Thought Experiments in Agency

The Artists’ Personal Impacts Survey and Raffle at LMCC Open Studios

Gathering data about artists’ agency and attitudes.

For LMCC’s Open Studios with Process Space artists-in-residence last weekend, I invited artists to take my Artists’ Personal Impacts Survey  and enter a raffle to win one one of ten Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) Mini FlagsYou still can take the survey and enter the final raffle drawing to be held in a few weeks!

Thanks to everyone who has taken the survey and visited Open Studios.

artists take the personal impacts survey

Paper cut signage with sample questions and in-progress results.

Q2. Currently, how would you rank how the art market serves the majority of artists? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q2. Currently, how would you rank how the art market serves the majority of artists? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q22. In what domain do you experience competence? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q22. In what domain do you experience competence? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q33. How much did these experiences of participation, collaboration, generosity, exchange, re-distribution or non-participation increase your personal sense of optimism? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q33. How much did these experiences of participation, collaboration, generosity, exchange, re-distribution or non-participation increase your personal sense of optimism? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q39. In the next six months, how likely are you to take steps to create or strengthen an art world you would like to participate in? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

Q39. In the next six months, how likely are you to take steps to create or strengthen an art world you would like to participate in? (Responses as of 9/27/2015 4:45pm.)

The first eight of ten prizes were raffled off during Open Studios.

The first eight of ten prizes were raffled off during Open Studios.

Two more flags will be raffled off in the coming weeks! Complete the survey and enter the raffle. (Writer Jessie Chaffee's studio in the background.)

Two more flags will be raffled off in the coming weeks! (Writer Jessie Chaffee’s studio in the background.)

Complete the survey and enter the raffle. There’s still time to win the last two flags!

Learn more about the project.

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

The Artists’ Personal Impacts Survey was developed as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program in 2015.

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Impressions, Research

Points of Reference: Haim Steinbach, The Meaning of Things, and Irrational Exuberance Anew

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), installation view at Sight School, Oakland, CA. 2010.

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), installation view at Sight School, Oakland, CA. 2010.

It’s been three years since I created Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), a body of work inspired by discount store culture, pleasure and decoration. Recently, I’ve encountered salient art and writings related to those ideas. These references are not too late—in fact, they are perfectly on time, as I’m currently revisiting Irrational Exuberance to envision a new body of work and self-initiated project.

The references are like three planets with shared orbits:

A Two-Hour Drive. A Three-Year Journey.

Featured guests (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

Featured guests at As Is, the dialogue at Irrational Exuberance at Sigh School (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

In the dialogue that accompanied Irrational Exuberance in 2010, artist and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez cited Steinbach’s work (download her interview with Steinbach from his site):

I’m interested in looking at Christine’s work, and work like Christine’s, that transcends consumption as a closed system of signs and symbols. That conversation can be transformative. … I was really interested in how [Haim Steinbach and Allan McCollum’ talked about their objects. …. There are political ramifications for words like consumption—like nihilation—so I think the ability to tackle, and transcend, those conversations is really exciting for me.

I had looked at reproductions of Steinbach’s most iconic works: found objects displayed on shelves. I was inspired by how modest they were, but also found the objects un-transformed, recognizable identities difficult to overcome. Like the drawing instruction, “Draw what you see, not what you know,” when I as faced with Steinbach’s artworks, it was hard to see what was in front of me when it kept on insisting to be what I knew it to be. I couldn’t find the space for visual or conceptual discovery at the time.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (bird, nesting dolls, vase), 2006  MDF shelf; ceramic bird; wooden nesting dolls; Korean ceramic vase 11-3/4 x 33 x 10-1/2 in. (30 x 84 x 27 cm). // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (bird, nesting dolls, vase), 2006 MDF shelf; ceramic bird; wooden nesting dolls; Korean ceramic vase 11-3/4 x 33 x 10-1/2 in. (30 x 84 x 27 cm). // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

I was still curious to learn more, so I visited once again the world is flat. Bard is a two-hour drive from NYC, but it was worth the trek. I gained a profound appreciation for Steinbach’s work by seeing it in person, in abundance, and with exceptionally keen curatorial direction by Tom Eccles and Johanna Burton united with spot-on exhibition design for maximum effect. I didn’t love all the work, or completely understand it, but I fully respected it. I had to wrestle with what Steinbach was doing, what the viewers are meant to do or experience, and what I felt, which was at times pleasure, bafflement, and also despair—the world is flat, leaving my preconceptions about value in limbo. While Steinbach’s work is still potently mysterious to me, I found the accompanying catalog to set interesting parameters about what, exactly, Steinbach’s ideas and works are.

