Meta-Practice, Research, Thought Experiments in Agency

Ways and Means: Points of Reference

A few past notes and new points of reference related to my Ways and Means project, on view through October 15 at Kala Art Institute.

Ways and Means came out of my Inter/dependence ‘zine, a report focusing on self-organizers. I loved the way Adam Gopnik wrote about Jane Jacobs’s interest in self-organizing [emphasis added]:

[In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs] told the story of a little girl seemingly being harassed by an older man, and of how all of Hudson Street emerged from stores and stoops to protect her…. She made the still startling point that, on richer blocks, a whole class of eyes had to be hired to play the role that, on Hudson Street, locals played for nothing: “A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes.” A hired neighborhood! It’s obvious once it’s said, but no one before had said it, because no one before had seen it.

The book is really a study in the miracle of self-organization, as with D’Arcy Thompson’s studies of biological growth. Without plans, beautiful shapes and systems emerge from necessity. Where before her people had seen accident or exploitation or ugliness, she saw an ecology of appetites.

Adam Gopnik, “Jane Jacobs’s Street Smarts,” New Yorker, September 26, 2016

This sense of acting out of necessity, or appetite—the agency and empowerment of creating a desired condition to exist within—is a huge inspiration to me.

Most of the activity kits in Ways and Means have two components: printed ephemera, housed in a canvas tool pocket or pouch (which can be attached to an apron, belt, or garment). The pouch is important to me, as I see a strong connection between physical agency, and social or political agency. Freedom is first and foremost about mobility. And feeling free—say, as artists—means that we don’t have to shape our lives around systems whose values we don’t believe in. In many ways, the project is about recognizing the tools, skills, and resources (read: each other) that we already carry, made physical by the tool pouches.

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

With that in mind, Chelsea G. Summers’ “The Politics of Pockets” (Racked, 9/19/2016) is an intriguing history of pockets from a feminist perspective. It starts with the fact that in Medieval times, men and women carried pouches attached to their waists. (The following several hundred years of gender-policing-via-pockets seem like an aberration to me.) The essay also touches upon the intersection of pockets and bicycling—again, mobility implying freedom.

One of the responses to Ways and Means has to do with the number of components involved. As there was a lot of letterpress printing, the process was particularly preparation-intensive. Here’s how I kept track of things:

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

I am not saying this level of nerdiness is always warranted, and I think many people would chafe at organizing creative production this way. But letterpress printing takes a special kind of detail-oriented person—hence the aphorism, “check your ‘p’s and ‘q’s.” This chart was useful for getting all the pieces—plates, type, paper, board, fabric—in place before I started printing. And getting different activities to converge at similar stages was helpful, e.g., buying paper in one trip, or binding all at once. Seeing that things were in-progress helped me stay focused; there is always something to do. And when you’re working in more than one space—such as a studio and printshop on opposite ends of a complex, or a home studio and a printshop in another borough—it’s nice to remember to pack the right materials for the day’s tasks.

A minor innovation that took a while for me to arrive at is this (it’s also a peek at a forthcoming activity):

A chart of printing passes.

A chart of printing passes.

Some activities entail multiple printing passes using different inks and media, and it could get confusing. I found that charting it this way helps me to visualize the steps, and prepare the plates and type accordingly. I may have even saved myself a fourth pass on this one. Pass 1 is done, 2 and 3 remain. To be continued…

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Techniques, Thought Experiments in Agency

A Simple Bookbinding How-to

[Reposting from Instagram] Here’s a bookbinding how-to I made while binding a collaborative activity with Leah Rosenberg for Ways and Means (on view now through October 15 at Kala). The project was printed at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA, and bound at the Center for Book Arts in NYC.

Bookbinding steps, part 1 of 2, for collaborative activity with @leahmartharosenberg. Make a 10-hole guide. Transfer with a pin tool (to your block squared out and bulldog clipped between boards). Drill holes with a Dremel. Beat down the swell (burnish burrs with a bone folder). Wax 18-30 gauge linen thread. Straight stitch forwards then back. Snug it up. Tie a square knot in the middle of your text block. Beat down again. #waysandmeans Techniques picked up from @centerforbookarts teachers and renters.

Bookbinding steps, part 1 of 2. Make a 10-hole guide. Transfer with a pin tool (to your block squared out and bulldog clipped between boards). Drill holes with a Dremel. Beat down the swell (burnish burrs with a bone folder). Wax 18-30 gauge linen thread. Straight stitch forwards then back. Snug it up. Tie a square knot in the middle of your text block. Beat down again. Techniques picked up from Nancy Loeber and Uriel Cidor at the Center for Book Arts.

