Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

The Art Community in Manchester: All Right! Part 2

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

Visitors look at my work in the residency studio/gallery.

Visitors look at my work in the residency studio/gallery.

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.

Detail from a series of drawings on display at the Open Studio. Christine Wong Yap, 2009, glitter pen on gridded A4 paper. Text: Happiness, pleasure, absence of displeasure, satisfaction. Inspired by Paul Martin's "Sex, Death and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure," London: Fourth Estate (2008)

Detail from a series of drawings on display at the Open Studio. Christine Wong Yap, 2009, glitter pen on gridded A4 paper. Text: Happiness, pleasure, absence of displeasure, satisfaction. Inspired by Paul Martin, Sex, Death and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure, 2008.

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.

My "Sorted" badges for sale at the CAC front desk, with a special reception offer; Regular price: £10/$15.

My Sorted badges for sale at the CAC front desk, with a special reception offer.

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 Pien presents a slide lecture at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

Ed Pien presents a slide lecture at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

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 and Johannes' dinner at Islington Mill

Ed and Johannes' dinner at Islington Mill

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.

Art & Development, Community, Research, Travelogue

Bits and Bobs

Detail from a drawing/sculpture in progress.

Detail from a drawing/sculpture in progress.

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.

Studio view

Studio view

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.


Preparing for T.S. Beall's artist's talk at Islington Mill

Preparing for T.S. Beall's artist's talk at Islington Mill

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.”