Our Residency Knowledge Fellow Xiaoyao Xu visited FQ Projects during her second research trip. FQ Projects is a non-profit gallery and art space located in the middle of the city center in Shanghai. Here is an interview which resulted from this visit, in which Michelle Ni, the founder of FQ Projects, explains more about their mission:

CR: FQ Projects started out first in 2008 as a gallery space, now you have added an education part or focus in your space since 2015. How did the idea of starting FQ project come about? 

MN: I have always thought that art is for everyone, and the works can interact with everyone. So I started this name as a non-profit and wanted to work on some interesting and fun humanities projects, but during that time when I started - around 2007 and 2008, there was no such environment in Shanghai, neither in an academic or commercial sense. Therefore, I could only present some of my favorite works and display them in such an environment as FQ Projects. In 2008, we did make a project, Yang Yongliang’s “Tu Long Ji”. After that, there have been fewer installations and projects going on, and it is really because of the opportunity and the overall environment. Our space is located right in the city center, and the rent is quite expensive, and it’s not like I have not personally invested in this place. This is why I am cherishing that I am able to follow my practice at the moment. 

CR: You mentioned that in the beginning when FQ started, many other gallery spaces in Shanghai at that time were doing one-month long exhibitions. You decided on the duration of your exhibitions of two months, which is still going on until today. What does this say about the creative scene in Shanghai? 

MN: To hold one exhibition every month is to create a lot of relationships with many artists, to see the market reaction to an artist is, and basically functions as a screening mechanism. I personally feel that I can't do an exhibition for a month. So the period of an exhibition at FQ Projects is at least 2 months! So this is a business decision, and it has nothing to do with creativity, but also reflects the flourishing environment of the art market at that time.

FQ Projects: the gallery from the outside, and the artists' room and storage space. 

CR: FQ Projects is situated in one of the preserved housing areas in Shanghai directly accessible from the Huaihai road (one of the oldest shopping streets in Shanghai). How did you decide on the location? 

MN: I am a child who grew up in a downtown residential area, so this is the environment I am familiar with. Since I have the right to choose where I want to live, I decided to live in the longtang [the typical narrow streets and neighborhoods in Shanghai], also with the hope to have more contact and interaction with this area.

CR: And how has the location influenced the way of working for you, and also for people who were exhibiting at FQ projects?

MN: People still identify themselves through their community. This is why I chose this place, to always be able to go back and forth easily between my work and home environment. The artists and staff who participate in the gallery exhibition are mostly local and familiar with the busy life of the city, so it is like speaking in a common language.

CR: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

MN: Ever since growing up during elementary school, middle school, and high school I was living in a small area close to the gallery [FQ Projects]. I am one of the few high school graduates who gave up the college entrance examination and chose to go to work directly. After 9 years of gap year after my education, I chose to go to the UK to study art. Apart from being in the UK for 6 years, I have been living in Japan for a few months. At other times, I can say that I have spent all my life working and living in the center of Shanghai. After returning to the UK in 2007, the non-profit gallery was opened in 2008, and I had children in the same year. When I was running a gallery, I had been experimenting with art education intermittently. This may be related to the art and the public.

CR: What is your role in the residency?

MN: I actually have this idea [about starting an artist residency]. I haven’t really tried it yet. After our encounter, the encouragement has led to the launch of the artist’s resident project. However, we are just at the starting point and have had no experience yet. The original intention of opening an artist residency is to be able to be doing more interesting projects with interesting people. In this regard, there is still a lot we can learn.

CR:  How many people are on staff running the residency?

MN: In the past few years, FQ Projects has consisted of me and a full-time assistant, and interns or some other part-time staff. All the work that started last year at FQ Projects in cooperative work with part-time colleagues. I think that this might be the case in the future, to work with freelancers.

Artworks hanging in FQ Project (both by Chai Yiming 柴一茗).

CR: When visiting FQ Projects, you showed me the room in which resident artists have previously lived and worked. It was a single room with tatami flooring on the second floor inside the three-floor building. What are the other facilities and utilities the artist can use during their stay at the residency?

MN: There are showers, kitchens, studios, and the entire house without the reserved space can be used by the artist-in-residence.

CR: What expenses does the residency cover? What does the residency provide for artists? What must the artist provide for themselves?

MN: The residency consists of sleeping facilities, restroom and kitchen. The kitchen is at the moment not yet equipped with cooking equipment, as we are located in the middle of the city center and thus very convenient to get some food outside. It’s still a bit troublesome to cook yourself here. If the future artist-in-residence prefers to cook, we can also prepare everything for that. 

There will be also space provided for the artist to work, the area around FQ Projects with its residents and neighbors. This is actually also one of the requirements for the residency program, that is to have the artists work on something which will relate to and have an impact on the local neighborhood. To create works which are related to the local community which can lead to deeper thinking or social exploration, or coming from a research background. The residency will cover the living costs of the artists: water, electricity and internet costs. 

