Last year, China Residencies & I: project space launched an open call for the inaugural Residency Knowledge Fellowship, a year-long paid opportunity for a dedicated and aspiring art administrator. Taking place between New York and Beijing, the fellowship is designed to provide hands-on and theoretical training in every aspect of running an international residency program. Our inaugural fellow, Xiaoyao Xu, shares her thoughts on the first part of her fellowship:

What I Learned in New York

When I saw the open call for the fellowship online, I knew I had to apply. It provided a support structure at an intersection of many different fields in a way I had not seen before. The fellowship offered a practical approach for working in contemporary art, while encouraging independent research and theoretical thinking, all with the goal of using the arts to raise questions and address social issues. Like, wow! It was exactly what I was looking for.

I was living in Amsterdam, working at NXS World after finishing my master thesis on knowledge networks and clusters in Rotterdam. Before heading off to New York, I organized Algorithmic Anxiety, an overnight event in an enormous exhibition space where 30 multidisciplinary students discussed how AI will shape the future of design, technology, arts, and society. This experience made me realize that I wanted to continue working on projects that address real-life issues, and that it was time to learn how non-profit spaces and independent platforms work. This was the perfect mindset to start my fellowship with China Residencies. 

I arrived to New York, found a nice flat in Brooklyn, and commuted each day on the J train to Canal Street. We shared office space with Triple Canopy, an independent publication located right in Chinatown. I was not only in the company of good books and people, but I was also in the dream location for lunch: Josue, my co-worker, showed me the most perfectly round and generously glazed BBQ pork buns I've ever had. A block from the office there was a café with fluffy spongecakes (the "Best in Town!" according to the sign outside) and super good Vietnamese iced coffee. I also developed an obsession with a Japanese supermarket around the corner, it became my go-to, cheap breakfast spot with congee and pineapple-buns that were slightly sweet and always oh-so-fresh, with a slice of butter melting in between. I discovered so many new sweets that I started wondering how many other things I didn't know about yet, despite my annual family visits to China each summer

Joe's Steam Rice Rolls, of the many incredibly delicious lunches nearby.

The first time I met Kira and Josue, the New York-based China Residencies team, was at  the first Nightlife Residency artist Bonaventure’s DJ set at Mood RingI was excited and nervous meeting the team on a club-night, but once stepping into Mood Ring the tension completely melted off. The artist-run bar and club in Bushwick was full with a warm crowd -- and it was the first time I understood what people mean when they talk about representation: it was the first experience I can remember being at a club that was majority POC folks, with an all femme-identifying lineup. And Mood Ring's resident DJs and Bonaventure's sets were amazing. You could just get lost in their music and feel amazingly safe and unnoticed in a crowd of very chill people.

One of the first projects I worked on with China Residencies was organizing a talk and book launch for From Memes to Movements by An Xiao Mina, with other talks and performances by Fei Liu and Christina Xu. It's so important to look at Internet-culture from a less Western-centric yet still critical perspective. I learned so much listening to An Xiao, Fei and Christina discussing how both "those in power and those who are challenging it" shape meme culture in China. It was fascinating to reflect on the implications of digital cultural appropriation, as "more than often, the source material doesn‘t matter for Chinese memes. We need to go back and connect the strings of culture." New characters and Chinese pronunciations are being invented every day, and are getting co-opted just as quickly for commercial uses. Christina also mentioned the use of tā (它) as an elegant solution to use a gender-free third pronoun in China.

When we weren't preparing for an event, my main responsibilities were to research residency programs in our network. Before publishing any new residency program's profile or open call, I would interview a person from the residency staff, and also an artist who attended the residency in order to get to know more about the program from all perspectives. Here are some of the interviews I did while in New York: 

  1. Residency Profile of LUCITOPIA with Chen Wei
  2. Residency Profile Ailleurs Lab with Chao Fu-Le
  3. Residency Profile YZ Creative Art Center CAC Center with Olivia Huang
  4. Artist Interview with Ditmar Hoerl at YZ CAC Center
  5. Residency Profile P8 with Dai Zhimin
  6. Residency Profile Points Arts Center with Yoojin Yang
  7. Artist Interview with Huang Tianyou at P8

It was most interesting talking to Yoojin from Points Center and Fu-Le from Ailleurs Lab. Although both residencies opened in the past year and consist of a pretty young team and spirit, I discovered during the interviews how many different paths there are to starting a space. A residency can either start off as an exchange program with an arts school, as in the case of Ailleurs Lab with an art school in Besançon in France. Or it can be founded as an artist residency from the start, by a successful artist who has seen the benefit of these programs firsthand and wants to give back, as in the case of Points Art Center. The diversity of focus and missions is really vast, something that really manifested when we visited the residencies in person during the May research trip. But more about that later, in my second post :-) 

