Today we publish 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, as well as programming an event for young creatives earlier just before Christmas.
Below you will find her final residency piece, inspired by time spent with the gallery’s Archive, plus an introduction to the text from Yulin.
This strange encounter with ‘Exhibitions that Died’, a confident folder nestled unassumingly in the the Whitechapel gallery basement archives, is recorded with it as Recipient. I address it, and its conceptually curious category of event and thing, through every page that numbed my hands to the next. Fragments of text are lifted and placed here again, as instances where formal language in email, fax, postcard exchanges have stated their presence as vigorously as the first read. In itself it is documentation of navigating the electric slippage between possibility and impossibility, a captivating roller coaster for a mere sightseer. It is a time-fusion where the glass of a fogged-up window breaks repeatedly. This piece is an exploration of what it could mean to meet something in genuine spirit, to relay an honest impression to something as dead as it is alive, as crushing as it is hopeful. I write a letter of gratitude for the brief time it had held me, and I wrote it to speak for what remains – sincerely.
– Yulin Huang, Whitechapel Gallery Young Writer in Residence
It was a transient moment, but I innately remember catching your eyes in the earnest basement, deep in the archives of the unknown, unsorted, uncharted territory. Something about you gripped me so. You were all wrapped up, mysterious, labelled with half-humorous intent in oblong solemnity.
I took you seriously – indeed, I did. I took you in as if no one had done so for you before. I took you out, to a room as cold as it was warm, cradled you like I meant it, when all you held then, and forever more, was evidence of politely crushed dreams, hopes, petal pink potential for something reborn. You predicted the lives of many, even made sparkling promises in your belly, but those instances wilt and feather as the fate of your secluded category binds you, finds you, spits you back out [through the loop of the past] inside you. Flipping you open was like investigating heartache.
I said to you, in all the ways that time conforms, I might not understand all that you’ve been through but I feel [you, in all that you are]. You enacted a natural phenomenon that never stopped beating. Yet if you could breathe now you would. A hand-written post-it note, a roughly folded edge, a coughed-up paper-clip, a lonesome post-card – wishing you were here.
and I held you like a waterfall.
There is something about holding so tenderly onto a conversation I had no part of – an exchange from [before I could even fathom any consciousness]. It is evidence of sprawling care, aggression, spirit, turbulence, navigating impossibility, life.
By holding your hand I became you and indeed something that has simultaneously ceased to exist yet breathes bold, true, fantastic – indications of a future in suspension. A roller coaster about to hit a glass window.
If you had indeed died, at which point were you born? at which point did you die? and what on earth could commemorate all that you were? Does this funeral of [some beige folder tied humbly together in a neat bow] do the history you carry – justice?
I stretch you open with gloved hands. This barrier between us puts us closer than we’ve ever been.
[That] is intimacy.
I look down at [you, as documentation] with pseudo-authority. I ask, are you better than the real thing?
// 28 November 1996
Collaboration leads to all kinds of problems, as I have experienced in recent cases, that in the end cost me time and money. We will do a ___ show next autumn. You can take our show as it will be or do your own version. As you may remember, there was a time when doing projects together was simple and nice. Now there are so many ambitions and egos involved, that it becomes impossible.
// 7 July 2000
I was surprised to receive your letter this morning. After having sent letters, and made phone calls to your office and Mr ____ without replies other than the notice that there would be a change in the ____, we had assumed it was not possible for the __ exhibition to happen. And indeed that it would be difficult to organise such an exhibition in the space of six months.
Despite my enthusiasm for ___’s work and the pleasure it would be to collaborate with your office, I hesitate to suggest a future date for ___. The Whitechapel’s programme is determined through 2001 and my successor as Director (coming next May) will want to shape exhibitions policy for the following year.
I hope there is another way in which ___ is introduced to Britain and send best regards.
// scribbled ballpoint: 985 9785
// October 1996
There are a few things in your letter which are not exactly as we are envisioning the exhibition.
// October 1996
About the show itself, ___ thinks that the exhibition should not be too big or if it is that the ___ Museum should show a smaller selection. He has in mind 4 cabinets, 5x5x5m wall space (the fourth wall having windows and thus no space for hanging work) and one other room from about 9×7. He agrees, however, that her position in art should be made clear and the selection should be representative for her work.
// October 1996
After the hectic pace of last week, the Gallery seems very organised and inviting. We’ve had a good attendance so far – over 400 people by lunchtime yesterday (the free day) and a number of reviews which ___ will send on. __, __, and I are watching the exhibits to see what needs special attention – like getting the guards to tidy the ___ plinth and straighten ___’s hair. ___’s piece is looking rather grubby even when it is patched and we wonder whether it really should stay. It also sits rather awkwardly in the room and a number of people have said that it interferes with looking at the ___. Could you speak to ___ and see how she feels?
