Interview with Yuying Pang regarding Can I keep you company for a little…
David Attwood: Ok so let’s talk about the show you had proposed for the George Paton Gallery
Yuying Pang: Yeah sure, the show is called ‘Can I keep you company for a little…’ and it was an idea that I came up with in 2019, and then I submitted it to the GPG in 2020, however it was postponed until this year, and now with everything moving online because of another lockdown, um … because the work … it really requires a physical space to express its idea. So the online platform wouldn’t really suit it very well. So I’ll describe it as it would have been in the gallery, if I was an audience member walking in to the gallery space…
YP: So I walk in to the gallery space and I see this blank wall with a didactic text. And its describing the title of this work, ‘Can I keep you company for a little…’, and while I’m looking at this text I can hear this kind of sound coming from behind the wall, so I can’t really grasp what these sounds are so I try to follow the sound and look for the source, and when I walk behind the wall I see this empty square shaped space with a few objects in it. And I see a phone mounted to the wall in the far left corner and a chair next to it, and also I see a globe hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the space. So I try to follow the sound again and it leads me to the phone, and then I realise the phone is on speaker mode, and um, the screen shows that it is calling ‘Yuying Pang’, which I noticed earlier is the artist’s name, and it’s been calling for 84 hours – wow that’s so long! So I decide to sit down next to the phone, just to have a good listen of what’s actually going on. And so I sit down for a while, but I can’t really grasp what the information is, I can just hear the chewing sounds and some background noises, as if someone had just left their phone in their pocket and was walking around with it. I can hear everything that they are doing in their life. And my gaze is naturally led to the globe hanging in the centre of the room, it has this orangey warm colour, and it’s hanging just off the floor, very low, and that makes my eyes half shut, and reminds of like a camp fire, it’s kind of –comfortable. So eventually I still haven’t really figured out what the work is about, but I mean, it’s very comfortable with the background noise next to me, and I feel like resting for a little bit.
YP: That’s what I was expecting the viewers to feel.
DA: Did you have any reservations about leaving your phone on all day and all of your day-to-day activities being recorded and listenable?
YP: I thought it would be fun back then because I was single. But the problem right now is that I’m not single, so that would be a little bit tricky… but in a way that is why I am relieved to not show this work online, or anywhere else, otherwise it would be kind of annoying.
DA: When we had discussed how this show would work logistically when you first proposed it, we were saying that typically students are required to sit their own shows and how, for your case, how we would manage that, given that you are going to be on the other end of the phone for the duration of the show and you suggested that you would ask your mum to sit the gallery for you .
DA: Which I thought was great. Can you talk a little bit about your Mum’s relationship to your art practice.
YP: My mum … I think it’s really important, she plays a very important role there. Because, I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to suit her values, but it’s definitely important that she understands me, because at the very beginning, with my first artwork, it was to do with my parents, I feel a little bit pressured, back then when I was younger – and I think I feel similarly today, but in a different way … for example I am living with my mum, and I have been living with her most of the time … my mum would always nag me about ‘when are you going to get a job? when are you getting married?’ this kind of stuff, so in a way it leads me to … there is a constant pressure that is in my head and I need to find a way to solve it, so that’s why, with all my work, for some reason, some part of it is to do with my mum and solving all of this anxiety that she has created.
DA: You often talk about your works attempting to solve some kind of issue, can you talk a little bit about that?
YP: So I guess at the very beginning of it, my work was trying to solve my emotional issues, like I said, I felt stressed from my parents so I tried to create artworks to escape from it, or to vent out all this stress, but slowly, since I don’t have much stress currently – except that I don’t have a job, I have moved to something more practical, more real life problems, like how to get a job. My work needs to be useful, in a sense.
DA: So at the moment you are working on making artwork that might address the issue of how to get a job?
YP: Not really, not so much how to get a job, but how to make money, the core problem is money, it’s not a job.
DA: Got it
YP: But I guess this thing comes from, I’ve made a pretty practical artwork already, last year as part of my graduation show, I made a wall. So for that work I presented two years worth of paintings that I had painted every single day, but instead of showing them, I decided to hide them, not hide them but I built them in to a wall, which I then had rendered and painted white. The idea behind it, I think that even if the viewers don’t see anything, at least it’s a good wall. The students can use it. And they’re still currently using it in the VCA art space. It’s more valuable than any other stuff going on.
DA: You definitely place a demand on your work to have a utility, or a use value beyond a more abstract contribution to culture.
YP: Yes agreed.
DA: Do you want to talk a bit about your plinth project or is that too secret?
YP: Na I can talk abut it. I’m not making a plinth anymore, I’ve developed it into something else …
DA: OK maybe describe what you were going to do …
YP: It’s an extension of my graduation project that I did, once the paintings I had made were removed from their stretchers I was left with a bunch of materials, a bunch of wood. They are sort of meaningful to me but they are not meaningful to anybody else, because to me I had been working with this project for two years, so I am sort of attached to it, but to others they are just bits of wood. So in a way I am not trying to recycle them, but I want to make them useful. These and some other things I had not shown, some other paintings, were just sitting inside of my garage, and not making any income and just taking up space, which is kind of annoying. So I want to get rid of them. So at first I thought I would make them in to a plinth and then I would donate this plinth back to the university as an alumni, but then, now I feel like that’s still within the institution and I sort of want to get out from this institution because I’m not in it anymore. So I decided, why not just make it into toilet paper? It’s essential to everybody, and I could not only donate it to this university, the VCA, but I could also put it in RMIT and other art schools around the world, because we all have this issue as art students. We are making shit works and don’t know what to do with them they’re just rubbish. I don’t want to dump them, but I want to make them useful.
DA: Right so you are in the process of fabricating the toilet paper?
YP: But I think I will present it at the end of this year at the grad show.
DA: You’ll be in the grad show?
YP: Just sneakily, I’ll put it in the toilet.
DA: So it will find its way back in to the institution
YP: Yeah you’re right. But I guess everything relates to the institution, and how we see conceptual art these days right?
DA: Well that was what I was getting at with the questions about your Mum, because we’ve had lots of good conversations about conceptual art and its reception amongst your peers, your family members, that don’t have institutional art educations…
YP: So I think I have a problem with that, sitting in between both. I have a problem with the art institution because there are so many readymade objects juts placed in the gallery space, and in a way I wouldn’t say that I’m against this, but um , but we’ve seen people using ‘normal’ materials and turning them in to artwork, but we haven’t seen artworks being turned in to normal materials. So what I’m doing right now is trying to turn them in to actual materials to suit my Mum’s needs, or my actual life’s needs. But ‘m not trying to suck up to their standard, or to a standard of art being beautiful and valuable –that kind of thing. But I just need it to be just enough, to be useful. Like essential items, like toilet paper etcetera.
Yuying Pang is a Melbourne-based artist of Chinese descent.