Brute Material Facts

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (skull, vessel, figurine, toy, fruit bowl, sphere, peasant), 2006  Birch plywood, plastic laminate and glass box; synthetic polymer skull; Korean ceramic vessel; plastic figurine; plastic baby toy; Chinese fruit bowl; straw ball; Chinese ceramic statuette 37-3/4 x 53-3/4 x 14-3/4 in. (95.8 x 136.6 x 37.5 cm) // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (skull, vessel, figurine, toy, fruit bowl, sphere, peasant), 2006 Birch plywood, plastic laminate and glass box; synthetic polymer skull; Korean ceramic vessel; plastic figurine; plastic baby toy; Chinese fruit bowl; straw ball; Chinese ceramic statuette 37-3/4 x 53-3/4 x 14-3/4 in. (95.8 x 136.6 x 37.5 cm) // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

The aesthetic experience of contemporary art is often like an act of unraveling a riddle. Familiarity with the tropes usually leads towards plausible hypotheses: commenting on this, re-contextualizing that, hybridizing this plus that—you get the idea. Steinbach’s work is more abstruse. It offers no Tootsie Roll center like the center of a Tootsie Pop. In her essay, “Some Collectables,” from the exhibition catalogue for once again the world is flat., curator Johanna Burton points out:

These are not … representations of things, but rather presentations of them.

Steinbach’s objects are not metaphors or symbols to be deciphered. They are all surfaces and cultural associations. They are the point. Whereas, discussions of the readymade, appropriation, and mass production, Burton states,

are only tangential to the brute material fact of what’s actually there.

That “brute material fact” is exactly what I couldn’t overcome initially. And this may also be another point of Steinbach’s—for me, as a viewer, to look at what’s there and to forget habits of looking. As Burton says, the very title

asks us to reconsider what we think we know, and to survey the terrain around us, as if we were seeing it for the first time again.

In other words, Steinbach is asking viewers to move beyond recognition to perception. In The Meaning of Things, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton explain John Dewey’s ideas of perception versus recognition. Recognition is

when we experience a thing and interpret it only as something we already know

Hence, there is no new organization of feeling, attention or intentions within the viewer. Just as I could only see the objects’ identities when I first encountered Steinbach’s work, I could not garner a meaningful aesthetic experience from them. On the other hand, perception is

when we experience a thing and realize its own inherent character … [the] object imposes certain qualities on the viewer that create new insights.

Certainly art objects are intended to create aesthetic experiences that “create new insights” on the viewer; Steinbach challenges viewers to perceive quotidian objects anew.

The Quotidian

In Irrational Exuberance, I sought to question class and value distinctions inherent in decorative objects. Many of the works in Irrational Exuberance are multiples, reinforcing discount stores’ feelings of immediacy and abundance. The subtext is that idea serialized objects can also be personally meaningful. Burton explains that this holds true for Steinbach too:

Steinbach’s interest … in collecting as a mode of production would seem to court the individualistic, affective drive toward objects, while also acknowledging the serial nature of every such ‘special’ object.

For the Things authors, everyday objects bring together the self and the world:

household objects become sights of a wider network of meanings that embrace the whole world.

echoing the very title of the Steinbach show: once again the world is flat. This leveling works two ways: bringing art objects ‘down’ to the same level as quotidian objects and elevating everyday things ‘up’ to the rarified realm of artworks.

In “Not a Readymade” (reprinted in the exhibition catalog and also downloadable from Steinbach’s site) Anthony Huberman interviews Steinbach, who reveals that his work

embraces the idea that art is always with us, a function of the everyday.

Vinyl Ficus #3 & 4, 2010, vinyl, mylar, thread, lacing, wire, ~18 x 12 x 12 inches / 45 x 30 x30 cm each

Christine Wong Yap, Vinyl Ficus #3 & 4, 2010, vinyl, mylar, thread, lacing, wire, ~18 x 12 x 12 inches / 45 x 30 x30 cm each

The Things authors even wrote about the role of objects in visual art thusly:

Creative artists are those who can find a convincing visual solution to a problem that was never previously formulated. In the solution, and even in the formulation of creative problems, objects stimulate and help develop the artist’s thought.

In 1980, they could not known to what extent Steinbach would use objects expressly to advance thought.

Sentiment

Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

Christine Wong Yap, Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

In 2010, I wrote that Irrational Exuberance was an immersion in sentiment:

… an exercise in pleasure, modest expectations and accessibility.

With its unabashed enthusiasm, … Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) marks a shift … I became enamored with the aesthetic, symbolic and conceptual potential of discount store culture, the decorative impulse, and the search for happiness.

…sentiment and immediacy are embraced. The exhibition’s title highlights the paradox of thinking rationally about emotional and internal experiences.

My previous work had been “cool”—often black-and-white, reserved, and materially minimal. I found kinship in a quote attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

The meanest habit of humankind is to be skeptical of sentiment.

In the public dialogue, sentimentality appeared divisive; perhaps in the age of irony, audiences automatically assume that elation and enthusiasm cannot be sincere. It’s a comfort to me that Steinbach does not shy from sentiment either. In Giorgio Verzotti’s “Object, Sign, Community: On the Art of Haim Steinbach” (reprinted in the exhibition catalog and also downloadable from Steinbach’s site), he states:

What Steinbach highlights …. is the object as a focus of emotion.

