belonging

Belonging: Process and Research Notes / A Fresh Start

This is the first in a series of posts revealing my process and research notes exploring belonging. 

I’m pleased to share that I will be the artist in residence at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley.

I’ll develop a participatory project to commemorate places of belonging in the Bay Area. I’ll also create an atlas of belonging. I’ll post more about this soon—including how you can participate, and how you can help.

In the meantime, one of my goals is to make my process transparent. I’ll try by posting regularly here.

Background

Last year, I developed a site-specific, participatory project about belonging during a five-week artist’s residency at Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After conducting workshops and holding an open call, I hand-painted signs to commemorate 13 places of belonging, and produced a 24-page zine with maps and excerpts of the contributors’ own words.

Sign reads, "A place of belonging #1, We all belong here. When this block feels thriving, welcoming, and supportive of artists and creators, I feel more empowered and whole-nourished. JL BelongingABQ.com." Salmon colored sign on a post on a sidewalk with trees and parked cars in the background.

Christine Wong Yap with contributors, Belonging Sign #1: 2nd Street SW, Nominated by Jessamyn Lovell. 2017, handlettered paint on pine, 18 x 11 x 0.75 inches each.

That experience reinforced my passion for belonging. Belonging relates to social and political identities, and also reflects deep emotional intelligence and self-actualization. It can mean you relate to a group or a place, and also are connected with a deep, authentic self. This initial project also boosted my confidence, and underscored the importance of artists helping artists, patience, openness, and listening. I’ll carry these lessons learned moving forward.

Residency Dates

I’ll be the Bay Area from mid-November to mid-February.

[Though Haas has described the residency as “yearlong,” the residency dates are November 1 to May 1. In my interview, I was forthcoming about my availability. I’m explaining all of this because I know how important it is to make the most of a competitive opportunity. But I know that I can get a lot done in a short time, making up for less time with more focus and attention.]

Coinciding Belonging Projects

It just so happens that I’m currently exhibiting a project on belonging in San Francisco. It’s part of Take Action, an exhibition at CCA’s Hubbell Street Galleries in San Francisco, and is a collaboration with For Freedoms. It’s on view through November 16.

Participants can mark their places of belonging on a map of the Bay Area, make their own poster to commemorate that place, and send a postcard to someone about belonging.

Wall painted with map of bay area in salmon colored paint, with the text "Where do you feel belonging?" There's cards on the map with yarn and pins to different locations. There's a pink shelf with yard, scissors and pins. A visitor is close, reading the cards.

Christine Wong Yap, Belonging, 2018, mixed media: participatory installation with letterpress-printed activity sheet, dimensions variable.

But first, I ask people to complete the questionnaires, in order to deepen self-reflection about belonging. Gallery assistants are collecting the questionnaires, and will share them with me.

I already collected some questionnaires. Some were completed by CCA students in workshops I led, some were completed during the opening. I’m astounded by the hope, earnestness, and unique life stories and perspectives revealed in them. There’s a young Russian immigrant who struggled to find her place here, and she came to forge lifelong bonds in a co-organized life drawing group. She encourages others to initiate their own places of belonging. I was moved to hear one young man described what belonging feels like in the negative, as “not being intrusive or bothersome.”

I hope to inform the Haas project with these stories, as well as feedback I got during the workshops. Thanks to everyone who’s participated so far.

If you visit Take Action and participate in my project, please consider entering your name and email address so I can ask follow up questions or invite you to public feedback sessions or celebrations. I won’t add you to any mailing lists. This is just so I can follow up about the project to be accountable to you and your contributions to this project.

The Bay Area

Though I’ve lived in NYC for the past eight years, I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 33. I’ve lived in the East Bay, North Bay, and on the peninsula. When I visit the Bay, I sleep in the same bedroom where I was during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

I’m looking forward to spending more time in the Bay Area. I hope to develop a project that reflects the best of the Bay: thoughtfulness, experimentation, accessibility, diversity, and inclusion.

