In Conversation with Lychee One Gallery
First things first, can you tell me more about yourselves, and what is your background?
I had my first MA at China Academy of Art, second at the RCA, both being in Fine Art. My father used to do import and export business; I guess I was unconsciously influenced. James used to be a computer engineer, he became more and more into art after settling with me, eventually, he decided to quit his job and join the gallery.
Why did you decide to open a gallery in London? Are there any other formats you work with in the arts, aside from your gallery?
After graduating from the RCA, I decided to stay in London and set up my own platform to support myself and my friends. Besides my own gallery, I continued my painting career by working with other galleries, occasionally teaching art students at home and curating shows for older generation Chinese artists at various locations in London.
You offered a gallery and project space for experimentation and conversation at Pritchards Road, London, where you have been based for the last four years. What is the concept of the space? Has it achieved your initial intentions?
We tried to make the most of the space in the past four years, and we certainly achieved many initial intentions, such as supporting young artists, opening out the vectors for the realisation of projects, exhibitions, the exploration of writing modes, and the presentation of performances. Also, in a broader sense, I feel that we contributed in creating a dialogue between contemporary far Eastern art and Western art, a factor that is perhaps not so easy to measure.
Your very first show, back in 2014, was a solo presentation for artist Lily O. Which other artists did you start with, and how have you expanded / evolved your program since then?
My tutor at the RCA, artist/writer Jonathan Miles, who helped a lot with writing, curated the first Lily O show. Other artists I started with also had an RCA background, so I think there is an organic connection between us. Freya Douglas-Morris, Marlene Steyn, Zhu Tian, Bea Bonafini, are core artists of Lychee One, and so, I tend to work with artists who feel a proximity to, and obviously an admiration, based on aesthetic forms they employ. I also found amazing artists from the RA, Slade, Goldsmiths, and on Instagram. We have both worked with individuals, but also developed a style of presentation of work that goes beyond individual traits.
I understand that one of your main goals through the gallery is the development of an intellectual culture within the arts, and the commission of experimental projects. Could you tell me more about your gallery program?
We have always experimented with different ways of writing about or introducing artists’ work, and this extends into the use of the voice in terms of live performances.
London is a really competitive city, including in the arts…how do you manage to make a mark in such a competitive industry? What are the risks or satisfactions you’ve found along the way?
To open up a gallery in a city that I had only been in for two years was a big risk. Luckily, I had little experience as gallerist, so you could say that this ‘innocent courage’ allowed me to carry on. As the first mainland Chinese woman to open up a contemporary art gallery in London, I think I am making a mark here. Just like raising children,
there are always more satisfactions than pain. Spending time with artists, putting a show together, selling works for them, even watching them grow stronger is enough to leave me.
You are currently moving to a new space in Gransden Avenue, London. Do you think this change will affect the concept of your gallery somehow? Will the space influence at some point, the upcoming shows for your gallery? What are the difficulties that you have faced during this process?
The new space will have a big window front, which is very different from our previous hidden space. The new look definitely has more of a commercial feeling to it, but the concept will remain the same. I have experienced certain difficulties communicating with property agent and construction team. The targeted completion date was set to be on the end of March, but almost five months later I am still waiting for the floor to dry.
‘Lychee’ is an exotic fruit, from the soapberry family. What is the story behind this name? What about the logo of your gallery, what does it mean?
I wanted my gallery name to be opposite to most of the masculine commercial galleries, something lighter. The word “Lychee” is translated from Chinese to English, the logo is the Chinese character of “Lychee One”, so I think it looked good as logo. Lychee Liquor is the iconic drink every Chinese restaurant would serve, so if Lychee has almost a sentimental feeling, then “Lychee One” has a tougher edge as well by virtue of this non-signifying “One”
Your gallery represents artists Aishan Yu, Chantal Faust, Lian Zhang, Marlene Steyn, Zhu Tian, or Freya Douglas-Morris, amongst others… having said this, I see a strong dialogue between Eastern and Western art. Is this something you embrace? What is the connection between these artists?
I present a mixture of Eastern and Western artists, so what happens in my gallery is the same. Those artists all have very different approaches in art so there is a lot of mutual influence that occurs.
You have launched some interesting publications with a variety of contributors, which you sell through your website. Do you also sell art or editions online? What is your position on this?
Not yet, but we are open to all possibilities. We have just joined Artsy!
During your past exhibitions, you’ve invited outside curators several times, as Jonathan Miles, Eliza Bonham Carter, Emma Bäcklund or Àngels Miralda, to bring their curatorial approach to your shows. Is this a statement for you in terms of collaborations?
Yes, I enjoy working with curators, it is a way to learn from others, and I get to know more artists from the standpoint of other eyes.
There seems to be a dialogue between your gallery and public events, especially performances. What is, according to you, the role of a gallery, nowadays?
To do what machines cannot do.
Can you tell me more about your curatorial approach? When you don’t invite outside curators, are you the ones who curate the shows? Are the
thoughts of the artists in this aspect important to you?
I invite artists I ‘d like to do a show with, introduce them to a writer, or they tell me their preferences. Artist’s thoughts are important to me. Most of the times, I just let artists to install their works, or even curate the show.
How does digitalization affect your work as gallerists? Has this been favorable to your gallery at all? What are your thoughts on the social media?
I was born in the digital age, so my way of working and even living, is shaped by all the machines that are around me. For me, the online platform is an extension of the physical space, for instance, I have discovered many artists from all over the world, and sold many works though Instagram or Wechat.
I really enjoyed your last show at the Pritchards Road space, which was a solo presentation for artist Bea Bonafini, an artist that we are vey familiar with. Could you tell me more about your relation with Bea? Was there any struggle during the installation of this show?
Bea is an artist I have been following since her graduation show, so I invited her straight away for a group show in Lychee called ‘Summer Blue’. For her solo show, I offered her the space to produce new works for one month, she enjoyed the “residency”, and as you see, the outcome is great. There were a few anxious moments during the positioning of the works, but I feel that it worked out well. I admire Bea, not only as an artist, but also because of her almost heroic temperament that I find really fascinating. We went to Art Basel together, she stopped a train door from closing on me with her bare arms!
As a gallerist, I assume you collect art. What can you tell me about the favorite piece, from your personal collection?
I wouldn’t say which one is a favorite, but there is one very special piece called “Her mit she named her Billy”, I collected it from Marlene Steyn’s graduation show before the gallery opened. The painting is 230 x 210cm, too big to fit in the elevator, so my poor husband and our security man carried it up to 6th floor. It has been hanging in our living room for the last five years, so has also witnessed the birth and every birthday of my little girl. Paintings have eyes as well, so they see everything.
It seems like art fairs are dominating the art market, making it a completely necessary event to participate in for a gallery, and more often there are new fairs in new cities… Can you tell me your thoughts on art fairs?
Art Fairs are certainly good for promoting galleries and their artists, if finance isn’t a problem. If it is, maybe there are other ways for smaller galleries to be able to raise funding for their ongoing projects.
From screenings and performance, through painting, sculpture and site specific projects… what else is left for your gallery to do? In which other
ways are you planning to create conversations between artists, gallery, and viewer?
We are planning to organize lessons, workshops, and even food stalls, London Fields Park is just 30 seconds away, so we might use that as an advantage!
If you could put together a show with any artists, alive or dead, in your space, which artists would you choose? What would be the name for this exhibition?
Words by Martin Mayorga