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MA Culture, Criticism and Curation Final Projects: we [ breathe ] in the space between

Written by we [ breathe ] in the space between
Published date 16 December 2019

Each year, MA Culture, Criticism and Curation students present four final projects in partnership with organisations, artists, designers, writers or academics. After their completion in December 2019, we spoke to the graduating groups about their projects. Exhibition we [ breathe ] in the space between was the work of Rosa Abbott, Krishna Balakrishnan, Issy Casey, Kateřina Čuprová, Nina Lissone, Clara Wong and Siyan Zhang. Here, they give us a virtual tour of the expanded exhibition which responded to issues of in-betweenness, modernity and urbanity.

What does it mean to occupy the present moment, when the present is always changing? What does it mean to be forced to the peripheries, to always inhabit the in-between space? How can we operate within this position? Can we act? Can we dance? Can we laugh? Can we rise? Can we shout? Can we breathe in the space between?

we [ breathe ] in the space between presented new work by 12 London and Hong Kong-based contemporary artists. It was also accompanied by an events programme including a film screening and a networking event with Hart Haus in Hong Kong. Traversing multiple disciplines, the exhibition included artists working across sculpture, installation, performance and product design. It was housed in a former police station in Rotherhithe – a South London docking area posed for major redevelopment as part of the Canada Water Masterplan. The space is currently occupied by Artists’ Studio Company (ASC) who have custody of the building until its demolition. The temporary nature of the site, and the uncomfortable position occupied by artists in the face of rapid gentrification, provided the loaded institutional context and impetus for our exhibition.

we [ breathe ] in the space between sought to question our state of constant flux. Placed throughout the police station and its outside spaces, the selected artists used a variety of traditional and digital media to respond to urban redevelopment projects, scarcity of housing, escalating political demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong, urban alienation, and the need for care and the human touch.

Wu Jiaru, How to tell a safe story, 2019, video, 6m 6s looped

This video by Wu Jiaru includes images from the Hong Kong protests which have been digitally manipulated to avoid censorship on social media. We placed this artwork on the former police station’s service desk, which bears the words “Working for a safer London”. We hoped this strong juxtaposition – between images of ongoing civic unrest and the loaded institutional architecture of the site – would create a strong opening for the exhibition, interrogating the history of the building as well as themes of urbanity, power and unrest.

James Bryant, Gestures of inconsequence “untitled”, 2019
James Bryant, Gestures of inconsequence “untitled”, 2019

This is a newly realised work by James Bryant, developed in response to the site and the research of the curatorial team. Expanding on Bryant’s previous work Gestures of inconsequence “A Royal Exchange” 1, which was also included in the exhibition, this new work plays with ideas of land, value, ownership and exchange. Bryant extracted 32 tin cans worth of earth from outside the front of the police station. He then filled in the cavities left behind with cement. After the exhibition, a contract was issued to legislate the transferral of ownership of earth to the artist for a fee of £1.

Camille Yvert, If you lived here you’d be home by now, 2017, foiled back plasterboard

Camille Yvert’s futuristic sculptures are emblazoned with text which parrot the language of neo-liberalism in the digital era. Lifted from real estate jargon, “If you lived here you’d be home by now” raises issues of gentrification, land ownership, regeneration and capital. The cynical messages in Yvert’s work take on a dystopian realness, rendered in shiny foil-backed plasterboard.

Mamoru Watanabe, Untitled, 2019, installation
Mamoru Watanabe, Untitled, 2019, installation

Mamoru Watanabe took field recordings from the yard of the police station which he translated into this installation, which cast rippling shadow across its surrounding walls. Watanabe was the only artist in the exhibition to have a studio at ASC and so has an intimate relationship with the space.

Muyao Li, Lake & Stone, 2018

This work is a digital rendering of a fragrance diffuser designed by Muyao Li. The product dissolves solid wax – first into liquid and then scented vapour. In various ways, we were drawn to this work as a playful link to one of the key texts that informed our thinking around the exhibition, Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air.

Ben Yau, To Lose This Wonderful Feeling, 2018, laminated photocopy paper and audio
Ben Yau, To Lose This Wonderful Feeling, 2018, laminated photocopy paper and audio

For this work, the Chinese-Scots artist Ben Yau interviewed activist Aysen Dennis about her campaign to save South London’s Aylesbury Estate, where she is a resident, from demolition. A sound piece on headphones is accompanied by three collages, made from cut-out images of Aysen in her home and planning permission documents from property developer Notting Hill Housing.

Kathryn Graham, Resilient, 2019
Kathryn Graham, Resilient, 2019

Kathryn Graham’s concrete sculpture shows the fragility but also the resilience of home – a pertinent issue in the artist’s native Northern Ireland. We exhibited the piece in the outside yard area, where it was challenged to withstand London’s bleak November climate.

Chan Ka Kiu, A Guide to Give A Good Massage, 2019, video, 9m 41s looped
Chan Ka Kiu, And You Pamper My Heart, 2019, video, 4m 37s looped
Chan Ka Kiu, A Guide to Give A Good Massage, 2019, video, 9m 41s looped
Chan Ka Kiu, And You Pamper My Heart, 2019, video, 4m 37s looped

One of the more unusual exhibition spaces we used was the stray dog kennel. The site had a history of trauma, with scratch marks from the stray animals kept there still visible on the inside of the kennel doors. It took almost a full day to clear, clean and de-cobweb the space. We then laid down a sandy-hued carpet to transform the environment before installing two video works by Hong Kong-based artist Chan Ka Kiu. Both of Chan Ka Kiu’s videos deal with themes of intimacy, care, urban alienation and the power of the human touch. Using massage as a central motif, they recharged the energy of the forlorn kennel space.

Bonnie Wong and Jun Wang, The Sea Project, 2019

Both Bonnie Wong and Jun Wang grew up in coastal cities, in Hong Kong and China respectively. They produced this work upon realising their relocation to London had dislocated them from this powerful connection to the sea. The result is an immersive and poetic installation encompassing digital projection, printed materials and a dried flower, meditating on translation, global exchange, alienation, language and place.

Kwan Q Li, Station Metric, 2019
Kwan Q Li, Station Metric, 2019
Kwan Q Li, Station Metric, 2019

Kwan Q Li developed a new series of photographs for the exhibition, depicting weeds growing amongst the architecture of Taikwun in Hong Kong. Like the venue of this exhibition, the site is a former police station that has been transformed into an art space. Given this history of violence, control and power, these quietly growing plants can be seen as a rogue external force, a metaphor for resistance.

These are the cement-filled holes outside the front of the police station, where James Bryant made his 32 extractions of earth. The cement has stayed in place after the end of the show’s run – a tangible manifestation of the afterlife of the exhibition.

We [ breathe ] in the space between was on view at ASC MIR Project Space, Former Rotherhithe Police Station from 1–17 November 2019. Featured artists: James Bryant, Kathryn Graham, Chan Ka Kiu, Muyau Li, Kwan Q Li, Flavio Mancini, Bonnie Wong & Jun Wang, Wu Jiaru, Ben Yau, Camille Yvert and Mamoru Watanabe. For further information visit the exhibition website.

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A sign outside a gallery
Inside/Out exhibition in various Walworth locations, South London. This was part of a student project with Artists Studio Company, November 2017). Photo: Glenn Michael Harper