My time in New York coincided with China Residencies' biggest fundraiser, the annual Dumpling Party. I loved the opportunity to help organize this event to make possible a space for people to gather as a community, a space to celebrate, make, and eat dumplings together. I researched all the most delicious potential food and drink sponsors, snagging generous dumpling contributions from East Wind Snack Shop and Luda's Dumplings, as well as alcohol sponsorship from Ming River Baijiu and Tsingtao. Brooklyn-based artist Nicholas Oh made fresh fortune cookies, and the musicians from our Found Sound China program Yehaiyahan, Kayla Briët, Jam No Peanut and eu-IV each gave amazing performances before heading to SXSW to perform! 

China Residencies' 6th Dumpling Party. From left to right, Yehaiyahan, Eddie Lu, Jam No Peanut, Kayla Briët, eu-IV and Kira. Photo credit: Linda Hafeneger

Besides providing direct, hands-on experience, the fellowship also included a dedicated reading day. Each Thursday, I had the opportunity to read up on critical theory and ask questions about any topic that interested me. I learned about institutional structures and the history of the United States from a lesser-told perspective (A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn), how much our behavior and questions to why people behave a certain way is influenced by race (White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo) and how a feminist movement can address a multitude of issues (Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor). I also read Carceral Capitalism, by Jackie Wang, which made me reflect on the prison system in America and how deeply biased it is, and learned about The Coral Project, which aims to create greater safety and more civility in online commenting systems.

    Being in New York meant essentially gave me a great chance to catch up and meeting up with artists, collectives, and attending talks and lectures in person instead of online. During my free time, I visited the CFGNY artists over dinner in the East Village. I had been to one of their performances at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (their statement of how being Asian can be felt and shown today was another inspiration for me to apply to the Fellowship!). Sessions at the School for Poetic Computation (SFPC) made learn about coding fun and approachable, launching discussions on how computation and artistic practices can happen in a very out-of-the-box thinking style. I spent some Friday afternoon sessions at the Making and Being lecture series of BFAMFAPhD at Hauser & Wirth, which encourages a critical discourse around initiating projects in the contemporary moment. Later on, I met up with artist Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, who I interviewed for my master thesis at the Sonic Acts Festival about how taking parts in arts festivals function as an integral part of her practice. I also became familiar with the work of the activist collective “Working Artists and the Greater Economy”, in short W.A.G.E. Their mission is to establish sustainable economic relationships between artists and institutions, and to introduce mechanisms for self-regulation into the art field that collectively bring about a more equitable distribution of its economy. W.A.G.E. is one many example of collectives setting the standards of how artists should be paid and fighting the the notion of unpaid or underpaid labor in the arts. 

    Photos from one of the shows I visited during our designated reading days on Thursdays, from exhibit "Homeward Bound: Global Intimacies in Converging Chinatowns," curated by Diane Wong and Huiying B. Chan at Pearl River Mart.

    Through this first part of the fellowship, I’ve realized how important it is for young people to have the opportunity to practice and expand on both practical and theoretical knowledge because oftentimes, such space and place to reflect on what is going on in the world and to see how we can work on it is missing. 

    Here are some insights that I'm carrying with me as I continue my life mission to bridging and creating cultural projects with cool people around the world: 

    1. - Creative organizations are all connected to each other - for better or for worse.
    2. - It is important to recognize *who* grants access to the greater creative economy. By identifying gatekeepers, we can open access for more people to be able to make a living as artists.
    3. - It is necessary to understand how funding systems are structured in each local context. 

    4. - Organizing and planning well in advance is key, and how to do it on a tight schedule.
    5. - Creative projects should bring people and communities together instead of setting them apart.
    6. - As creative professionals, we must be good neighbors. We must learn how to redistribute our resources to support important projects that need help to exist in the world -- especially projects by people subjected to structural marginalization.
    7. - Strong, stable, sustainable support structures are possible and essential for creative scenes around the world. It's not an either/or, they can ALSO run on lot of love and a lot of fun while still working effectively!

    I am excited for the next chapter of this Fellowship in Beijing! My other big project before leaving New York was to organize the 2019 research trip, with its aim to visit all the new residencies that launched in the past year. Stay tuned for a recap of our 8-city monthlong voyage in part 2!