The Reciprocal Relationship Between Objects and Selfhood

Christine Wong Yap, Unbounded/Unfounded, 2010, fan, metallic fringe and light box: pegboard, wood, acrylic, vinyl, lights, paint, 73 x 60 x 48 inches / 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m.

Christine Wong Yap, Unbounded/Unfounded, 2010, fan, metallic fringe and light box: pegboard, wood, acrylic, vinyl, lights, paint, 73 x 60 x 48 inches / 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m.

I’m interested in how objects accrue meaning or sentiment. Are objects merely containers for human associations? Or do they “act” as well? This transaction may be more reciprocal than I think, as objects can also shape humans.

Verzotti describes the link between objects shape the self:

An object, inasmuch as it forms part of our daily lives … to satisfy certain needs, becomes, Steinbach says, vital to the construction of our identity.

This is essentially what the authors of Things set out to study:

how the most complex pattern of emotion and thought can become embedded in and symbolized by concrete things, that is how things themselves are part of the interpretive sign process that constitutes meaning.

They elaborate:

Things actively change the content of what we think is our self and thus perform a creative as well as reflexive function….

Objects affect what a person can do, either by expanding or restricting the scope of that person’s actions and thoughts…. Objects have a determining effect on the development of the self.

According to Burton, Steinbach’s work conjures very similar ideas:

Objects are less about their owners, … and more about the circulations they make…. Objects reflect much of their owners’ beliefs, systems of faith, and measures of value… [and] also produce [them].

The overlap in the ideas between the Things authors, Burton, and Irrational Exuberance are abundant. One of Burton’s paragraphs in particular is especially sociological and psychological:

Our drive to acquire and organize things is, in part, how we understand ourselves. Less a comment on capitalism than an investigation of the production of self, Steinbach’s work acknowledges the fragility of subjecthood—that our funny, fragile egos are bound up in the unexpectedly rich terrain of the knickknacks and bric-a-brac, to say nothing of priceless mementos, we collect and covet.

This is a sequence of ideas that are relevant even line by line. First, she writes,

Our drive to acquire and organize things is, in part, how we understand ourselves. …[Steinbach’s work is] an investigation of the production of self…

This echoes the Things authors:

the potential significance of things is realized in a process of actively cultivating a world of meanings, which both reflect and help create the ultimate goals of one’s existence.

Next, Burton specifies that Steinbach’s work is

Less a comment on capitalism

This, too, came up at the dialogue at Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors). Some viewers assumed a negative, oppositional critique on my part where there was none. I embraced the bright colors and cheap materiality as sincere expressions of enthusiasm and pleasure, so this perspective was confounding. Where was it coming from? I had theorized that works of art can operate like barometers for optimism and pessimism, and this seemed further evidence that viewer’s projections are just as integral to the reading of the work as the work itself.

Last, Burton writes

our funny, fragile egos are bound up in the unexpectedly rich terrain of the knickknacks and bric-a-brac

This could very well be a statement for Irrational Exuberance.

The Social Life of Objects

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) buttons #1–3, 2010, badges, 1–1.75 inches / 2.5 x 4.5 cm dia. each.

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) buttons #1–3, 2010, badges, 1–1.75 inches / 2.5 x 4.5 cm dia. each.

In the study of positive psychology, improving one’s subjective wellbeing seems to always begin with the self and expand towards the social. There seems to be a parallel here: beginning with the habits of mind such as recognition and perception, acknowledging the everyday, and considering the organization of the self, and moving on to relationships.

In Steinbach’s interview with Huberman, he states

my practice is directly committed to the social.

How is it that inanimate objects can be social? Steinbach suggests how can they not:

There’s always more than one object at hand. Being here means you and here.

Verzotti’s points out the relational aspect of things between people:

Each object is both an object and a sign associated with a specific social dynamic, a token of exchange with we weave our interpersonal relations…

I’d thought about art objects as props that mediate relationships. Now it appears that objects might function similarly.

Christine Wong Yap, a diagram of how artists and viewers inform works of art and thereby mediate relationships between artists and viewers.

Christine Wong Yap, a diagram of how artists and viewers inform works of art and thereby mediate relationships between artists and viewers.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton elaborate on the many levels of this social potential:

Objects … serve to express dynamic processes within people, among people, and between people and the total environment. These processes might lead to a more and more specific differentiation or increasing integration…

by which they mean, the individuation of the self or alignment with others. They add:

Differentiation is the result of control, whereas integration is based on participation.

This calls to mind my idea that art experiences are opportunities for enacting trust or skepticism. Perhaps another way to think of art experiences is as opportunities for expressing differentiation/control or integration/participation.

Integration and Differentiation

When I read the once again the world is flat. exhibition catalog, so many points seemed to overlap with my own interests in Irrational Exuberance that I became nervous—which I self-diagnosed as the anxiety of influence.

