Our Residency Knowledge Fellow Xiaoyao Xu visited FQ Projects during her second research trip. FQ Projects is a non-profit gallery and art space located in the middle of the city center in Shanghai. Here is an interview which resulted from this visit, in which Michelle Ni, the founder of FQ Projects, explains more about their mission:
CR: FQ Projects started out first in 2008 as a gallery space, now you have added an education part or focus in your space since 2015. How did the idea of starting FQ project come about?
MN: I have always thought that art is for everyone, and the works can interact with everyone. So I started this name as a non-profit and wanted to work on some interesting and fun humanities projects, but during that time when I started - around 2007 and 2008, there was no such environment in Shanghai, neither in an academic or commercial sense. Therefore, I could only present some of my favorite works and display them in such an environment as FQ Projects. In 2008, we did make a project, Yang Yongliang’s “Tu Long Ji”. After that, there have been fewer installations and projects going on, and it is really because of the opportunity and the overall environment. Our space is located right in the city center, and the rent is quite expensive, and it’s not like I have not personally invested in this place. This is why I am cherishing that I am able to follow my practice at the moment.
CR: You mentioned that in the beginning when FQ started, many other gallery spaces in Shanghai at that time were doing one-month long exhibitions. You decided on the duration of your exhibitions of two months, which is still going on until today. What does this say about the creative scene in Shanghai?
MN: To hold one exhibition every month is to create a lot of relationships with many artists, to see the market reaction to an artist is, and basically functions as a screening mechanism. I personally feel that I can't do an exhibition for a month. So the period of an exhibition at FQ Projects is at least 2 months! So this is a business decision, and it has nothing to do with creativity, but also reflects the flourishing environment of the art market at that time.
FQ Projects: the gallery from the outside, and the artists' room and storage space.
CR: FQ Projects is situated in one of the preserved housing areas in Shanghai directly accessible from the Huaihai road (one of the oldest shopping streets in Shanghai). How did you decide on the location?
MN: I am a child who grew up in a downtown residential area, so this is the environment I am familiar with. Since I have the right to choose where I want to live, I decided to live in the longtang [the typical narrow streets and neighborhoods in Shanghai], also with the hope to have more contact and interaction with this area.
CR: And how has the location influenced the way of working for you, and also for people who were exhibiting at FQ projects?
MN: People still identify themselves through their community. This is why I chose this place, to always be able to go back and forth easily between my work and home environment. The artists and staff who participate in the gallery exhibition are mostly local and familiar with the busy life of the city, so it is like speaking in a common language.
CR: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
MN: Ever since growing up during elementary school, middle school, and high school I was living in a small area close to the gallery [FQ Projects]. I am one of the few high school graduates who gave up the college entrance examination and chose to go to work directly. After 9 years of gap year after my education, I chose to go to the UK to study art. Apart from being in the UK for 6 years, I have been living in Japan for a few months. At other times, I can say that I have spent all my life working and living in the center of Shanghai. After returning to the UK in 2007, the non-profit gallery was opened in 2008, and I had children in the same year. When I was running a gallery, I had been experimenting with art education intermittently. This may be related to the art and the public.
CR: What is your role in the residency?
MN: I actually have this idea [about starting an artist residency]. I haven’t really tried it yet. After our encounter, the encouragement has led to the launch of the artist’s resident project. However, we are just at the starting point and have had no experience yet. The original intention of opening an artist residency is to be able to be doing more interesting projects with interesting people. In this regard, there is still a lot we can learn.
CR: How many people are on staff running the residency?
MN: In the past few years, FQ Projects has consisted of me and a full-time assistant, and interns or some other part-time staff. All the work that started last year at FQ Projects in cooperative work with part-time colleagues. I think that this might be the case in the future, to work with freelancers.
Artworks hanging in FQ Project (both by Chai Yiming 柴一茗).
CR: When visiting FQ Projects, you showed me the room in which resident artists have previously lived and worked. It was a single room with tatami flooring on the second floor inside the three-floor building. What are the other facilities and utilities the artist can use during their stay at the residency?
MN: There are showers, kitchens, studios, and the entire house without the reserved space can be used by the artist-in-residence.
CR: What expenses does the residency cover? What does the residency provide for artists? What must the artist provide for themselves?
MN: The residency consists of sleeping facilities, restroom and kitchen. The kitchen is at the moment not yet equipped with cooking equipment, as we are located in the middle of the city center and thus very convenient to get some food outside. It’s still a bit troublesome to cook yourself here. If the future artist-in-residence prefers to cook, we can also prepare everything for that.
There will be also space provided for the artist to work, the area around FQ Projects with its residents and neighbors. This is actually also one of the requirements for the residency program, that is to have the artists work on something which will relate to and have an impact on the local neighborhood. To create works which are related to the local community which can lead to deeper thinking or social exploration, or coming from a research background. The residency will cover the living costs of the artists: water, electricity and internet costs.
The artists need to buy art materials, supplies, and their own meals.