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Research

Points of Reference: Pockets, and Ways and Means

A new reference re-affirms a past project.

In 2015, I created Ways and Means. The public was invited to interact with activity kits housed in custom printed and sewn tool aprons.

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Christine Wong Yap, Ways and Means, 2016, letterpress, woodcut, linoleum cut, and screenprint on paper and textiles, mixed media, participation, dimensions variable. Exhibited at Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, CA. Photo: Jiajun Wang

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

I was trying to convey feelings of autonomy (deciding for yourself) and agency (being able to do things) by emphasizing mobility (being able to move freely).

Essentially, I wanted the tool kits to remind participants of the intangible tools they already carry—such as help they’ve already received, or their commitment to their own values—that allow them to express themselves fully, do things, and go places.

So when I listened to “Pockets: Articles of Interest #3”, an episode in a six-part series in  99% Invisible’s podcast, I was fascinated to hear this:

Avery Trufelman (producer):

Man’s great evolutionary advantage is the creation of tools. The problem is, we’re not marsupials, we need to carry them somehow. And this idea of who has access to the tools they need, who can walk through the world comfortably and securely; THIS is what we are talking about when we talk about pockets.

Hannah Carlson (lecturer at RISD):

Pockets speak to this question of preparedness, and your ability to move in public and to be confident. It’s really difficult to get around if you don’t have what you need, and it’s about, I think it’s about mobility and movement in public.

Trufelman and Carlson continue, and touch on the psychological security of ownership when your tools are closer to your body:

HC: If the formal question for me is, “What difference does it make?” “What’s the difference between a pocket and a bag?” And I think the key difference is that the pocket is internal. And it’s secret.

AT: A bag can be stolen. A bag can be lost. And then, that’s it. You don’t have your things anymore.

HC: With a pocket inside, you don’t have to think about it. You forget about it, but you still have stuff in there. It is seen as this territory of your own. That connects you to the objects you carry, in a way. Those objects become part of you.

They also dive into gender and the disparity of pocket size. Many woman will relate to the dislike of the ridiculousness of tiny pockets as an extension of patriarchy. It’s a great listen for general listeners and designers alike. Recommended!

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Guttenberg Arts’ Winter 2019/Summer 2019 Space and Time Artist Residency

Guttenberg Arts’ Winter 2019/Summer 2019 Space and Time Artist Residency received 202 applications for 3 residents.

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Selected artists comprise about 1:67, or 1.4% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Citizenship

Getting Ready to Vote

It’s hard to get voting information. With midterm elections only three weeks away, here’s how I tried to prepare, and what I encountered…


I read “Everything You Need to Know for the Midterm Elections” (NY Times, October 2, 2018). I highly recommend it: informative, brief, straightforward, and nice user experience. I learned that the tightest Congressional races that might flip the House and Senate are in other districts. I could talk with family and friends in NorCal, but pivotal seats are in SoCal.

From this well-edited, well-designed NYT article, it all went downhill.

Next, I visited Vote411.org, and it showed me only four candidates on my ballot in national races. Oddly, it doesn’t show my Congressional Representatives race. (I’m in District 14, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pretty much the only candidate I’m excited about. Speaking of Democratic Socialists, take a quiz to find out if you’re a Democratic Socialist. I am, 6 for 6.)

Then I visited WhosOntheBallot.org. This showed more information, including local offices and measures. But it’s clunky, with too many expand/collapse options, and hard to read, with pertinent info hidden in rollover windows. A description of a citywide proposal to improve civic engagement was missing. (The irony!)

I printed the page out to use as a voter guide. It came to four pages. Of all the apps that exist in the world, why can’t a simple voter guide, that shows my ballot and my selections based on accurate and brief info, be one of them?

Googling “NYC Voter Guide,” I ended up viewing voting guides for the primaries.

