Friday, June 8, 2012

Conversation with Elizabeth Briel

Sometimes awesome artists leave our fair city but leave their marks! Elizabeth is one of those. I wandered upon her and her work through the twitter verse and thought it was important to make sure people know more about her! She's really an amazing artist and has impassioned views on both Hong Kong as a society for artists and on the business side of art.

She also makes beautiful prints and does beautiful work with paper! Check out her work, it's really quite beautiful! I also find her "rants", as she calls them fascinating and hilarious at the same time. Got to love sharp wit on woman, it's the new look for summer!
Enjoy our conversation!
This is Elizabeth making paper!

1. Who are you?
Ebriel (Elizabeth Briel) Beijing-based American artist
was based in HK 2006-2008

What kind of art do you do?

I make books and art with obscure materials that have near-forgotten
histories – and turn them into prints and paintings. For the past nine
years I've been based in Asia, and my work results from experiences
here: disconnections and cultural ambiguities. A medium I’m known for
is the Cyanotype, one of the oldest forms of photography: an alchemy
of sunlight, iron salts, and water, transformed into prints on paper
and fabric.

At the end of the year, ThingsAsian Press will release my book Paper
Pilgrimage: Bombs, Bandits, and a Vanishing Art in Southeast Asia, an
illustrated travel book about my search for handmade papers for my
art, and the people who make them.

Where are you from?
Born in California, schooled in Minneapolis and everywhere I’ve lived,
educated most of all by my mentors and failures.

2. How does where you come from affect your art?

My parents are Europhile Catholics who lived in France and various
parts of America when I was small. Our homes were always filled with
old books, Chinoiserie, and pre-20th century European religious
imagery. A fascination with history, foreignness, and symbolism began
that still pervades my work today.

Where I’ve lived has affected my art. We cannot choose where we’re
born, but we can choose where we live. I’ve deliberately selected
places where the collision with a culture pushes my art in new
directions. Every city and landscape is a shift of perspective and
language, and the dissonance between old assumptions and new
realities. Because I’m often surrounded by languages I don’t
understand, texts are important in my work – how they define our
worldview, confine and mislead us.

3. You had an art gallery in Lamma, how did you start it?

It was actually my studio space. I was new to HK, and rented a
top-level flat off of Lamma’s main street to develop my Cyanotypes in
the sun. One day I looked around and thought: “I’ve got to do
something with this studio and rooftop, something beyond making art.”
So I held an open studio every month, and featured a different artist
from the island, along with my own work.

Now in Beijing I’m looking at creative uses of publishing and
exhibition spaces in China for 2013 and beyond. The project will be
multifaceted, bridging visual art and literature, America and China.
It’s still in the early stages, here’s an introduction:

4. In the Cyan Studio you promoted local artists; who do you think are
some people that are up and coming people to watch out for?

I worked with mainly emerging or part-time artists from the island.
Two notable photographers I showed at the studio:

Paul Lau, a.k.a. The Butterfly Man (more here  or here )

and Darren Hayward  of the Wall St Journal, who brought a sharp design sense to his architectural photos exhibited during the studio’s last show in 2008.

Though I’ve lived in other places since, I’ve stayed in touch with
Hong Kong art. This year I invited HK artist Movana Chen to be the
first artist in residence at Studio Sicilia, a space for creatives who work with paper She wove my manuscript into the latest section of her Traveling Bookshelf project

5. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?


6. Money problems always seem to plague the art community, any advice as a successful business woman?

The art world has a schizophrenic relationship with money.
Hypocritical. Depending on the day, I’ll even call it parasitical. Forexample, this recent quote from a Hong Kong gallerist in Pipeline magazine

 “’An artist should concentrate on working [on art], a gallery is like
a manager’…In the past, some artists were even on a small income [from
the gallery]”.

