Sock Exchange, FACT

Sock Exchange, FACT, Climate For Change, 2009

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See project details:



Making and Mending, Smith’s Row reprise

How can we sustain civilization in context of the multiple crises affecting the world: ecological, financial, food, housing. Is society itself becoming unsustainable?

When we raise the issue of climate change, we recognise the cause and effects are intricate, complicated and we doubt whether globally we can meet emissions targets in time. Carbon footprint from overseas travel, over saturated land fills, rapidly vanishing biodiverse ecosystems; it is impossible for us to shrug off the effects of global warming any longer since the impacts are now.

Do we think about the smaller details though and how we can consider our place within impetus for change? Three-quarters of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have been pumped into fields to yield enough cotton for one pair of your skinny jeans.

When you get past your shirt and down to your underwear, you’re practically a walking carbon sink! And, what about those socks?! It’s been quite an exploration for me to uncover our last standing sock manufacturers here in the UK, the socks your wearing right now were probably imported from Turkey or China or produced by one of a handful of UK sock businesses. Packaging, dying, manufacture… The supply chain goes on but what about the production of the yarn itself and where it all begins?


Excerpt from curator Heather Corcoran’s and my own blog:

April saw tremendous activity and an immersive Sock Exchange experience at FACT. Curator Heather Corcoran says:
Week 4
We’re just wrapping up this week and its been madness again! The main event was a residency by local artist Kai-Oi Jay Yung, featuring the project Sock Exchange – using the humble sock as a means to uncover the production methods of the clothing industry. Jay has been in resident all week darning and mending holey socks as a symbol of the depression-era “make do and mend” attitude, alongside a documentary about sock production methods. She’s invited in all sorts of local knitting groups to work with her making and mending socks – and showing off her trilingual language skills in communicating with the many school groups who have dropped in this week. She also brought in an elaborate electronic knitting contraption, right up FACT’s alley! The photos of Jay interacting with FACT’s drop in audiences are bound to be incredible – she has completely transformed Gallery 1 this week with her sock project and tireless communication.

We also welcomed our next set of Eyebeam residents – Senior Fellow Jeff Crouse and Director of Technology Emma Lloyd. They’ve just arrived and are gearing up for their next 10 days in residence, but already they’ve got plans for some amazing recycled computer game programming workshops for kids… more on that later, but for now, in Jeff’s words: “Jay is recycling socks, I’m recycling computers”.

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My blog entries :

Sock Exchange was an intensive week of performative interaction with visitors on many levels, from those who took the time to sift through their sock drawer and send me copious generous parcels of their clean, odd and holey socks to darn and make available for others to use, to those who travelled to FACT for ‘Sock Exchange’ in April, armed with their personal sock supply.

‘Sock Exchange’ was not so much a trade of goods but dialogue, the sock was deployed as a tool to mine people’s thoughts about deeper and more impenetrable issues of climate change through the specific channels of activity I planted throughout the week. This involved social networking groups from near and far with whom I made links and invited to occupy FACT with me- from knitters to darners, spinners and sock sellers. My ‘SockOmeter’ carbon/methane calculation and ‘Socking’ documentary video effectively captivated people’s attention from all ages and backgrounds. I could tell because people spent time in the gallery with me, or came back with friends, family or more socks.

The challenge for me was to disarm people’s expected responses about climate change in order to penetrate and unleash their instinctive thoughts in a way that surprised their own realisation of how much they knew, wanted to find out more or did not realise. The creative process for me was to engage in an invisible way,creativity became means; yet with each action of spinning, learning, appreciating the creative aesthetic of tactility, exchange, conversation, activism became a sock puppet or a sharing of minds across languages and ways of making.

Funnily enough, visitor/participants came to me with open hearts and minds after I welcomed them with what Sock Exchange and the environment I installed/carved could offer them. In the meantime, it was unsurprising that those who questioned the nature of what my art was, attempt to pin and categorise came from more from other artists who seemed to react to my project in offense as figurative to cubism. (isn’t art meant to be looked at? Is the Sock’O’metre…  real?)

