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 Carol Beckers’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 rigourous 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).
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 (;
The “bluesy” news of April 2017 (anticipated and not anticipated)
It has been rather an eventful April at the office of RFAOH — both personally and residency-related — that this post had to wait until the very end of the month. First, the anticipated (yet no less easy) news is that this was our brew master Joyce Lau‘s last month at RFAOH — how much we have learned about “scoby” and how many times her reports with stunning photos of her beverages have made us run to the nearby pub! Now, is Joyce going back to making art? We don’t know that yet but what we know for sure is that her on-hiatus project will continue further, as she enrols herself into a brewing microbiology course (and not an MFA (;) at the Oregon State University in June! How amazing is that, she has our full respect and we send her our utmost cheers for her ongoing adventure. And our dream is of course to try out her own Kombuchas and beers in the near future!!
Second, in some totally unexpected news, our “poet” resident Rob Santaguida has decided to leave his residency term three months earlier than planned. We still do not know exactly where he is right now, but he wrote:
“At the intersection, there were no cars in sight, but I waited. The little green man appeared, urged me forward. Reluctantly I crossed. A short time later, I decided I needed to end my break. This will be my final entry.”
He said he will make a film. We (and we’re certain his secret fans, too) will miss his enigmatic and beautifully poetic on-hiatus reports. It was fantastic that we had a chance to meet him in person at RFAOH’s headquarters Montreal on a typical grey and icy winter day last year, and discussed what it was like or meant to be “on hiatus from art” for him. Please also send him cheers for coming out of his “retirement” and going back to the world of artmaking; let’s look forward to his film in the future!
Now that we have only three months left until the end of our 3rd term with only five residents, we feel slightly “bluesy” despite all the spring blossoms. Having said that, we know that our RFAOH community keeps going as strong as ever with more exciting news on the way. Please continue to follow us and leave your comments on our remaining residents’ reports. We’ll also let you know when Joyce and Rob’s “final reports” are up on their pages. Thank you Joyce and Rob for your inspiring on-hiatus endeavours and participation; we are super happy to have had you at RFAOH! Bon Voyage!
Do you want to come in? Thoughts on “gates” and the art worldS’ currencies
It was so nice of our ex-resident Heather Kapplow sending us an interesting link with a greeting: “This made me think of you guys… hope all’s well in hiatus land.” –> “Goodbye to All That: Why Do Artists Reject the Art World?” Then right after that, we noticed everyone was talking about it, some rather personally and anguished. Others seemed to have just reacted to the catchy headline. It has been a topic for a while — “The Art World” and “the problematic relationship of artists to it”. The discussion is valid and sincere but our questions remain: “Which ‘The Art World’ are we talking about? (Including ‘the art world’ we make in our heads?)” And if any, “Who are the ‘gatekeepers?'”
We have recently been contacted by a few individuals including art students, who have wondered about the implications or “strategies” of RFAOH related to these questions. While we always take time to write back, something we find really curious is the fundamental lack of “professionalism” in the arts contrary to the current debate about the “professionalization” of art practice itself. Arts organizations tend to mete out their responses to inquiries as a way of keeping the hierarchy between the artists and the institution intact, although they often claim it’s due to the lack of time/money. This core problem perpetuates the art world’s “gate keeping”, whose gates are built and maintained ultimately by ourselves (as cultural workers are most of the time also artists), and which creates more “unpaid labour” for art practitioners in their attempt to cross the gates. What we detect here deep down, beyond the money/time issue and besides the self-importance/absorption hallmark to our discipline, is a strong sense of “privilege” in the arts, more complex and nuanced than simple economic or class advantage. We think it’s worthwhile for everyone who participates in this industry [the art world] to consider the ethics surrounding the normalization of its power apparatus at an individual level, in addition to the broader issues of the “art-economy”. In fact, we are most curious about this overlooked privilege as a fundamental condition of the art world since the dawn of time, seemingly clashing directly with celebrated 20th century proclamations of “everyone is an artist” and “art is for everyone”. Though meant well initially as a resistance to bourgeois society and/or as a political stance, it is intriguing how this layered concept has become co-opted and ultimately helped to clear a path for the current “popularization of art”, which we feel might be making artists’ lives actually harder, to the point that many are “leaving”.