An obvious similarity between once again the world is flat. and Irrational Exuberance is the use of common objects displayed on shelves. Though I used found objects in non-shelf displays, I collaged, sewed, and constructed most of the objects in Irrational Exuberance. My work conveys “craft” more than “brute materiality.” Further, Steinbach invests much of his constructive energy in the shelves, not the objects on display; in my work, the attention is reversed.

I like to think that I’m forging a different path on shared terrain. Or to use a different metaphor (same idea, different things), since orbits have different trajectories, coincidental moments of proximity are the result of traveling great distances.

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Impressions, Travelogue

Manchester and London Travelogue: Top Ten

I just returned from the UK, where Chinese Arts Centre invited me to install Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) in their new project space / pop-up shop. I had a fantastic trip, extended, at the last minute, by Hurricane Sandy.

I wish all those affected by the disaster a smooth, quick recovery. Cheers to first responders, volunteers, and everyday workers—like those at JFK who, by simply turning up to work despite hamstrung transportation, allow people like me to come home.

I spent a week installing the show and learning more about the art scene in Manchester. I also visited Liverpool, and spent six days in London. Here are my UK trip highlights.

#1 Being an artist.

Like most artists, the overlap between my practice and income is small, so increasing the amount of time I can be an artist is an ongoing process. That’s why the support of organizations like Chinese Arts Centre is so valuable—it scales up my work and exhibition opportunities. CAC shared their resources, space, talent, and time so that I could create and present my art. For that, I am unspeakably humbled and grateful.

I arrived a week ahead of the opening, and got to work right away prepping the newly remodeled space. I painted the walls and readied the space for Jon, the art technician, to help me mask and paint diagonal stripes. This exhibition design detail is important to me because it relates to a psychological study that found a correlation between upward movement and positive sentiment.

Chinese Arts Centre Curator Ying Kwok and Programme and Engagement Co-ordinator Liz Wewiora making selections.

The stripey blue wall awaits art, as CAC Curator Ying Kwok and Programme and Engagement Co-ordinator Liz Wewiora make the final selections.

Cheers to Jon, Gass, and Lee, whose technical assistance was tremendous, as was their patience with English-American differences in units of measurements, names of tools and materials, etc. (FYI, Americans: If I understand correctly, joint compound, spackle, and filler area all simply known as fillers. Drywall and Sheetrock are gibberish terms to Brits. Ironmongery means hardware. Paint isn’t latex, but emulsion.)

Vinyl posters in progress.

Vinyl Posters in progress.

I also made new site-specific works—two Vinyl Posters using ribbon, thread, transparent vinyl and acrylic. They’re inspired by supermarket’s oversized sale posters, which were ubiquitous in my childhood but seem less common today.

Vinyl Poster #1 & 2, 2012, vinyl, acrylic, ribbon, thread, 36 x 45 inches each.

Vinyl Poster #1 & 2, 2012, vinyl, acrylic, ribbon, thread, 36 x 45 inches each. View from the Thomas Street windows.

None of this would be possible without the vision of curator Ying Kwok, and the support of all of the staff. I’m especially grateful to the staff and volunteers for the lovely preview they hosted; I’m so honored to have been a part of it.

Opening reception of Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK on October 25, 2012.

Opening reception of Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK on October 25, 2012.

The exhibition continues through February 16, 2013. More info at CAC’s exhibition page.

#2: Transparent democracy and the merging of art and life in Manchester.

Mike Chavez-Dawson is an artist and curator, an impresario of the contemporary art scene in Manchester, among many other things. He told me about the idea of ‘transparent democracy’ and how it shapes his practices. His art and curatorial work are integrated into his life and vice versa, and woven into the fabric of Manchester, too. For example, in addition to curating a show of propositional work by David Shrigley at Cornerhouse (through Jan. 6), he worked with Shrigley to create Shrigley’s Anti-Psychotic Brain Bread at Bakerie (with beets and ginko).

David Shrigley's Anti-Psychotic Brain Bread at Bakerie, Northern Quarter, Manchester.

David Shrigley’s Anti-Psychotic Brain Bread at Bakerie, Northern Quarter, Manchester.

MCD’s the inaugural curator-in-residence at a cool new project space called Lionel Dobie. More on transparent democracy will be forthcoming in the form of MCD’s PhD and, surely, future exhibitions.

Drawing in the Sketch-O-Mat. Sitters drop a suggested donation of £1 for a 5-minute portrait.

Drawing in the Sketch-O-Mat at Cornerhouse. Sitters drop a suggested donation of £1 for a 5-minute portrait.

MCD also let me trade off drawing with him during his Sketch-O-Matic session. The Sketch-O-Matic is like a photo booth, except an artist sits inside and makes a drawing of your likeness. It’s a brilliant idea, and I’d love to see it franchised in other places. Situated at Cornerhouse, which is really an intersection of food, drink, art, and film, the booth attracted a really wide audience. I had a lot of fun doing a public project that still allowed the privacy of a tiny studio.

My Sketch-O-Matic drawing of Mike Chavez-Dawson.

