Open Studio view, December 11, 2015. LMCC Process Space on Governor's Island.
Meta-Practice, Thought Experiments in Agency

LMCC Process Space Residency Wrap-up

What, who, when, where, how and why my first NYC studio residency.

I just completed my first studio program in NYC! It was great to have a longer residency and stay at home, allowing me to balance personal and financial responsibilities, while at the same time building my community of fellow artists here in NYC.

What: The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council turns unused space into studio spaces for visual artists and performers. Process Space is a process-oriented residency located on Governor’s Island. It’s located in the upper floor of a former military warehouse. The space is several thousand square feet, which is divvied up by tensioned partition walls into smaller spaces of various sizes, each with three walls, facing one of two hallways. I received one of the larger spaces, lucking out with a great view of lower Manhattan across the hall and in the windows of my neighbor’s studio.

View from my studio (through poet Anselm Berrigan's studio).

View from my studio (through poet Anselm Berrigan’s studio).

Process Space is mostly a studio program, with two Open Studio events. LMCC organizes one potluck and ranger-led tour of the National Parks’ historic sites.

Some of the AIRs self-organized our own work-sharing events and a studio visit from a curator.

behagari1

Ben Hagari discussed his photo with the other AIRs during a self-organized pre-Open Studio walkabout.

Who: There were 20 artists in residence for the full duration, as well as performers who accessed the rehearsal spaces in shorter durations. Of the 20 longterm artists, most were visual, some were literary, and a few were performance. I was also very happy to see that women and artists of color were represented. I really liked my cohort—they’re very smart, with well-developed and unique practices. I think we got along really well and I felt a strong sense of allyship.

LMCC has an energetic staff. They take event planning and promotion of Open Studios seriously! In addition to presenting your work inside your studio, you can also propose a reading or performance, or exhibit work in the adjacent gallery. I didn’t elect to do either, mainly because the deadline for proposals snuck up on me, and I couldn’t dedicate enough time to develop anything on top of what I planned to show in my studio. There’s also a former resident who is a part-time on-site assistant, who has a studio on the island as well.

When: Each year there are two sessions: Fall and Spring. The fall session ran from early August to mid-December; our Open Studios were in late September and in early December.

(In hindsight I realized that the December Open Studio, because it’s on a weekday during the island’s closed Winter season, is less well-attended, but that was the one in which I had more work, and more finished work, to share. Since the summer season has more visitors, the Spring session has the small advantage of having more visitors at the end of the session. I couldn’t make the spring session due to travel, but for future residents this might be a minor consideration. But obviously, prioritize scheduling studio access.)

Where: The studios are located on Governor’s Island, a small island just a short ferry ride from lower Manhattan.

Governor’s Island is a unique partnership between a national park and the City. There’s historic, well-preserved military buildings, and then beautiful, new park lands that are continuing to be developed. There’s tons of programming during the summer, and it’s unusually interesting—a scrappy art fair, 1920’s-themed dance parties, vintage baseball games, VW bus shows, and lots of food trucks, as well as a beer garden. Many other art organizations ran programs there too, such as residencies, galleries, and public art installations, too. There’s also an outdoor tent for concerts, which is located next to the studio building, for better and for worse.

The Statue of Liberty seen from the ferry on a beautiful day.

The Statue of Liberty seen from the ferry on a beautiful day.

A recent view of the Statue of Liberty at sunset, also with the Staten Island ferry.

A recent view of the Statue of Liberty at sunset, also with the Staten Island ferry.

There are spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty from the island and the ferry. The studio building’s north windows overlook Lower Manhattan. When the sun set, the light reflected off the skyscrapers in directly onto my studio walls.

Sunset view.

Sunset view.

My silhouette on my studio wall, formed in sunset light reflected from skyscrapers.

My silhouette on my studio wall, formed in sunset light reflected from skyscrapers.

How: This program is by nomination only. I am grateful to my nominator, whose show I installed at LMCC’s Governor’s Island gallery a few years ago. That was my first and only visit to the island prior to the residency, so it was nice to complete the circle by returning as an artist in my own right.

The only access to the island—and thus to the studios—is by ferry. During the public season in the summer, the ferry runs from early morning to 7pm, and on the weekends. After the public season ends, the ferry runs until 6pm weekdays only. For artists whose work schedule lands squarely during the work week (including myself, at times), or who have childcare issues, this means that studio access is a real challenge.

Getting to the island is a big part of this residency experience. When I heard I was nominated, I reached out to two former residents seeking their advice. They were both generous in sharing their input and encouragement. (It was especially kind considering that one artist was a stranger, whose work I’d admired from afar.) Their advice to me basically consisted of two points:

  1. You’re going to miss a ferry by a few minutes, and then have to wait an hour.
  2. Keep your project simple. Don’t get too materially or technically involved.

