Wing Young Huie and The Third Place

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Wing Young Huie has a new project space, and upon hearing him describe the joint’s purpose, one may not be surprised to discover among one of his goals for it is to become an urban living room. Yep, you’re invited. Drop your sense of pretense. (And excuse me as I don’t apologize for first name informality.) Wing now adds “host” to his job description. If I may say so, I expect he’ll only smile and thank you for stopping by and participating. Bring your Ping-Pong appetite.

The Third Place is a continued reach to explore or reconsider neighborhood categorization, cultural exchange, personal and private space, what art can do. It is another project of his, a living project–one that can more immediately relate/respond/engage among many of the most poignant themes Wing’s already explored and unshyfully untethered–social engagement through listening or watching another human being communicate.

Wing’s presence in the community as a photographer has been encouraging, uplifting, it has offered comical-relief, it is inspirational, it is action. Wing uses the camera as a tool–if not weapon–to connect and perhaps restore disparate and misunderstood and unknown lifestyles, events, experiences. His public art photo projects have paraded the respective twin-towns’ ethnically populated boulevards; are almost always far less about himself than they are about the unseen fibers of a universal human experience; and lastly, are gifts to a social conversation for our communities.

MPB: Congrats, Wing! What was the original vision for The Third Place and has that changed since you’ve been in your space for a year?

WYH: The idea I started with was to have a gallery space that furthered my public art projects, commingling art and social interaction. And, like my projects, I tried to not think too far in advance and let the concepts evolve. I knew I wanted to bring in other artists and thinkers from different fields for an event once a month and have karaoke and ping pong afterwards, but that was about it.

At first I invited artists I knew and admired, such as Ed Bok Lee, a poet, and Barbara Kreft, an abstract painter and pretty much let them do whatever they wanted, with minimal suggestions on my part.

A big step was that after about a half a year I hired Stephanie Rogers as Gallery Director and that’s when we took on a stronger curatorial role. Word has gotten out and now we’re getting requests from artists. We’re also able to book presenters farther in advance, giving us more time to shape the evening. We challenge artists to go outside their comfort zone and to experiment, or to show a work-in-progress. We also encourage them to spend a significant amount of time talking about the creative process, pulling the curtain back as much as possible for the audience.

MPB: What hours are The Third Place open to the public?

WYH: We don’t have regular hours yet. Best to email or call to make an appointment, or take a chance and drop in. I’m there every day at some point unless I’m out of town. Stephanie is usually there Mondays and Fridays, 10 – 5.

MPB: What type of experience could a first-time visitor To Third Place anticipate in a visit?

WYH: One first time visitor who had recently moved to the Twin Cities told me that it was fun and edifying, and even though she didn’t know anyone she felt right at home. I would hope that is a common experience.

MPB: What programs, or projects, or themes have you shown since opening the space?

WYH: An incomplete list includes: A dialogue between two abstract painters, thirty years apart in age, one concerned with pain and the other with healing; an Asian film maker who discussed the challenges of making a documentary about a Hmong deer hunter who killed six white hunters in northern Wisconsin; a dual reading from an accomplished actor and an esteemed theater critic of their respective work-in-progress plays—the first forays for each as a playwright and the first public reading of them; an episodic puppet theatre piece as a response to Occupy Wall Street; a sensory isolation experience performed by a music collective; a conversation about the intersection of documentary photography and sociology between a prominent sociologist and myself; another documentary of an organization in South Chicago of former gang members who interrupt gang violence, followed by a vigorous audience discussion facilitated by a few of the violence “Interrupters”; and most recently an interactive, aleatoric work for violin and live electronics between a concert violinist and her music composing, husband-to-be—their first public collaboration—a site-specific composition titled: “Music for The Third Place.”

MPB: So what have you learned most?

WYH: I’ve certainly learned from each of the performances and realized that you don’t need to know a lot about a particular medium, such as music or theatre, to enjoy it. It was important for us to make all the events accessible to a diverse audience. Art can sometimes be a barrier.

I’ve also realized that setting the right tone; a balance of informality, vulnerability, and openness was important for the performers, as well as the audience. We suggest that introduce themselves to at least one person they don’t know at some point in the evening.

MPB: Can you discuss any of the gallery’s future projects?

WYH: We’ve tentatively scheduled my first solo exhibition for early December, tentatively titled: “Eat.” Photos will be culled from my archive coupled with new work. There will be a potluck opening and potluck closing. A zine-like catalogue will be available. The plan is to do a solo exhibit of my work two or three times a year, combining old and new work around a theme, with an accompanying catalogue. I’m thinking each will be titled after my blog, so the first would be: (k)now: Eat

MPB: Beyond programming, how does The Third Place reach communities–be it neighborhood, creative, various population demographics?

WYH: We’ve drawn quite diverse audiences, folks from the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods, college students and academics, all different socio-economic and cultural groups. An estimated 2500 have attended the monthly events in the 14 months and an additional 1500 have visited the gallery, including many K – 12 and college classes.