My Sketch-O-Matic drawing of Mike Chavez-Dawson.

Mike Chavez-Dawson's Sketch-O-Matic drawing of me. It's with a digital collage of Noel Gallagher's face.

Mike Chavez-Dawson’s Sketch-O-Matic drawing of me. It’s with a digital collage of Noel Gallagher’s face.

(Plus, MCD invited David Byrne, who was in Manchester, to my preview. I’m a conceptualist, so the fact that the idea of my art has been thought, even for a millisecond, in that genius mind, is kind of an honor.)

#3 The Hospitality and Kindness of New Acquaintances and Old Friends

Huge thanks to Kate and Paul, muay thai buddy Mai and Danielle, and my Airbnb hosts. I’m so thankful for their hospitality in the days while I scrambled to re-schedule my flight home to NYC following Sandy.

Best sofa-surf ever: a view of the full moon from MW's sunroom.

Best sofa-surf ever: a view of the full moon (echoed by double glazing) from MW’s sunroom.

#4 The excellent curation of photography on in London right now.

Out of Focus: Photography 
Saatchi Gallery
Partially on through Nov. 4

Maybe one of the best shows of photography I’ve seen ever. Saatchi’s perfect galleries help. But also the amount of space given over to individual artist’s projects, so that viewers get thorough looks at significant bodies of work, is really key.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008, 2010, Archival pigment print on cotton rag paper mounted to plexiglass, 39 × 29 inches (99 × 74 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008, 2010, Archival pigment print on cotton rag paper mounted to plexiglass, 39 × 29 inches (99 × 74 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

Katy Grannan‘s portraits of people in Los Angeles and San Francisco are stunning for the character of the individuals, who express aspirations of glamour and rude realities simultaneously. Shot in unforgiving sunlight, printed large, and hung on a very low centerline, every wrinkle and scar is on display. After my initial disgust wore off (if there were two empty seats on a bus, and one of them was next to one of these characters, you might opt for the other seat), I got a sense of Grannan’s sense of  humanity for her subjects. It was a nice turn.

David Benjamin Sherry, Holy Holy Holy, 2009, traditional color print, 40 × 30 inches (102 × 76 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

David Benjamin Sherry, Holy Holy Holy, 2009, traditional color print, 40 × 30 inches (102 × 76 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

David Benjamin Sherry‘s lovely landscapes in color tints are majestic and somehow right, despite the unearthly color shifts.

John Stezaker, Seat (Film Portrait Collage) III 2008 Collage 10.31 x 8.46 inches // Source: Petzel.com.

John Stezaker, Seat (Film Portrait Collage) III 2008 Collage 10.31 x 8.46 inches // Source: Petzel.com.

John Stezaker‘s collages of b/w head shots are compelling. They work, but it’s not clear why. We see two faces, then one, then two again. Other collages place non-portraits within portraits, yet the brain still seeks out facial features in the patterns. Even with dozens of photos on display, the ingeniousness doesn’t wear out.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin‘s reprints of archived material demonstrates a keen eye, penchant for acts of omission, and attraction to social violence.

Unfortunately, the show was only partially on view, as many of the galleries had been changed over for Karl Lagerfield’s The Little Black Jacket photo show. As KD said, with the oversized portraits of models and celebrities printed with a visible halftone pattern, “It’s basically like being inside a fashion magazine.” Another room, featuring huge multi-color prints on perspex, was blatantly Warholian. Yawn.

Also on at Saatchi, Prix Pictet’s exhibition, Power (ended October 28), featured works from twelve photographers, with some very strong selections.

Seduced By Art
National Gallery
Through Jan. 20

Ori Gersht, Blow Up #1, 2007, c-print mounted to acrulic 98 x 74 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches // Source: CRGgallery.com

Ori Gersht, Blow Up #1, 2007, c-print mounted to acrulic 98 x 74 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches // Source: CRGgallery.com

Seduced By Art exhibits traditional paintings alongside early and contemporary photographs that they inspired. It’s a beautifully installed exhibition, with tasteful black walls and spot lighting. The didactic texts were thankfully concise. There are a few works by photographers I recognized—Jeff Wall, Nan Goldin, Renee Dijkstra, Sam Taylor Wood—as well as many others new to me—Ori Gersht (awesome image of exploding flowers frozen with liquid nitrogen), and Helen Chadwick among others. I found it an enlightening exhibition whose premise seems obvious (unless you’re a whinging traditionalist), but whose execution is thoughtful.

Short and sweet, An Ode to Hill & Adamson is sure to charm. It’s a sped-up, making-of-a-photo video by Maisie Broadhead and Jack Cole, wherein a model and production crew re-stage a historical photo also on view in Seduced by Art. Watch it on Vimeo.

#5 The potent everydayness of the players of Tino Seghal’s show at Tate Modern.

I walked into the last night of Seghal’s show in the Tate’s Turbine Hall (closed Oct. 28) at just the right moment. There were clusters of people standing around. I stood among them and waited for something to happen. It was late, and already dark when I crossed Millenium Bridge to get here. I started to wonder if the performances had ended for the day.

