Red Gate Gallery in Beijing is one of the largest and longest-running residencies in China, run in conjunction with Red Gate Gallery. We interviewed Red Gate's founder & director, Brian Wallace, about the residency's origins and structure:
China Residencies: How did the residency program start?
Brian Wallace: In the 1990s, we worked with AsiaLink who sent us an artist every year on a grant for a couple months. By the time they were settling in, it was time for them to go home. We thought that was a little frustrating, year in and year out. So we organized to rent an apartment, put the word out and got a whole lot of applicants very early on. That was 12 years ago now.
CR: How did you find the studios in Begao and the Tuanjiehu apartments?
BW: One of Red Gate Gallery's artists, Li Gang, had his sculpture foundry in Beigao, a town outside of Beijing. I saw there were other artists moving in to the neighborhood, so we grabbed the last spaces, which became our resident studio lofts. I found the apartments in Tuanjiehu because I was living in the neighborhood at the time.
CR: What compels artists to come to China?
BW: Artists from all over the world have heard about what's going on here, the excitement of all the change. They want to come and see what's going on. They come here for inspiration, sometimes torment, whatever. It all feeds into their work.
CR: What kinds of artists are you more interested in hosting?
BW: We're always more interested in more contemporary and cutting edge work but we're open to everyone. We've had senior artists who might be working in a very conservative way, but we like them as well because they're great artists. Then we've also had DJs, choreographers, academics and writers. Some of the younger artists are out foraging around looking for found materials all the time. They find all sorts of materials in the village in Beigao, there are all sorts of things going on around there.
CR: How is the residency funded?
BW: In two ways, it's a very simple program:
Many artists apply by themselves and find their own funding. We encourage people to look for funding from their own countries. Many countries have resources, particularly for artists who want to come to China.
The other way, that's becoming a larger and larger part of our program, is working with other international institutions. We're working with nearly a dozen different institutions around the world including the Austrian Forum, the Goethe Institute, Red Mansion in London. The programs carry out a very rigorous selection process, sometimes including a shortlist for us to review, in order to select which artist they send over.
CR: Do these two ways cover the operating costs of the residency program, or does it receive outside funding as well?
BW: We run the residency program on nonprofit basis. Here in China, there is no funding for foreign artists as such, and initially, we sort of covered costs and things for the artists, but now we operate it on a fairly tight budget, so it breaks even, the residency supports itself.
CR: What kind of support to you provide for residents?
BW: We think welcoming the residents is one of the basics of the program, it lets them know you're looking out for them, especially if they've never been to China before, they really need some help.
We also collect a lot of feedback to constantly improve the program through an exit questionnaire.
We've recently managed to bring in a full time program director and coordinator, I don't know how it did it before, running the gallery and the residency program. So we have a staff of two dedicated to the program, Tang Zehui and Nina, who is really the hands on person working with the artists. We also have a maintenance staff to keep the places in running order.
CR: What opportunities do residents have to show their work and participate in Beijing's art scene?
BW: We keep the residency quite separate from the gallery, partly because a lot of the visiting artists would really want to have an exhibition here, but we can't do that. What we do is introduce the artists to the whole art community: other artists, all the galleries, and so on. We let them know about all the openings going on, and sometimes they get included in group shows. As part of our job, we hope to meet directors from other galleries, other artists who might be organizing shows, and some of them do get involved in group if no solo shows
We also have open studios for them every two months for the artists to show their work to their immediate friends and community.
CR: Does Red Gate interact with other residency programs in Beijing?
BW: Since many other programs here have only one resident at a time, they can get lonely. So we include them in everything we do, we invite them to the dinner, the openings, they can also participate in the open studios. We're quite inclusive in that way, we think that's a very good way of running a residency programs. We're not competing with each other at all.
CR: What's the ideal length of stay?
BW: Most of the artists come for an average of about two months. Many of them come back, they build ongoing relationship with different galleries and people here.
CR: Do you encourage artists to come back for multiple residencies?
BW: Very much, of course, we like artists who come back to our program. We also like that many of them find their own studios and set themselves up here. We've had any number of past artists form around the world who now have a permanent space here. Some of them share their space with other artists. They might live here, they might come and go.
People who do come back, Laurens Tan and Jane Dyer who have been coming to China for many many years now, and are now based here. And the opportunities that they've been offered while here, from curators, gallerists, art schools, dealers, consultants, to do art work around the region - they might not have that opportunity if they had stayed in Sydney or Melbourne.
CR: What's ahead for Red Gate Residency?
BW: As far as red gate's physical set up, we have 9 or 10 places at the moment, running a program with 10 to 14 artists at a time. We would certainly like link up with more international organizations and institutions, to get these programs in their budgeting process so it goes on for a number of years, so they have a serious development plan for their country's artists. It's a more sustainable relationship.
This interview was conducted in Beijing by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.