 

Bookbinding steps, part 2 of 2, for collaborative activity with @leahmartharosenberg: Glueing the spine wrap. Cut paper and score to depth to cover stiches. Fold up using triangle and bone folder. Mark spine width, score and fold. Dry fit. Brush on PVA from folds outward using a newsprint mask. Place on block and burnish top and spine. Stand up book on spine and repeat on back.

Bookbinding steps, part 2 of 2: Glueing the spine wrap. Cut paper and score to depth to cover stitches. Fold up using triangle and bone folder. Mark spine width, score and fold. Dry fit. Brush on PVA from folds outward using a newsprint mask. Place on block and burnish top and spine. Stand up book on spine and repeat on back.

 

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Art & Development, Thought Experiments in Agency

Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 2

A few notes on my residency in June and July, with personal reflections. A continuation of “Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 1.”

Christine Wong Yap, including collaborations with Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Travelslight, Ways and Means, in Kala's Fellows exhibition, Appro-propagation, on through October 15. Photo: JiaJun Wang. Works developed at Kala Art Institute's Fellowship program, as well as in the Center for Book Arts' Workspace Grant program.

Christine Wong Yap, including collaborations with Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Travelslight, Ways and Means, in Kala’s Fellows exhibition, Appro-propagation, on through October 15. Photo: JiaJun Wang. Works developed at Kala Art Institute’s Fellowship program, as well as in the Center for Book Arts’ Workspace Grant program.

I returned to Kala from early June to late July for a second residency stint. Over those six weeks, I developed new work—including collaborations with Leah RosenbergElizabeth Travelslight, and Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practices)—and installed it in the Kala Fellows’ exhibition (currently on view through October 15). [Update: I’ve posted photos on my website.]

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Screenprints in the drying rack for a game developed in collaboration with Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practice). The top layers are cards, including some inspired by questions in my recent zine on interdependence. The bottom layers are canvas game “boards.”

 

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Press lock-up on the delightfully light Vandercook SP-15. For Friendship Field Trip, a collaboration with Elizabeth Travelslight. It comes in four pieces, each describing an activity to deepen a friendship. The back of all four assembles into a map/poster.

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Detail of Color | Cootie | Feeling | Catcher, an activity developed in collaboration with Leah Rosenberg. 13-color woodcut and polymer plate letterpress print.

This experience was extraordinarily positive, like my January/February stint. Here are a few updates:

Busier printshop. There were more AIRs and Fellows in town for the summer season. The chill, atelier-like vibe often gave way to a bustling hive of printing. The screen printing equipment was especially popular.

Fellows and staff took a break for lunch.

Fellows and staff took a break for lunch.

 

New Fellows Ronny Quevedo (Bronx, NY) and James Voller (New Zealand/Melbourne), Honorary Fellows Katie Baldwin and Chris Thorson, and AIRs Aaron Hughes and Mikey Kelly arrived or continued their visits, and I enjoyed getting to know them and work alongside them.

Staff changes and special mentions. New Studio Manager, Ben Engle, is upbeat and enthusiastic about printmaking and helping people. Artist Program Manager Carrie Hott is leaving to pursue other things (check out her show at Mills College Art Museum through August 28).

Kala is a special place, run by extraordinarily dedicated people. For example, I needed to borrow a table from Southern Exposure (thanks SoEx and Val!), and Art Sales Manager Andrea Voinot picked it up on her day off. I feel indebted to Kala and the people whose labor, energy and generosity make it work.

Deadlines. My prior stint involved experimenting to learn techniques. But for this visit, I had to focus on finishing work for the show. The numerous steps involved in my project—preparing the art, printing, binding, sewing, installation—quickly became an unyielding reality I had to cope with.

I think I could have scheduled my production a bit more strategically, especially when it came to collaborations. I felt like I was running out of time. As an art handler, I felt that my work should have been done ahead of the installation period. But as an artist, I realized that this is all new work—quite a bit of it, with an involved installation, and it’s not the same thing as installing existing works.

Thankfully, I received assistance with perforation, lighting, and photography from interns Katrina and Sean, and sewing assistance from my mom, Sophia Wong.

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Mom proudly sports the apron she just finished sewing in the artist’s project space at Kala.

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Detail of a lab coat sewn by Mom.

 

Work/life balance. As with other residencies, I got really invested in productivity. I was often at the printshop by 7am—partly to beat the bridge traffic, and partly to get things done (aided by starting out on East Coast time). I made the most of my time at Kala, but I can’t say the same about the Bay Area…

Early mornings in the printshop.