The artists need to buy art materials, supplies, and their own meals.

CR: Since 2015, you have started an education part for children and host artist talks, workshops and children’s classes during the week and on weekends. Are other opportunities available for visiting artists to share their work with the public?

MN: FQ Projects will organize a meeting where the artist-in-residence can carry out workshops with the children who attend the children’s classes. Also, it is possible and wished for to open up an interactive session possibilities for feedback during their activities. It also allows the artist to build up a relationship with neighbors as much as possible, so that neighbors may also bring inspiration and/or materials in any form to the artist. Finally, at the end of the residency, FQ Projects and the artist invite the friends of the artists as well as everyone else who has been in contact with the artist for a session to view the artist's work.

CR: You told me some previous artists have lived and worked at FQ project as part of a pre-residency program. What artists have been staying at FQ projects, and what were they working on? 

MN: This has not happened yet. The people who lived before were the teachers of art education. So in a sense, they could not be regarded as resident artists, as also they did not create works for this purpose.

CR: What is the minimum and maximum length of the stay?

MN: The length of the stay ranges from one week minimum to three months maximum. 

CR: What kinds of artists does your residency host? Your gallery space is looking to support young contemporary Chinese artists, who often have a background in traditional painting or sculpture. Is it only for contemporary Chinese artists, or do you also accept proposals for writers or other creative practices? 

MN: We are currently just starting the first residency with an artist. We do not presuppose that the artist, writer or any other person must come from one certain field, for example as artists, scholars or researchers, as long as their proposal is connected to the local neighborhood and this community.

CR: Also, what range of experience are you looking for in potential artists in residence? 

MN: FQ Projects looks for artists with interesting, qualitative practices, in-depth thinking and practical experience. 

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? 

MN: We ask for an open studio and a workshop, which can be either for adults, either for kids, or even for parents. Most artists also would like the possibility to show their work at the end of their stay. 

CR: As a gallery, how do you decide to help artists in residence to sell their work? 

MN: If the artist is interested in selling the work, we can talk about displaying and promoting the work on our platform with our existing resources, and of course, if it meets some standards that we think before it can be sold: the work needs to be interesting, have superb quality or show depth, or is attracting the viewer in certain ways.

CR: What are the do’s and don’ts? Are there any requirements or rules for the artists? 

MN: There are no specific rules for the working content of resident artists. Of course, they need to conform to the local law and have a common sense. For the space, it is necessary to abide by the safety rules and also use some common sense rules of conduct. Because it is a residential area, they cannot affect the daily life or security of the neighbors.

CR: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mission, or the opportunities you provide for artists? 

MN: In fact, an art space and artists are a complement to each other. We keep on being attracted to each other and keep on providing opportunities to each other. This interactive process is the main goal, but how to make the project survive in a longterm-meaning has always been a problem and still needs to be figured out. 

CR: 非青计划于2008年首次作为画廊空间开始,从2015年以来你们在空间中添加了一个教育部分。你们是为什么开始做FQ项目的?

MN: 我一直以来的想法也是希望艺术是给所有人的,作品能够和所有人有互动的,所以起了这个名字非青计划,想做一些好玩的人文的项目,不过在当时(2007/8),上海并没有这样的一个环境,要么比较学术、要么比较商业。所以我也只能在那样的环境下做一些自己喜欢的作品展示和销售。08年时我们的确做了一个项目,杨泳梁的“屠龙纪”。之后做装置和项目比较少,真的也是因为都要靠机缘和整体环境。我们的空间本来就是在市中心,房租也贵,我也不是或者没有金主投资。所以我是且行且珍惜那种做法。

CR: 提到,非青计划开始的时候,上海其他画廊都在进行为期一个月的展览。 您决定两个月的展览时间,直到今天仍然如此。 这对于上海的创意场景有什么看法?

MN: 一个月一个展览,是为了和更多的艺术家产生关系吧,看看什么艺术家的市场反应如何,是一个筛选机制。我自己觉得做不来一个月一个展览,一个展览的周期至少是2个月吧!所以这个就是一个商业决定吧,和创意没啥关系,也体现了当时的艺术市场不错的大环境。

CR: 非青计划位于上海保存完好的住宅区之一,可从淮海路(上海最古老的购物街之一)直接进入。 您是怎么决定这个地方的?

MN: 我自己是一个从小在市中心住宅区长大的孩子,所以这是我熟悉的环境。既然我有选择权,我就会选择自己从小心仪的弄堂,地段,也希望和这块地域发生更多的联系和互动。

CR: 该位置如何影响您的工作方式,以及参加非青计划的人员?

