Notes From China: Notes From Shanghai With Island6
03 apr 2015 by Kirsi Hyotyla
island6 is an artist-founded, artist-run 'art first' philanthropic project founded by artists, managed by voluntary staff and based in Shanghai with a production site and an adjoining gallery. It was founded by Thomas Charvériat in 2006 and based in a rehabilitated flour mill warehouse.
Kirsi Hyotyla spoke to Kathleen McCampbell, a senior curator of island6 (Liu Dao) about the ideas around an artist collective and the current status of contemporary art in Shanghai.
KH: Can you tell me something about the history of island6?
KM: island6 arts center was founded in response to Shanghai’s economic and cultural explosion onto the international scene. island6 sought to act as a conduit of experimental collaboration, intercultural dialogue, and laboratorium of contemporary artistic practice. The center’s in-house collective, Liu Dao was formed as a counteraction to the mass-misallocation of talent that accompanied the city’s momentum, when up-and-coming artists struggled to make a name for themselves, and when monetary ambitions misguided emerging talents.
Although island6 and the collective have evolved over time, this collaborative platform remains our primary philosophy. We’re fairly non-traditional, as we are both the artist and gallerist. This model can be challenging, but allows us control over how our work is exhibited. island6 and Liu Dao seek to promote and create artworks that are products of constant collaboration. island6’s favorite comparison of the structure of the collective is to the film industry. The island6 gallery acts as the producer for the artists, curators, while utilising the skills of cameramen, set designers, choreographers, scenographers, and writers. The digital artworks produced by island6 also use postproduction editors, such as Affect Effect experts or sound designers. Each artwork and exhibition has a cast with credits for people of different skills. Liu Dao’s diverse artists are constantly challenged to engage the past, present, and future of Asia through progressive multimedia work.
The number of our Chinese and international artists are constantly fluctuating as we grow and expand, but we would like to emphasise that we do not focus on nationality, age, background, or gender at island6. For us, art transcends these boundaries. Art does not belong to a single language or culture; it’s perpetually fluid. We are based in Shanghai and our work certainly reflects the environment that we live and work in, but we consider ourselves international artists, first and foremost.
Liu Dao, Just as much as, TFT display, acrylic painting, teakwood frame, made in island6, Shaghai, 2014.
KH: Could you share some insight into artist collectives based in Shanghai?
KM: The Liu Dao collective is always amazed by the quality of people working in this city. The distance that many people travel to get here acts as a filter. As a result, Liu Dao boasts some of the best and brightest in the business. We can find very dynamic, hard working people who are invested in learning. If you have moved to Shanghai, you are not looking for comfort. You are here to learn, to work. People come here to get experience, and they understand that you have to sweat for it. Shanghai is a place for career building, not career making. Here, you can do what you have dreamed of doing ten years from now – now. This is a city of dreamers who are actually brave enough to pursue their goals and make them manifest.
Artist collectives certainly have a presence in Shanghai, and we are always excited to see the work that they produce, but we are seeing a decrease in the richness of the range of artists living and working in Shanghai. We see more Chinese artists working in the city, but it has become quite difficult for foreign artists to live and work here. The visa application for artists has become incredibly difficult, and seems like it will continue to be a challenge for those who want to create art in China. Until Shanghai becomes a more hospitable environment for art, we will continue to see slower growth as far as collectives are concerned.
Working as a part of an artist collective is an intellectually and creatively challenging endeavor. To be successful, members must set aside individual egos, and work in the interest of the collective. Creating art as a member of island6 allows for greater inter-cultural dialogue, and varied perspectives function to provide a host of eclectic and stimulating ideas. Working in this form also allows artists to 'pool' their resources – we have writers, painters, directors, curators, and electricians all working side by side to create innovative artwork and exhibitions, which couldn’t come together if drawing on one talent alone.
KH: Why does island6 have three locations in Shanghai?