Early mornings in the printshop.

I could have been more present for family and friends, been a more patient and kind collaborator, seen more art (especially the new SFMOMA, Ed Ruscha show at the DeYoung, Torreya Cummings’ installation at the Oakland Museum, Postscripts to Revolution at Southern Exposure, and Bizarre Bazaar at Root Division) and spared myself some of the 12-(up to 15.5-)hour days. It’s paradoxical to sacrifice relationships to make art about interdependence. But I’m not sure what I could have changed, if I had the chance to do it again. There’s only so many hours in the day, and it was already a privilege (as well as financial and marital stretches) to be away so long.

Interdependent, communal spaces. At Kala, I thought about Elizabeth Travelslight‘s description of being a co-op member in CO-LABORATION:

It becomes quite habitual—you get in the habit of seeing people fully and being seen fully.

That was how I felt at Kala. The collective ethos there can be enlivened with little effort, mainly greeting people, communicating openly, and generally having faith in others. I had to adopt these attitudes and behaviors (it felt almost Midwestern…). I felt welcomed and very much like a thread in the social fabric. Colleagues were encouraging, helpful, and friendly. Even with my middling technique, I was accepted… It was validating.

[Addendum/Tangent:

With the help of LR, I realized that these are the same feelings I felt at gyms Pacific Ring Sports and Fight and Fitness this summer, and are the same motivations for training amongst others. I hadn’t realized the connection until LR visited PRS and pointed out how members can similarly cultivate a spirit of mutual respect and encouragement. That validation grew my sense of value within these communities, which can become like chosen families. To be encouraged to keep training, and to come back anytime by people who’d easily submitted me, or who I’d accidentally headbutted, melts my heart. It’s about sportsmanship, but moreover, shared experiences of hard work and growth. These gyms and Kala provided opportunities to be humbled, to develop new skills and new friends, to be accepted, and to be grateful. I felt my sense of value and integrity being grounded by being seen and seeing others, and gained lived experiences of ordering aspects of life interdependently.]

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The head coaches at Pacific Ring and Fight and Fitness were all from Fairtex, whose SF gym has since dissolved. I started out there too, about 15 years ago. After a hiatus following my move to NYC, I’m revitalizing my appreciation for the development and relationships gained through this type of training. The Bay Area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quality muay thai and BJJ training; I recommend residents avail themselves to it.

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Projects

New Values: Changing Terms in a Psychological Classification

Unintended consequences of making art around recent positive psychology.

Christine Wong Yap, Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches. Photo: Anna Ablogina.

Christine Wong Yap, Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches. Photo: Anna Ablogina.

 

From 2013 to 2015, I designed, printed, and sewed Character Strengths Signal Flags. Each flag represented one of 24 character strengths in psychologist Martin Seligman’s and Chris Petersen’s Values in Action classification.

Recently I revisited the VIA website, and noticed that some of the strengths have been renamed. Those are listed below.

The new names relate to the old ones, but I can’t help but wonder: What is gained and lost with the linguistic updates?

  • Open-mindedness  Judgment
  • Persistence  Perseverance
  • Integrity  Honesty
  • Vitality  Zest
  • Citizenship  Teamwork
  • Self-Control  Self-Regulation
  • Appreciation of Beauty  Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

I’m not a psychologist, but as the classification is aimed towards the public, the researchers are probably interested in accessible language. Here’s how I interpret the updates.

Some changes seem relatively minor—persistence and perseverance, and vitality and zest are phrasings many people would use interchangeably. Witnessing excellence can be beautiful; I can see the kinship in the appreciation of of the two. Psychologists might distinguish between self-control and self-regulation, but I don’t think general audiences would.

I believe the most dramatic change is from open-mindedness (withholding judgment) to judgment. In an era of snap judgments and constantly streaming opinions, I wonder why the researchers abandoned the self-assured open-mindedness, and then opted for judgment over the more measured critical thinking. Also, swapping integrity in favor of honesty seems complicated, too. To me, integrity implies a higher order of ethics and self-concordance than honesty.

The shift from citizenship to teamwork could inspire much deconstruction. The former implies geopolitics, nationhood, and the problems of inclusion, exclusion, and rights.* It’s too limiting for the meaning, which I interpret as the spirit of civic and social engagement.  On the other hand, teamwork originates in sport, but is now correlated with the workplace and management. This identity shift, from a (presumably) contributing member of a (presumably) democratic society, to a (likely, immaterial knowledge) worker, hits a nerve—it appears to be another instance of neoliberalism’s pervasive effect on our identities, where the corporation overtakes the state as the primary force organizing social relations.