The corner of 38th & Chicago is emblematic of many urban corners in that there is a stigmatized perception; that it is a rough area. But how much does the media drive the perception of neighborhoods? What is the gap between perception and reality? And how much do images created by popular culture—Hollywood and marketing—reinforces and widens that gap?

The Third Place is a continuation of my many projects that creates communal spaces, but in a playful way, combining art and salon-style discussion with ping-pong and karaoke.

My blog about the neighborhood—We are the Other—is a continuation of The Third Place, as well as my online gallery.

MPB: Looking back, what stories do you feel have gone missing?

WYH: There are lots of artistic cultural mediums still to explore. We’re working on trying to book an up and coming Somali hip hop artist. Haven’t had any dancers yet.

MPB: Have you ever worked for a newspaper?

WYH: I have a B.A in journalism from the University of Minnesota and was a general assignment reporter for the Minnesota Daily. My best article was a two-part series on campus loneliness. My most enterprising piece was on the phone numbers scrawled on campus bathroom walls, all of which I called.

I freelanced for most of the regional publications at some point, including the Weekly Reader (defunct), City Pages, Corporate Report, Minnesota Monthly, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, and so on. I was the staff photographer for CitiBusiness weekly in the early 90s, until they fired me. I was getting burnt out on editorial and commercial photography and had lost interest in what I was doing. They were right to give me the boot because I wasn’t doing good work. Which was a blessing in disguise for me because a couple of months later I started my first project, Frogtown.

MPB: I ask because your work appears to focus on the stories behind or between the headlines.

WYH: There is definitely a journalistic perspective to my work. The difference is that when I was working for an editor or art director I pretty much knew what kind of photograph they wanted and what it should say, while as an artist working on my own projects I am just reacting to what I see, rather than pre-visualizing, which is often what happens in commercial work, and even photojournalism. Generally your job is to illustrate, not interpret.

Also, I embrace ambiguity more as an artist. I like photographs that are open to interpretation. Ambiguity has little value in the marketplace. Commercial and editorial photos have to shout.

MPB: At what point when your work developed did you become attracted to capturing the stories that weren’t being told?

WYH: My first project Frogtown (1993 – 1995) is a neighborhood, like many urban areas, that you only seem to hear about on the news, when something bad happens. How much does the media drive the reputations of neighborhoods, or for that matter, culture in general? So a lot of my work is about everyday realities not reflected in the idealized imagery created by the popular entertainment, marketing and the media.

MPB: In what way might your images be both visual commentary and serve to connect the viewer to the subject?

WYH: Of course everything I do is subjective, both in how and what I am drawn to photographing. But I do like photographs where the presence of the photographer is not too present. I think the best images look as though they took themselves.

I started in a documentary vein and I think that documentary photos, despite the best intentions of the photographer, can exoticize and objectify the people in the photos. I felt that this happened in my own work as well and so with my most recent completed project, The University Avenue Project (UAP, 2007 – 2010), I consciously tried to photograph in a way that would shorten the distance between the viewer and what is viewed. One way was to just get physically closer. Another was to use a chalkboard.

MPB: What was the inspiration or what did you hope for your Chalk Talk series?

WYH: In many of my previous projects I interviewed the people I photographed and included their words alongside the photograph. With UAP I decided to incorporate the words directly into the photograph, using hand held chalkboards I made. I came up with a set of questions that were not easily answered but would elicit a wide array of thoughts, dreams, wishes, private and public fears.

Questions were: What are you? What advice would you give to a stranger? How do you think others see you? What don’t they see? What’s your favorite word? Describe an incident that changed you. How have you been affected by race?

I then suggested the answer I thought was the most interesting, but ultimately you could write whatever you wanted to write.

Talk about using chalkboards in your latest project as a way to connect people, going far beyond documentary to a more community-oriented art where the artist is the catalyst for introducing neighbors.

MPB: Did any of the results surprise you?

WYH: At first I thought it was a bit gimmicky and thought I would use the concept sparingly. I would pin all my photos, chalkboard and non-chalkboard, on the walls of my studio and when people would come in they invariably gravitated to the chalkboard photos. About half of the 500 photos in the project ended up being chalkboard ones.

MPB: Do you see your work as politically charged?

WYH: For most of my life I’ve been fairly apolitical, but I can see that what I do may seem like a political act and I don’t want to get in the way of anyone’s interpretation of what I do. I accept all interpretations and the intentions of the artist, however interesting they may be, are largely irrelevant, once the work is displayed.

Politics, like all of culture, is deeply polarized, and I don’t wish to be part of that kind of discussion. But the personal is political, as they say, and so with such large-scale public installations, it’s hard to side step political issues.

MPB: Do you see a difference between being political and socially engaged?

WYH: Well I’m not into specific political issues. Life is gray to me. But I think social engagement may be the most important issue, personally, culturally, and globally. We live in such insulated technological bubbles that it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage with those you feel are different than you. It is the modern dilemma.

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