A-N Interview


Kai-Oi Jay Yung talks to Kate Brundrett

Kai Oi Jay Yung, 'Sock Exchange', 2009

Kai Oi Jay Yung, ‘Sock Exchange’, 2009

Kai-Oi Jay Yung is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Liverpool. Since graduating from the University of Dundee in 2006 she has worked prolifically on exhibitions and international residencies, responding to the space and culture she occupies within them.

Your work comprises of a number of different channels to communicate your ideas – installation, video, drawing, sculpture, sound works, curatorial.

Multi-tasking! Yes, the roles and activities amalgamate like a huge blob! Others are persistent to categorise? Is there a need, as artists do we have to do this?

Making entails a degree of proposal writing, organising, etc – it’s a curatorial management role in itself. But I don’t call myself a curator – I feel uncomfortable with that. I like to think I orchestrate. The term curating is too definite. The way Grizedale work in a curatorial sense is good, for example Alistair Hudson and Adam Sutherland work curatorially in a strategic way, they orchestrate but almost invisibly.

I morph in and out of categories. Other people treat you differently according to which ‘role’ – I think people have expectations.

You’ve just returned from Lithuania, how did this residency come about?

This residency came about on invitation – a nice context, straightforward. The mission was to generate new work for a stark children’s hospital. My work thrives off being in a new environment and the challenges this creates.  Lithuania has gone through a dramatic transition in the last 10 years, from Soviet Communist infrastructure to Vilunius as European Capital of Culture. The project was the largest funded within their programme, but their way of operating in the arts is a contrast to the UK.

It was the first time I’ve worked in this way in terms of being  presented with allocated materials to work with, almost a design led project that will be manufactured, whereas I usually do everything from concept to creation in quite an open, biomorphic manner. I created a series of interactive Puzzle Peace jigsaws compositions that will transpire in September, 2009.

You say earlier that you thrive off new environments, and since leaving college you’ve worked in Scotland, San Francisco, China, Lithuania and next France. At what point were you aware that this way of working was central to your practice?

At Uni I realised this, in my second year. I was painting at the time and dealing more overtly with issues surrounding identity, my Chinese heritage. I was working late at college having already been assessed  trying to rectify tone on a painting, which one tutor had criticised as ‘too high’. Another tutor happened to pass by and  quizzed why I was still there. He retorted that for me it wasn’t about tone, that I was mostly certainly  “developing  an individual language” – that really made me understand. My work did not need to follow a rigid tradition or style since I was created my own style, which was to mutate across video, installation, and performance.

My first residency was at Cove Park in Scotland, invited by my tutor Graham Fagen in my final year. It was such a contrasting context to university studio, even though it was in the UK with Faslane up the road and pure rural abstraction. I felt like I was in my own art playground. So the thirst for more extreme places started. You can be anywhere – it’s how your head interprets it.

Graham was a fantastically supportive tutor. I remember he talked about forms and formers. With him I learnt to follow my instincts.

Before you studied art you held a degree in French and worked in PR in London. Do you feel this has had an impact on the work you do?

PR was a multi-level way of working, you’re never doing the same thing from day to day. I’d be writing press releases for Microsoft and organising their events, but I realised there was something missing, I missed making.

The skills I picked up through PR have been really useful of course, but I don’t think it reflects on the content of my work.

So what motivates you / your work?

World peace!

I live to hold a playful critical mirror to people to raise awareness of their surroundings and act as a catalyst to allow them to see some sort of change so they can be happier.

I find interest in the absurdities of our individual lives and our own daily routines, how we try to achieve happiness.

What point are you now?

I’ve been fortunate since I left college with a stream of various projects – I’ve had just two weeks off since I left, over Christmas and was slightly bemused.

I’m looking forward to the Bauhaus Lab residency in Marseilles at La Friche Belle De Mai, which I’ll be undertaking in August/September. It’s my own project, Tarot De Marseille, a video installation with workshops and an exhibition. I’m looking forward to exploring and getting to know the city, it’s been ten years since I was last there.

Your last two residencies have been on invitation.

Yes, I have applied in the past for Arts Council England funding however for research work.

During my exhibition Sock Exchange at FACT, Liverpool, I was invited by a visiting curator who heard about my participation to undertake Sock Exchange at Bury St Edmunds Gallery in October as part of a show called ‘Making and Mending’. These invites redeem your hard work!

I’ve been quite independent in the way that I work, I don’t belong to a collective or studio group for example. I find it can be quite limiting to adhere to a particular collective, I want to keep my way of working open and fluid, to constantly collaborate with new  people and contexts in an organic manner.

I showed at an art fair when I left college and found myself caught between a gallery and commission. It didn’t make sense to me that I was in that position. Artists really need to consider carefully about choosing the right gallery or dealer to work with, and whether they share the same values. It’s about trust. Trust is really key.

I’ve also been selected for the Guardian/Courvoisier Future 500, which is really a good opportunity to network with peers across disciplines from entrepreneurs to scientists and fellow artists.

What downfalls have you experienced along the way?

My plants have wilted since I’ve been away doing the residencies, I’m trying to revive them on the windowsill! I’ve also learned a lot about the many different ways of making and the structures that house your making process or product. You try and have the right set of values and thinking, but some people might not share them. It can be difficult.

So what is your day to day practice like?

It depends on what projects I am working on. I know that today will be a making day – each day is never the same.

I don’t have a studio. I work from my laptop a lot. I got  Arts Council England funding to generate new work and went to California and Hong Kong for an exhibition at Cornerhouse gallery, so I will need a studio space for this project. Not having a studio means not being confined to a space.

I think there are the same concerns about being an artist, whether you are emerging or established professional. There are the same things to deal with.

I have just launched a website, which today can be quite static, more a mega-archive of my work. Social networking platforms such as Facebook are more flexible for ongoing work and Myspace as well functions for individual projects.

My blog though is a self-managing way of updating.

What would you advise graduates or emerging artists?

Stay true to your values.

Be aware of others, but be contstantly critical of your own practice. I know where my practice is. I love visiting galleries, but I don’t compare myself to other artists.

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