While I don’t mean to conflate positive psychologists’ research with pop psychology writing, I did find a passage from Louis Menand’s essay on self-help business books (“The Life Biz,” New Yorker Magazine, March 28, 2016) to be relevant:

“It’s not surprising that every era has a different human model to suit a different theory of productivity, but it is mildly disheartening to realize how readily we import these models into our daily lives. We apply technologies of the self to our own selves, and measure our worth by the standards of the workplace.”

——

Addendum:

Justin Langlois‘ comments on citizenship (in “Questioning Citizenship at the Venice Biennale: Responses and Interventions,” C Magazine, Issue 128, Winter 2016) are too good not to cite.

First, the urgency of the question of citizenship:

“The idea of citizenship, and who gets to grant it, receive it, retain it and who has to give it up, is clearly one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

Then, a call to action to practice citizenship:

“Our citizenship relies on the testing of its very boundaries. And more often, it relies on a series of small and not-so-small gestures that secure or resist it, and that help us to exercise our capacity to measure, record and produce social and civic life together. Art provides an inventory of expanded practices and poetics that might offer us clues on how to do this, but we must work to hone our own actions and activities towards more complicated expressions that can evince our agency in the world. If we await an invitation to perform our citizenship, we will never get around to producing it ourselves.”

While of course I value cooperation and the ability to work well with others, what teamwork doesn’t account for is the desire and responsibility to “evince our agency in the world.”

 

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Meta-Practice, Thought Experiments in Agency, Travelogue

Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 1

Notes from the first half of a printmaking residency in Berkeley, CA.

printshop

A view of Kala’s printshop.

[Note: Kala is redesigning their website—sorry for links that may soon break.]

What

I just wrapped up my first of two stints as a 2015-2016 Fellow at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA. Kala is a 40-year-old non-profit arts organization, at the heart of which is a massive print shop in the top floor of a former Heinz ketchup factory. Their printmaking facilities span etching, stone lithography, relief, letterpress, and screen print. They also have an electronic media center with a 44” printer, a darkroom, and a shooting room. Around the corner, they have another space, which includes a gallery, collections, a classroom, and three project space/studios.

It’s like an Artist’s Playland.

As a fellow, I receive access to the printmaking studio, free tutorials, a free class, the use of a 100-square-foot private studio, a discount on classes and purchases, and a stipend.

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Demo from the Repeat Pattern Screen Printing class with Emily Gui.

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Studio 270º.

When

The fellowship lasts up to six months. I’d heard that a few past Fellows were able to be active all six months, but many were not, likely due to finances or jobs. The Bay Area’s high cost of living is another limiting factor, for international artists and at least one other NYC artist I’ve corresponded with. I have also been told that many Fellows schedule their stints towards the end of the Fellowship period.

I committed to 2.5 concentrated months due to finances and logistics. I just wrapped up a 4.5-week stay from early January through early February. I will be back for a second stint in June and July to make more work and to install my work in the Fellows’ show and attend the opening. The exhibition is scheduled to open in mid-July.

I was mostly focused on studio work, but I was able to visit the re-openings at Berkeley Art Museum and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and Related Tactics: Declarations for the New Year at Southern Exposure. I also enjoyed the Kala Artists’ Annual in the Kala Gallery (on view through March 26)—it’s a great way to be introduced to the work of the AIRs that I was working alongside, and be inspired by the range of work and media.

Actually, I’d been in a Kala Artists’ Annual many years prior. I interned there after undergrad, and used the presses for my reduction woodcut prints. In the intervening years, I visited the gallery, wrote about an exhibition, and submitted applications to the Fellowship program. I think my familiarity with Kala, printmaking, and the region were very helpful in my planning and expectations.

Where

Artists couldn’t ask for a better location. Just across the parking lot from Kala are a large hardware store and Looking Glass Photo & Camera, probably the best photo store in the East Bay. Across San Pablo are independent businesses Discount Fabrics, MacBeath Hardwood, Ashby Lumber, and Urban Ore (building materials salvage). An art supply store with a decent selection of printmaking supplies and paper is located 1.5 miles away.

You can also find Kelly Paper in Oakland and TAP Plastics in El Cerrito. (I don’t usually promote chain stores, but I missed these two after I moved to NYC, which lacks adequate counterparts.)