An artist is expected to be grateful if their gallery provides small
handouts, and do nothing but produce art – as much of it as possible
while they’re still young and considered a good investment for the
art-collecting machine and secondary market - then hand it all over to
their gallery which takes a minimum of fifty percent of the purchase
price. It’s ridiculous. And artists shouldn’t have a whiff of
commercialism about their work – unless it’s ironic. What kind of
artists does this system produce? What kind of art does this
encourage? Art is expensive to produce: it requires significant
amounts of space and, often, rarified, artists-quality materials that
will last. Most of it can’t be emailed like a manuscript, and is
extremely expensive to ship. Even the publishing industry allows
writers to be well-rounded human beings, not just content-producing


The Cyan Studio was decidedly non-profit. My next experiment will be
structured quite differently. Gallerists with a background in the
financial industry are among the most successful. Here’s an
enlightening interview with Tobias Meyer of Sotheby’s from art
collector Adam Lindemann’s book, Collecting Contemporary
where he describes the psychology behind art collecting trends. Buyers
of art and financial products have similar needs: they’re high-profile
investments that require significant expertise to navigate.

Artists need to have a realistic relationship with money. My choice to
study painting at the cusp of the 21st century wasn’t practical, nor
was I for quite some time. It wasn’t until the move to HK that I
structured my art cashflow(s) consistently. The city demands you be
100% behind your work, in a professional manner, or don’t bother doing
it at all. Hong Kong has a history of entrepreneurship and business,
so creatives are ahead of the curve in that way.

7. What are the biggest problems facing the visual art community in Hong Kong?

Lots of blue chip galleries! Just kidding. That's understandable - it
fits in well with HK's brand name obsession. But there are many
interesting spaces showing interesting work that may be off the
non-specialist’s radar, like Saamlung and Para/Site. Hong Kong’s low
taxes on art sales compared to those of the mainland will ensure a lot
of art will continue to be sold here, but, proportionally, not much of
what has been sold in recent years was actually produced here. This
seems to be changing slowly.

The local scene has begun to grow dynamically in scope and
sophistication in the past few years, stimulated by ArtHK, M+ and
similar projects. HK produced art is no longer just focused on the
graduates of particular local universities, congregating in virtual
warehouse ghettoes. I see this as an expansion of HK's horizons in
general in the past decade. Hong Kong people are experimenting in
various industries to find their place in contemporary Asia, as a
Chinese city with special privileges, with a unique culture and
history. If HK's arts growth keeps up, buoyed by direct exposure to
the international art shown and sold here, I see only good things for
the future of art produced in Hong Kong.

The bottom line is, in many parts of the world - and particularly HK -
money gives respectability. That’s what was missing here until
recently. Now that high-priced and higher-profile art has come to HK
and is in a way beginning to define a particular role for the city on
an international level, creating a greater awareness among young
people with associated educational programs, the expanding spectrum of
arts careers is becoming more socially acceptable here.

Also the rivalry with Singapore has been good for art in Hong Kong.
Singapore has poured money into cultivating their Biennale and arts
resources like the STPI, and this has encouraged HK to ramp up their
efforts too.

8. What can Hong Kong do to help the art community?

Real estate pressures are the number one concern for artists here, as
anywhere else. With all of Hong Kong’s creative investments I’msurprised there haven’t been more government endeavors like the JCCAC, or nonprofits/private partnerships like these

In many ways, the Hong Kong arts community has been helping itself inrecent years, with galleries expanding into non-traditional spaces and neighborhoods. ArtHK has acted as a real catalyst for the HK art scene, and many events revolve around it.

9. What piece of art are you most proud of?

An artist’s favorite is always their next work - my upcoming Cyanotype series will have chicken feet in it!

Recent work comes a close second. Here’s a favorite from my last series.
"Imaginary Landscape of Betel-Nut Island", 3 feet x 5 feet, 2011,
Cyaotype print on handmade paper

This is from a series I made during an artists residency at a
university in Penang, a meditation on the many cultural diaspora there
that coexist with general tolerance – southern Chinese, Malay, Tamil.
But it is far from tension-free.

The animated slideshow gives the back story behind the images, and
shows how I developed the artwork in the series from local materials
of everyday life like joss papers:

10. How is social media affecting the art community of HK?

I didn’t really tap into it while there (the English language social
media of HK arts was developing just as I left) and my use of HK-centric social media is sporadic. During various events throughout the year, particularly ArtHK, I keep track of the relevant Twitter
hash-tags, for a more multi-layered experience to an event.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. Good to see Elizabeth getting more exposure. Been following her off and on for a few years. Her posts and work are always interesting and entertaining.