KM: Operating three locations in our home base allows island6 to explore multiple facets of a concept simultaneously. Thus, each space has the ability to host 'sister shows' that may tap into a larger theme. On a logistical level, it also allows us to mount multiple shows at the same time. Liu Dao works around the clock, all year, so the output from the collective is incredible.
Shanghai is such a diverse city, and we really wanted to take advantage of that. Our spaces in the Moganshan Road Arts District have a very modern, industrial feel, while the Bund space is located in a historic nineteenth-century building.
Liu Dao, I’m new here as well, RGB LED display, acrylic painting, paper collage, teakwood frame, made in island6, Shanghai, 2014.
KH: What sort of funding or support is available for artist collectives in China?
KM: A key factor to the survival and growth of contemporary art in Shanghai has been to cluster galleries together, like the arts district of 50 Moganshan Road (M50) in Putuo district, where island6 is based, or that of 798 Art Zone in Beijing’s Chaoyang district. The endurance of these clusters has been essential to the growth of the art scene in each city. Art districts like M50 allow for greater exposure for galleries that are just starting out, as the spaces all share promotion and PR, and often depend on the excellence of their peers for success. M50 has been loyal to their mission and kept the zone on Moganshan Road purely dedicated to art. Additionally, their policies foster gallery development. Rent in M50 is cheaper for a space utilized as an art gallery than for that used as an office. In this way, galleries and artists are protected.Island6 has locations in Hong Kong and even in Phuket, Thailand.
KH: What are the differences and common grounds in working in these locations?
KM: Each space is an exclusive host for the work of Liu Dao, and is invested in the philosophy of island6. Their varied geographies allow for greater intercultural dialogue among Liu Dao members. Each island6 branch may also serve as a foundation for culturally inspired shows, such as the Babas and Yayas debut exhibition in Phuket, which honored the complexity of the local Peranakan culture. While each space has their own special qualities, they are all committed to our larger mission. Because we operate galleries in locations outside of Shanghai, we’re able to see how well the city’s art scene is performing in a more objective manner.
KH: Do island 6 artists and curators who are based in Shanghai collaborate in exhibitions for other locations in Phuket and Hong Kong?
KM: Yes, absolutely! Collaboration is the driving force behind island6 and Liu Dao. Operations are based out of Shanghai. All of Liu Dao’s artwork is made on-site in our adjoining production studio and much of our staff works out of Shanghai, but team members from all locations – Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Phuket – are in constant communication at all times. We’ve also racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles traveling to our different locations to put on exhibitions together, deliver artwork, and strategise.
KH: How does island6 come up with a location for each exhibition?
KM: We take into consideration the concept for individual exhibitions and host the show in a space that complements this concept either in construct, atmosphere, or location. In 2014, island6 Hong Kong showed our 'Altar of Bling' exhibition, which was inspired by the excess and luxury one often associates with Hong Kong. When inspiration and location meld, there is no question about where we will place the exhibition.
KH: How are artists able to join the studio?
KM: Before we welcome any new member to the fold, we always hear input from the current collective members. The selection process certainly takes talent into mind, but we also look for people who are enthusiastic about our mission, who we think can really push us creatively and professionally. We are not comfortable remaining still, so we look for people who want to help continually move us forward.
At times we advertise for a particular position, but we also meet incredibly talented artists and craftsmen through referrals. One of the craftsmen who has been a member of the collective for quite some time recently introduced us to a pair of incredibly talented painters, for example. We also have the occasional go-getter who charges up to us and lets us know why they would be a valuable member. We do not restrict ourselves to any cap on the number of collective members and we aren’t working to meet any kind of quota. We just want to work with motivated and creative minds.
Liu Dao, Memoir of Wet by, RGB LED display, Chinese paper cut, paper collage, teakwood frame, made in island6, Shanghai, 2014.
Liu Dao, Sacchrine Treaty, RGB LED display, one-way glass, teakwood frame, made in island6, Shanghai, 2014.
All images courtesy of island6.