Just across the street is Berkeley Bowl West, a fantastic grocery store with prepared food. Its produce section is probably bigger and fresher than anywhere I’ve been. You get healthy grab-and-go food or stock up on groceries in the Kala kitchen. It’s a major perk of the location.

Kala’s split spaces—print shop and gallery—are located on different sides of the same block. To access one from the other, you can walk through loading docks and a parking lot, a sidewalk that fancifully circumnavigates trees along car-heavy San Pablo, or through neighboring JFK University and more loading docks. It’s not far, but it feels like it is.

This part of West Berkeley was industrial, and the building has its own monolithic architectural beauty. However, artists should note that access is easiest for those who can readily climb a short ladder, walk steep ramps, and climb stairs.

I borrowed a car, which made a world of difference for my commute from the peninsula (south of San Francisco), and getting supplies. West Berkeley is not very close to BART (the subway/commuter rail system). For artists coming from out of town, I recommend staying as close to Kala as possible. If not, having a car—and a high tolerance for traffic or the willingness to commute during off hours—will be useful. At the very least, I think you’d want a bike and a bike map.

Who

This year there are eight Fellows. Kala also has about 50-70 artists-in-residence (AIRs). The AIR program is similar to a membership, allowing access to the print shop and media center. For local artists working in print and digital media, the AIR program’s tiered rates can help make it a great alternative to a private studio.

I really looked forward to becoming part of this Kala community. When I interviewed Kevin B. Chen for my ‘zine, CO-LABORATION, he said:

As a young person, Kala Art Institute was an amazing place to be—a shared facility for printmaking with an ethos of collectivity and collaboration. This was seminal in my thinking about artistic practice as part of a larger dialogue, a community. It was (and is) a real community of artists whose ideas and work didn’t exist in the vacuum of a solitary studio, but rather was in the open and collectively shared. The notion of gestalt—the whole is more than the sum of its individual parts—took root for me then.

At Kala, I encountered these moments of serendipity. It’s a communal space, so I admired Emmanuel Montoya’s oversized woodcut prints, and the nearly silent way he and his assistant worked together. Having only ever seen monoprinting with oils, I was impressed by how an artist used watercolors on her acrylic plate, and she kindly explained the process. Often the print shop felt like an atelier—artists were quietly engaging their solitary studio practices, respectfully allowing others to do the same. Then, someone might put on the water kettle, and gradually artists gathered for lunch, and there’d be a friendly, energetic dialogue.

My most meaningful instance of serendipity is being a concurrent Fellow with San Francisco-based Leah Rosenberg. She began her stint in January, too, following her residency in Omaha and project in Hamburg. In the past, she and I collaborated with the late, painfully missed Susan O’Malley. Re-connecting with Leah, at Kala (where Susan’s “Be You” mural for Print Public is just across San Pablo) was some sort of cosmic gift, a confluence of Kala’s mysterious ability to survive an economic environment hostile to arts organizations, the jurors’ visions, and our own good luck. We are collaborating on a participatory project for the exhibition in July. It was also so nice to have a buddy. Doing a residency can be isolating—you’re away from your home and partner, and somewhat at the mercy of an institution yet on a self-directed journey, so having someone to share the experience and mutual support is strengthening.

How

Fellowships are awarded via an annual open call juried by outside curators and artists. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve applied. I submitted an application last spring, and got an email requesting confirmation of my interest in summer or early fall. I’m finding that artist’s experiences of residencies are highly shaped by the liaison, and Artist Programs Manager Carrie Hott (see her work, which I’ve mentioned here) was professional, responsive, interested, and interesting.

The Fellowship seems set up to support artists and let them get to work. At the Orientation, Studio Manager Paper Buck (see his work) asked us what media we’d like to use, and what tutorials we’d need. On the spot, he incorporated a screen coating and exposing tutorial. Carrie handed out keys to residents and fellows. That was day one. We were free to access the studios 24/7.

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Changing out the tympan in a Vandercook letterpress tutorial with Carissa Potter Carlson.

Kala relies on an honor system, and trusts AIRs and Fellows to work within their experience levels. If you are fluent with a piece of equipment, they might briefly talk it through with you, or they might leave it at that. If needed, you can request a tutorial. Brief tutorials are free and scheduled with individual staff members and teachers. You can also request a longer tutorial—available to AIRs at an hourly rate of $40, which I think is very artist-friendly, and free for Fellows.

Kala also offers a free, completely optional class to Fellows.

It took me about a week or two to get rolling in the print shop. When I was eager to get a screen printing refresher, an AIR was kind enough to walk me through it.