What I actually want—and it took me time to find it—is this: the NYC Campaign Finance Board’s 2018 State General Election Voter Guide. (Yet it’s still incomplete—sitting US Senator Kristin Gillibrand has no photo, no statement!?)

And, this guide shows all the districts. There’s no tool for seeing just the candidates in your district. To find out your district, you have to non-intuitively click on “Poll Site Locator,” which takes you to a design-challenged interface, where you enter your address and get your numbers soup of seven different districts. I had to cross-reference Assembly Member on one page with my Assembly District from another page. After all that, there’s only one person running and no info is posted about her.

Also, according to WhosOntheBallot, I can vote for Supreme Court Justices in Queens, but they’re not listed in NYC CFB’s website. I’ve probably spent about two hours researching, and still don’t have any clue about these Supreme Court Justices. Ballotopedia.com lists biographical info but doesn’t say anything about these justice’s opinions or why I should vote for one rather than another.

You can see why this is frustrating and ineffectual.


A note about voter disenfranchisement

Chart showing dramatically higher voter turnout in presidential years (60% in 2016) versus midterms (37% in 2016) since 1950.

From “Everything You Need to Know for the Midterm Elections,” NY Times, October 2, 2018.

It’s too difficult to get information about voting, and too difficult to vote. And I’m fluent in English, educated, and have the leisure time to do this research.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to vote this year. When I showed up to vote in the primaries, I learned that I wasn’t registered Democrat, and therefore, I could only vote for candidates I wasn’t interested in, so I didn’t vote. (I’ve registered Democrat since then, however with mild distaste.)

This midterms election may be the most important midterm election in my memory. It’s frightening how such a small fraction of the populous can determine so much of the next four years. Despite my griping about how inaccessible information is, please vote!


A note about electoral politics

Your vote matters.

Your vote is your voice.

(But your voice is not only your vote.)

 

 

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Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activisim for the 21st Century
Art & Development, Citizenship

Points of Reference (or Orientation)

Navigating art and activism, and the necessity of both.


Art seasons are a real phenomenon, and I’ve been racing to keep up with this one. I’ve been extra busy since mid-August, working my seasonal, full-time museum job, and preparing for three group shows opening this month—not to mention falling sick for a week. M called me “Pigpen,” the messy Peanuts character, and I couldn’t argue with that. I kept it pretty together in art, by sacrificing in life, like housekeeping.

Messy desk

This pretty much sums it up.

I have a lot of thoughts I haven’t been able to process. Like all the crap on my desk, I’m throwing everything down to sort out, at least into little piles for now.


Adapting Aptitudes

A few things happen over the course of a changeover at my seasonal museum job. I lose fitness and get sore in my knees and back. I become unusually extroverted, even starting conversations with strangers outside of work. I’m sharper and faster working with my hands, but a bit slower intellectually. It’s harder to recall artists’ names or to talk critically about art. It’s weird observing how quickly you adapt to your environments.


A Bit of Orientation

Something I wrote resonated with curator Susannah Magers. She quoted me in her curatorial statement for Political Birthdays (on view now through November 3 at Dream Farm Commons in Oakland, CA):

“My courage as an artist is low right now. The news is so overwhelming part of me just wants to turtle up. I’m not sure what the right track is, but I know when it feels right. … In lieu of a clear direction, I’ll take a bit of orientation.”

The past two weeks have provided countless reasons to want to turtle up and avoid the onslaught of bad news and injustice.

Sometimes a good strategy is just to keep moving. Susannah wrote:

The exhibition is one such offering—an orientation, in response to the aforementioned quote by participating artist Christine Wong Yap—that emphasizes visibility, agency, and collaboration as resources, sites of inquiry, and tools.

There can’t be too many reminders to shift focus from dumpster fires back our own sources of power. What can we do to see and be seen? What can we do with our resources, networks, and skills? In this time that feels so alienating, disempowering, and dispiriting, how do we provide the sense of community and solidarity to ourselves and each other?


