I made the trek up to Manchester again yesterday to go and see an exhibition (installtion?) entitled Interval: A Narrative Psychosis by Kai-Oi Jay Yung at the Cornerhouse gallery. I had, earlier in the week, booked myself in to attend a presentation that the artist was giving about her work in the gallery that afternoon and so I arrived nice and early in order to spend some time with the work before hearing her talk about it.
The exhibition was essentially one large installation comprised of a twelve videos. The two main films were projected in the larger spaces and the remaining videos were installed in what I would describe as ramshackle booths which were sporadically decorated with bright splashes of paint and decorative pieces of fabric. The first thing to note about the exhibition was that it demands your time; the videos varied in length from 1 minute 10 seconds to 29 minutes and 31 seconds and the total running time of all the videos was 2 hours 54 minutes according to the accompanying literature.
There was an interesting mix of videos on display which had been neatly divided up into the categories ambient, main films and documentaries. The layout of the exhibition roughly dictated that visitors would see the ambient videos and then the documentaries with the main films intersecting into visitors’ journeys through the space.
Having had some time now to contemplate the exhibition it would seem that the ambient videos had the strongest impact upon me. They were much more abstract than the accompanying documentaries leaving much more space for the audience to think about what it was they were being presented with. New World, for example, took us on a brief tour of Disneyland Hong Kong which offered up some beautiful scenes. The sullen faces of the tourists in the park queuing, presumably, for a ride of some sort whilst the some saccharine sweet Disney music plays in the background was particularly memorable. Many of us have been in such a situation at a theme park but seeing it highlighted in this way really drove home the absurdity of it.
I found the documentaries very interesting and informative but upon reflection I don’t think that they had the same impact as the ambient films. Essentially they were comprised of cut together interviews that the artist had conducted with people that she had met on her travels through Hong Kong and California. All of the people that we were introduced to were extremely engaging and had some fascinating stories to tell.
Through their presentation in little ‘booths’, each with a set of headphones, these documentaries provided quite an intimate experience. The artist had edited herself, as interviewer, out of the films and so I found myself enclosed in relatively small space, ensconced in a large pair of headphones listening to the stories of these people from Hong Kong and California.
The main films, around which the exhibition appeared to be focussed, revolved around the story of a woman called Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House. Like the documentaries I found the first of these films interesting from the point of view that it was informative as I wasn’t previously aware of Sarah Winchester’s story. I must admit I have struggled to digest the second of these films which was entitled ‘Amnesia: A Rehearsal’. The artist describes it as a psychological anti-narrative… exploring how we form our own memories throughout our daily lives. It was clearly an important piece from her point of view as the dress that she is seen wearing throughout the film was hung very prominently in the gallery. Maybe I was missing a trick but I really struggled to take anything away from this film. I couldn’t help but feel that the work was a very personal exploration that the artist had undertaken.
Over all I enjoyed all of the videos that made up Interval: A Narrative Psychosis and spent the best part of three hours trying to take it all in. As I have stated above, I found the ambient videos the most powerful and thought provoking. On the whole the ambient videos were considerably shorter than the rest of the work on show and I would suggest that the artist might want to consider adopting a ruthless approach to the editing process in future with regard to her documentaries in order to achieve a greater impact. Alternatively it maybe that a different approach to the presentation of these videos might be needed in future.
It was extremely interesting listening to Jay Yung talk about her exhibition. She’s a lively and articulate person and hearing what she had to say about the work certainly helped me to make sense of what it was that I had just experienced. I had initially entered into the exhibition without any of the accompanying literature as I do like to try and see new work afresh without any preconceived ideas about what I should think about the work. However, my initial exploration had left me feeling a little frustrated as if trying to piece together a jigsaw that had some pieces missing from it. The artist’s talk and discussion about the work did help a great deal in understanding how the work had come about though I still felt that some of the points that she was trying to convey through the work were not all that apparent in the final exhibition.
Interestingly to me, Jay Yung talked about need to maintain an element of the handmade within her work. This manifested itself in this exhibition through the installation in which the videos were embedded; that is the little booths decorated with splashes of paint and fabric as mentioned earlier. Unfortunately this decoration came across as an afterthought. The booths that the artist had created gave spectators an intimate experience with some of her work, but the decoration really didn’t add anything to the work from my point of view as a visitor and so hearing the importance that she placed upon this came as quite a surprise.
I realise I come across as quite critical, I always do, but I really did enjoy Interval: A Narrative Psychosis. Unfortunately you’ve missed the exhibition as it closed today. Jay Yung explores some fascinating themes and I think my criticisms arise out of the fact that she is a relatively young artist whose practice is still as yet undefined. As her practice evolves I’ve no doubt that she produce even more fascinating work with which to engage us.
There is an essay about this exhibition available here and you can find out more about Kai Oi Jay-Yung at www.jay-yung.com.