Kala’s requirements of Fellows are minor—donate three works (typically editioned work) to the permanent collection. Include credit lines. Submit good photo documentation. That’s pretty much it.

Why

I had an overwhelmingly positive experience over the past few weeks.

I’ve been exploring artists’ agency and interdependence, and want to make activity kits along these themes. I shipped my sewing machine to Kala, but ended up wanting to use my time at Kala mostly to print; I can always sew back in NYC. I did a lot of screenprinting on fabric, a little bit of letterpress and polymer plate, one woodblock (thanks to encouragement by KBC), a little participatory project, and the collaboration with Leah.

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Big roller, split well, birch plywood woodcut

I had books about artists’ self-organization and alternatives, but put off reading them. Printmaking is preparation-intensive, and I felt like I had plenty to do in the print shop everyday. I’ve been mulling these podcasts and articles.

If there was any stress, it was completely self-inflicted. At residencies, I am quite aware of the many artists who would like the opportunity I have, and I tend to want to earn the right to be there by being very productive. But the creative process isn’t linear. And I dabble around in too many media for processes to go perfectly every time. I usually reach a point where I have too many ideas and not enough time left, so I try to simplify and prioritize. The hardest part is letting go of what I can’t or needn’t do. For example, I re-printed a three-color repeat pattern screen print on 10 feet of fabric. It took me about 1.5-2.5 hours every day for six days. If I were able to let go of the flaws and mistakes of the first print, and adhere to my list of priorities, I would have moved on to other projects. But I was obsessed: I knew I could make it better.

Printmaking can be highly technical. For some, its established markers of craftsmanship can make it intimidating, and mastery expressed in minutia can make it seem arcane. But printmaking can also be looser and inventive. I like how you can also make it up as you go along, like making jigs—improvising and refining combinations of materials, time, pressure, and alignment. A folded playing card is a great tool for picking up prints from the press. A “jigsaw” woodcut of squares and triangles could be done in minutes on a miter saw. A plastic sheet can be a backing for screenprinting a t-shirt, or a tympan for printing a woodblock. Do whatever works.

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I devised a simple pulley system for printing and drying yards of fabric.

 

 


 

Thanks so much to Kala Art Institute, its funders, staff, interns, the jurors, AIRs and fellow Fellows for this tremendous opportunity and amazing experience thus far…

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Open Studio view, December 11, 2015. LMCC Process Space on Governor's Island.
Meta-Practice, Thought Experiments in Agency

LMCC Process Space Residency Wrap-up

What, who, when, where, how and why my first NYC studio residency.

I just completed my first studio program in NYC! It was great to have a longer residency and stay at home, allowing me to balance personal and financial responsibilities, while at the same time building my community of fellow artists here in NYC.

What: The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council turns unused space into studio spaces for visual artists and performers. Process Space is a process-oriented residency located on Governor’s Island. It’s located in the upper floor of a former military warehouse. The space is several thousand square feet, which is divvied up by tensioned partition walls into smaller spaces of various sizes, each with three walls, facing one of two hallways. I received one of the larger spaces, lucking out with a great view of lower Manhattan across the hall and in the windows of my neighbor’s studio.

View from my studio (through poet Anselm Berrigan's studio).

View from my studio (through poet Anselm Berrigan’s studio).

Process Space is mostly a studio program, with two Open Studio events. LMCC organizes one potluck and ranger-led tour of the National Parks’ historic sites.

Some of the AIRs self-organized our own work-sharing events and a studio visit from a curator.

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Ben Hagari discussed his photo with the other AIRs during a self-organized pre-Open Studio walkabout.

Who: There were 20 artists in residence for the full duration, as well as performers who accessed the rehearsal spaces in shorter durations. Of the 20 longterm artists, most were visual, some were literary, and a few were performance. I was also very happy to see that women and artists of color were represented. I really liked my cohort—they’re very smart, with well-developed and unique practices. I think we got along really well and I felt a strong sense of allyship.

LMCC has an energetic staff. They take event planning and promotion of Open Studios seriously! In addition to presenting your work inside your studio, you can also propose a reading or performance, or exhibit work in the adjacent gallery. I didn’t elect to do either, mainly because the deadline for proposals snuck up on me, and I couldn’t dedicate enough time to develop anything on top of what I planned to show in my studio. There’s also a former resident who is a part-time on-site assistant, who has a studio on the island as well.

When: Each year there are two sessions: Fall and Spring. The fall session ran from early August to mid-December; our Open Studios were in late September and in early December.

