I am proud to donate one of my most recent works to support the organization that hosted me for my three-month, life-changing residency in Manchester, UK last year. Online bids will be accepted. Have a look!
Some connections between projects in Oakland, California, USA and Birmingham and Manchester, England, U.K….
Eastside Projects is an artist-run space, a public gallery for the City of Birmingham and the World. It is organised by a founding collective comprising Simon & Tom Bloor, Céline Condorelli, Ruth Claxton, James Langdon and Gavin Wade, who first conceived and now runs the space.
Eastside Projects is a new model for a gallery, one where space and programme are intertwined: a complex evolving programme of works and events starting from radical historical positions. We aim to commission and present experimental contemporary art practices and exhibitions. The artist is invited to set the existing conditions for the gallery. Work may remain. Work may be responded to. The gallery is a collection. The gallery is an artwork. The artist-run space is a public good.
We aim to support the cultural growth of the City.
Sight School is an artist-run exhibition space directed by Michelle Blade. The space began from a desire to create dialogue around new modes of living and being in the world in order to reveal connections between art and life.
As Michelle and I have worked together on Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), I’ve gotten a better sense of her vision for Sight School. She’s committed to her local neighborhood—she makes a point to get to know her neighbors, put up flyers at local businesses, and support the growth of the Golden Gate Arts District (an emergent auxiliary to downtown Oakland’s wildly popular Art Murmur). She is highly invested in community—her decisions that structure the gallery and space are often driven by generosity and openness. She’s got a keen sense of contemporary practice in art. I get the feeling that the gallery is something like a commons for art experimentation; that her aim is to provide a site for artists to do experimental projects that would be considered untenable elsewhere. She seems interested in this as an experiment, thinking of every next move as an opportunity to innovate. This is not merely another gallery; she’s stepping out of the white cube by hosting one-night events, mutual learning projects and discourses. So when I re-visited Eastside Projects’ mission statement, particularly
The artist is invited to set the existing conditions for the gallery.
The gallery is an artwork.
The artist-run space is a public good.
it occurred to me that ESP and Sight School might be kindred spirits, with their energetic, unruly collectivity.
The director of ESP is an interesting curator and artist’s book instigator named Gavin Wade. In an interview on NYFA.org, Wade says that American artists differ from their UK counterparts because we’re less
willing to interact and collaborate and allow their work even to sit on top of someone else’s. There’s a certain individuality here; New York is so much about standing alone.
That interest in interaction, collaboration and experimentation that challenges artworks’ autonomy will be at work in Unlimited Potentials, an exhibition organized by Manchester-based curator and performance artist Mike Chavez-Dawson at Cornerhouse.
The show is comprised of several ambitious components, including loads of collaborators (including Wade), a project instigated by Liam Gillick, dozens of contributors (myself included) and a talk with Kwong Lee, the brilliant director of Castlefield Gallery, an important MCR artist-run space (their recent exhibitions include shows by David Osbaldeston and Leo Fitzmaurice and Kim Rugg).
Last year, when I exhibited my installation, Unlimited Promise, at an open studio at the end of the Breathe Residency at Chinese Art Center in Manchester, Mike Chavez-Dawson told me about Unrealised Potentials. I’m excited to play a small part in his forthcoming exhibition, especially when you consider the themes of resisting finished-ness in artwork in We have as much time as it takes at the Wattis:
We have as much time as it takes questions and highlights expectations of achievement, productivity, and established systems of management that make up the programs and academic mission of the Wattis Institute and CCA. … The works embody circular processes, resist completion, welcome change, and refute demands for definable results and resolution. They challenge the conventional form of the art object and the traditional parameters of exhibitions.
I’m excited that this conceptual investigation and expansion of exhibition-form-making is occurring in so many spaces around the world right now. In conjunction with more traditional viewing experiences, viewers of art are being offered more ways to think about art, participate in exhibitions, and complete the speculative thought processes artists begin.
Whilst in the UK during the Breathe Residency, I’d heard rumblings that the UK’s Home Office (domestic government) planned to tighten the borders with hugely detrimental effects on art galleries and residency programmes. The new procedures require:
“All non-EU visitors now must apply for a visa in person, and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph. The Home Office’s 158-page guideline document also outlines new controls over visitors’ day-to-day activity: visitors must show that they have at least £800 pounds of personal savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application.”
What?! £800 amounts to over $1,300 USD. It would be nice if all artists could maintain a little nest egg, just for their own financial security—however, to maintain it for the sole purpose of entering the UK for a residency program or art exhibition seems ridiculous. The rate of exchange is not really favorable for Americans — imagine the challenge for artists from developing countries. There must be away to keep the country safe, without making England seem so Orwellian to its own highly-surveilled citizens and unwelcoming to potential visitors.
Some art organizations are getting organized and have posted a petition aimed at Parliament here.
Having once engaged in the activity of drawing fervently, and now doing conceptually-oriented work in different media, I tend to disappoint past colleagues who are fond of my old drawings, and surprise new acquaintances when my skills are revealed.