CR: Since 2015, you have started an education part for children and host artist talks, workshops and children’s classes during the week and on weekends. Are other opportunities available for visiting artists to share their work with the public?
MN: FQ Projects will organize a meeting where the artist-in-residence can carry out workshops with the children who attend the children’s classes. Also, it is possible and wished for to open up an interactive session possibilities for feedback during their activities. It also allows the artist to build up a relationship with neighbors as much as possible, so that neighbors may also bring inspiration and/or materials in any form to the artist. Finally, at the end of the residency, FQ Projects and the artist invite the friends of the artists as well as everyone else who has been in contact with the artist for a session to view the artist's work.
CR: You told me some previous artists have lived and worked at FQ project as part of a pre-residency program. What artists have been staying at FQ projects, and what were they working on?
MN: This has not happened yet. The people who lived before were the teachers of art education. So in a sense, they could not be regarded as resident artists, as also they did not create works for this purpose.
CR: What is the minimum and maximum length of the stay?
MN: The length of the stay ranges from one week minimum to three months maximum.
CR: What kinds of artists does your residency host? Your gallery space is looking to support young contemporary Chinese artists, who often have a background in traditional painting or sculpture. Is it only for contemporary Chinese artists, or do you also accept proposals for writers or other creative practices?
MN: We are currently just starting the first residency with an artist. We do not presuppose that the artist, writer or any other person must come from one certain field, for example as artists, scholars or researchers, as long as their proposal is connected to the local neighborhood and this community.
CR: Also, what range of experience are you looking for in potential artists in residence?
MN: FQ Projects looks for artists with interesting, qualitative practices, in-depth thinking and practical experience.
CR: Do the artists leave work once the residency is done? What are some of the must do’s for the artists as part of the residency agreement?
MN: We ask for an open studio and a workshop, which can be either for adults, either for kids, or even for parents. Most artists also would like the possibility to show their work at the end of their stay.
CR: As a gallery, how do you decide to help artists in residence to sell their work?
MN: If the artist is interested in selling the work, we can talk about displaying and promoting the work on our platform with our existing resources, and of course, if it meets some standards that we think before it can be sold: the work needs to be interesting, have superb quality or show depth, or is attracting the viewer in certain ways.
CR: What are the do’s and don’ts? Are there any requirements or rules for the artists?
MN: There are no specific rules for the working content of resident artists. Of course, they need to conform to the local law and have a common sense. For the space, it is necessary to abide by the safety rules and also use some common sense rules of conduct. Because it is a residential area, they cannot affect the daily life or security of the neighbors.
CR: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mission, or the opportunities you provide for artists?
MN: In fact, an art space and artists are a complement to each other. We keep on being attracted to each other and keep on providing opportunities to each other. This interactive process is the main goal, but how to make the project survive in a longterm-meaning has always been a problem and still needs to be figured out.
CR: 您提到，非青计划开始的时候，上海其他画廊都在进行为期一个月的展览。 您决定两个月的展览时间，直到今天仍然如此。 这对于上海的创意场景有什么看法？
CR: 非青计划位于上海保存完好的住宅区之一，可从淮海路（上海最古老的购物街之一）直接进入。 您是怎么决定这个地方的？
MN: 我从小在画廊附近的区域读的小学，中学，高中，我是少数放弃高考选择去上班的高中毕业生。9年的gap year后我选择了去英国读艺术本科，除了6年在英国，有几个月在日本，其他时间可以说全部在上海的市中心生活和工作度过。 2007年英国回来后，08年就开了非青计划画廊，同年有了孩子。 在经营画廊的时候其实断断续续一直有尝试艺术教育，这可能和我觉得艺术和大众相关有关系。
CR: 在参观非青计划时，您向我展示了居住艺术家以前居住和工作的房间。 你们有一间屋子，二层上。 艺术家在驻留期间可以使用的其他设施和设施是什么？
CR: 驻留费用包括哪些费用？ 驻留者为艺术家提供什么？ 艺术家需要为自己提供什么？
CR: 从2015年，您开始了儿童教育部分，在周末举办艺术家讲座，研讨会和儿童班。 访问艺术家是否有其他机会与公众分享他们的作品？
CR: 之前有过一些艺术家在非青计划生活和工作。 他们当时的项目是什么？
The third floor is where the children's workshops and classes take place. 三楼是儿童工作坊和课堂的所在地。
CR: 您的驻留地参加过哪些艺术家？ 您的画廊空间正在寻求支持年轻的当代中国艺术家，他们往往具有传统绘画或雕塑的背景。 你们仅适用于当代中国艺术家，还是也接受作家或其他创作实践的提案？
CR: 驻留后，艺术家们是否留一个艺术品？ 还有什么艺术家需要做的吗？
MN: 我们有要求一次open studio 和一次工作坊，可以是成人可以是儿童，也可以是亲子。一般艺术家也希望在驻留结束有一个展示交流活动。
This interview was conducted by Xiaoyao Xu via e-mail for China Residencies in July 2019.