Community, Art & Development, 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.”

Art & Development, Community

the art community in manchester: all right!

I’ve had the good fortune of sharing my work and investigations with loads of local artists and curators in and around Manchester. For example, yesterday, artist and curator Paul Harfleet was nice enough to open Apartment for one last visit before it closes permanently. The Plaited Fog artist’s collective generously had me up to Preston for a chat and a curry. (Warm thanks to artist and curator Elaine Speight and Rebecca Chesney.)

People usually want to know what I think of Manchester. Invariably, I start by talking about what I’ve learned about Mancunian temperments. I try to contextualize my thoughts as observations. Still, it’s quite surreal — and perhaps a bit presumptuous — to tell people what I think of their attitudes.

While I notice the tendency to down-play enthusiasm, in all fairness I’d like to add that I’ve experienced tremendous hospitality, curiosity, and engagement here. One of the obvious best things about Manchester is its investment in culture; a less obvious (for tourists of only the briefest stays) best thing about Manchester is the local artists’ and curators’ investment in art, culture and community. The art community members I’ve met have been very generous with their time, energy, resources and knowledge, for which I’m very grateful.

Here’s a completely subjective, incomplete list of some of the amazing arts partners in Manchester:

Manchester Art Gallery
City art gallery/museum; like all civic museums in England, admission is free. And people go. Brilliant.

Chinese Arts Centre

Chinese Arts Centre

Chinese Arts Centre
Not-for-profit gallery, residency, tea shop

Art/design/arch centre with exhibitions about the urban environment

Not-for-profit gallery/indie film house

Castlefield Gallery
Not-for-profit artist led gallery, run by the indubitable Kwong Lee. Castlefield also does, a terrific email newsletter about art events in and around Manchester.

International 3 Gallery
(Semi-)not-for-profit artist-led gallery. Feels like The Mission District.

Whitworth Art Gallery
University gallery; large exhibition space, great contemporary programming. Home of the terrific, but under-publicized, Tuesday Talks, organized by Mr Pavel Bucher.

Art/arch/design gallery

Detail from Johannes Zits' installation at 20+3 Projects

Detail from Johannes Zits' installation at 20+3 Projects

Post-opening imperial pints at Jam Street Cafe

Post-opening imperial pints at Jam Street Cafe

20+3 Projects
An artist-run gallery based in a Heidi Schaefer‘s house.

Islington Mill
Artist-led art studio compound with an experimental art school and library, and occasional exhibitions and short residencies. Also functions as a music venue. (Tomorrow, Thursday 4/16, AIR Tara Beall, will talk about her work at 6pm.)

Rogue Studios
Art studio compound with occasional exhibitions

jeremy deller procession 2009
Love love love this banner, esp given the socialist history of Manchester.

Manchester International Festival
OK, Kanye, Kraftwerk, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, De La Soul and the Happy Mondays might get the big headlines, but Marina Abramovic at the Whitworth, a video installation scored by Damon Albarn, and Jeremy Deller’s procession sound amazing…

Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

new manc art highlights

Islington Mill Studios; hallway.

Islington Mill Studios; hallway.

The Dilemma of Archive
New library
Islington Mill

Islington Mill is a really cool artist-initiated studio compound with a gallery, performance venue, experimental school, and now, a new library focusing on art books. I find the whole idea of the place very grassroots, appealing and innovative.

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

Last night, I attended the opening of The Dilemma of Archive, a show featuring the work of Maurice Carlin and G. Leddington. The exhibition space is a disused studio — about the size of a bedroom, maybe 15×12 feet. But the modest space held a really tight grouping of four works, which were peculiar and quiet and rewarded sustained attention.

Slide show/installation by G. Leddington at Islington Mill

Slide show/installation by G. Leddington at Islington Mill

I really liked G. Leddington’s slide show of a turning carosel box, which reminded me of the work of Anne Collier and Tacita Dean. But Leddington’s accompanying works — photo prints of obscure articles, book plates and photos relating to Henri Michaux, art collector/smuggler swung the content away from the project of photography and back towards the archive.

My contribution to the new library.

My contribution to the new library.

The curatorial statement is quite smart, pointing out the paradoxes inherent in any archive — exhibitions, art collections or libraries. I really liked the high conceptual quality and grassroots venue partnered with the new library initiative. I keep telling people that Manchester is a cool city, and if they can look past the binge drinking and American-style malls, they’d see the local points of vibrance like Islington Mills.

Gregor Schneider‘s Kinderzimmer
Subversive Spaces
Whitworth Art Museum

I couldn’t be bothered to see this pitch-black, one-viewer-at-a-time installation — the wait times were always long, but today, by happenstance, I was able to get in after a brief 10-minute wait.

I won’t spoil what’s inside for those who yet to see it, but I will say this:

I found it extremely effective. It was emotional — the darkness was so complete it was terrifying, and upon exiting, my sense of relief gave way to a curious ecstasy. It was provocative and I experienced a sense of convergence between:

  • Dan Graham’s interest in the just-past
  • In Claire Bishop’s Installation Art: A Critical History (Tate 2005) darkness and the dissolution of self…
  • …and how Kinderzimmer manages to include pure phenomenology, mimesis and representation
  • how Schneider exploited the flaws in human hardware
  • how the installation achieved high aspirations in spite of the humble materials
  • grief and existential subjectivity