Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Charlie Booth interviews Gayle Chong Kwan

Curatorial Fellow, Charlie Booth, took a break from installing the current exhibition, Betwixt and Between, to catch up with artist Gayle Chong Kwan. Chong Kwan experiments with overlooked objects to explore the space between imagination and reality through constructed landscapes. 

Over a cup of coffee she asked her a few questions about her artistic practice and the upcoming show and managed to gather some advice for my own project opening in December at South Square Gallery.  

CB: You have a long history of exhibiting in a diverse range of locations and countries, what drew you to show at Thornton and South Square Gallery? 

GCK: I first came to South Square Gallery over a year ago because there was a possibility of a commission with the Bronte Parsonage. I was initially drawn to apply for the opportunity because of my PhD research in which I am looking at artist’s imaginary worlds and I was interested in the miniature creations in the early books produced by the Bronte Sisters. 

When I came to South Square Gallery I was surprised to find a contemporary gallery so successfully combining the historical with the modern. My academic background is in history and politics and notions of archive and so historic spaces have been part of my research. I am also drawn to exhibit in slightly unconventional gallery spaces as well as in the public realm. 

CB: How would you say your academic background influences your artistic processes?

GCK: In some way it’s strange when you go to art college; you think you almost have to let go of methodologies that you have previously developed. When I went to Central Saint Martins College of Art I soon realised that actually it was all those methodologies and interests that became the driving force behind my own artistic process. In a way with all the projects that I do there’s an element of research or engagement within a context or a particular community as well, quite a lot of my work are one or two year projects that will be rooted within very specific locations, such  as a project I did in Berlin with the city’s allotments, or the large-scale photographic work I developed for London Underground. 

I think research and scientific methodologies weave in and out of my practice. I don’t really see a separation because I think they are all related. In fact, I have previously created work amongst historical collections as well as contemporary galleries; so sometimes I bring things to the venue as well as take things away. 


CB: As an artist who exhibits internationally, working amongst and with a broad range of communities and locations; has there ever been an instance where its felt problematic to come in to another new place as an outsider?

GCK: I think in some way I’m looking for a place to belong and by doing these projects I’ve sort of become and been taken under the wing by particular areas and the people. I’m always curious by and slightly envious of people’s rootedness with landscapes in which they live or were born – perhaps because I’m betwixt and between myself. I believe it’s a sort of fruitful, creative thing being inbetween though. I think that by the end of my residencies and projects I do sort of end up belonging to those communities in a way, it complicates as well as reassures my sense of place and belonging.

CB: Some of your earlier work has been influenced by your own diverse family identity – do you find that you are drawn to projects that you already have a personal connection to?

GCK: I think in some ways experiences can become part of your personal background; your identity is not necessarily limited to your familial heritage. For example I helped fund my way through art college by working as a chef in large scale catering and so some of my earlier projects were based around food, but that is only one part of the work I make, and wider issues of post-colonial history, trade, and consumption have always interested me.

CB: South Square Gallery is committed to being a test-bed for experimental and original work? How have you found experimenting and creating Betwixt and Between without a set brief? 

GCK: I’ve used this opportunity as a chance to ask questions to myself and of my work. I find that often an experimental body of work has a different level of finish, it is more of an open-ended questioning, I sometimes prefer the conversational aspect than idea of a completely ‘finished’ work. 


CB: I am currently planning a series of residencies here at South Square (Dec 14-Jan 15) and a  lot of your previous commissions have been part of residencies- I’m eager to find out your experience of, and what you think about, residency programmes?

GCK: There was a point when I had spent almost three or four years going from residency to residency; however that was a particular moment in my life where I could do that.

Residencies are very interesting because it relates to how you reside in a space but there is a catching up needed; the art world needs to do to accommodate different people’s needs.  Now I have a four-year old son, I have to approach residencies in a different way and negotiate them; however sometimes it’s just not possible to do them. As a female artist with children I would estimate that 70% of the residencies are not possible for me. 