Sometimes These are nice drawings! also means Oh! You can draw!
I’m sure most people would wonder why I’ve de-emphasized my expressive “hand” in favor of simpler, diagrammatic drawings. Maybe persistent stereotypes — like the myth that individuals either “can” or “can’t” draw, or that conceptual artists are too lazy or un-skilled to make objects — influence their views.
But the reasons are: I’m not out to “wow” anyone with my drawing skills, most of the time. My drawings are usually proposals for objects, information graphics or investigations of time and labor. So, using an expressive hand (revealing an authorial ego) could undermine the work. I try to execute my ideas in a straightforward way, with conceptual rigor and economy—to make simple acts go far.
While I’ve stepped away from intensive journal-keeping in recent years, I’ve come back to it during the Breathe Residency in Manchester. In those three months, I filled up almost 400 5×8″ pages. And those pages couldn’t look more different than my past sketchbooks.
Here’s a page from about 10 years ago.
I was inspired by illustrator/teacher Barron Storey and friends like John Copeland to capture my daily life and draw my immediate environments. I was blurring the line between finished works and works in sketchbooks.
Now, though, I’m consumed with research spanning pop psychology, installation and conceptual art, and any source that offers insights on optimism and pessimism. Here’s a page from my current sketchbook:
OK, I’ve embraced my inner nerd. Many of the pages are reading notes, lecture notes or diagrams of concepts. But I sketch ideas for projects too.
Honor your intangible labor in the studio, even when you or others don’t see apparent results.
And that’s what the residency afforded — time and space to embark on intangible labor — experiments, research, reading. I’m confident that absolutely none of the work that resulted in the residency would have happened without all the research I conducted. So these notebooks may not be “works,” but that doesn’t diminish the importance of this work.
I’ve had every sort of possible sketchbook available on the market, and some handmade ones too. For research and diagrams, I’ve been happy with Moleskin’s gridded books. Yes, Moleskins are sort of hoity-toity, like I should be wearing a velvet blazer and Mary Jane Clarks, but they’re sooo worth it, even if the grid is in metric. Recently, I found a Moleskin knock-off (complete with creamy pages and soft grey grid) in a composition book form. This one’s nice because you have more space for your hand to rest.
Still, this one has a hideous plastic cover, molded to mimic pebbled leather — a tactile feature I’ll try to overlook.
Alas, the quest continues.
My last weekend in the U.K. was spent visiting galleries and friends in London. I’m too happy and exhausted to make any sense of it. It is what it is. So here are pics, in no particular order, of art + life from Mayfair / Soho / So. Kensington / Essex.
No pics, but also great:
Tom Friedman at White Cube Mason’s Yard.
Isa Genzken retrospective at Whitechapel.
Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. Brilliant. So witty, so poignant. Delightful existential aches.
Cindy Sherman at Monica Spruth Philomenes Magers. Good and terrifying.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — I really appreciate the artist’s community here in Manchester. In the past week, I’ve put the finishing touches on my open studio, relied on the support of staff, acquaintances and new friends, and felt extremely humbled that my work is being engaged by so many smart and curious artists and art enthusiasts here. Despite my generalizations about the Manc temperament, so many artists have demonstrated generosity, enthusiasm, interest, as well as a commitment to excellence… It’s really something!
Reception at Chinese Arts Centre
Last Thursday’s Open Studio reception at the Chinese Arts Centre went great! It was terrifically organized and very well-attended. I appreciated the format: Before the galleries were opened, attendees gathered round in the shop, where Sally Lai (CAC CEO) and Yink Kwok (CAC curator) introduced myself and Ed Pien, the fantastic installation artist whose solo show is now on in CAC’s gallery. We both had a chance to speak and invite guests to ask us questions, which I think really helped people engage me, my work, and the organization. It’s a smart format.
CAC did a bang-on job, making the galleries look fantastic, and hosting a wonderful party. There was a post-reception gathering at Apotheca, the gorgeous lounge/bar across the street. Apotheca has demonstrated generous support for CAC and other local art events; it’s really great to see a private business so involved in the local community.
I had heard that Chinese Arts Centre’s known for putting on strong previews, and this one did not disappoint. The turnout was amazing (interestingly, many people were not fashionably late — maybe 50 people arrived within the first half hour? But the flow of people throughout the evening seemed continuous). It was also really nice that some of the local MA students stopped by, even though the closing of their show at the Triangle was concurrent. I felt really happy to hear Stephen Ashdown’s comment about my commemorative badge:
SORTED is a first-rate emblem of Manchester pride!
Ed Pien Lecture at Whitworth Gallery
Ed’s show at CAC is a finely tuned installation of netting, video, sound and mirrors. It’s dark, kinetic, immersive, and deeply affective. Ed talked about his work in a Tuesday Talk at the Whitworth and I really enjoyed hearing about his arc — his past drawings, paper cuts and installations seem to truly lead to his current installation.
