The Eve Of...

“Aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics—these matters of value, Wittgenstein agreed, lay in the realm of the unutterable. But it was natural an inevitable that men should speak of them, and much could be learned from the way in which people went about their foredoomed task of trying to say the unsayable. Moreover, it would not be clear where the boundary of sanctioned speech lay until an attempt had been made to cross it and that attempt had failed. Such efforts Wittgenstein regarded with benevolence. He treated them as reconnaissance expeditions, perilous to be sure, but well worth the effort expended on them.”

—H Stuart. Hughes, The Sea Change, as quoted by Laurence Weschler in Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees (1982).

“Better a live donkey than a dead lion.”

–Ernest Shackleton, South Pole explorer

Rewards, Even in Failure

The Eve Of...

The Eve Of… Self-Initiated Residency begins

Creating an NYC residency for me.

Studio experiment. Layered, colored vinylcuts. Christine Wong Yap, May/June, 2014.

Studio experiment. Layered, colored vinylcuts. Christine Wong Yap, May/June, 2014.

Last year, I realized three things:

  • I’m most productive as an artist when I do residencies with exhibition opportunities.
  • I ought to balance the opportunities I’ve received elsewhere with more opportunities to work as an artist in NYC.
  • NYC competitions are often the most competitive I’ve found anywhere.

With that in mind, I applied to the Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) for an Individual Artist Grant to initiate my own residency, open studio, and public forum. My application, honed with fantastic feedback from SOM and QCA program staff, was selected to receive partial funding.

Thus far, I’ve been preparing for the residency—modifying a budget, conducting research, developing sketches, procuring materials, and developing prototypes in my home studio, all while juggling multiple jobs. Now that it’s August, my employers and clients have graciously acknowledged my need to take a sabbatical. I also hope to share news about a larger studio soon. Then, I’ll have the coming weeks to focus 100% on my project.

The project is called The Eve of…

…a new body of sculptures, assemblages, and installations using color to create darkness and explore mixed emotions… Inspired by the decisive moment after setbacks and before actions, the project explores the disassembled self on the eve of re-organization.

It’s inspired by flux, the feeling of uncertainty, and of not knowing what to do next. This is a departure from recent projects that were more representational or literal, with direct connections to positive psychology research. I’m trying to work more intuitively, and create an installation for viewers that is phenomenological and embodied.

Making such a change isn’t easy. Ironically, I’m experiencing artistic and creative uncertainty at the same time that I’m thinking about making work about uncertainty.

Instead of positive psychology books, I’ve started reading artists’ writings and biographies. It’s been inspiring and confounding, as artists often present challenging questions without clear answers:

The biographies of Irwin (by Weschler) and Ader are especially troubling, as both artists took on lifelong projects grappling with issues of representation/depiction, and the paradox of materializing objects or how images are read, when what they’re after is pure aesthetic experience. This contradiction can become stultifying, as can perfectionist self-pressure.

Yet, persisting in my research, I’ve realized that uncertainty is related to anxiety and failure, and that I can find productive, creative release valves. All art-making includes the risk of failure, and by freeing failure from a limited definition as negative judgment, I can take a prolific, experimental approach and do things the wrong way (or, as KR would kid, the Wong way), and just get on with it. There will be time for editing and criticism later, but it is not my role in the studio—certainly not in the context of a self-initiated residency—to assume that now.

Because it’ll be shared with the public in open studios/an artist-run exhibition, I don’t have to accommodate external criteria or desirable traits like sell-ability, permanence, etc. It’s a luxury to be able to make what I want… even if I’m not 100% sure what that is yet.

Studio experiment. Christine Wong Yap, July 10, 2014.

Studio experiment. Christine Wong Yap, July 10, 2014.

This project is made possible (in part) by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.


[Robert Irwin] came to think of paintings as showing two faces, one as interpretable image and another as physical presence, and he saw the former as bleeding the intensity of the latter. To the extent that a canvas could be subsumed as a painting of something, it was no longer being confronted as an energy field in its own right. And what Irwin was increasingly after was this pure physicality.

…[Irwin noted:] “When you stop giving [the late line paintings] a literate or articulate read (the kind of read you give a Renaissance painting) and instead look at them perceptually, you find that your eye ends up suspended in mid-air, mid-space, or mid-stride: both time and space blend into a continuum. You lose your bearings for a moment. … The thing is you cease reading and you cease articulating and you fall into a state where nothing else is going on but the tactile, experimental process.

“…When I look at the world now, my posture is not one of focus but rather of attention.”