Politics and Projects

The projects I’m working on right now relate to inclusion, amplifying voices, and belonging. They’re not expressly about civic engagement or advocacy. Partly that’s because I’m invested in psychological wellbeing, which I see as an expression of freedom, dignity, and agency.

Two of the three shows I’m in directly address activism and the midterm elections. The organizers invited me to supplement my project with ideas for taking action or performative events to encourage activism. At the pace I’ve been moving, I didn’t have the time or brainpower to come up with many ideas. But I have been thinking about how I have—or haven’t—been politically engaged.


Activism Is Not Easy

Given this recent emphasis on activism, I have been thinking about a post I wrote two years ago, “Resources for Becoming an Activist.” I’ve been feeling guilty that I haven’t taken more of my own advice and been more active.

I connected with many local social justice orgs at the Forward Union Fair in 2017. I signed up for tons of mailing lists. Aside from calling representatives, few opportunities to get involved or contribute my art skills presented themselves. I joined an group of artist-allies for an immigrant rights org, but logistics—timing, geography, my schedule—have prevented me from pitching in much. When I did contribute a postcard design, I never heard anything back from the point person.

I’ve had tunnel vision for the past two months thanks to my projects and shows, but I’ll try again in the coming months.

Yesterday, I signed up for a monthlong printshop studio rental. I’m thinking about printing more posters, like the one I printed the day after the election. This is something I can do that activates my skills and resources.


WAGENCY

One thing that artists can do to take action is to join WAGENCY. If you haven’t seen it, read my Instagram post about why I signed up, and why I encourage other artists to become WAGENTS, too.


Belonging on Stolen Land

Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day. I spent the day letterpress-printing Belonging activity sheets.

In 2016, I developed my Belonging project, using open calls and workshops to ask people about how they feel about belonging, and where they have felt belonging. I asked countless people to participate and invite others. I shaped my approach with inquiry and openness. I protracted the period of research and dialogue, even though it was stressful for me to delay production. I thought I limited my agenda and perspective in the final signs and zine in order to highlight participants’ voices.

An hour before the opening of Belonging in Albuquerque, I received feedback that indigenous people may not appreciate the message that “we all belong here” on colonized land. Anytime anyone thoughtfully offers honest, critical feedback, it’s valuable, though the timing of the message was a challenge for me.

On Monday, curator Adriel Luis posted a reflection about the struggling with the paradox of immigrant and indigenous perspectives:

As an American I recognize that I live on occupied land. Coming from a family of immigrants, it’s a constant struggle to find balance between insisting that we have a right to be here, while at the same time acknowledging that we really don’t. The past couple of years I’ve had the honor of learning what it means to be welcomed here as a guest…I can tell you it feels so much better than barging your way into somewhere! Still, it’s a learning process to understand how I continue to contribute to the legacy of how this land was stolen.

I’m also trying to evolve my understanding of belonging, by considering Brené Brown’s writing: belonging is not merely being embraced by others—true belonging is actually the courage to stand alone in the wilderness. What that means for future iterations of the project is that belonging should not be limited to places; belonging can be something you carry with you.


Jeff Chang on Art and Race

Probably the best thing to help orient me right now in this moment before the midterm elections is this: historian Jeff Chang’s keynote speech at the Art and Race Conference at the Impact Hub in Oakland (H/T the Making Contact podcast episode, “Jeff Chang on Revolutions in Seeing and Being”).

In this moment, privilege shows up as disengagement, the refusal to take a stand, and the refusal to show up.