I especially enjoyed hearing about an installation comprised of dozens of two-layer drawings of ghosts: the top layer was on a lightweight, semi-transparent paper, which floated upward revealing the lower layer when viewers triggered a motion sensor. Brilliant!
Dinner at Islington Mill
Islington Mill is super cool. I knew it as a building converted to artists’ studios, rehearsal space for bands like The Ting Tings, the site of an experimental art academy, free library, gallery and performance venue. If that’s not enough the proprietors, Bill and Maury, are starting a B&B. And, if that too is not enough, they’re also starting a series of artists’ dinners, in which artists or curators create an art and dining experience for about 25 people.
Ed Pien and Johannes Zits served an artists’ meal last night. I helped out because cooking is rad: teamwork, collaboration, being in the zone, etc. Ed and Johannes presented a carefully crafted menu that was in dialogue with a series of videos of their past performance work. For example, the salad’s baked goat cheese mirrored the moon in Ed’s animation of dancing silhouettes. The Greek goat stew went along with Johannes’ performance with a goat. The food was very high quality, and the artists, arts presenters and arts supporters in attendance made a beautiful cross-section of the Manchester arts scene. It was all sort of made possible with the hard work and vision of Bill and Maury (Maury’s out of town so Bill had to do everything from setting up tables to mounting the projector to serving the beer and making coffee.). These guys are the indefatigable cornerstones of the community here — I really admire that they can achieve so much, and still seem like friendly, relaxed people to boot.
I felt really privileged to be part of it — to squeeze in this happy experience before I left, and to feel like there’s so much more potential collaboration and goodness here that I have to come back.
A Limited Edition of 50 Gilt and Enamel Pin Badges
Inspired by British commemoratives, the badge depicts a banner over a rain cloud, which is obscuring a drab rainbow. These symbols suggest the coexistence of gloomy outlooks and vibrant attitudes.
The limited-edition badge is the result of a study of Mancunian slang, temperament and weather. The artist noticed Mancunian inventiveness in the expressions of displeasure, as well as the tendency to downplay enthusiasm.
The artist also observed that the weather is valued as a source of comiseration. Perhaps Mancs employ defensive pessimism, wherein low expectations are more likely to be pleasantly surpassed.
£10 / $15.
Come to the Chinese Arts Centre reception on 23 April to receive a special discounted price of only £7.
Residents of the USA can email me at cwy (at) christinewongyap.com to reserve your badge.
Cheap and cheerful
Here in Manchester, there’s a saying, cheap and cheerful. It means what it sounds like. For example, This and That is a tasty curry house that offers three items for £4.20; it’s praised as epitomizing cheap and cheerful.
I like the phrase because:
- It’s thoroughly appreciative, even though Mancs can seem totally unsentimental.
- It’s characteristic of something local: As Stuart Maconie put it in Pies and Prejudice,
…many of the north’s market and mill towns … have become shrine[s] devoted to binge drinking and discount shopping.*
Within a half-mile radius, there are three pound stores–Poundland, Pound World and Pound Empire, whose business name, confusingly, is Pound Kingdom–and one Quality Save.
- It reminds me of a Chinese expression, which is nearly identical (literally, “has attractiveness, has cheapness”). For my ultra-frugal immigrant parents, no higher compliment could be paid.
I’m about four days away from the Open Studio reception (Thursday, April 23, 5:30-7:30 pm, Chinese Arts Centre), so I’ve been working hard to finish several projects. Some are inspired by cheap and cheerful, so I’m making use of knickknacks from pound shops, like fans with multi-colored LEDs. Here’s a studio shot of the fans wired together to run on grid power instead of batteries, something I learned from this Instructables page.
Dan Graham, Tate Podcasts
Though I missed Dan Graham’s speaking engagements in the SF Bay Area this spring, I got his podcast lecture from the Tate. I enjoyed his talk, even without the pictures; he’s whip-smart, brisk, and completely free of affectation. For someone to have shown in as many Biennales and Documentas as he has, it’s very refreshing to hear him say in the same even, ego-less tone, that the Queen of Norway commissioned him to make a pavilion, so he made one on a fjord, it’s quite popular, and it’s referred to as a shower stall. Asides like this, from most other artists, would come across as false modesty.
I enjoyed meeting Tara Beall, the artist in residence at Islington Mill, whose work is a fascinating combination of Arte Povera, webcam-sourced-video, boundaries, interstitial spaces, architecture, and installations that are a hybrid of kinetic art and video projections.
Her work seems in dialogue with the work of Ed Pien, whose new show at the Chinese Arts Centre is being installed right now. I’ve been getting sneak peeks of it — mirrors, projectors, cut paper, and macramé on the scale of architecture — and I think it’s going to be phenomenal!
*To be fair, Maconie also wrote, “Like [Manchester] at its best, [The Smiths] had glamor and gloom, winsomeness and wit; they were magical and proletariat all at once.”