Research

To Bring Into Being an Optimistic Future

Recent points of reference about psychology, anxiety, and the need to be intentional about optimism and humor. Plus artworks made when I was first learned about positive psychology at the beginning of the Obama presidency.

 

Christine Wong Yap. Stars and Stripes from the Pounds of Happiness installation, 2009, mixed media.

Christine Wong Yap. Stars and Stripes from the Pounds of Happiness installation, 2009, mixed media.

We live in a world where there is a constant feed from social media, the news, etc., of things that can scare us, and we become so anxious because human beings are designed to be sensitized to dangerous stuff. You get a bad review as a writer, you remember it for 10 years. You get 100 good reviews, you forget them all. You say hello to 100 people in a city, and it doesn’t mean anything to you. One racist comment passes by, it sticks with you a decade. We keep the negative stuff because it’s the negative stuff that’s going to—potentially—kill us. That fin in the water—maybe it is a shark. That yellow thing behind a tree—maybe it is a lion. You need to be scared. But contemporary culture in Pakistan, just like in America, is continuously hitting us with scary stuff, and so we are utterly anxious.

I think that it’s very important to resist that anxiety, to think of ways of resisting the constant inflow of negative feelings—not to become depoliticized as a result, but to actually work actively to bring into being an optimistic future. For me, writing books and being someone who is politically active is part of that. I don’t want to be anxious in my day-to-day life; I want to try to imagine a future I’d like to live in and then write books and do things that, in my own small way, make it more likely that that future will come to exist.

—Author Mohsin Hamid (“Pakistani Author Mohsin Hamid And His Roving ‘Discontent’,’ Fresh Air, March 9, 2017)

 

Christine Wong Yap, Cheap and Cheerful #3, 2009, gel pen on paper, A4.

Christine Wong Yap, Cheap and Cheerful #3, 2009, gel pen on paper, A4.

…one of the offshoots of the rise of Trump has been to rob many liberals of their sense of humor. To pay close attention to the news is to trap oneself in a daily cycle of outrage, self-righteousness, a pained recognition of the inelegance of that self-righteousness, and, finally, a feeling of futility. Part of what made the Women’s March so powerful was its scenes of comedy, not simply the signs that mocked the President but those that recognized the joyousness in the very of act of protest.

…Constant vigilant outrage is not only exhausting, and eventually deflating, but it’s ill suited to liberal culture, which is suffused with a healthy dose of self-awareness, self-mockery, and even self-loathing. There’s a reason conservatives control talk radio, with all its grim certitude, and liberals run comedy, which is characterized by, among others things, ambivalence.

—Ian Crouch, “This Is The Future That Liberals Want” Is The Joke That Liberals Need, NewYorker.com, March 3, 2017

 

Christine Wong Yap, Unlimited Promise, 2009/2010, installation.

Christine Wong Yap, Unlimited Promise, 2009/2010, installation.

 

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News

Through Sept. 20: Bronx Calling @ the Bronx Museum

Participants are invited to string together the flags representing  their strengths. Connect the toggles to the loops.

Participants are invited to string together the flags representing their strengths. Will shows how it’s done: connecting toggles to the loops.

July 9–September 20, 2015
Bronx Calling: The Third AIM Biennial
Bronx Museum, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY
Always free.
Open Thursdays–Sundays 11–6 and until 8 on Fridays.

I’m very pleased that this exhibition, which has been two years in the making, is now open. It includes work from 72 participants in the Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Artists in the Marketplace program, who have diverse, strong practices (whose praises I sing in the Time Out article below).

On July 15, the museum held an open house for Bronx Calling as well as ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York (recommended!). Over 1,000 people attended. See photos of the open house, which included numerous performances.

I’m debuting Character Strengths Signal Flags. This project has been three years in the making—I designed and sewed 24 signal flags in an edition of three. Each flag has a letterpress-printed label identifying the character strength and one of the six categories developed by positive psychologists Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman. The flags are installed with a legend and flagpoles. Viewers are invited to find and fly the flags of their strengths. See more pics on my website.

Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches.

Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches.

See Time Out New York! 

Dana Varinsky. “Emerging Artists Take the Bronx,” Time Out New York, July 15, 2015.

Dana Varinsky. “Emerging Artists Take the Bronx,” Time Out New York, July 15, 2015.

Bonus: You can top off your visit with a street festival!
Sundays, August 2, 9 and 16, 12–4pm
Boogie on the Boulevard
Right in front of the Bronx Museum, Grand Concourse from 161st Street to 167th Street will be closed to cars and open to a world of fun with free music, activities, and programs hosted by artists and organizations from the Bronx and beyond. What’s not to like?

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Uncategorized

Nuances Beyond Joy versus Sadness

Thoughtful ideas explicating good mental health, posted by a legit research center at UC Berkeley.

The Greater Good Science Center’s “Four Lessons from Inside Out to Discuss With Kids” by Jason Marsh and Vicki Zakrzewski (July 14, 2015) is pitched as a story for guiding conversations with kids, but the research findings in it can be insightful to all ages. Its messages are spot-on for countering assumptions about happiness and positive psychology:

Happiness is not just about joy.

It’s easy to conflate the two. As I’ve explored positive psychology in my artwork over the past six years, I’ve also noticed that people can react cynically to positivity, and celebrate negative emotions like melancholy in opposition to our current zeitgeist of happiness studies. But actually, positive psychologists emphasize that

people who experience “emodiversity,” or a rich array of both positive and negative emotions, have better mental health.

At the same time, be intentional. While you shouldn’t become doctrinaire about happiness as a goal, psychologists also suggest

“prioritizing positivity”—deliberately carving out ample time in life for experiences that we personally enjoy.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my work—to make space to be exuberant, think about purpose, find flow, exercise creativity, and nurture relationships.

I don’t need to make space for myself to be negative—I’m plenty good at that already. Like most people, I get anxious and stressed out. I ruminate. I replay regrets and hold pointless internal monologues about perceived slights. I get angry and sad. These are easy habits of mind for me. Via my work, I’m trying to create a counterbalance.

Lately, I’ve also become interested in non-attachment. Tackling things head-on is one strategy; letting things go by on their own momentum is another.

Mindfully embrace—rather than suppress—tough emotions…. Rather than getting caught up in the drama of an emotional reaction, a mindful person kindly observes the emotion without judging it as the right or wrong way to be feeling in a given situation, creating space to choose a healthy response.

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6/27–8/30: summertime… @ jenkins johnson gallery

Exhibition view, Summertime... at Jenkins Johnson Gallery,

Exhibition view, Summertime… at Jenkins Johnson Gallery. Two of my ribbon texts are on view alongside lovely ribbon-based wall works by Vadis Turner.

June 27–August 30, 2013
Summertime…

Jenkins Johnson Gallery
521 W. 26th Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Summer gallery hours: Mon–Fri, 10am–6pm

Works by Shawn Huckins, Vadis Turner, and Christine Wong Yap. The exhibition features works of varying media and content, though all embody the dedication to contemporary art and mastering their media that Jenkins Johnson Gallery strives to propagate.

Christine Wong Yap, hope for good, allow for even better, 2012, ribbon, thread, pins, 51.5 × 47 in / 1.3 × 1.2 m

Christine Wong Yap, hope for good, allow for even better, 2012, ribbon, thread, pins, 51.5 × 47 in / 1.3 × 1.2 m

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Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #9

I have  a conceptual relationship to my work—I read, write, observe, and reflect to inform the art that I want to make. I do so much research sometimes, my recent studio practice has involved organizing information:

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a large table.

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a 6’x6′ newsprint table.

Though I employ conceptual strategies, I still make things. I like materials, and I like working with materials. I like the challenge of finding and trying different materials that will best convey the ideas, emotions, and experiences I have in mind.