Lawrence Weschler, Robert Irwin / MATRIX 15 catalog essay, University Art Museum (now BAM/PFA), October 1, 1978 – December 31, 1978

Lawrence Weschler’s catalog essay for Robert Irwin’s MATRIX 15 project at BAM/PFA in 1978


A Surprisingly Visual and Aesthetic Science Festival

Despite only mild curiosity about medical history and an easily grossed-out constitution, I was consistently enthralled at yesterday’s Festival of Medical History at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM).

The festival’s organizers—which included art writer Lawrence Weschler—suffused the conference with programming that could have easily been presented at visual criticism symposia. Though it’s ostensibly a science-oriented festival, I loved the integration of aesthetics. Here are my highlights:

Competitive Slide Slam: Images of the Cosmos vs. Images of the Brain

Filmmaker/editor Michael Benson jocularly presented photos of the universe (see some here, click on ‘Prints’), which neuroscientist Carl Schoonover tried to match or top with images of the brain (see some here, click on ‘Portraits of the Mind’). Both speakers offered insightful factoids emphasizing immensity—either the space’s grandness or the brain’s complexity. It was entertaining, playful, visually stunning, and expansive.

The compositions where surprisingly similar, yet aesthetically divergent. The images of the cosmos exuded high resolution and definition, while the images of the brain were either painterly or graphic, with subjective use of color. It raised questions about the selectivity of image-processing. What drives the desire to bring distant galaxies into crystal clear focus? What does it mean when color is cleaved from visual reality, making some gases visible to the human eye, or differentiating microscopic parts of the brain in fantastical neon colors?

Both speakers limned the question of what constitutes consciousness. Benson’s images could be tools in the search for extra-terrestrial life, while Schoonover showed a video of active brain cells in a Petri dish, reaching out to build connections.

(Bonus: Check out the transcendent Cat’s Eye Nebula on the Hubble site.)

Spaces to Read, Research and Work

NYAM’s building on Fifth Ave is grand, with lots of beautiful, symbolic architectural features. We visited its rare books library (open to the public by appointment), which housed a display of Renaissance-era books with fantastic wood engravings and etchings, and 19th- and 20th-century ephemera—always a typographic treat.

Conservation lab at the New York Academy of Medicine.

Conservation lab at the New York Academy of Medicine.

The conservation lab, however, was exactly my kind of dreamy: a spacious, light-filled, dust-free, and organized workspace. Everything had its place, from fabric yardage in a gridded shelving system, to boards in flat racks, to a few real-bone folders on display. The workbenches—laminate tops, ergonomic heights, on casters—made me miss the clean room in the old CCA Printshop, and fantasize about a dream studio with an enclosed clean/storage room.

A drill press was fitted into a corner next both a hand vacuum and a dust-collection machine: a Virgo’s paradise.

(Side note: The three conservators were female; one mentioned how traditionally, women sewed bindings. In my experience, contemporary book binding and book arts seem practiced by women more often than men. Why is that? The fact that sewing is involved can’t be determinate, even today, can it? Or is there something about temperament, and the quietude of books? Or both?)

Modes of Display

Amy Herzog‘s talk about dioramas was fantastic. I hope she publishes an essay, it was one of the most well-crafted visual criticism presentations I’ve heard, connecting the reflection of the self in daguerreotypes, Daguerre’s coining of the term diorama, and the recognition of self through encounters with the other and a confrontation with death. Here’s the synopsis:

Momento Mori: Reflections on Death and the Art of the Tableau

This talk surveys a spectrum of artistic and museological dioramas, waxworks, and post-mortem photographic practices, and the hermetic, frozen worlds each offer to the viewer. There is something profoundly fetishistic, and mildly necrophilic, at the heart of the diorama, an apparent desire to encapsulate and reanimate those items on display. This paradoxical tension between preservation and regeneration seems germane to the 19th-century imaginary in general, the moment at which many of the visual practices I will discuss came into being. And while the diorama in particular is driven by a certain pedagogical directive, my talk will suggest that their lessons are more ambiguous than their creators likely imagined, and offer uncanny insights into our contemporary condition.

(Weird bonus! Learn about a book of Walter Potter’s bizarre anthropomorphized kitten taxidermy or see pics on The Daily Mail.)

Early 20th-c. Obsession with Rays via Fritz Kahn’s Fantastical Illustrations

As employee of the US National Library of Medicine, and therefore, the federal government, Michael Sappol‘s talk was at risk of cancelation. In a brilliant sidestep of the government shutdown, someone else read Sappol’s written remarks.