(In hindsight I realized that the December Open Studio, because it’s on a weekday during the island’s closed Winter season, is less well-attended, but that was the one in which I had more work, and more finished work, to share. Since the summer season has more visitors, the Spring session has the small advantage of having more visitors at the end of the session. I couldn’t make the spring session due to travel, but for future residents this might be a minor consideration. But obviously, prioritize scheduling studio access.)

Where: The studios are located on Governor’s Island, a small island just a short ferry ride from lower Manhattan.

Governor’s Island is a unique partnership between a national park and the City. There’s historic, well-preserved military buildings, and then beautiful, new park lands that are continuing to be developed. There’s tons of programming during the summer, and it’s unusually interesting—a scrappy art fair, 1920’s-themed dance parties, vintage baseball games, VW bus shows, and lots of food trucks, as well as a beer garden. Many other art organizations ran programs there too, such as residencies, galleries, and public art installations, too. There’s also an outdoor tent for concerts, which is located next to the studio building, for better and for worse.

The Statue of Liberty seen from the ferry on a beautiful day.

The Statue of Liberty seen from the ferry on a beautiful day.

A recent view of the Statue of Liberty at sunset, also with the Staten Island ferry.

A recent view of the Statue of Liberty at sunset, also with the Staten Island ferry.

There are spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty from the island and the ferry. The studio building’s north windows overlook Lower Manhattan. When the sun set, the light reflected off the skyscrapers in directly onto my studio walls.

Sunset view.

Sunset view.

My silhouette on my studio wall, formed in sunset light reflected from skyscrapers.

My silhouette on my studio wall, formed in sunset light reflected from skyscrapers.

How: This program is by nomination only. I am grateful to my nominator, whose show I installed at LMCC’s Governor’s Island gallery a few years ago. That was my first and only visit to the island prior to the residency, so it was nice to complete the circle by returning as an artist in my own right.

The only access to the island—and thus to the studios—is by ferry. During the public season in the summer, the ferry runs from early morning to 7pm, and on the weekends. After the public season ends, the ferry runs until 6pm weekdays only. For artists whose work schedule lands squarely during the work week (including myself, at times), or who have childcare issues, this means that studio access is a real challenge.

Getting to the island is a big part of this residency experience. When I heard I was nominated, I reached out to two former residents seeking their advice. They were both generous in sharing their input and encouragement. (It was especially kind considering that one artist was a stranger, whose work I’d admired from afar.) Their advice to me basically consisted of two points:

  1. You’re going to miss a ferry by a few minutes, and then have to wait an hour.
  2. Keep your project simple. Don’t get too materially or technically involved.

Though I thought that being armed with tip #1 would help me avoid missing the ferry, I did, over and over, often by minutes. Some of the time it was my own fault. I learned that if I’m not focused on getting ready two hours before the ferry, I won’t make it. Some of the time, the trains were running slow, and I’d miss the ferry by three minutes. That was a huge test of my coping skills. Even worse, I’d sometimes try to run small errands, and then miss a second ferry in the same day.

Tip #2 was helpful. Focusing on research rather than production saved my back a lot of strain. While I kept my tools and materials to a minimum, even the minimum is a lot when it has to fit in a backpack, or on a wheeled cart that you’re carrying up stairs in the subway during rush hour. It’s possible to take a car on the ferry, but deciding to keep it simple meant I didn’t need to deal with the logistics that involves.

Moving out. My last load after backpacking things home over several days.

Moving out. My last load after backpacking things home over several days.

It was interesting to get to see more of the harbor, and become part of its rhythms. When the President and the Pope fly out of the heliport next to the ferry building, you learn about MarSec levels (as you’re not going anywhere… but then you get to see a Chinook). Oddly, I think I’m going to miss the ferry itself, especially the Coursen. It’s an interstitial space where the anxiety about possibly missing the ferry melts away. You can be calm, observe the light on the water, get some sun on your skin, and enjoy a short journey. I couldn’t help but envy the crew a tiny bit—it seems like a cool job.

Why: I conducted the research phase of my longterm project, Thought Experiments in Agency. In the beginning, I read a lot—reviewing Tom Finklepearl’s What We Made (again, the introduction is highly recommended!), and reading Julia Bryan-Wilson’s Art Workers and Greg Sholette’s Dark Matter. Later, I also read much of Mobile Autonomy (Dockx & Geilen, eds.).

