in the Category: art

You can see crises as end times as well as new beginnings

‘A crisis can mark an opportunity.’ Out of this lingering crisis, HISK has emerged with a project called The Best of Times/ The Worst of Times, a digital channel where candidate-laureates can exhibit and distribute new work. We had a double-interview with candidate-laureate and visual artist Pei-Hsuan Wang and one of the curators, Pieter Vermeulen. It ended up in a conversation about identity, Charles Dickens, spect-actor-ship, and virtual arrows in virtual galleries.

Interview by Senne Vanderschelden
Photos shot by Hania Odivius Abassi

You are one of the curators of The Best of Times/ The Worst of  Times. Can you tell us something more about this project? 

Pieter: Together with Sam Steverlynck, we came up with the idea of launching an online channel, anticipating the fact that the Open Studios would be postponed until September due to COVID-19. The project is named after the famous opening lines of Charles Dickens' book A Tale of  Two Cities (1859), which resonates with the times we currently live in, one of constant uncertainty. Nevertheless, a crisis can mark a certain opportunity. You can see crises as end times as well as new beginnings.  This channel creates opportunities for the artists at HISK to commission new work, to contextualize or distribute it in a different way.

How have you brought your work into this digital landscape? 

Pei: When I first learned about the project, my mind went in all kinds of directions. Eventually, I decided to present a video series surrounding my niece Iris. Iris is a twelve-year-old biracial Taiwanese-American girl, born and raised in Seattle, Washington. Much of my recent practice revolves around her and the idea of unpacking identity insecurity and identity formation navigating between the East and the West. Iris embodies both worlds I’m interested in.

Nevertheless, a crisis can mark a certain opportunity

Can you tell us more about your video work that became part of the channel?  

Pei: Five years ago, I started filming Iris. It began as a way to document her medical condition but then it became larger. Now it’s evolved to touch upon racial and cultural topics as well as self-discovery. The videos give my personal and artistic investigation a face - they literally introduce to the viewers this little girl jumping around, being part of her everyday life. My sculptural works also center around Iris but in a way that blurs the lines between fiction, reality, and myth. They reference Iris and me in an allegorical or metaphorical way. 

Artists are always dependent on the time and the environment in which they find themselves. How does this affect your artistic work? 

Pei: My roots lie in both the United States and Taiwan. I identify with both places but don't feel like I truly belong to either one. It’s important that the more ‘invisible’ communities in our world are represented in a deeply committed and deeply caring way, not just as a cliché, monolith, or a trend in the art world. This is something I take on as a personal responsibility, as an artist, and as a person. There is not a day in my life that I am not conscious of my own racial identity, especially here in Europe. I do believe that sharing personal experiences and vulnerabilities can bridge differences. It takes a lot of energy and emotional investment on my part,  but it's something to handle with care. 

I do believe that sharing personal experiences and vulnerabilities can bridge differences

How do you approach digital spectatorship? 

Pieter: Online we often speak of users, while in physical space we are citizens or just people. It suggests a dependency as if you are being fed. I  see it much more as active spectatorship or even spect-actor-ship. Instead of a virtual white space, we have curated and designed a more thematic virtual space in which the works are presented. Online space is not necessarily ‘neutral’, unlike platforms such as Vimeo or Soundcloud, which are the white cubes of the Internet. 

How does digital curatorship differ from physical curatorship? 

Pieter: Considering how our social media feed is curated, even if this happens algorithmically, a new concept of curation has certainly emerged since the advent of the internet. As a curator, it is interesting to see how that affects the more traditional idea of curation. What annoys me is how art fairs have decided to go virtual and just create a digital copy of the physical exhibition. There is nothing as boring as clicking on virtual arrows and walking through a virtual gallery. Digital technologies offer a whole new way of curating and mediating artworks. New opportunities are opening up, but they require a lot of imagination, something that I don't see much of in the art world at the moment.  

Online we often speak of users, while in physical space we are citizens or just people

Is there a scenography in the digital void?

Pieter: To design our digital channel, we worked together with Robin Vets and Christophe Clarijs. During our talks, we were inspired by soap operas like Days of Our Lives or Home and Away. The opening scenes of these series served as a source of inspiration for the typography of the digital space. We translated the idea of ‘bold’ versus ‘times’ into a visual identity that is as important as the curatorial thread. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles  Dickens' 19th-century novel, also echoes the present moment in which HISK finds itself: the moment of exchange between the studios in Ghent and our exhibition space in Brussels, between the digital channel and the physical exhibition.

The Best of Times/ The Worst of Times
with contributions from:
Dries Boutsen (BE), Nelleke Cloosterman (BE), Wim De Pauw (BE), Ian De  Weerdt (BE), Manu Engelen (BE), Dani Ghercă (RO), Antoine Goossens (BE), Aziz  Hazara (AF), Olivia Hernaïz (BE), Karel Koplimets (EE), Nokukhanya Langa (US/ZA),  Gaëlle Leenhardt (FR), Zhixin Liao (CN), Linda Jasmin Mayer (IT), Sandrine Morgante  (BE/IT), Felipe Muhr (CL), Hadassa Ngamba (CD), Noemi Osselaer (BE), Edouard  Pagant (FR), Elisa Pinto (MX), Juan Pablo Plazas (CO), Stephanie Rizaj (AT/XK),  Paulius Šliaupa (LT), Pei-Hsuan Wang (TW)