Sayang, based in Leeds, travelled to the Taipei Artist Village in, Taiwan, East Asia from January until March 2023. They are a Malaysian/British DJ and sound artist driven by alternative experiences of communication, rest, intersectional identity and togetherness. Their sound work often occupies galleries, clubs and alternate spaces, in the form of live sound installations, DJ sets, and performances, often with visual or physical responses and collaboration to sound.
Jui-Hung Ni, based in Taipei, joined us here at East Street Arts in Leeds from February until March 2023. A multi-disciplinary artist, her work is inspired by the world around her, and she sees herself as ‘a filter to digest a large number of fragments that come into my daily life’. Her work has taken incredibly versatile forms: installations, illustrations, literature and feminist studies, with a running theme being bold colours and black humour.
At first glance, Sayang and Jui-Hung’s practices share little in common, with the former’s practice being involved in making esoteric sound works, and the latter working in playful illustration. Despite these differences in approach, both of their residencies centred around alone time, those moments of quiet reflection and exploration facilitating the development of their work.
For Jui-Hung that took the shape of trips to museums and galleries, in a process of understanding British cultural history (and the hang-ups that it might have), throughout Leeds and Yorkshire. This process of immersing oneself in the city’s vibrancy and history was somewhat different to Sayang’s approach, whose making was led by field recordings in quiet, self-reflective/care spaces, to create the eventual immersive installations at the end of the process.
A large part of the process for Sayang was splitting up the considerable amount of field recordings into manageable 2-10 minute chunks that would live in their modular synth to be manipulated to form something new. This would be accessible to an audience through a collaborative installation experience. In a way this parallels how Jui-Hung was working; one of the ways in which she reflected on what she was doing in Leeds was to create illustrations that could become panels of larger pieces of her experience. Both, in a sense, have worked through a process fragmenting their experiences, but then bringing them back together to tell a story.
Throughout Sayang’s residency, there were three weekends of collaborative, responsive and improvised sound installations. For Sayang, the initial preparation for the exhibition would be carefully designing, planning and installing a space that became a home for them, their audience and the three chapters: ‘Broken. Water [air]. Speak.’ As Sayang wanted the exhibition’s sound installations to be completely responsive, they took a weekly day trip to a water-based location in Taipei, chosen for a personal connection and the want to understand more. Sayang would take field recordings while drawing and photographing particular environmental/auditory responses. This allowed Sayang to create a communal and collaborative journey of improvised four-hour sound pieces each Friday to Sunday, where people could respond to and influence Sayang by drawing/mark-making with charcoal, resting and interacting non-verbally. The initial preparation for the performance would be the selection of images taken during the residency, which would be printed and hung in the gallery space.
At the end of Jui-Hung’s residency, she held a Sharing event presenting illustrations from Leeds as well as self-portraits from different points during her wider practice. She also brought together snacks and sweets from Taiwan like Yimei cream puffs, cola gummies, and Kari Kari as part of describing the subtropical island warmth that she comes from. These added touches meant it became more of a cultural exchange between the audience and her.
‘Their vibrant and warm colours seemed to bring an immense tropical island warmth to this cold northern country.’ Jui-Hung Ni
Through the process of the residency, Jui-Hung found it fascinating to see how artists in the UK work. Previously she had felt she lacked self-confidence in her work and was overly concerned about external evaluation. This led to the realisation to live and to keep working on what you believe in. Since going back to Taiwan, Jui Hung has taken a new studio space, acting as a fresh start and new approach to her work, and is working towards a new solo show for next year. She has begun learning traditional tile painting techniques, and then creating workshops for the local community at the Plum Garden in Beitou Park for the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and is currently developing an exciting new mural in the park which will open on 28 October.
As part of LEEDS 2023’s Dreaming, Sayang and collaborators will introduce Si Polan x2 (supported by LEEDS 2023 and The British Council for 2023) this October, a sonic and sensorial reimagining of archiving processes and Malaysian outsider narratives, driven by rest, liberation and joy through collaboration and residencies.
Where Jui-Hung’s residency almost helped to formalise the way she was working as an artist, for Sayang it provided a reflective space to look at what formulates their practice.
‘In hindsight and from a distance, it’s interesting for me to see what I now realise are my core practice principles. Space, rest, nature, connection.’ Sayang
Through removing oneself from the usual spaces, there comes an approach to the making of work which allows for more reflection of why we make things, and what that looks like, especially within a residency that allows for alone time and quiet space. By doing this you can strengthen what your practice is, and as Sayang says, recognise those principles core to your practice.