Then, people started singing, en masse. People who I thought were the public were actually performers, while there where viewers like myself, and then members of the public just chitchatting. Soon the performers broke from their spots, and everyone began to disperse. As people passed me, I searched their faces for indications: Were they actor or viewer? It was a revelation—being in this situation created a change in me. I saw people differently; I saw their potential, and the possibilities for our interactions in a new way.

I observed as the ensemble walked in various formations, chanted statements, and made their way around the massive hall, while the lights went on and off at key junctures. I was attentive, but self-conscious, behaving in a way that says: I’m  respectful of your performance, staying quiet and out of the way. There were only the walls of Turbine Hall, yet I remained behind the psychological fourth wall of the theater. Then, after the ensemble  sang a composition from static positions, one of the activators walked straight up to me and, standing very closely and behaving as though we were very dear friends confiding in each other, she told me the story of her immigration and path towards finding confidence in herself. This was for an audience of one—me. I felt intensely honored to be engaged on this one-to-one level, with this larger exhibition, with this unique stranger who I might never meet again. It seemed to me a great act of generosity.

There was a statement, which I couldn’t quite remember, which seemed to be a central tenant of Seghal’s show, if not his entire purpose: that even in this technological age, the potential for humanity and human relations is great. In my words, it sounds trite, but it was enacted by such a moving, pitch-perfect ensemble that I felt like I was in a different place or time, like I was observing a super-race or our future selves, so unified and purposeful were the actions, despite the various ages and everyday appearances of the actors.

[Note: I did shoot many photos, but I decided not to include them here. These experiences and revelations are so much larger than what the work looks like; I can understand why Seghal doesn’t want his work photographed—it would reduce the gesture too much.]

#6 Painters of colorful texts. Two solo shows in London. 

Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes
Whitechapel Gallery
Through Dec. 30

Thank goodness for art capitals. I might have to go to London to see such an in-depth survey of a longtime New York conceptualist painter, but it’s a damn fine show and I’m glad someone organized it.

In the ground  floor galleries, Bochner’s concern with the basics—texts, numbers, shapes, color, blocks and grids—is illustrated with experimental works and installations.

In the upper galleries, viewers encounter works that trace refining conceptual and textual interests.

If the Color Changes #4 (1998) features a brilliant text from Wittgenstein’s “Remarks on Color” (1950-1):

One observes in order to see what one would not see if one did not observe.

I love this text—it fuels the patience necessary for looking at art. Also, the form and content jackknife beautifully: Bochner painted this text in offset layers, so that the interactions of color provide countless opportunities for observation.

Meditation on the Theorum of Pythagorus (1974) is a surprise—it’s a series of shards of colored glass arranged on the floor in rectangles and squares, with an empty space for a right triangle.

Mel Bochner, Amazing!, 2011 oil and acrylic on canvas, two panels.  Courtesy Peter Freeman // Source: nga.gov.

Mel Bochner, Amazing!, 2011 oil and acrylic on canvas, two panels. Courtesy Peter Freeman // Source: nga.gov.

Mel Bochner, Oh Well, 2010, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011 // Source: http://jumpsuitsandteleporters.com/

Mel Bochner, Oh Well, 2010, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011 // Source: http://jumpsuitsandteleporters.com/

Lastly, a gallery filled Bochner’s two signature styles. First, tidy lines of all-caps rounded sans serif texts, including thesaurus entries. I had much more engagement with the paintings than reproductions I’ve seen in the past. I especially resonated with a positive/negative pair, Oh Well and Amazing (both 2010) Second, colorful paintings that display their own dimensions, quite baffilingly, fill Whitechapel’s wall perfectly. I wonder if this conceptual piece is re-made for every institution that shows it? If so, it’s a brilliant, if time- and materials-intensive painting series.

Bob & Roberta Smith: The Art Party USA Comes to the UK
Hales Gallery
Through Nov. 17

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, exhibition view, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, exhibition view, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta Smith—a single artist that goes by the moniker of a duo—might be known primarily as a painter of signs, but there is much more (especially in contrast to the the nostalgic craft artifacts exhibited in art galleries by New Bohemian Signs-affiliated sign painters) to it. As this new show demonstrates, Bob and Roberta are even more political and topical now.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, detail.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, detail.

Join the Art Party appeals directly towards Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to restore art education in the UK. Bob and Roberta encourages audiences to appeal to Gove as well.

The exhibition exudes cheeriness. The walls are lined with cloth pennants and several paintings. Kooky, folk-arty, figurative sculptures fill the space. Bob and Roberta appear in a sweet, educational-style video outlining the platforms of the Art Party (it’s shot in a small wooden shed capriciously labeled as an institute for contemporary art by the artist). The video is presented on a mobile screen, and viewers are offered brightly colored molded plastic chairs for seating. It evokes a schoolroom, gently nudging adult viewers to recall the art that lined their childhood classroom walls.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta have a knack for stating truths simply: “All things are made,” he argues in the video in support of art education in UK schools. “Demand that all schools are art schools.”