In her critical, but also witty article written for e-flux’s journal last fall: If You Don’t Have Bread, Eat Art!: Contemporary Art and Derivative Fascisms, Hito Steyerl explores the notion of art as an alternative currency. Remarkably illuminating the usual melee of vying constituents that imbue this esoteric world with its accepted notions of value (including art as an alternative currency), she then urges us to consider (the “hypothetical possibility” of) art as an “alternative alternative currency”, that could be used for more locally centered solutions as a way of re-imagining beyond the current hierarchy of cliques within a monolithic notion of “The Art World”: “Could art as alternative currency not only circulate within existing systems but even launch not-yet-existing economies (publics, institutions, markets, parallel art worlds, etc.)?” She continues, “…How to make tangible the idea that belonging is in becoming—not in having been? What is art’s scale, perspective, and challenge in de-growing constituencies? Can one transform art’s currency into art’s confluence?”
Her idea of art as an alternative currency (and an “alternative alternative” currency) somewhat resonates with what we wrote in the latest issue of Station to Station on “other kinds of currency”, and is useful if we wish to talk about the next step, the survival of multiple “art worlds” and “art practices/practitioners” in or outside the gates – but perhaps this topic needs a whole separate post.
And speaking of “currency”, here’s another at once brilliant and ridiculous kind of gatekeeping: “Is e-flux the Gatekeeper of the Virtual Art World?” (Unless you can afford at least $299 USD — do not forget the “gatekeeping” happens only when there are folks who want to come in)
As we mentioned in our Roman Toasts post in December, DutchCulture |TransArtists.org was kind enough to ask for our two cents in a short blurb for their current (the 2nd) issue of their online magazine, Station to Station, which has just come out last week. Titled “All that art“, issue #2 compiles discussions around the broader impact of artists residencies, and what happens to the art (works) created or the artists once the residency is over.
Initially, we felt a little funny or counter-intuitive about their invitation to our non-artmaking RFAOH in this issue, but we decided to share our thoughts on production, professionalism, and what constitutes (art)work and not (art)work, while listing what some of our past residents “achieved” and/or what they are doing after leaving RFAOH. And as we had guessed, TransArtists is no ordinary “artist residency directory” so they have brought together a great selection of contributors who have approached the subject from a wide range of angles and personal experience.
A corresponding audio programme has been curated by online art radio collective Ja Ja Ja Nee Nee Nee — when you hit the play for each segment, something funky happens on the screen — Very cool.
Thank you TransArtists for inviting us to be part of this cool discussion!
Something also quite remarkable happened last weekend. We met our most enigmatic current resident Rob Santaguida at his screening in Montreal. Over the past three residency cycles, we have had many different cases and circumstances of artists being on hiatus and going off hiatus but this was yet another unique case that we did not know what to think of it until this happened.
When Rob submitted his proposal to us, he was already on a self directed hiatus and was traveling abroad. He decided to apply for RFAOH to make his hiatus “official”, even though he knew that this screening of his video that he had completed prior to his hiatus will take place seven months later, in January 2017. In our application guideline, we state that if the applicant has an appointed exhibition, presentation, artist residency, or a specific project to start in the future and is simply waiting for it, RFAOH does not consider this as a hiatus.
So we discussed — is this a conflict of interest? On the surface, his case is exactly what our criteria rules out, but Rob claimed to have finished his “last work” and gone actively on hiatus. He did not sound like he was “simply waiting for it (this art presentation),” having not much control over the timing of its premier decided by the venue. (Mind you we did not expect him to be coming back to Montreal for the screening, so it was bit of a surprize)
And we accepted him, because we ourselves were also curious about all these questions — the level or kind of activity or engagement that demarcates one’s status as “on hiatus” or “off hiatus”;what happens to one’s own self-identification as an “artist not making art” when you have to show your old work — do you become a “working artist” for that night and then when that’s over, go back to being a non-working artist?
When we met Rob, we asked him about his thoughts on these questions. (which we hope didn’t make him feel interrogated or something!) He said that this presentation could have taken place without him, (he admitted that he always disliked attending his screenings anyway) and it feels a little like his “final duty before his retirement”. He was in fact going back to Europe the very next day to continue on with his hiatus plan of traveling, with no return ticket. The analogy he gave was as poetic as his RFAOH reports that have become familiar to us : “It’s like having cleaned up the apartment when moving out — the place is now all empty but for a single trash bag that still needed to be taken to the curb.”
It was such a pleasure to meet him in person and hear him talk about his hiatus, his intense experiences in Istanbul (which was his original destination in his proposal) on top of attending his presentation that the organizer described as a “finissage with the artist in attendance”. The audience enthusiastically asked questions after the screening and he answered to them very genuinely and generously.
We wished him a bon voyage and look forward to more reports from the latter half of his hiatus. As we implied in our last post, this has added to our good feelings about how our new year is starting.