I think that during residencies there can be this emphasis on continuously making new things and quite often you don’t have the time to stop and reflect about what is important. Residencies leave you in a state where you are always arriving and making new work. 

The residencies that I now look for involve much more focused bursts of activity or over a much longer timeframe, which is particularly important in terms of work within communities. There was one curator who said that going for one long stint of a residency just doesn’t work. They suggested that you go first for some initial visits, then you go away to ingest and finally come back to create the work, which I think is an interesting way of approaching them. People have to negotiate how they work for them because everybody has different techniques and processes. I do enjoy residencies because they get you get out of your own personal studio, though I’ve never been the kind of artist who just stays inside in their studio. I feel that studios for artists should not just be a fixed place but much more than that. They are in a world, within a context and made by the people who live there. 

Betwixt and Between 
02 Aug- 21 Sept 2014

18 Sept - Artist talk 7pm, Food and Drink 8pm 



Tuesday, 27 May 2014

'MISS' by Roy Voss



Charlie Booth writes:

On an unusually sunny day for March, David Knowles, Roy Voss and I took a trip to the neighbouring village of Haworth to visit the meadow at the Brönte Parsonage, one of the new sites for MISS.

MISS is the latest in a series of annual commissions for South Square Gallery, developed in partnership with the Brönte Parsonage Museum, which provide the opportunity for artists to engage with the context of the surrounding landscape.

Roy Voss, a London based artist will use the Brönte Meadow to site a series of ‘signs’ or ‘notices’ amongst the natural landscape, repeated three times they will spell MISS.
Giving the heavy significance Voss places on the single word within his work during the site visit I asked him to expand on the significance of the word ‘Miss’:
‘Given we are in Bronte country, there is an idea of missing the three Misses. Miss is simply a title that suggests singleness or youth. It could also suggest a longing for someone or something, but it has several other meanings of course: To not hit a target, to fail to be somewhere, to overlook or not comprehend something, to not take a chance, to fall short.’

Voss’ signs will be made from untreated steel which will gradually begin to rust, so as to form a kind of physical proof of the weather, rather than being weatherproof. It is possible to draw links between the literary work of the Bronte sisters and Voss signs, as the Brönte sisters’ work are heavily influenced by the dramatic, unruly nature of the Moor’s weather. I think his choice of material is particularly fitting for the context of the piece, when you consider the surrounding industries located on Thornton Road. As I travel to South Square and drive through the outskirts of Bradford up to Thornton I pass many industrial builders yards and steel works. By locating manufactured steel structures directly in to the picturesque rural landscape, I see in Voss’ work the connotations of the historical landscape of the area; a history of industry and manufacturing in the heart of the picturesque Yorkshire countryside.
Running simultaneously alongside the work at the Brönte Parsonage, Voss will open an exhibition within the South Square Gallery. A theatrically over-sized backdrop cuts diagonally across the first space, emphasising the domestic scale and feel of the room.

In what will become the second gallery space, small collages featuring found images and words will hang. Synonymous with the tourist industry, postcards are used as mementoes of the picturesque settings of destinations, but also as correspondence between absent loved ones. In my opinion, by selecting singular words frequently written on the back of postcards, such as ‘MISS’, Voss is highlighting the absence of the intended receiver.



 Located within some of Voss’ previous work there is a commentary on English tourism marketing strategies. By simultaneously emphasising the depiction of the ‘ideal’ countryside, as seen in his picturesque epic scenery, he suggests that this ‘ideal’ is a façade to the reality of the countryside. That a postcard selects what the visitor wishes to remember about the visit – an idyllic holiday, or it serves to communicate with the absent loved one that they somehow missed out, ‘wish you were here’.

Personally, the hand-painted backdrop and the postcards placed together in the exhibition comment on the attempt by the tourism industry have to portray a realistic and authentic image of the countryside. Yet both are selected and edited and become a constructed view designed to promote the locale and attract more visitors. They ignore some of the many other less attractive issues prevalent in rural communities.

Accompanying MISS, Voss has created a special edition print booklet which will be available at sites, South Square gallery and Brönte Parsonage Museum.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014