The aesthetics and forms are endearing, optimistic, and winsome. It would be cloying but for the urgency of the message.

#7 Manchester’s growing contemporary art scene.

When I spent three months in Manchester in 2009, it seemed like a pretty good place to be an artist: cheap studio rent, active alternative and artist-run spaces, and vibrant activity via the universities. I was really inspired by artists’ mutual support.

This visit followed the Manchester Contemporary art fair weekend and coincided with the Free for Arts Festival. I also visited newer spaces Lionel Dobie Project and Malgras|Naudet.

Chris Kenny, Cultural Instructions, 2012, found text, scanned, enlarged, printed, mounted. On display in The First Cut at Manchester Art Gallery.

Chris Kenny, Cultural Instructions, 2012, found text, scanned, enlarged, printed, mounted. On display in The First Cut at Manchester Art Gallery. Through Jan. 27.

I sensed more energy; indeed, momentum. MCD estimated that there are many more practicing artists now. There were three shows at three venues exhibiting the work of recent graduates (Bachelor’s degree students). (I liked the title of one, So Far, So Good.) The question that occurred to me, as more artists work to gain access to more exhibition opportunities, is to what degree with the mutual support continue, or give way to an atmosphere of competition?

Corridor8 is a new publication exposing the art scene in the NW. Issue #3 includes fascinating interviews with local leaders such as Whitworth Art Gallery Director and Manchester Art Gallery Director Dr. Maria Balshaw. Those interviews lend insight on the direction of major institutions.

One thing that seems missing, however, is critical writing on all these shows happening in Manchester. A weekly column in a paper would be too centralized and limited. Something like Art Practical, with a large, distributed base of writers comprised of artists, critics, and curators, with editorial excellence, and a fixed schedule, could do a lot to document the art scene and create more rigorous dialogue. There are plenty of very, very bright minds who can provide artists and venues with a feedback loop. They just need the right platform.

#8 Fallowfield Loop.

A railway line converted into a running and bicycling path through the southern part of Greater Manchester. Cool, damp, green, quiet. A place to run for miles, away from the traffic that baffles this American.

#9 Cheap Eats.

Currency conversion = constant sticker shock. Cheers for healthy, reasonably priced bites: This and That curry in the Northern Quarter. Sainsbury’s bag of pre-washed raw veg: green beans, mange tout (snap peas) and broccoli. Onogiri from Wasabi. Thai Pie (green curry in a English pie) from the Manchester Market in Piccadilly.

#10 Turner, not the one you’d think.

I went to see the Turner Prize show a the Tate Britain, which had great drawings by Paul Noble, who continues his uncanny text/architecture drawings.

But the JMW Turner show had some pleasant surprises for me.

Color and Line: Turner’s Experiments
Tate Britain
Through Spring 2013

These interpretive rooms are educational, accessible, and not overly complicated with digital gee-gaws. In fact, there weren’t any screens. There were static (!) texts, charts and some electrical displays showing the physical properties of light á la the Exploratorium. There was a suite of amazing intaglio prints that examined how Turner’s color was interpreted by printers working in etching, aquatint, and mezzotint. Spend some time with these if you can.

There was a time line which elaborated paint colors with their years of invention, and a map that showed how Turner adjusted his palette for different sites. Finally, there was a series of drawing tables, where viewers can sketch a Turner image and display their drawing. It was a wonderfully low-tech educational exhibit.

Celmins Selects Turner
and
Artist Rooms: Vija Celmins

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Yellow Sky, circa 1820-30 // Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Yellow Sky, circa 1820-30 // Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/

There were two additional rooms that showed museological inventiveness: In the first, contemporary realist draughtsman Vija Celmins selected Turner’s sketches and underpaintings. It’s a really lovely, exceedingly elegant set of washes and expressions of light and weather that I think a lot of young artists would relate to today. In the second room are Celmins’ own works, always a treat in their mastery and unthinkable labor. Her drawings of starry skies are unbelievable.

Vija Celmins, Night Sky 3, 2002 // Source: NationalGalleries.org.

Vija Celmins, Night Sky 3, 2002, Aquatint with burnishing and drypoint on paper, 37.20 x 47.10 cm // Source: NationalGalleries.org.

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News

Opening 10/25: Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colours)

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (asst. colours), Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK

I’m expanding Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colours) for an installation at the Chinese Arts Centre’s new pop-up shop project space. I was a resident at CAC when I was inspired to explore modest ambitions, decoration, and pleasure through discount store culture, so this is a homecoming of sorts.

October 26, 2012–February 16, 2013
Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colours)
Preview: October 25, 2012, 5:00-7:30 pm

Chinese Arts Centre
13 Thomas Street, Manchester, UK, M4 1EU

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Art & Development

Musings on artifice, optimism, and synthetic happiness

Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm


In my most recent work about happiness, such as Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), I thought about being unafraid of artifice. Since optimism, in my view, is a choice, deliberately choosing to find and take the optimistic perspective in any given situation is a bit artificial. Rather than making optimism seem less genuine, it made me think that optimism is more accessible. I may not have been born an optimist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t become one.

