Installations by Asian Artists in Residence at the Mattress Factory: An Interview with Michael Olijnyk
Giannini, Claudia, Art Journal
Installations by Asian Artists in Residence is an exhibition that was on view at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh from October 30, 1999, to July 31, 2ooo. The Mattress Factory is an alternative museum that commissions, presents, and collects site-specific installations in an environment whose resources are totally dedicated to that process. Each year, it invites artists to create new site-specific installations in residency. The installations usually remain on view to the public from four months to one year. Organized by Michael Olijnyk, the Mattress Factory's Curator of Exhibitions, Installations by Asian Artists in Residence featured works by ten artists from five Asian countries: Goro Hirata (b. 1965, Japan), ium (b. 1971, Korea), Sora Kim (b. 1965, Korea), Yoshihiro Suda (b. 1969, Japan), Gimhongsok (b. 1964, Korea), Gu Dexin (b. 1962, China), Suttee Kunavichayanont (b. 1965, Thailand), Wu Mali (b. 1957, Taiwan), Fumio Tachibana (b. 1968, Japan), Wang Youshen (b. 1964, China).
Giannini: Could you begin by describing the Mattress Factory's mission?
Olijnyk: The Mattress Factory is an organization that centers on the artist, helping artists to make installations by supplying them with funding, space to work in, and enough time to make and show their work. We give artists opportunities that are not necessarily available at other places. Commercial galleries can't afford to give an artist that much time because they're there to sell, and every month they need a new exhibition. Even many museums are not geared to working with living artists in the sense that they are not there to help artists solve problems on a daily basis. If we present an exhibition in which a group of artists are connected by such things as geography or a type of medium, it still ends up as individual one-person exhibitions. Every artist is given his or her own space. We believe this is important in order to understand and to really see the work. When visitors come, they only see one artist at a time, and nothing else interrupts the artist's idea.
Giannini: How did you decide to present an exhibition featuring Asian artists?
Olijnyk: Our decision to organize certain projects is influenced by what is happening in the world at large, including global political and economic shifts. When we put together the Eastern European exhibition in 1995, the Berlin Wall had come down, and travel and the exchange of ideas were easier. That is why we decided to go to Eastern Europe and find ten artists to invite to work at the Mattress Factory. As for the Asia project, there has been a growing interest in Asia over the past several years. The economies of certain Asian nations have become more powerful and more integrated into the global economy. And culturally, there has been increased interest in contemporary Asian art in Europe and in this country. It has also become easier to travel to places like China. One of the artists in the exhibition, Suttee Kunavichayanont, created a work entitled Siamese Breath (Twins), composed of pairs of yellow and white silicone figures joined at various parts, that deals directly with the relationship between the West and the East-specifically, Thailand. As he has observed, at times the two cultures exist in harmony, while at other times they are in conflict.
Giannini: What kinds of artists were you looking for when you went to Asia?
Olijnyk: We were looking for what we always look for-individual artists taking individual paths in their work. Although some of the works in the exhibition are influenced by where the artists come from, they also reflect individual concerns that transcend nationality. Sora Kim's D-Gravitizer is a great example of what you see in industrial Korean society. For her to create an art project which is a fictitious company producing cleaning products makes complete sense, because those kinds of products are everywhere in Korea. In fact, we displayed her piece at an international invention expo here in Pittsburgh, and it fit in perfectly. …