For the first open studio, I conducted the Artists’ Personal Impacts Survey. I raffled off my Mini Irrational Exuberance Flags. It was difficult to part with them, but seeing how excited recipients were made it OK.

There were 112 visual artists who responded to the survey. There were 40 questions in the survey. There were about 30 questions that were quantitative, and many of those used a 5-point Likert scale. So I did a lot of number-crunching. There were 10 qualitative responses, and the written answers, once compiled, totaled 60 pages. It was great having a huge wall I could dedicate to just looking at the written responses.

Process notes.

Process notes. At right, photos in writer Jessie Chafee’s studio.

I made an oversized table to categorize responses. Categories formed rows; survey questions were the columns.

I made an oversized table to categorize responses. Categories formed rows; survey questions were the columns.

Sketch for a Venn diagram summarizing how respondents will take steps to create or strengthen a more desirable art world.

Sketch for a Venn diagram summarizing how respondents will take steps to create or strengthen a more desirable art world.

Inter/dependence zine launch, with flag and data visualizations.

Inter/dependence zine launch, with flag and data visualizations.

I made a ‘zine, with a 2,000 word essay. Fellow AIRs provided me with great feedback, which was deeply gratifying. I haven’t done any “serious” writing in a while, so it was nice to receive encouragement and validation.

Drawing and necessary drawing tools.

Drawing and necessary drawing tools.

I also did some drawings. A funny thing happened—I finally had a need for the metal eraser guard I saw in other people’s tool boxes in art school. I never owned one or needed one before this, and adding one to my toolkit now seemed comical. I also hand-lettered some quotes, turning the wall into a mind-map of sorts.

I sewed a flag, and painted a t-shirt. See more photos, or order or download a zine.

Fabric paint on tee. I'm thinking this shirt should only be made with the sleeves cut off. The tie-back can be optional.

Fabric paint on tee. I’m thinking this shirt should only be made with the sleeves cut off. The tie-back can be optional.

I pretty much did everything I set out to do. Originally, I set a goal of spending spending 60 days in the studio over the 5-month period. A number of factors conspired against me: the session was actually 4.5 months, I moved houses unexpectedly, I got a job promotion, and some tasks were better done at home (where there was a computer monitor or sewing machine). In total, I spent 32 days at the studio. That’s much less than 60, but I exceeded other goals. Moreover, I feel prepared, focused and also liberated to move forward with other production.

I’m so grateful to LMCC staff, Hank Willis Thomas, Youmna Chlala, Saul Melman, survey respondents, ferry crew, Open Studios visitors, and fellow AIRs who participated in self-organized events, gave me feedback, or otherwise offered camaraderie. Thank you.

Christine Wong Yap was a participant in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program.

Inter/dependence was developed as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program in 2015.

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Thought Experiments in Agency

Announcing Inter/dependence, my new ‘zine!

New ‘zine on artists’ personal impacts out Friday; available for pre-order now. Respondents’ discount available.

Inter/dependence: Artists' Personal Impacts Survey Review; Thought Experiments in Agency; Christine Wong Yap.
Based on survey responses from 112 artists, this new ’zine explores the positive psychological benefits of art practice, relatedness, and self-organized activities via an essay and nine data visualizations.

The ‘zine will be launched at LMCC Open Studios with Process Space artists in residence on Friday, December 11, 2015. Can’t make it to Governor’s Island? You can pre-order your copy now via Paypal. Ships after 12/11/15 via USPS First Class.

20-page self-published ‘zine: $5 + $3 postage within the US

Survey respondents: Get your first copy at half-off for a limited time only.*

Pre-order at interdependence.christinewongyap.com.

*Inter/dependence would not have been possible without the contributions of survey respondents, friends who shared the survey, and help from generous colleagues. In gratitude and the spirit of artists’ interdependence, a PDF download will be freely available at interdependence.christinewongyap.com after December 11, 2015.

From the ‘zine’s introductory essay, an explanation of “interdependence”:

“Respondents brought up interdependence—“that sweet spot between independence and dependence shared with generous collaborators,” describes Steven Barich—as essential to their practices. One respondent notes, “I feel most in control when I can feel comfortable being interdependent, which is to say out of control and held in support by, of, and for my friends, family, and community.”

Simply put by Cal Cullen, “Artists need each other.”

Interdependence might be considered the intersection of autonomy and relatedness, which, along with competence, are the core needs at the heart of Edward Deci’s and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory. Relatedness and autonomy may seem contradictory, but Deci—like respondents—insists that individuals can be autonomously dependent.”

Inter/dependence was developed as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program in 2015.

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