Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art

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Q & A with the Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art

Kate Woods asks Michael Yuen of the DICA some questions, on 30 August 2012

When I heard of an artist who co-runs an art gallery, which travels the streets on the back of a donkey, I had to find out more. The Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art is the project of Beijing based duo Michael Yuen and Yam Lau (www.donkeyinstitute.net). Michael Yuen (www.michaelyuen.com.au) answers some questions below:

Q&A with Michael Yuen:

What is the Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art?

The Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art (DICA) is an initiative dedicated to supporting experimental contemporary art on the back of a donkey. Established in the Beijing summer of 2009, DICA demonstrates a donkey’s spirit of steadfast oblivion. The DICA and the donkey counter all forms of calculated intelligence, promotion and profit making within the market place of contemporary art. They do so with the slowest possible speed, the most idle tactics and wandering work ethics.

In many ways, Beijing is an absurd city. Perhaps, today Beijing is less so, than when DICA was first established. However, DICA possess a little of this absurdity. This absurdity arises from a feeling of limitless possibilities, which is always illusionary and yet powerful.

How did the DICA come about?

DICA is a collaboration between myself and Yam Lau, a Canadian-Chinese artist. We met in the 2009. Quickly, we hatched plans for a portable artist run space. Within a couple of weeks, our donkey was making its first rounds. These days, Yam and I get together in the Beijing summer. Over a period of a month, we run shows on the back of the donkey.

We think of DICA as an alternative to the commercial gallery scene in Beijing. This is not a negation of that scene. And, as artists, we play within that space. Yet, DICA is another standpoint on similar conceptual issues. Especially, we see DICA as playing a role within the post Olympics Beijing.

What kinds of projects have been exhibited at the DICA?

To date, DICA's shows include: an exhibition of video works, an artist book library and a exhibition of possible architectural designs for the extension of the DICA museum. The artist book library exhibition was my personal favourite. Alongside many book projects by Beijing artists, we placed self translation of other much loved works such as David Shirgley's Red Book. Our donkey would pull over to the side of the road. We would unpack the crates of book and a few stool. Then, we would sit around reading book and drinking in the Beijing summer air.

Where do you source your donkey from?

Yam and I meet a donkey owner on the street. The donkey is owned by a day labourer. He uses the donkey to cart building material around town, mostly nearby where he lives in the north of Beijing. We hire the donkey for each exhibition. The notion of keeping a donkey permanently is (frankly) scary. Yam and I are both very grateful to our donkey owner, who happily accompanies us on our meanderings through the city. 

Images courtesy of Michael Yuen and Shasha Liu