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RFAOH’s two-week odyssey to Venice and beyond

As reported in our last post, we traveled to Venice during the biennale’s preview week to attend the reception and talk of our “advisory board”, the legendary Tehching Hsieh. Until the last minute, we had been waffling whether to go but an invitation to his private reception tipped the balance and off we went.  It’s true that the preview week can be bit of a zoo with lineups and fancy eye glasses everywhere (like an Art Disneyland) but we all know it’s just part of it and there are many great things to see and reflect upon as Matt quoted to our own CBC. This, of course included Tehching’s exhibition Doing Time curated by Adrian Heathfield that featured two of his famous one year performances he had done in the early 1980s.  We had seen his work at different institutions in the past but it was the first time that we saw his archived clothes(!) from his Outdoor Piece (1981-82). Plus, the short video that Adrian made with Tehching for the occasion showed a touching retrospective on his life and work at that time. Here’s a nice YouTube video summarizing his exhibition at Venice. 

And it was indeed fantastic to meet Tehching in person, such a kind and humble individual, even in the somewhat surreal setting — his vernissage in a medieval court yard followed by a swanky buffet on a five star hotel terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, where some faces even looked familiar (to us, not us to them!) and we felt we had crashed the party.  We were honoured, and also a bit humbled that Adrian and some others genuinely seemed to know about RFAOH.  At a panel discussion the next day, Adrian Heathfield and three other researchers (Carol Becker, Peggy Phelan and Jane Rendell) spoke along with Tehching himself on the dominant themes of his work, which made us think of “hiatus”, “life and art”, and the “artworld” even more deeply.  During the Q&A, we both felt compelled to ask questions; Shinobu’s question was about the arbitrary/uncertain division between art and life, which she summated in this simple line: “Would there be a ‘life biennale’ in the future?” It was partly a reaction to Peggy Phelan’s statement concerning Tehching’s work: “Let’s not frame it as ‘art’ but frame it as ‘life’”.   

Then, unbelievably – and this REALLY HAPPENED – Ms. Marina Abramović, who was sitting two chairs down from us interjects, and after throwing shade at Damien Hirst for being too “commercial” moments earlier, launches into a long winded defence of the importance of art in life but completely missing the essence of the question, before pulling the conversation off point.  We could only politely nod.  As the panel was wrapping up the art diva stood and bid the auditorium farewell before quickly donning her sunglasses and beetling to the door (to “attend her own opening” she added).   Shinobu tried to quickly thank her and offered our card but was completely ignored. Funny how “the artworld” functions, and persists on functioning in that way even at a talk by someone like Tehching, who appeared to be altogether nonplussed.

What made this Biennale truly special however, was of course meeting with our current resident Wayne Lim, who also somehow finagled his way into the preview week at the last minute, flying in from the Netherlands and attended Tehching’s talk. (We saw them chatting together in Chinese!)  Afterwards, we talked about the talk, fascinating stories about Wayne’s “nomadic” journeys, his “hiatus” and thesis he’s trying to complete, and life in general over some spritz. (Of course, everyone needs one at day’s end at the Art Olympics) We were so happy that he came – Wayne posted a great report on this and the Venice Biennale, predictably, way before us!

In the second week, we decided to take advantage of being in Europe and visit another current resident, Marisa Dipaola and her hiatus project “moonfarm” in southern Portugal.  This was an adventure to find a cheap flight again at the last minute, and try to get to the small coastal town of Zambujeira do Mar four hours south of Lisbon by bus, where even Google could not detect.  The moonfarm is even further, and unless you know to turn at the peacock farm past the crooked oak, is impossible to find. So they came to pick us up.  

As we’ve all seen, Marisa has generously posted many photos and videos of her home and gardens that we have become somewhat familiar with, but to see and experience them for real was no comparison – plus the real people!! – Marisa and her husband Mohamed were gracious to interrupt their rigorous lunar agri-schedule to give us a tour of their amazing project. It was a windy but beautiful day; we sat outside and chatted about Marisa’s past practice, her desire to make art at any moment with the materials she keeps collecting, what she wants her art to do if she starts it again, and just life in general. We took a walk around the farm and learned quite a few things we had never known (like about cork trees or her neighbour’s bamboo business to feed all the pandas in Europe). The fantastic tour was completed with some impromptu Fado songs on the ukulele from the littlest moonfarmer, the adorable nearly 4 year old Marmalade.  Later, they drove us back to the town where Marmalade got an ice cream treat, and the next day we road the bus back to Lisbon. (Too bad no time for swimming at the beautiful nudist beach!)  Marisa too has been faster than us reporting on this.

It was an amazing and a little surreal trip, to encounter such a range of “art and hiatus” or “the art (and hiatus) worlds”, which has made us re-confirm the richness of our community. We are already feeling a little melancholic that there are only two months left for our 3rd year. Regardless of what RFAOH’s future holds beyond that, it remains one of our goals to bring all our residents (and their endeavours) together, somehow physically, where our community of followers may experience the diverse existence of artists on hiatus and be reassured about the abundance of multiple “art worlds”.  We are all so insignificant, but incredibly rich (even if literally broke).

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May brings better news – RFAOH returns to VENICE!!

It was during the preview week of the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 that we officially launched Residency For Artists On Hiatus (RFAOH). While our first call for applications went online, we were also standing around the entrance of Giardini handing out small brochures in English and Italian to invite international art-enthusiasts to quit the art world and join RFAOH.  It was also during that week we heard from Tehching Hsieh, that he would generously accept our request to be on RFAOH’s “advisory board” – we were absolutely thrilled!  Since then, we have managed to run RFAOH for three terms, and as you all know, hosted 19 amazing international resident artists-on-hiatus, with an incredibly wide-range of backgrounds, circumstances, and “on-hiatus” projects.

This year, we are returning to Venice during the preview week of the 57th Venice Biennale, to celebrate Tehching’s representation at the Taiwanese Pavilion, as well as the nearing end of our 2016/2017 residency term where our five remaining residents are still busy being on hiatus from art!

If you are going too, and wanted to meet us in person between May 9 – 13 in Venice – to discuss the limits and liminalities of professionalism in the arts, or talk about “who’s the real winner this year” or “who needs a boat that big” over a glass of prosecco – please feel free to contact us!  Or, make sure to say hello if you see us around, running between pavilions or sipping cafe, or at Tehching’s opening reception and talk, in our famous RFAOH Tshirt (;

We look forward to seeing you!!

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