As in, ‘I refuse to see how anti-black racism gives me privilege.’ As in, ‘I refuse to see the inhumanity that leaves so many homeless and unsheltered.’ As in, ‘I refuse to see the humanity of the refugee or the migrant.’ As in, ‘I refuse to acknowledge the ways that state violence is inflicted on black bodies, on women’s bodies, on queer bodies, on Muslim bodies, on poor bodies…

Privilege is the choice to isolate, to draw the line, to build the wall. To say that all that matters is my solitary sovereignty, and what I can accumulate before death claims me. As artists, as people in community, we have to choose, in this moment. …

 

We believe in art because we believe in life, in all its variations, in all of its beauty. We’re here because we also believe the ugliness—the violence of inhumanity—can be transformed. We’re here today because we believe art and culture change things. That cultural change might even precede—might even make—political change. …

 

Racism is drawn from a specific kind of refusal. It’s a denial of empathy. It’s a mass-willed blindness. … Inequity shows up in three ways: in representation, in access, in power… Here’s where art may become a remedy… In its mimicry of life, great art helps to close the distance between the self and other; it helps us to come together….

…The movement for black lives has reminded us that the way out of this historical cycle of crisis is to begin to see each other in our full humanity. To find and feel that we are all connected. To move beyond empathy to action. Empathy is empty without action.

Jeff goes on to talk about what it means to not make art nor to engage culture, by exploring technocrats’ luxury apocalypse bunkers.

Perhaps the saddest thing is what this way of thinking reveals about them. They find it so hard to imagine generosity, they can’t see it at all in the world. So that’s probably what is meant when folks say, ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

 

Art … inflames the imagination. And we need the imagination in order to see through and past our blindnesses. Gotta be able to see each other, imagine what we can do together to increase representation, access, and power. This is the real beginning of transformation and community.

…Grace Lee Boggs… argued that revolution is not—as we think of it—something to be won in bloodshed, in which there’s a replacing of one group in power with another group in power. She said that the next revolution might be better thought of as advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility. Her revolution will require us to find new ways other than to divide and rule, to consign some to death and instead pivot all of us towards life, to honor and transform our relationships to each other and ourselves. She insists that we rethink how we see each other, how we choose to be, and how to be together. So we have to move beyond empathy towards mutuality. Beyond relationships that are about exploitation and extraction, towards relationships that are about exchange, support, generosity, and trust. That we start from truly seeing each other and move towards acting for each other. Past resistance and into transformation.


Point of Orientation: Grace Lee Boggs

Thanks to Jeff’s orientation, I’ve ordered this book. (From an independent bookstore, obvs.)

Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activisim for the 21st Century


In the same vein as moving from resistance towards transformation, I’d rather be for positive emotion and affirmation, and than to promulgate negative emotion and opposition.

It is the deforming nature of anger to blur the boundary between unjustified and justified; if it weren’t, only the righteous would ever be angry. Instead, rage is most often forsworn by those who seem most entitled to it, and civility is demanded by those who least deserve it.

…Anger is an avaricious emotion; it takes more credit than it deserves. Attempts to make it into a political virtue too often attribute to anger victories that rightfully belong to courage, patience, intelligence, persistence, or love.

Casey Cep, “The Perils and Possibilities of Anger,” New Yorker Magazine, October 15, 2018

 

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3 Flags by 3 artists

Revised US Flag by Maya Misra. Cunt Quilt by Coralina Rodriguez Meyer. Artist’s Arm by Jevijoe Vitug. // Source: ChristinaFreeman.net

While I like Creative Time’s Pledges of Allegiance artist-designed flag project, it seemed like a missed opportunity to not include more emerging artists. Air Rights, a project flying artist-designed flags curated by Christina Freeman at Flux Factory, is just the right antidote. The artists were less well-known. The flags were weirder. And it was in Queens.

Sights

See: Air Rights @ Flux Factory, Queens

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Meta-Practice

Dusting Yourself Off

Toggling between visualizing and detaching from success.

Recently I poured my heart into a major art application. But when I received the rejection letter, I was already moving on to the next thing. Here’s what happened.

My art business goals are to apply.

