In Summer 2022, we started our search for Whitechapel Gallery’s first Young Writer in Residence. Emerging writers aged 18-24 were invited to apply, and submit a short original piece of writing which responded to The London Open as part of their application.
Yulin Huang was appointed as the gallery’s inaugural Young Writer in Residence. She completed her residency from September – December 2022, where she spent time researching and responding to our Autumn season of exhibitions, developing her writing practice through experimentation and career development meetings, and creating a new piece of writing to mark the culmination of the residency.
Below we share the texts written by Yulin as part of her residency. You can also read her winning entry, and the entries of our three shortlisted runners up Danielle Sargeant, Elspeth Walker and Esther-Rennae Walker.
With thanks to all those who applied, and to our selection panel which included journalist Precious Adesina, writer Gabriella Egavalle, and Whitechapel Gallery staff.
I had been confronted with the word oblivion again. I felt it had probably always surrounded me, peered at me with disdain as I began to forget it. Its wily fingers had no form, but were cool to the touch. they fit the spaces between mine perfectly. but it was a clinging. I am so tired of clinging. I want to float, not stay afloat. I want to be the spaces between my fingers; no bolts, lights, motor. I want to exist on a three minute loop outside my body, give up my consciousness to certain toys, puppets, and pets in the night. station myself as translucid silicone in a delightful fashion, smile when being smiled at, sit upright to live because I have the will. I am an artist! and my head will not shatter from impact, yours or my own. I Am an Emerging Artist, and I am emerging, from every crann, glop, lug, and chape. fire and unfire me! Can’t you see the great I’d do? Appreciate me and I’ll appreciate you.. I break into song because tears would be cliché. and dear god, I would rather die to be cliché. I need to be original, the First, a hover above the chest. I need to be considered, held gingerly, placed lovingly like an ikebana flower arrangement; perfect, artificial, oblivious, free, cut, sliced, severed, slashed, picked as flowers should be. Don’t you agree? I’ll sing you to sleep, and you will be strangely comforted by the sudden unconsciousness.
This is a luxury. You work your whole life for just this – nothingness – you do everything for nothing. “I feel tired all the time,” you say, with a statement of intent. “London is a city that wears you out, that takes everything from you, that demands a lot of things from you all the time,” but in the next breath you mutter, “I have thick skin because I live in London. This strength was given to me by London,” and London takes, and London gives. This constant give and take shakes my core til my eyes glaze; over the global chants of Make Me Safe, under the insurmountable waves of widespread crisis, withdrawal, demand, justice;
served, as The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free, which, just is, on hollow earth. We seek a second life, an alternative during the traumatic, the gloomy, the bottom of the abyss. and so I am an artist. and I am emerging. and I stay afloat so I do not get choked by too much toast in working from home, by racial and climate injustice, by the lamentable impossibility of turning back time and knowing the future. We are constantly scattered in this abstract in-between, what they call the present, the ambiguous, goddamn uncertain present, one you are constantly unwrapping to get to the next thing. and then the next. I Know What I Want. “Oh, you didn’t have to get me anything!” and that you didn’t. as the final layer shedded away, I felt it – I felt it in my flesh, data, memory.
oblivion. at last, I could release the centuries of pressure built in my fingers, they spread as if they are immortal. I pick my belly up from the dirt, brush off the fingers that have left me. Quiet, intimate moments of life, drummer boy, starfish, shave, swim back to me and I let them wash through.
I no longer need to cling on to let go. I simply float, I simply am.
I forget about the public, the world, the andromeda galaxy. being forgotten as they gaze back. I simply am.
I just hope I wake up in my bed.
Yulin Huang is a London-based Taiwanese/Kiwi artist who relishes creative writing in her expanded painting practice. With an unsparingly honest voice, she confronts the human condition.
The daunting abyss of being an ‘emerging artist’ dawned on me yet again whilst experiencing The London Open 2022. After recently graduating from six years of art education in London, the pressure of surviving the art world came crashing down like a slow build of a promised wave. Sometimes living feels more like surviving; here I communicate the desire for total oblivion in the face of staying afloat – as an artist and witness to endless global crises. I reference several pieces from the exhibition that ignited this yearning for nothingness, the mundane, but also the cliché longing to be remembered even in this proposed oblivion.
A new piece of writing by Yulin Huang to mark the conclusion of her time as Young Writer in Residence at Whitechapel Gallery. From September-December 2022 Yulin’s residency saw her spend time working on her writing practice, meeting staff from across the gallery to discover more about pathways in the arts and our current and past exhibitions.
An interview between Youth Programmes curator Amelia Oakley with Yulin Huang, two months into her residency. The two explore what has consumed Huang’s time: the artist’s obsession with documentation, inspirational napping, and a journey into an archival folder labelled ‘Exhibitions That Died’.
Join Yulin Huang and fine artist Natasha Brown for an informal and existential evening of unwrapping mysterious objects and collective experiences. Through a series of writing and discussion activities, the evening will see reflection and writing around the experiences of being an emerging artist.
O wa niwaju mi
The Egg of Whitechapel.
The birds, they’re sleeping
Esther-Rennae Walker is a storyteller and creative producer from London, committed to exposing the unheard stories that sweep the streets of London and beyond.
“O wa niwaju mi (You’re right in front of me) is both a tribute and a celebration to the wonderful black women that have gone before me and have contributed in making my dreams a reality because of their triumph in overcoming hardships. The poem illustrates a myriad of generational experiences that explore this idea of dreams vs reality and jolts into different timelines and scenes of the women/future women in my family having their dreams live on.”
Elspeth Walker is a writer and language artist, studying MA Writing at the RCA. She works at the National Poetry Library and Lavender Arts School, whilst being part of Liquid Gold Studios. She writes creative essays, alongside experimenting with the relationship between writing and materials.
The Egg of Whitechapel plays on my first encounter with Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi’s artwork. Focusing on the eggshell, originally sent to me in a video by a guy I met on a dating app, I used it as a focal point to negotiate my feelings of being with another person again. When I visited the gallery, I ended up projecting my vulnerabilities onto each artwork, questioning who I was in London, using the creative essay form to replicate my thoughts.
Danielle is a multidisciplinary artist using creative writing to explore perspective. She likes to distil experiences, thoughts, perceptions and ideas through directness, honesty and vulnerability.
This immersive free verse poem aims to capture the transformative sensation of walking through the London Open, drawing parallels between floating through a dream or veering into a nightmare, where material reality, experience and memory start to blur. The structure creates a distinct visual pathway across the page, subtly guiding readers to artworks, themes, phrases and sentiments featured at the exhibition. It is a piece intended to be familiar and accessible regardless of whether you have already seen the show.