Notes on Things, from Manchester UK

The Living Room, Lee Mingwei’s show at the Chinese Arts Centre (through July 27) sounds fascinating.

The NYC-based artist arranged a vibrantly wallpapered space for local collectors to use for display and discussion of objects. It seems that they’ve found quite an interesting and diverse range of hosts to participate.

You can learn more on the The questions posed,

“Why do we collect?”


“What do our collections say about us?”

however, seem harder to grasp via the site; perhaps it is more discernible for those who attend the events in person.

On the site, there’s a video of an audio recording of Lee’s artist’s talk—an overview of past projects. As an audio recording, there aren’t any images, but I found it worthwhile because of the open-ended, conceptual and participatory nature of his work does not demand images as much as more formal artworks would. The audio-video shed light on his practice overall, but I wanted to hear more about the above two questions. The researcher in me wants to inquire about the projects’ outcomes, and the artist in me shudders at the thought.

More things examined in Manchester and viewable at:


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

Art & Development

Chinese Arts Centre’s People’s Residency

I’m intrigued by this new initiative seeking 100 members of the public to fund a residency. Since the UK’s arts budgets have been dramatically slashed, arts organizations have to be creative to continue supporting artists and providing access to the arts to the public. I’m happy to support the fantastic programming of the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, UK, and to help another emerging artist get the opportunity that was so valuable to my research and practice.

‘The People’s Residency’ scheme looks to fundraise an entire residency programme via the public, where we need 100 members to sign up and pay a single membership fee of £35 [about $55 USD]. With your donation not only will you be funding a critical career development opportunity for one lucky artist but you will also get the chance to vote from our four shortlisted artists as to who you want to be the next Breathe residency artist for Spring/Summer 2012. And to top it all off you get a unique insight into the residency programme with special members only events, afternoon tea with the artist, members e-newsletters, artist’s online residency blogs and members only previews!

Art & Development

Hello Manchester

Yarright mates,

Should you find yourself at home on 20 October, fancying a bit of contemporary art, perhaps you might like to direct the telly to Channel M at 15:00 for Zeitgeist, in which I try to convince the general public that coloring with pound shop glitter pens is in fact legitimate contemporary art. The projects that resulted from my residency at Chinese Arts CentrePounds of Happiness, Unlimited Promise, the Cheap and Cheerful drawings and Sorted — may appear in the programme as well.


PS. The student-producers from a university in Salford were quite taken with my Californian accent, and clearly, the fascination was mutual.

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, Research, Travelogue

Mancunian slang and temperments

Mancunian Slang Adjective Flash Drawings: Stroppy, Naff, Scally, Grotty, Mardy Ink on six ready-made fluorescent yellow die-cut papers 12 x 7.5 inches each; 37 x 50 inches assembled. Produced during the Breathe Residency at Chinese Arts Centre

Mancunian Slang Adjective Flash Drawings: Stroppy, Naff, Scally, Grotty, Mardy Ink on six ready-made fluorescent yellow die-cut papers 12 x 7.5 inches each; 37 x 50 inches assembled

One of the things I’ve been researching during the Breathe Residency is Mancunian slang and temperaments. (Mancunian means of Manchester, for you Yanks). Manchester is known as a rainy post-industrial city, but I’ve found its emphasis on cultural life and development to be very forward-looking. It’s sort of like an English Detriot or Oakland–perpetually stuck between an unrecoverable past and a difficult-to-realize future, but with glimpses of hope all around.

The first thing I noticed about Manchester is the accent–broad, flat vowels, and the way words like “early” (“arr-lah”) feel flipped around to me. The next thing I noticed is the colorful slang.

I did some drawings that attempted to quantify the Mancunian temperment by taxonomizing the slang words that I heard by chance. In other words, I noticed that there were more slang words to describe displeasure, than there were to describe pleasure.

Above, an initial early version of the project. For the benefit of my fellow Americans, here’s a run-down:

Stroppy and mardy are both unpleasant characteristics, sort of irritable, uncommunicative, whiny. Many Brits are surprised that Americans don’t use the word stroppy. Maybe in an Anne of Green Gables book, but not in Oakland.

Naff means not good. Janky might be a good American corollary.

Scally means chav, a young Briton who’s adopted American hip-hop style, generally regarded as tacky, trashy, low-life. They are usually described as wearing trackie bottoms (track suit pants), flat caps (baseball hats), trainers (sneakers) and Burberry hats, though I haven’t seen any Burberry hats in Manchester. There are connotations of class, Northerner-ness (city mouse v. country mouse?), and probably racial ones, too, but I don’t know enough about it.

Grotty means dingy. It’s also used like the American slang adjective, ghetto.

Another word I heard was wanky, which is just a short way of saying like a wanker.

I only heard a few slang words that were positive:

Chuffed means enthusiastic, e.g., “I’m not too chuffed about it myself.”

As in America, Wicked means cool, e.g., “Hey, I’ve got an open studio coming up.” [Hands over a postcard.] “Wicked.” I’ve only heard it once or twice, which I attribute to a reluctance to express unbridled enthusiasm.

Sorted means sorted out, e.g., “Have you got it sorted?” or “Did you eat?” “Yeah, we went to Pizza Hut. Sorted.”

One more phrase is necessary to round out this list.

All right is the typically lukewarm, understated Mancunian way of expressing approval or appreciation. It can mean anything from OK to great. E.g., a Mancunian could enjoy an event, and describe it as “all right.”

This is in contrast with the American usage, which expresses neutrality or can even be a euphemism for bring underwhelmed, e.g., “How was ‘Marley and Me’?” “It was all right.” “Hm, didn’t really do it for you, huh?”


The Manc temperment is partly explained by the Northern identity. In England, a North-South divide signifies cultural differences as well as disparate levels of prosperity and health indicators.

For those interested in learning more about the north of England, I’d recommend these starting points:

Stuart Maconie’s Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the Great North, which I blogged about before.

Time Shift – Series 8 – The North-South Divide, an interesting hour-long BBC documentary., which I also mentioned in a previous blog

Zeitgeist, a Salford University-produced arts and entertainment TV program. Watch past episodes online.