depth, it is actual spatial depth. It extends the length of the entire library—over 100 feet. 

There’s a lot of wonderful openness in Passage, from seeing other people look through the box, to when patrons re-shelve books in the space, to seeing other patrons observe still other patrons interacting. I think this is an incredibly successful project. I think it achieves what Killoran’s after, with a maximal implications using minimal means.

This type of work may appear very simple. The solution is so ingenious as to seem inevitable. But making this type of art is intellectually laborious, time-consuming, and rigorous. I really respect this practice, and am grateful for the chance to hear it explained thoughtfully.

Visit PatrickKilloran.com to learn more about his work. (It’s a nicely organized, selective site with just enough text to describe each project.) I think his overarching practice is about interrogating public life: the unspoken rules, behaviors, and manifestations of courtesy, kindness, greed, compliance and non-compliance. He is interested in social relations in a neutral way. His works are experiments that say more about us than about him. 

 


 

The artist’s talk reminded me of when I was making elemental, conceptual, phenomenological installations. I remember struggling to convey the nature of my interests in single images. Two-dimensional images just don’t capture experiential phenomena. I remember wondering how many people viewed my slides and didn’t “get” my practice. Sometimes your art is best shared as stories, jokes, surprises, or upendings of expectations, and the artist’s talk is a better form than slides.

In preparation for this project, Killoran held many conversations with library staff members. It made me want to have more space for conversations in my own research. Conversations can evolve and be more natural and spontaneous than writing. I’ll need to get out of my shell more. 

 


 

Learn more about all the installations at the Queens Library (which includes The People’s Guide to the Queens International, a collaboration between Brian Droitcour and me).

Wooden display holding forms and a submission box, located at the end of stacks of library books.

You are invited to write about your response to Killoran’s installation. Find The People’s Guide to the Queens International writing station, located at the end of the stacks where the installation begins. Or, just look for the stacks hold books on “Unexplained Phenomena.” Complete a form and enter it into the submission box below. We’ll print submissions in our zine and on ThePeoplesGuideQI.org.

Standard