Derek Chan.

“This first image was taken earlier this year. At the time, I was living in a communal living situation on the Southside of Chicago. This setup was on the second floor of a building rehab project started by the artist Theaster Gates.  I was renting a room in the adjacent building, a rehabbed candy shop.   In my available time I would contribute to the building by doing small projects. This most typically meant moving wood and other materials in and out of the building. In this picture I had just removed a section of flooring so that materials could be passed through the floor. Hence, the giant hole! Most of the skilled labor was left to others. In exchange for my labor I was allowed to setup a temporary studio in the building.  Working in a “work in progress” definitely forced me to be more flexible. It taught me a lot about sharing space. Also, the work ethic involved in a building rehab I was able to apply to my own practice.

When Chicago winter hit I no longer had the leisure to oil paint because of the lack of insulation. It became necessary for me to change the way that I worked. Every morning I would fire up the kerosene heater and make ink drawings until it got too cold. This led to the series The Days Are The Same But Different. This series of works on paper were ink drawings done every morning, for sixty-six days. The piece was an exercise in consistency, a celebration of simplicity and of the basic, everyday rituals we use to compose our lives.

This second image is of my most recent workspace.  I sublet this studio from a friend who was away for two months. The timing worked out perfectly since I needed a workspace to prepare for an upcoming exhibition. I have consistently been in and out of temporary living situations for the past year partially by choice and circumstance. There is definitely a sense of freedom I enjoy, but at times it can also be unsettling. This studio space was great because it gave me a sense of grounding. I felt really at home here.

I was transcribing notes from different notebooks and sketchbooks that I carry around with me. I tend to get a lot of my ideas outside of the studio. So a backpack, bicycle, good pens and sketchbooks are necessary tools. Also, another recent addition has been a Blackberry.

The notes and drawings on the table were taken during my recent travels in the Southwest. I just returned from this trip and was beginning to prepare for a recent book project. My travels led me to ancient Hopi and Navajo villages, roads not usually traveled by non-tribal residents. The ink drawings collected in the book were a response and interpretation of myth, politics, landscape and the experiences of the indigenous people in the Four Corners region.

This third image is another view of the same studio. I like to spread out when I work. I also like to work on my knees, so floor space is a must. Other little studio rituals I keep are, burning 99-cent incense, making tea, eating Korean ramen and procrastinating by making playlists.”

Derek Chan is currently a Chicago based artist originally from the Bay Area. His works-on-paper, and durational performances record the minutia of daily life while combining historical narratives to reflect on such themes as spirituality and community. Chan develops his work through a highly personal, meditative practice that most recently explores the spiritual and poetic nature of the Four Corners region, where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. Thirty and Eight is an upcoming exhibition with Ayako Yamasaki at Golden Age, Chicago. This exhibition directly follows a solo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the release of the book Cries and Whispers from the Salt Song Trail: A Reinterpretive Journey with Golden Age and collaborations with Theaster Gates at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art during the Whitney Biennial.

Using time as a medium and introducing my body in the work has been a method. I have been shifting from more personal narratives to the narratives of others.

FROM YOUR DESKS: Do you mind moving; not only workspaces but traveling?

DEREK CHAN: I haven’t traveled all that much, however I try to be as mobile as I can in the city I’m living in. Sometimes this just means riding my bike to different neighborhoods or being involved in different communities. Mostly, I just like seeing how other people live and what it is like living with them.  I have found that these temporary experiences always seem to find a way into my work.

FYD: Looking at the “Days Are The Same” project and your “Daily Practice” you seem to have introduced colour. Have you experienced a personal shift in work? 

DC:  I have realized how much of my work is actually driven by narrative. I am often trying to find a balance with abstraction that doesn’t completely flatten out those narrative qualities.  Using time as a medium and introducing my body in the work has been a method for this. Most recently, I have been shifting from more personal narratives to the narratives of others.

When I began the “Days Are The Same” project, it seemed necessary to be more reductive and work within certain set limitations. For that project I didn’t want color to be a distraction. In “Daily Practice”, that piece seemed more about the joy in painting so I could be more free about how I used color.

FYD: For your Durational Performance (Monastic Residency) at the Whitney; you were a Monk. How did people react? 

DC: I always found it kind of funny that people would bow when they would see me. Quite a few people thought I was an actual monk. I tried to make myself as approachable as possible so that people would realize that I was not just “on exhibition”. I found that most people assumed that I was, or would be, silent. A lot of people were surprised when I would talk to them.

The most dramatic reaction was a woman who had a somewhat of a spiritual breakdown.  She took one of the objects and motioned it in a repeated stabbing motion. She told me that she saw the Shiva, the destroyer, and she wanted to penetrate the object into my back. When we talked, something about the piece and audio overwhelmed her. I think she liked the piece though?

FYD: Do “Little Things Matter?

DC:  Yes.

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