Curator, writer, and contributing researcher Rebecca Catching had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Cai Liyuan, from the A4 Art Museum in Chengdu.
China Residencies: How and when did the residency start?
Cai Liyuan: The project officially started in April 2013 and since then it has continued to promote exchange and visits with artists from various countries and regions, curators and designers. Through international visits and exchanges, cooperations with public institutions, and a series of thematic exhibitions and talks, we have employed multidimensional perspectives to present contemporary art within the cultural context of Asian Contemporary art. The project is really an attempt to open up cultural and regional specificities with research into regional commonalities.
A4 Art museum, the Yokohama Arts Foundation and Japan's Yokohama Creative City Center have been in collaboration to develop the A4 Artist In Residence International Exchange Program. The project involves both parties in the work of promoting and recommending artists for the residency program.
CR: What is your role in the residency? How did you get involved?
CL: Currently I am the residency project curator and I am also in charge of operations, but when I joined A4 in 2010, I was a curatorial assistant. Before that, I worked on the academic side of the exhibitions department—you could say that I was involved in the project from its inception until its realization so I understand various stages of the process.
CR: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
CL: In 2007, I graduated from Southwest University of Finance and Economics; prior to that, I was studying at the Art Academy of Sichuan University.
CR: How did you decide on the location of the residency?
CL: The reason A4 decided to establish itself in Chengdu is fairly complicated. Chengdu is a unique city. The art here is different from that of Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. There are not so many museums, galleries or other kinds of organizations. From the point of view of average people, there are a lot of barriers in terms of awareness and understanding contemporary art. However, Chengdu is a place which is closely bound to art with a longstanding history of culture, possessing a huge number of artists and a unique environment for artistic creation.
CR: How many people are on staff? What is each person responsible for?
CL: Right now there are five employees working in the academic department at A4. I am the residency curator and this project is my main responsibility. The implementation of this project involves organizing exhibitions, helping with curating and other tasks.
Staff at A4
CR: Can you talk more about the facilities on site?
CL: The overall exterior design of the building was the work of the American architect Antoine Predock and the interior was done by DesignARC. The education center, library and other integrated spaces were done by the local cutting edge designer Li Daode.
The museum has over 3,500 sq meters including three floors of independent exhibition space with working areas and functional spaces: a public library, an academic lecture hall, multi-purpose performance hall, children's educational center, residency studios, gift store, cafe, and a professional art storage area.
CR: What kind of artists are you looking for?
CL: The residency mainly targets contemporary artists, designers, curators and other groups with over three years of experience, those with an independent stance towards art and with ground-breaking practices. There are no limitations on the kind of media.
Artists in residence at A4 at work
CR: What is the duration of your residency? What’s the shortest time period you’ll consider, what’s the longest?
CL: The residency continues over the course of a year, but the most concentrated period of activity is in the summer and autumn. We typically host artists for two months, but we have also hosted them for shorter periods such as 17 days. The specifics are usually determined by the proposal and the works of the artists.
CR: What does the residency provide? What should the artists arrange for themselves?
CL: We provide a round-trip plane ticket, per diem, accommodations, studio, material fees, different kinds of salons and sharing sessions and other opportunities; the specifics are determined by the project of the artist and the yearly schedule of projects and events of the museum. In terms of the expenses which are covered by the artist, these change from year to year.
CR: Do the artists leave work once the residency is done? What are some of the “must do’s” for the artists as part of the residency agreement?
CL: Often the artists will decide to donate a work to us after the end of the residency. The artists must finish their work before the end of the residency period in order to participate in the sharing sessions, talks, salons and other activities. If the works are completed in time and A4 has enough budget and exhibition space, we will consider organizing an exhibition.
CR: Do you help artists in residence sell their work?
CL: Since the museum is a non-profit institution, we do not participate in the sale of art works.
CR: How many artists in residence have you hosted so far?
CL: Since the beginning of the project, we have hosted 17 different artists.
CR: What kind of artwork have the residents done? Can you give us an example or two of the most interesting or recent ones?
CL: We work with all kinds of artists and the final products are very diverse. For instance, in 2014 Maruyama Junko collected a series of images of wild flowers, then collected various kinds of oils used in the food of Chengdu. She used these oils to make soap powder to use as paint for her art. Afterwards, we worked with spaces located in the center of the city, using outdoor space to ask the public to participate using the soap powder to paint the images of flowers collected by the artist.
Also in 2017, the artist Yi Ke created the work “Creative Interaction Art and Therapy Research Plan-Wander Rabbit.” During the residency period, we did a lot of visits with Chengdu artists and important organizations in the city working around issues of mental health. After this research, the artist dialogued with and interviewed various families. In the end he chose six families to interact with and provide therapy.
CR: What opportunities do you provide for artists in residence to meet people in the local creative scene?
CL: During the residency period, the artists participate in various art projects at the museum. We will also guide them and promote them in accordance with their type of work, visiting different artists and institutions to help them settle into their work here.
CR: How does the residency space interact with the larger cultural/creative community in Chengdu?
CL: The important part is to participate in local events and exchanges, not to only confine yourself to your own art. At the same time, the work of A4 is not limited to the city; we also cast our sights on greater China, Asia and the world.
CR: How do you promote your residency to attract local and international artists?
CL: The A4 residency is divided into three parts; a dual city exchange, a local/international open call for public art projects and cooperations between organizations. The themes of our public art projects also determine our direction of research.
I think the A4 residencies draw on the identity of A4 itself, on the academic/curatorial background that the museum was founded on. Another element is the support we provide to the artists: not only in terms of funding, but also the “behind the scenes” support team. In 2017, in addition to our regular work we also created a documentation of the residency projects including a video documentary of the year's projects.
CR: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your program, mission or the opportunities you provide?
CL: Right now we are also planning to produce a catalogue documenting the residencies—summarizing the details of the project, the ideas of each artist and their interviews. We are also working on a conference about residencies for the 10-year anniversary of the museum, speaking from the perspective of the museum's residency program and dialoguing with different organizations in the field.