For me it’s about the feeling, the artist's intention. I try to project myself, synchronise with their own way, and I ask questions to see if the way I think they think is the same. Usually that works.
When I was 20 a friend of mine opened a Magazine Store in Florence. I felt really curious by going there and flip through the pages of these new and captivating images. Through this store and those magazines, I discovered a new world; and with it the importance of having physical spaces that connect people, that makes them discover what’s out there in the fields of visual arts and design.
While in Taiwan, working on a project for PIIRTÄÄ Le Noir I met Yichiu Chen that together with her partner, the designer Kenyon Yeh, founded Pon Ding – a collaborative platform for art, books and pop-up events.
Martino: Hi Chen. Could you tell me a bit about you and how it all began?
Chen: When you’re in your mid-twenties, you start to wonder about your position in the society and what you could do that is meaningful. But at the same time you’re young and don’t want to compromise too much. That made me think a lot! I loved photography and was starting to get a broader understanding of contemporary art. I was around a lot of artists – local and international -, so I started to interview them and write their stories. I approached many magazines and proposed those stories to them. It didn’t matter that most of these artists were not famous and had only done a couple of projects. At that time there were not many magazines reporting these young creatives and I wanted to give these creatives a chance to be seen.
M: When did the idea of Pon Ding come about? And has it evolved between now and when you started?
C: When I was in London or travelling to other cities, I always loved to discover small shops – whether it was a concept store, a gallery, a garage even… I liked how those places allowed people to be whoever they wanted to be. You would meet some strong characters there – sometimes the place represented the owner, sometimes a collective. I was feeling Taipei didn’t really have this kind of scene, so I wanted to create this: a welcoming place where art work can mix with design items. But you can’t just jump into it, you need experience, practice. Best thing is to talk to people, to friends. You do one exhibition, two… and you readjust. You start and things transform.
M: You said you were curious about interviewing artists. Do you have a method? What side of their art practice are you most interested in?
C: For me it’s about the feeling, the artist’s intention. I try to project myself, synchronise with their own way, and I ask questions to see if the way I think they think is the same. Usually that works. Then I ask more about the work so the interview becomes more dimensional.
M: Today I can see you have an interesting and diverse program. How do you select artists at Pon Ding?
C: My idea was always to have a space that offers a platform; a free space, open-minded. Of course I have my ideal aesthetic, but for me what is really important is to have a free platform where people feel the possibilities of the space. I want them to think “today I can come here and discover something new, something I have never seen before”. That’s why I usually don’t reject proposals – and it’s amazing how many of them are nice! It’s kind of difficult to explain. I have standards but I don’t have a type that I reject. Of course some artists have more experiences than other and I understand that each show will provide very different sounds.
M: To which extent do artists have to be aligned with your style/vision? Could you briefly describe the type of magazines, events/shows that you do?
C: It’s an important principle that artists aren’t so in-line. There are a lot of commercial galleries and avant-garde places in Taipei, but we are something in between alternative spaces and commercial galleries. We organise design events those places don’t really do. We also have a bookstore so we organise many events related to printing matters. There are some magazines I want to be the first shop to stock in Taipei; before they become commercial. But in general, we’re multi-disciplinary. My background is photography and publishing, so closer to visual arts, which means I have a lot of connections in that area. Whilst Yeh has a lot of design friends and therefore gets a lot of proposals around design shows.
M: When I started Numeroventi, I thought if this space is just a gallery, it will miss the point. It had to have some meaning for the city. What do you think the role is of Pon Ding?
C: I love to think of it as a stepping stone; a place where artists have their first shows and get noticed, getting a reputation for bigger institutions, because maybe we will never be able to make big shows or a lot of money. Many people come in and say “I love your space and I would like to work here”. It’s nice but really, that is a very small part of how the business works. Behind the scenes, we work very hard to keep asking ourselves what new and different things we could bring in.
M: How does the audience in Taipei react to the concept?
C: It’s quite difficult to maintain the pace because people say the market in Taipei is not there and this kind of scene is not essential for people – but it’s essential for the creative community.
M: What is the most challenging part of the job?
C: You realise you never know how people are going to be. If you have this kind of space, you’ll meet all kinds of people, and sometimes expressing your opinion without making people feel offended is very difficult. I found that the best way is to set your own rules and if people follow these, you can make something nice.
M: What do you think is the next big thing in editorial?
C: We don’t really need paper and yet we still want paper. So if this magazine or book is to exist, it needs to be different. It may just be paper but it brings many possibilities. At the moment, we see a lot of nice lifestyle photos. No-one is trying to do something kookie, looking interesting.
In the 90’s, people in the music industry were going wild, mostly on posters, and I believe now it’s coming back but for all subjects. We will see images that aren’t very polished nor really pretty but feel more real.
Artists: Anteng Tsai, Eszter Chen, The Fruit Shop, Niko Leung
Photos: Martino di Napoli Rampolla & Pon Ding