Though I thought that being armed with tip #1 would help me avoid missing the ferry, I did, over and over, often by minutes. Some of the time it was my own fault. I learned that if I’m not focused on getting ready two hours before the ferry, I won’t make it. Some of the time, the trains were running slow, and I’d miss the ferry by three minutes. That was a huge test of my coping skills. Even worse, I’d sometimes try to run small errands, and then miss a second ferry in the same day.

Tip #2 was helpful. Focusing on research rather than production saved my back a lot of strain. While I kept my tools and materials to a minimum, even the minimum is a lot when it has to fit in a backpack, or on a wheeled cart that you’re carrying up stairs in the subway during rush hour. It’s possible to take a car on the ferry, but deciding to keep it simple meant I didn’t need to deal with the logistics that involves.

Moving out. My last load after backpacking things home over several days.

Moving out. My last load after backpacking things home over several days.

It was interesting to get to see more of the harbor, and become part of its rhythms. When the President and the Pope fly out of the heliport next to the ferry building, you learn about MarSec levels (as you’re not going anywhere… but then you get to see a Chinook). Oddly, I think I’m going to miss the ferry itself, especially the Coursen. It’s an interstitial space where the anxiety about possibly missing the ferry melts away. You can be calm, observe the light on the water, get some sun on your skin, and enjoy a short journey. I couldn’t help but envy the crew a tiny bit—it seems like a cool job.

Why: I conducted the research phase of my longterm project, Thought Experiments in Agency. In the beginning, I read a lot—reviewing Tom Finklepearl’s What We Made (again, the introduction is highly recommended!), and reading Julia Bryan-Wilson’s Art Workers and Greg Sholette’s Dark Matter. Later, I also read much of Mobile Autonomy (Dockx & Geilen, eds.).

For the first open studio, I conducted the Artists’ Personal Impacts Survey. I raffled off my Mini Irrational Exuberance Flags. It was difficult to part with them, but seeing how excited recipients were made it OK.

There were 112 visual artists who responded to the survey. There were 40 questions in the survey. There were about 30 questions that were quantitative, and many of those used a 5-point Likert scale. So I did a lot of number-crunching. There were 10 qualitative responses, and the written answers, once compiled, totaled 60 pages. It was great having a huge wall I could dedicate to just looking at the written responses.

Process notes.

Process notes. At right, photos in writer Jessie Chafee’s studio.

I made an oversized table to categorize responses. Categories formed rows; survey questions were the columns.

I made an oversized table to categorize responses. Categories formed rows; survey questions were the columns.

Sketch for a Venn diagram summarizing how respondents will take steps to create or strengthen a more desirable art world.

Sketch for a Venn diagram summarizing how respondents will take steps to create or strengthen a more desirable art world.

Inter/dependence zine launch, with flag and data visualizations.

Inter/dependence zine launch, with flag and data visualizations.

I made a ‘zine, with a 2,000 word essay. Fellow AIRs provided me with great feedback, which was deeply gratifying. I haven’t done any “serious” writing in a while, so it was nice to receive encouragement and validation.

Drawing and necessary drawing tools.

Drawing and necessary drawing tools.

I also did some drawings. A funny thing happened—I finally had a need for the metal eraser guard I saw in other people’s tool boxes in art school. I never owned one or needed one before this, and adding one to my toolkit now seemed comical. I also hand-lettered some quotes, turning the wall into a mind-map of sorts.

I sewed a flag, and painted a t-shirt. See more photos, or order or download a zine.

Fabric paint on tee. I'm thinking this shirt should only be made with the sleeves cut off. The tie-back can be optional.

Fabric paint on tee. I’m thinking this shirt should only be made with the sleeves cut off. The tie-back can be optional.

I pretty much did everything I set out to do. Originally, I set a goal of spending spending 60 days in the studio over the 5-month period. A number of factors conspired against me: the session was actually 4.5 months, I moved houses unexpectedly, I got a job promotion, and some tasks were better done at home (where there was a computer monitor or sewing machine). In total, I spent 32 days at the studio. That’s much less than 60, but I exceeded other goals. Moreover, I feel prepared, focused and also liberated to move forward with other production.

I’m so grateful to LMCC staff, Hank Willis Thomas, Youmna Chlala, Saul Melman, survey respondents, ferry crew, Open Studios visitors, and fellow AIRs who participated in self-organized events, gave me feedback, or otherwise offered camaraderie. Thank you.

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

Inter/dependence was developed as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program in 2015.

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Thought Experiments in Agency

Artists, Self-Care, Psychology and Politics

In thinking about psychological resourcefulness, and how artists might view ourselves, this struck a chord:

“I think of self-care as a political position, which one must take when one is vulnerable to a system that doesn’t recognize and care for you.”

—Shannon Stratton, as quoted by Zachary Cahill, “Exquisite Self-Reliance: Zachary Cahill talks with Shannon Stratton,” The Exhibitionist, August 10, 2015

It was great timing to come across this quote, as I’ve been thinking about artists’ power this past week-and-a-half in LMCC’s Process Space studio program.