For me, most important is those that don’t usually make it though gallery doors. Socking off, don’t throw them away please, we’ll need all our resources this way.

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14 Apr 2009
Wow, what an incredible week of people, construction, activity and dialogue Sock Exchange has been! When I was first approached to take part in the initially entitled Un:Sustainable exhibition back in September 2008 by FACT, I could feel my internal artbeat pulse faster. Climate For Change exhibition meant further converging my pathways and providing a canvas for me to investigate and mine our micro-dotted lives within our suffering bio-diverse environment,  from my first ever bio-morphic blob sculpture- “this is all fruit and sex”, pleasure of consumption and hyper speed of the symptomatic/fuel to our economic crisis and food shortage – Sock Exchange is as much about addressing our impotence to act on even an individual level.We get lost so easily.

Animating the 2-d surface to forging a hub of activity and catlaysing the creativity of others across languages, technology, abilities has been driving forward my undertakings which have taken me far and wide across our breathing biosphere. From Palm Springs to Munich, 18th century Bavarian ruler to trampolining mystic seer, my most recent projects include multi-sensory installation and curatorial project  Paradise Stories which triggered and re-created a physical manifestation of our environment, Liverpool’s urban regeneration against Capital of Culture backdrop, mimicking aspirations and lives of the city’s residents from taxi drivers to Feng Shui experts. (Paradise Stories site).

From Libya with British Council to recent Grizedale commission to China, a journey which saw my integration and working alongside two local family businesses (Happy Stacking) and mining of the food production; visual art/craft-tech flux of how art can infiltrate lives and inject an entirely new way to live and work- my diverse projects are about how art can empower us with hope and confidence to act again.

So here I am at the end of the Socking week, simultaneously tired but at once re-energised – inspired by the people I’ve met, the scintillation of creativity I may have harnessed-thanks to the humble sock. Knitted, cotton, bamboo, 5 for a pound, anti-bacterial, holey, smelly, sweaty, day-glo, market Hike (not quite Nike); what a weapon.

I’ve been accumulating the thoughts of what Sock Exchange unraveled- from those who actually sent me socks far and wide (furthest pair: Singapore), those who dropped in unknowingly into Sock Exchange, who spent the whole day or picked up my flyer in Newcastle and came back with relatives for the bank holiday.

My favourite comment was from 8 year old Jenny- “This is the most fun I’ve had with socks, I love socks!”.
An encounter included a lady who travelled all the way from Scotland to bring down her ‘Holy Socks’; as a nun, this is true. Branded with bulrushes and in little packs with a story CD and text tale; that’s new media.

As for the oceanographers, TU’s, ex Woolies workers, if we have to act on climate change, the collective potential of each and everyone was voiced through my exchanges with them. The sock became coral bleaching, land fills, nuclear power, a Spiderman fighting swamp, Mildred the Witch, urban planning in Tel Aviv, Norwegian knitting habits, co-co bean and mohair.

If we want to keep on, we need to do this.
So, it’s been a thoroughly immersive experience, FACT facilitated a space for me to breath my art. Residency, local, international, performance, video, object, craft …. call it what you want. The little and the big folk got stuck in and we had a blast. I may consider taking this up or down, west or east, that would truly make my wigwam hut nomadic, sockIMG_9170.JPGs may travel yet….  For FACT, if it has been about social groups and people in the space – then it must also be about relationships and supporting the artist, albeit furry, it’s certainly a kinky bold step made for walking a certain gallery dynamic. Roads must roll.

Watch Excerpt of documentary Socking

Sock Exchange, Gallery Activity, 2 mins 52 secs, FACT, 2009

Sock Exchange Invited Social Groups, 54 secs, FACT, 2009

Sock Exchange, Darning, 2 mins 35 secs, FACT, 2009

Sock Exchange has concluded for now, Sock antics will be relocating later this year for a two day event… Smiths Row, Bury St Edmunds.

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