It’s now well passed mid January, schools have started and galleries have opened new exhibitions; everyone in the arts seems to be geared up for the new season. RFAOH’s first big announcement of 2017 is that our current resident artist on hiatus, Ramla Fatima has decided not to resume her art practice after January as initially planned, but to extend her residency until the end of our 3rd year in July 2017! We are happy that she’s liking being on hiatus with us — you decide if it is good or bad news (:
Like Ramla, who has already sent a number of reports this month, other residents are also busy with their non-art endeavors into 2017 and are actively reporting. We feel good about the latter half of our 3rd year, contrary to the general anxiety in the world. It feels good to stay on the peripheral but in the most open and open-ended community. Let’s all gather together and continue to re-imagine the true potential of nonsense and new rhetoric at RFAOH!
Happy New Year of Rooster to everyone in the RFAOH community!! Passed over by the evil fairies of 2016, last year was great for RFAOH, being able to commence our 3rd residency period with great new residents, and chances to meet with our ex-residents. Thank you all for your continuous support — we look forward to more cheer for and excitement with artists on hiatus in 2017 — Stay tuned for more news here or updates of our residents’ reports through our FB fan page‘s notification!
We had a great time speaking to a group of art students in the “Professional Practice” class at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada last weekend. Some were reported to be playing a video game or what-not throughout the talk, (can’t blame them!) but there were quite a few enthusiastic students who asked engaging questions, and we felt better about the future of the “artworld” (; These kids are super lucky to have a progressive professor invite RFAOH to discuss a reality and alternative approaches to our contemporary time in the arts. (When we were in school, the artists who came to talk were often “too successful”^^) In bringing our own perspective to these young artists on how or what it means to work in this domain given our bizarre/daunting times, we were reminded of this point made by Ben Davis in a recent article in artnet news:
“…some soul-searching assessment of the limits of our own gestures, and some clear-eyed analysis of what rhetoric is effective and what is not, is going to be very, very important in the years to come. It will not be enough to languish in mythological beliefs about art’s value as a humanistic salve, or even to fly the flag for “political art” as a genre.We have to debate strategy.”
Artists have never had it easy at any time in history, but it surely feels like now is a peculiar time to be practicing art, within an abyss of information and “democratic” access to cultural capital (but not to real capital), where, once again, “everyone is an artist”. Our old friend and a known neon artist (but retired from the “artworld”, he claims) told us that he’s now often commissioned by art galleries to make a piece for their clients who have a “great idea” for a neon work but do not know how to make it or where to go to have it made. So the gallery who is in the know asks him to make it and sells it to these people, and our friend goes to hang “their art” at their home without his name attached. Are we too naive to be stunned by this? Even though nothing like New York or London, Toronto is a big enough city with a big enough art community to offer these bizarre stories (a hip restaurant brazenly ripping off an artist’s work that everyone knows yet no apology or compensation in court; a major public gallery deleting a small artist’s online project to protect their “brand”) — all are real inspirations for RFAOH, often more so than art exhibitions.
But once again, the highlight of our presentation visit was the chance to meet with one of our current residents Joyce Lau at a local brewery (how counterintuitive is it?), and to visit our ex-resident Ryan Ringer‘s hiatus project Grey Tiger! Unfortunately Ryan was too busy working the cafe to come and share his experiences at our talk, but we were very happy to see him and his project in person. (Sorry we forgot to take photos of his storefront but he’s got great drinks!)
We hope that 2017 will continue to bring more of these opportunities to gather the real people from our virtual community together. Please send any request for a visit our way!
ArtNews.com has been running a series of interviews titled “How to fix the Art World” (part 123). Honestly, not all the concerns or answers are golden but here’s a line from Liam Gillick in the part two segment, which may resonate with our interests. (though it’s ironic that unlike ourselves, he clearly has a “career” in the arts)
“There are two things guaranteed to undermine any self-respecting artist: One is the word “career”; the other is the notion of having a “career” in the “art world.” There is something wrong with the whole concept. A world-conquering imperialist claim that overreaches combined with a diminished sense that we are just part of a “world” within the world—a special bubble apart from reality.”
We often wonder about the rhetoric of “career” which is normally associated with income/money, and thus, an almost impossible definition for the majority in the arts. Would replacing the term “career” with “profession” be any better? And if neither works, what is it that we do as art or artists — “hobbies”? “volunteering”? “lifework?” Lack of funds limit a lot of possibilities for sure but it’s the rhetoric that limits our world, our perception, imagination, freedom and ultimately, empathy.
In light of all this, we also wanted to share “Dirty talks : Money“, the inaugural issue of an online publication Station to Station by Transartists. It’s a great read with no necessarily satisfying conclusions. We have been invited to contribute to their next issue to “make the *magic* happen”, and we plan to talk about “visibility” as one’s bread and butter. Stay tuned.