MN: 人还是社区的,所以我选择在这个位置,和工作的影响就是我可以随时在家和工作的环境之间迂回,参加画廊展览的艺术家和工作人员大多也是本土和熟悉城市繁忙生活的人,所以比较有共同语言。

CR: 您能告诉我们一些您自己和您的背景吗?

MN: 我从小在画廊附近的区域读的小学,中学,高中,我是少数放弃高考选择去上班的高中毕业生。9年的gap year后我选择了去英国读艺术本科,除了6年在英国,有几个月在日本,其他时间可以说全部在上海的市中心生活和工作度过。 2007年英国回来后,08年就开了非青计划画廊,同年有了孩子。 在经营画廊的时候其实断断续续一直有尝试艺术教育,这可能和我觉得艺术和大众相关有关系。

CR: 您在驻留方面的角色是什么?

MN: 我其实也是有这个想法,一直没有真的去尝试,直到遇到子涵后,她的鼓励便促成了艺术家驻地项目的启动,不过我们目前刚刚开始尝试,也没有经验,更多是以尝试和做点有趣的人文项目的初衷来开启的。这方面还要和大家多多学习。

CR: 非青计划有多少人在办公室工作?
MN: 几年来,非青计划一直是以我和一位全职助理,加实习或兼职人员来完成工作的。去年开始非青计划的所有工作都是以合作兼职的形式和同事一起完成的。 我也觉得未来可能这样自由职业的人会更多。

CR: 在参观非青计划时,您向我展示了居住艺术家以前居住和工作的房间。 你们有一间屋子,二层上。 艺术家在驻留期间可以使用的其他设施和设施是什么?

MN: 有淋浴,厨房,工作室,整个房子没有被预定的空间都可以是驻地艺术家的。

CR: 驻留费用包括哪些费用? 驻留者为艺术家提供什么? 艺术家需要为自己提供什么?

MN: 居住费用包括睡房,洗手间,厨房的使用,但是目前还有真正具备烧菜的厨具等,因为这里市中心外面吃东西非常方便,自己烧的话还是比较麻烦。不过如果艺术家有这个需要,我们也可以准备一些。



CR: 从2015年,您开始了儿童教育部分,在周末举办艺术家讲座,研讨会和儿童班。 访问艺术家是否有其他机会与公众分享他们的作品?

MN: 我们会安排驻地艺术家和我们的课程孩子们进行工作坊,让艺术家和孩子们有一个互动互相影响回馈的活动。也让艺术家尽量和周围邻居产生关系,这样邻居们也可能给艺术家带来灵感和素材。


CR: 之前有过一些艺术家在非青计划生活和工作。 他们当时的项目是什么?

MN: 这个还没有呢,之前的住过的艺术家是艺术教育的老师们,不能算驻地艺术家,没有为此而创作作品。

CR: 驻留的最短和最长时间是多少?

MN: 我们设的最短的是一周,最长的是三个月。

The third floor is where the children's workshops and classes take place. 三楼是儿童工作坊和课堂的所在地。

CR: 您的驻留地参加过哪些艺术家? 您的画廊空间正在寻求支持年轻的当代中国艺术家,他们往往具有传统绘画或雕塑的背景。 你们仅适用于当代中国艺术家,还是也接受作家或其他创作实践的提案?

MN: 我们当前才开始第一位驻地艺术家。我们并没有预设一定要那种媒材的艺术家,作家或其他任何艺术形式的艺术家都可以,譬如学者或者就某个领域的调研,只要和在地的人文相关。

CR: 您在驻留的潜在艺术家中寻找什么样的经验?

MN: 寻找有趣的,有质量,有深度的思考和实践经验。

CR: 驻留后,艺术家们是否留一个艺术品? 还有什么艺术家需要做的吗?

MN: 我们有要求一次open studio 和一次工作坊,可以是成人可以是儿童,也可以是亲子。一般艺术家也希望在驻留结束有一个展示交流活动。

CR: 作为一个画廊,您如何决定帮助驻留艺术家们出售他们的作品?

MN: 如果艺术家想要出售作品,我们可以在现有的资源里面,平台上给作品以展示和宣传,当然也要符合我们认为能够售卖的一些标准:有趣,有质量或者有深度,有吸引力。

CR: 对艺术家有任何要求或规则吗?

MN: 对驻地艺术家的创作内容上没有规则,需要符合法律和常理的道德观念。对空间来说需要遵守空间的安全规则和常识常理的行为规范。因为这里是住宅区,不能影响邻居居住的安静和安全。

CR: 您还有什么想补充的关于非青计划的吗?

MN: 其实空间和艺术家本就是相辅相成的关系,我们是互相吸引,互相提供机会,这个互动的过程就是目的,但是如何让项目良性存活下来,一直也是个难题。

This interview was conducted by Xiaoyao Xu via e-mail for China Residencies in July 2019.