Julia Bryan-Wilson: Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era

Julia Bryan-Wilson: Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era // Source: UC Press

I read Julia Bryan-Wilson’s “Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era” (2011), a look at the ‘art worker’ identity vis á vis the Art Workers Coalition and four key figures: Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Lucy Lippard, and Hans Haacke. The book has deepened my understanding of AWC and each of these individuals’ practices, especially how their politics influenced their artistic development and vice versa (rhetoric and a soapbox for Andre, risk and a cynical turn for Morris, public evolution of perspectives for Lippard, and a lost Guggenheim solo show and reinforced beliefs for Haacke).

Hans Haacke, On Social Grease (quote David Rockefeller; one of six panels) 1975. Photograph: Walter Russell. © Hans Haacke/VG Bild-Kunst // Source: tate.org.uk

Hans Haacke, On Social Grease (quote David Rockefeller; one of six panels) 1975. Photograph: Walter Russell. © Hans Haacke/VG Bild-Kunst // Source: tate.org.uk

I especially appreciate the extensive historical context, from the Vietnam War (and burgeoning anti-corporate ethos), the strategy of non-participation in the context of mass strikes and slowdowns, the New Left and the writings of Marcuse, and the rise of second wave Feminism (which ultimately bore the alternative culture the museum-targeting AWC aspired to create). I enjoyed Bryan-Wilson’s embrace of practice-as-rehearsal; ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are criteria too blunt for these shifting developments. She’s a fastidious thinker, using clear language to nimbly explore contradictory aspirations and actions.

Tom Finkelpearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation // Source: Duke University Press.

Tom Finkelpearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation // Source: Duke University Press.

I’ve also recently re-read the introduction and conclusion of Tom Finklepearl’s What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (2013). The introduction is a thorough history of social and relational art, the social history that influenced it, and the books and exhibitions that mark its evolution. It’s a fantastically researched chapter, and if it were up to me, I’d make it required reading.

Finklepearl, formerly of the Queens Museum, profiles a refreshingly diverse set of artists. The conclusion draws upon American philosophical pragmatism, and social relationships and actions as productive fields of practice. It’s an energizing read, which left me thinking about how individuals contribute to groups, and how, in turn, individuals achieve more agency, individuation, and autonomy. A lot of writing about cooperation is based on evolutionary theories, which strikes me as a bit too transactional and calculated. For Finklepearl, the benefits of mutualism extend beyond corporeal or material gain to intrinsic reward and personal growth among participants. The optimism is contagious.

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Art Worlds

To Making Good Vibes

A double-whammy of expanding communities of artists. 

Some of my best moments in life are when I’m surrounded by smart, generous, enthusiastic artists. I’m thankful that I was able to be in that situation twice in the past two days. I am grateful for everything that went into making those moments happen.

Yesterday, I attended the orientation for Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space, a five-month studio residency on Governor’s Island. I was excited about the opportunity but also anxious about meeting 19 strangers! There’s a lot that could go wrong.*

But it went really well—everyone was friendly and excited as we took the ferry across the sunny NY Harbor. When we sat down to get to know each other, it became clear that the participants have an interesting range of advanced inquiries. I was glad to see other POCs and a majority of female participants.

And I was happy that following the official orientation, J organized a happy hour. How I appreciate these social spaces has matured over the years. It’s not only for fun, but to learn more about individuals’ opinions, pasts, and senses of humor; it deepens connection, trust, and empathy. The sooner these spaces happen within any kind of artists’ programs, the better. I’m really excited to continue getting to know my cohorts, working alongside them in Process Space, and building a community of likeminded artists.

Today, I met up with 16 artists from the Artists in the Marketplace program for our informal, for-us, by-us walk-through of the Bronx Calling exhibition at the Bronx Museum. I initiated it because there’s so many strong, smart, and mutually-invested artists in my 2014 cohort, I knew it would be worthwhile to meet members of this year’s group.

I love it when artists talk about their practices and interests in an intelligent, unpretentious, and honest way. It’s great to be able to take in their words and ask them questions in the same space as their original artwork. I’m thankful to the smart, diverse, articulate artists who shared their enthusiasm and attention today.

Making these spaces happen takes initiative, labor, and, risk—you can’t guarantee that people will attend or enjoy themselves. But I would encourage artists: Do it! Why miss an opportunity? Make time and space to have fruitful conversations with other artists about art! If you’re worried about the time commitment, remember that events pass—and so does the labor of organizing them.

The payoff is worth it. Though the happy hour and walk-through were initiated by individuals, they manifested like potlucks—everyone coming to the table with something, like good will, openness, and receptiveness.**

*Recommended satire about social anxiety, see: “Everything I Am Afraid Might Happen If I Ask New Acquaintances to Get Coffee” by Hallie Cantor.

**Of course, these spaces are the cherries on the cake that is the support of LMCC and the Bronx Museum, for whom I’m tremendously grateful.

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