Of course I want my applications to be successful. But I don’t write goals based on external validation. I can only control what I do. I write my goals so that my job is to keep throwing my hat into the ring.

I have also tried to be more ambitious about what I apply to. Ambition is not natural to me. I’ve also avoided applying to grants, because they seem like more work with lower chances of returns. But I needed to get over this hang-up.

I’d heard of the Queens Museum Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship (EAF)  before. It offers funding of $20,000 to develop new work, support from staff for one year, and a solo exhibition at the Queens Museum. This was my first time applying to it. In the past, I didn’t consider it—I just assumed that I don’t or can’t work at a scale that would justify $20,000. I had a self-perception problem.

Visualizing Success

Setting ‘stretch goals’ gave me a push I needed. I started the process thinking: My chances are very low. The odds are against me. My project seems dissimilar to past projects they’ve funded. I had a protective, pessimistic mindset.

I started the process to fulfill a goal, then awkwardly tried to bridge the interests of the program with my own. After working through half-baked ideas, I arrived at a project that clicked. It made sense for me as a next step as an artist. I got more excited and invested. My self-belief grew.

It became easier for me to visualize success because my project was authentic.

By the time I finished the application, I thought: This is a strong proposal. It’s a great fit. It stands out in a good way. I saw myself doing this project. By writing a proposal I believed in, I saw that I could do projects at this scale, and that I am worthy of this amount of support and recognition.

Detachment from the Outcome through Attachment to the Project

The project took on a life of its own. There’s a noticeable energy in the flood of new ideas in my sketchbook.

I knew I could strengthen my proposal by confirming interest from community partners. I emailed strangers and colleagues, and got anxious waiting for their responses. When a few responded with enthusiasm, I felt high with gratitude. It validated the strength of the project. Something happened inside me, and I committed to doing this project with or without the EAF.

I started brainstorming other ways to make this project happen. Since I scaled it up for the grant application, I started thinking about how to scale it down or adapt it to other open calls. I plugged dates in my calendar, comparing application deadlines and notifications. The EAF become my Plan A. I started forming Plan B, C, and D. It gave me a sense of agency.

The Emotional Cost of Attachment

After I submit an application, I put a note in my calendar on the notification date, and I try not to think about it until then.

But I really poured my heart into the application, and so I was nervous and excited when the EAF notification date finally arrived. I checked my email… Nothing. Then over the next few days, I kept checking my email… And the web page to see if the notification date changed…. And my spam folder…. Nothing. This took me on an emotional journey of anxiety, a little bit of frustration and resentment, dread, resignation. I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty. Stopping the pain of uncertainty became more urgent than the desire to secure the EAF. This is not a mature, emotionally intelligent response. But the deadline for the call in Plan B started creeping up, so I pivoted.

When I finally received the rejection, I was bummed out momentarily. I sort of shrugged, thinking: Well, good thing I had already started Plan B. I wasn’t entirely non-attached, but I moved on relatively quickly.

Of course I would have loved to receive the EAF. It was Plan A because it was the most well-funded, most advantageously-timed option.

I’m grateful for the process—it helped me identify a project I feel passionate about, connect with partners excited to work with me, and find creative momentum that will carry me forward.

 


 

I like thinking about how sports and art competitions are alike. For example, if you sign up for a competition—say, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament—your goals might be to intensify training, gain competition experience, and test yourself. But if you also want to win the gold medal, you have to visualize yourself doing so. You can’t aim for less. Same with an art competition. You should write the best possible proposal you can.

However, you can only control your own effort and mindset. You can’t control the outcomes, because of the role of other competitors and judges. You may win a gold—in which case you shouldn’t get too cocky and back off your training. You may not win—then you have to be resilient enough to cope with your disappointment; be a good sport; avoid jealousy and excuses; and resolve to learn, train hard, and do better next time. Regardless of the outcome of a competition, remember the long game.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

—variously attributed or mis-attributed to Winston Churchill and John Wooden

 

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