In a similar vein, the objects I constructed were blatantly about pleasure. People seem to have a hard time with that; their skepticism colored the work with futility. But I do really see these objects, for all their cheap materials and modest ambitions—maybe something as innocuous as to brighten one’s day—to also express my sincere interest in optimism and the benefit of small pleasures, no matter how naked their (modest) ambitions.

We synthesize happiness, but we think happiness is something to be found.

We believe that synthetic happiness is not the same as what we might call “natural” happiness. What are these terms? Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted. Synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind. Why do we have that belief? Well, it’s very simple. What kind of economic engine would keep churning, if we believed that not getting what we want would make us just as happy as getting it?…

I want to suggest to you that synthetic happiness is just as real and enduring as the kind of happiness that you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for… (Dan Gilbert, “Why are we happy?” delivered at a TED conference, 2004)

I recently just finished a new series of works on paper using more discount store goods. This time, I made 18 works using only stick-on flags arranged on “neon” paper. (As dollar-store goods are wont to do, the packaging’s promise fulfilled expectations from its own alternate universe—in other conditions, the blue and green papers would be considered pastel. I’m not complaining: “Neon” paper isn’t really neon anyway; inert gasses wouldn’t make good collage substrates.)

Working with the materials, I discovered their small potentials: while the number of available colors was very limited, the flags’ translucence and adhesive—which enhances saturation—creates the illusion of a wider color spectrum. The flags’ matte surfaces also draw attention to the paper’s reflectivity. It’s amazing how even cheap, everyday materials can convey exuberance and pleasure.

Flag Snowflake No. 2, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake #2, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake No. 12, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake #2, #12, & #17, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake No. 17, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake #2, #12, & #17, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

To support Kearny Street Workshop, I’m donating the above three selections from the Flag Snowflake series to One Size Fits All, an online sale. Bid on works by 48 artists who created 8.5×11 works on paper—all for the stunningly affordable price of $100 each. Artists include Jenifer K Wofford, Mike Arcega, Stephanie Syjuco, Weston Teruya, and many, many more.

Kearny Street Workshop is the nation’s oldest Asian Pacific American multidisciplinary arts organization. They have supported me in the past by exhibiting my work in their emerging arts festival, inviting me to present my work, and in 2008, supporting the development of all new work for a three-person exhibition. They have been continuing their work with the dynamic leadership of Ellen Oh—recent projects include partnerships with the de Young Museum. I’m very honored to support KSW, and hope you do too if you can.

Especially for artists: Some thoughts about setting goals and heeding cautions—

Yes, some things are better than others. We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast, because we have overrated the differences between these two futures, we are at risk. When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value. When our fears are bounded, we’re prudent, we’re cautious, we’re thoughtful. When our fears are unbounded and overblown, we’re reckless, and we’re cowardly. The lesson I want to leave you with, with these data, is that our longings and our fears are both overblown to some degree, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience. (Dan Gilbert, “Why are we happy?” delivered at a TED conference, 2004)

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As Is transcript, Great Balloon Giveaway photos posted!

as is audience and panel

In case you were wondering:

What’s the role of pleasure in art?
How do you gauge sincerity?
Can Pop art transcend radical negative consumerist critique?

You might like to have a gander at the transcript of As Is: Pop & Complicity, the closing dialogue of my solo show, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Sight School, featuring Glen Helfand, Patricia Maloney, and Ginger Wolfe-Suarez.

Some highlights:

The show is like an experiment; it’s a sincere embrace of different things that are supposed to make you happy. She’s taken a lot of objects that supposedly exude a lot of optimism to see what sort of effect they may have. I don’t think the sentiment in the objects is sincere, but the sentiment in her embrace of that possibility is. (Victoria Gannon)

The term that comes to mind in regards to Christine’s work is ‘added value.’ For example, learning what the Banner photographs are made of makes them more exciting to me. They’re cheesy gift bags that have been transformed. Even though they’re working in the language that the materials are intended to be about—the notion of the gift—they become something ghostly. There’s an added layer of what the artist can bring to the materials. (Glen Helfand)

Also, I’ve just posted some beautiful photographs of The Great Balloon Giveaway shot by Paul Kuroda. Here are some sneak peeks:

The site-specific public project and social sculpture took place at the Camron-Stanford House on Lake Merritt in Oakland a few weekends ago. It was part of a series of projects sited in historic Oakland architecture called Here and Now. A closing reception for Here and Now is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 26, 8-10pm at Mills Hall, which is also the last chance to see Elaine Buckholtz’ light installation! Prior to that, catch Floor Vahn’s audio installation at Pardee Home Museum.

Full details available at Mills Art Museum or Invisible Venue.

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