Sappol wrote that rays, beams, and waves became an obsession and a base metaphor of modernity in the 1920s-1940s. Kahn was a physician who lived from 1888-1968 (what a spectacular period in which to live!). Using commercial illustrators, he used pipes and rooms to create body-as-factory illustrations, and then adopted lines to signal electricity within and outside of the body, like flow charts a with spare diagrammatic language for engineers.

Fritz Kahn (author), Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace)  Stuttgart, 1926. Chromolithograph. // Source: National Library of Medicine.

Fritz Kahn (author), Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace) Stuttgart, 1926. Chromolithograph. // Source: National Library of Medicine.

I love Sappol’s ideas of developing an iconography of “occult forces” invisible to the human eye; of “electricity, magnetism, mesmerism;” connecting light and radios and radiology for images of “radiant modernity;” and the merging of German mechanist tradition with Kahn’s Romantic leanings. Indeed, some of the radiant images reminded me of Charles Burchfield’s visionary paintings, like Radiant Spring.

 Fritz Kahn (author), Das Leben des Menschen... (The Life of Man). Vol. 5  Stuttgart, 1931. Relief halftone. // Source: National Library of Medicine.

Fritz Kahn (author), Das Leben des Menschen… (The Life of Man). Vol. 5 Stuttgart, 1931. Relief halftone. // Source: National Library of Medicine.

Kahn’s pictures are immediately appealing, and Sappol explains why: they harmonize the discordant in modern life via the flow of life and energy.

Learn more about Kahn and his work at

Or set yourself a Google alert for Sappol’s book (currently in production), How to Get Modern with Scientific Illustration: Fritz Kahn, Pictured Knowledge and the Visual Rhetoric of Modernity.

Get excited: NYAM plans to make the festival an inaugural event. I hope they keep it free, open to the public, and strongly integrated with art and aesthetics!

Thanks for bringing the festival to my attention, M and New York Today, NYT’s fantastic picks list (also a great reference for ultra-concise yet warm writing, to which I will aspire, however wordily I fail).

Art & Development

Recent, future, random

A random round-up of things I’ve seen or are looking forward to:


Robert Irwin‘s rambling, 50-MPH monologue at Mills College. I couldn’t sum up what he said — comparing Modernism to a cup of Coke, and proposing an array of realms of art rather than a hierarchical pyramid — but I’m pretty sure it was brilliant. I should probably re-visit Lawrence Weschler’s biography of Robert Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees after all the other books I’m reading, or intending to read (Ranciere’s The Future of The Image and Beyond Visual Perspective by Gaetano Curreri-Alibrand. Yikes!). Cheers to Mills for bringing such an influential and erudite artist to the East Bay.

Valentine’s Day Celebration at Glide Memorial Church.
I’ve lived in the Bay Area all my life, but I am taking time to appreciate quintessentially San Franciscan experiences like visiting Glide, a Unitarian church whose openness, political activism and community service is a prime example of powerful faith-based progressive work. M and I attended the service on the suggestion of a friend, who was performing an excerpt of The Erica Chong Shuch Performance ProjectsLove Everywhere, a beautiful, tender dance/theater/music performance on love and marriage equality—the civil rights struggle of our time. It was really profound to have the time and space to celebrate love in all of its manifestations—unconditional love, the love of one’s community, to love fiercely and courageously—on Valentine’s Day. (How many red teddy bears does anyone need anyway?) More often, what’s needed is a reminder to look beyond your immediate situation towards community, and to be in spaces where you are accepted as you are. To love and be beloved.

Collaborative installation by Chris Bell, Elaine Buckholtz, and Floor Van Herreweghe at SF Arts Commission Window Space, 155 Grove Street, San Francisco
For Chain Reaction 11, artists were invited to nominate other artists to exhibit at SFAC. One chain went beyond the call and developed a collaborative installation that fills the window site with a sculpture, video and light work, and spills onto Grove with a moody, Sam Shepard-esque musical component. It’s wonderfully unexpected and surreal, and it’s one of my favorite art things that I’ve seen of late. I urge you to visit it, especially at nighttime. It’s on view 24/7 at 155 Grove Street through May 16.


Friday, February 19, 7-10pm: Opening Reception
Blow As Deep As You Want to Blow: New Work by Michelle Blade

Triple Base, 3041 — 24th Street, San Francisco
Exhibition: February 19 – March 21, 2010

Weird bad paintings; don’t come to this if you leave your sense of humor at home.
Denim on Ice: paintings by Keith Boadwee / Erin Allen / Isaac Gray
Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 49 Geary St., Suite 411, San Francisco
Exhibition: February 19 – Mar 20, 2010