Tom Hayes is an artist, as well as former and future artist residency director. We first met Tom when he was running Da Wang Culture Highland in Shenzhen, then caught up with him again in Guangzhou during his residency at Kiwisual Arteco. He'll be switching gears again very soon to launch a new residency project outside of Zhanjiang this fall, all the while continuing to make his own work.
China Residencies: When did Da Wang close?
Tom Hayes: Da Wang closed officially in March, the owner decided to rent out the space commercially.
CR: Where there any warning signs?
TH: It had always been a possibly that the space could be rented out to the right person. I knew that it could happen.
CR: What is happening to the space?
TH: The exhibition space is now rented now by a club, and the studios will be put up for rent. Da Wang is part of a bigger real estate company founded by Zhang Yufang. He also personally collected a lot early contemporary Chinese art that he sells off sometimes. The broader company had financial issues, so there was no choice but to close the residency.
CR: How much advance notice did you have?
TH: Two months. One resident, Jeff Musser, stayed until March, and another, Liu Haitao, was planning to stay for longer, but I hadn’t fully confirmed any other artists past the new year, and had actually wanted to move more towards hosting groups of artists around a singular theme. We had also started doing these parties with The Real Deal, and getting the artists involved with their warehouse parties. The Real Deal weren’t making any money from it, they are just a group of Chinese and foreigners who did this on the side, and wanted to experience new music. It was free, and the drinks were really cheap. I first went to one of their parties a year and a half ago -- it started out proper rave style, with the location was announced an hour before. Then they kept doing them in different locations, like one of our old warehouses at Da Wang. They ran into some trouble with the police a few months ago, because they weren’t properly announcing their events to the relevant authorities, who are very concerned about large groups of people gathering.
CR: How did you get to Da Wang in the first place?
TH: I came to China for a ceramics residency at Dehua, a place that’s now closed but used to be located four hours from Xiamen. They didn’t have any staff that spoke English, which started me learning Chinese. Then I went on to do the six month Sanbao fellowship in Jingdezhen and had a solo show at the Pottery Workshop. I was thinking of just renting a studio in Jingdezhen, but a friend from Turkey named Eko Yazici who was living in Jingdezhen told me about this opportunity in Shenzhen. My friend was driving down to Hong Kong, so we both went to Wutong mountain to check it out. Then I travelled around India for five months before coming back to Da Wang for a six month residency in the summer of 2011, and when the previous director left, I took over the job of running the residency. I worked on getting the gallery in order, straightened out the accommodations and studios, and started advertising the residency on international platforms. Those initiative really paid off, and in the three years I was there, we hosted around 70 or 80 artists.
CR: And what brought you to this residency at Kiwisual?
TH: Emma [Kiwisual's residency director] came to one of our exhibition openings at Da Wang, then I brought Da Wang artists here to see if we could work together. I was getting ready to leave Da Wang and focus more on my own work, and I also needed to figure out how to get my dog, Labi, back to the UK. So when I found out that Da Wang was closing, it became a great opportunity to take a break and do a residency of my own - just too convenient. And the idea of the stone, this alien egg, fit quite well in the way I wanted to work.
Kiwisual invites artists on short residencies to create a custom stone-shaped sculpture during their stay. There's also a karaoke bar inside that big egg-shaped structure!
CR: When did you get here?
TH: Over a week ago. I submitted a proposal of my project for the stone, but since I come from a ceramics background, I proposed a slightly different concept than just painting on the stone. I needed a space where I could spray ink and that wasn’t too windy, so I turned one of the kitchen spaces into a studio of sorts, but otherwise there isn’t a proper studio space on site.
CR: What do you think of the whole environment?
TH: I prefer to be in spaces like these that are a bit more peaceful. It’s a bit outside the city. It’s a nice environment for Guangzhou, it’s a rare opportunity. It’s well serviced too, it’s a resort really. They clean the rooms, provide three meals a day, albeit currently quite basic. Yesterday a group of people came for a meeting, there was a big lunch.
CR: How much do you interact with the team?
TH: Steven [Kiwisual's art director] isn’t based here, but he wants to make a film about each artist, and really use the whole experience of artists being here as part of their company's portfolio. They create really nice publications, they’re really helpful but they’re not too demanding. They all want to know what I’ve been up to, it makes a big difference.
CR: How are you working with the commercial aspect of this residency?
TH: Well I’m trying to be a little ironic with it, using the pattern of “kou” the character for “mouth” to reference consumption in my work. For me, it’s a fascinating project to work with a plastic stone, since I usually work with real natural materials. I’m happy to produce something for this stone project, and they do really want to take them places and show them in different cities. If it sells, great, they’re very transparent about how the profits will be split, and otherwise this seems to just fit in with some of the work I've been doing recently and I'm enjoying being a full-time artist again, rather than doing all the running around, hair falling out, organising and managing. I’m glad they’re working on showing them in public spaces, to audiences who might never walk into a gallery. Artists like Frog King took the project to heart too, he really thought about how to transfer his work and performance onto this object.