Materials are indifferent, however. They age, warp, stain, fold, bend, puncture, and undergo countless other unintended transformations. Reality, too, resists—physically, culturally, economically; I can’t always get what I want, and I can’t always make what I envision. Art objects, conventionally, aspire to timelessness—an unnatural condition.

In a recent project, I used over:

  • 700 yards of thread
  • 200 yards of twill tape
  • 17 yards of unmounted vinyl
  • dozens of pieces of aluminum tubing and wooden dowels

I also shipped a sewing machine across the country for this project.

It took two to three long work days to finally get a feel for the materials: how they sew together, what patterns would be strong and functional but visually minimal, and how to adjust the tension of the thread just so. In that sense, working is learning, gaining expertise. Doing is simultaneously gathering and applying information; hence, making is a way of thinking.

Detail, work in progress. Supported by Lucas Artists Program at the Montalvo Arts Center.

And still, materials surprise me. As I conceptualize, plan, prepare and make, visual and optical qualities emerge. They call on me to look at what I’ve made with new eyes, to see things as they are. To be honest with myself about the degrees to which they are or aren’t what I intended, physically or conceptually.

I like the opportunities for flow made possibly by working with my hands. Some people can achieve flow in activities of the mind—mathematics, writing—but for me, flow arises in the challenges and satisfactions of physical art-making.

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Research

happiness is… research note #8

Here’s a lovely map by Max Fisher, based on new data from Gallup, from the Washington Post and brought to my attention via ET:

Emotion Map, by Max Fischer, based on Gallup data. // Source: Washington Post.

Fisher explains:

Since 2009, the Gallup polling firm has surveyed people in 150 countries and territories on, among other things, their daily emotional experience. Their survey asks five questions, meant to gauge whether the respondent felt significant positive or negative emotions the day prior to the survey. The more times that people answer “yes” to questions such as “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”, the more emotional they’re deemed to be.
Gallup has tallied up the average “yes” responses from respondents in almost every country on Earth. The results, which I’ve mapped out above, are as fascinating as they are indecipherable. The color-coded key in the map indicates the average percentage of people who answered “yes.” Dark purple countries are the most emotional, yellow the least.

Max Fisher, “A color-coded map of the world’s most and least emotional countries,” The Washington Post, November 28, 2012

The data is based on research described by Jon Clifton on Gallup’s website. The post also outlines the five questions used in the survey:

Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
Did you experience the following feelings a lot of the day yesterday?
How about (enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, anger)?

Note that no question asks, “Are you happy?” Nor does it focus particularly on pleasure or cheerfulness, the most popular and basic associations of happiness. Instead, these questions get at more nuanced emotions and experiences explored in positive psychology—subjective well-being, enjoyment, competence, etc.

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Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #7

Positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking.

This ribbon text, which I made last year, appears to promote positive thinking, but I had more in mind.

Christine Wong Yap, think good thoughts / fortify good attitudes, 2011, ribbon, thread, pins, 30 × 40 × 1 in / 76 × 100 × 2.5 cm

Christine Wong Yap, think good thoughts / fortify good attitudes, 2011, ribbon, thread, pins, 30 × 40 × 1 in / 76 × 100 × 2.5 cm

In my readings, numerous positive psychologists explained that the unfocused mind’s natural state is chaos. When we don’t focus our attentions, our minds drift, and unhappy memories arise. Regrets, slights, and petty grievances beg to be reviewed. Engaging in rumination—unproductively mulling over negative events and emotions—can lead to anxiety and depression.

Rumination can be habitual, but people can learn to recognize and interrupt it.

I thought about this process of shifting one’s thought patterns away from chaotic, unfocused, and negative toward intentional and positive. Early steps—”thinking good thoughts” in place of bad ones—might seem forced, but with persistence, they can create a positive longterm habit, and “fortify good attitudes.”

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