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.


See all Belonging Project posts.

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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。

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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.

 


See all Belonging Project posts.

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Projects

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

My first terrazzo.

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

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

The Project

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

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

 

Research

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

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

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

 

Paths Not Taken

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Guiding Stars

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

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

 

Fabrication

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

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

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

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

Color test terrazzo tiles.

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

Finished terrazzo, before installation.

 

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

 

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

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

What are your guiding stars?

What moves you to race ahead or slow down?

When do you soar?

How will you stay on course?

 

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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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