Alex Lebbink runs a marvelous gallery on a beautiful spot in the center of The Hague called SinArts.
I have known Alex for quite some time; we worked together at a Turkish art organization in Amsterdam. Funny, because Alex is a sinologist. Apart from Uyghur culture I don’t see a connection, but what the hell.
There are probably not that many sinologists brave enough to dive into the almost impermeable world of contemporary commercial art. Chinese or Asian contemporary art in this case. Alex does it with heart and soul. And I love the way he does it. He organizes lectures, sends out extensive (very academically oriented) newsletters and connects the gallery to anything that’s going on it the Asian cultural networks.
For this upcoming Saturday he invited me to do a public conversation with Yung-shan Tsou. Needless to say she currently has a show at the gallery which opened last Friday, October 27th. I know she would be grateful if I called her a Berliner, but her name probably already reveals her Taiwanese origin. On the other hand, even JFK got away with it, and at least Yung-shan has been living there for 17 years.
The title I gave to Saturday’s conversation I lend from a Radiohead song: Where I End and You Begin. I love this song. Looking at Yung-shan’s work reminded me of it. I hadn’t heard it in a while. The song describes the sometimes endless gap between the ‘you and me’. We all know and experience it now and then. It is exactly that space Yung-shan invites us into. A form of in-betweenness that she also speaks of when we meet. I know exactly what she means.
She creates the kind of work that you intuitively understand at first glance, but it takes a little bit more time to find the words that go along with it. Yung-shan creates books that give a whole new meaning to the possibilities that books normally hand out to us. To her a book is a free space, a public space, where you and I can come together and become anything we’d like. She the creator, I the perceiver, and dweller, where we both act as hide-and-seekers. Without words even. Just with things that maybe reminds us of words, or even less than that. “Typology or Chinese characters, they all become too symbolic and at the same time empty,” she says. “By now I entirely stopped using them. You can still find them in the older books.” No words required; it becomes so obvious in her space.
I feel like Yung-shan likes to hide between te pages. She knows her way around, she is running up front, leaving little traces behind. Like Hanzl und Gretl‘s tiny breadcrumbs for you to find, or like the little ‘Heinzelmenschen’ she made work about in 2016. In her case the breadcrumbs she leaves are an entire world in itself: paintings, sticky matter, little traces that remind you of centuries of book binding or seventies pamphlets. Even the East German obsession with public administration comes to mind. Stapled together, pasted, stained at the back by carefully applied forms painted in oil paint. Little booklets within pages, tiny stickers we all know and wonder what they are for, pieces of envelopes, some with little windows in them where things appear behind…
I carefully take one of her ‘Aufzeichnungen‘ off the table in the gallery. “Take it towards the light in the window pane. Use it as a book” she tells me. When I get to some pages that are pasted together, she tells me to “just rip them apart!”. It’s the soundtrack to her work, she explains to me. When I look at the work I feel a space beyond the place I occupy right now. It feels like a trick. At the same time it reminds me of something my mother used to tell me: “Nobody will ever ask you to pay toll for your thoughts”, meaning that in my head I am always safe and free. Yung-shan’s books seem to create a safe space for my thoughts, without me writing them down. In a way it adds a new chapter to Roland Barthes’ La Mort de L’Auteur.
Later that day Yung-shan sends me one of the short stories she has written. And again I’m being drawn into a space, a public space, where she wants me to enter, watch, listen, let her lead me into… No, not the garden of Eden. The chaos of life, of how her protagonist, a young aspiring photographer, perceives life. I get it. I felt the same thing today. The world is becoming more and more complicated. At least her books are giving me an alternative space I’d like to reside in. It is like what De Certeau’s speaks of in his Practice of Everyday Life. She just gave me a new tool, a new tactic, to escape the agonizing structures of modern politics and commercial spaces. Life Hack! Yes!
Yung-shan Tsou on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anthrazit/sets/72157621827106295