// As I said before, I am very interested in ____’s work, but I can only make a commitment if the conditions mentioned above are taken seriously. I cannot completely commit myself until it is very clear who is curating the exhibition, who is organising the exhibition, who will edit the catalogue and what form this will take, as well as The __’s financial involvement. Funds are limited and costs must be tightly controlled.
Please be assured of my enthusiasm and my support of the __ Museum to organise the __ project.
I would like to confirm the pleasure of this ____ to present an exhibition with 30 masterpieces of ______ at the White Chapel in London. Referring to Your indications, we would like to confirm the dates of January – March 2001 for the exhibition in London. If You are still available we would like to have a confirm by You as soon as possible; please, send us the official request for the loans and the facilities-report for the exposition-room: we will be able to start the procedures for them
We thank You since now for your collaboration and we wait for Your confirm and purposes.
Looking forward to hearing from you, I send you,
my best regards
// ____’s characters have a very human, specific quality. They show genuine feeling and intimacy. The control of light is exciting – especially in nearly monochromatic works like nos 11 and 21. The mixtures of genres is good. The scale means that lots of the figures are life-size or nearly and the effect on the viewer very powerful.
There were weak works. Good works are in ____ and the ____ Gallery.
// It was mentioned that the realisation of the show would be with the _____’s support, I mentioned the ____ Gallery as well. Clearly no one had heard of the Whitechapel but I left a couple of brochures.
The Whitechapel would like to advance our discussions about the feasibility of a ___ exhibition coming to the Gallery.
As you know the Whitechapel is an independent gallery that relies on external funds to realise ambitious projects. Normally sponsorship and special grants cover the costs of transport, installation design, publicity, publications and education and scholarly programmes. At present we would not imagine charging admission (but this could change). In this respect we would very much depended on the support you could arrange through ___ sources.
// 12 January 2000
I am concerned that I’ve not had replies to my letter of 12 November to you and that to ___ of 15 December and hope they arrived safely (copies enclosed). We are still very interested in the possibility of an exhibition and would like to advance discussions.
// I am aware that 1999 is nearly over and that I am very late in communicating with you. As you are probably aware I wrote to ____ a month ago confirming our interest in a ___ exhibition and mentioning a number of issues around this idea (copy enclosed).
It would be good to have a response from __ early in 2000 so that we might mutually see whether this project is a real likelihood and therefore ensure the space in the Whitechapel programme.
In every way my visit in October was a pleasure and I felt very privileged to have so much of your time and hospitality.
With warm regards for the coming holidays and New Year.
Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing you in __.
I am yours
// August 1996
I am delighted that you are included in this important exhibition. I and my two curators have great admiration for your work and would very much like to show it in more depth at the Whitechapel, in an exhibition that represents several periods of your career. We have discussed this idea with ____ who shares our enthusiasm for introducing you to a British audience.
We have an opportunity for an exhibition in our beautiful Upper Gallery spaces (approximately 200 square metres) from 30 May to 20 July 1997. We realise that you may already be in demand for exhibitions next year and wonder whether any are in preparation and how these might affect our own desire to work with you. If you like our proposal in principle, would you welcome a visit from myself or one of my curators in September?
I do hope that you would like to discuss this further with us.
// 6 November 1996
I received well your fax dd. Oct. 31, but I would like to clarify a few facts.
As an independent curator I have been trying for a few months to gather venues in the United States and in Europe for a touring exhibition of ____, which I am intending to curate together with ___. Since ___ is an older lady I wanted to establish first a secure working base, so that an eventual cancelling of the exhibition would be avoided at all point.
// Remember me. 1987
Oil on canvas
110 x 86 in.
// The selection of 60 odd pictures includes terrific masterpieces and curious studies. A few were added for political reasons (eg owned by bank in ___) and a few could never travel like the double sided one from ___. I said we needed about 30 substantial works but this might be 18-20 large, 10 medium and six small.
Prof ___ said the Italian ones are nearly guaranteed although a few belong to quite difficult private collections (like the 90 yr old Princessa who owns ___). They would also try foreign collections. The ____ pic. A study for a fresco is not very impressive in reality.
// Meeting with ___, ___ Gallery, 9 November 99
Several nasty and suspect works in the show (like 48, 51, 37). __ should argue quite forcefully that given the small numbers, we want a broad selection with things of high quality.
I’m sorry that I will not be able to come with you to ___ tomorrow because of a very important matter.
I will keep in contact with you
// 27 February 1997
Thank you for your recent letter. Unfortunately, ___ has not responded positively to our request to have __ and the slot ‘earmarked’ for this at the Whitechapel has now been filled. Perhaps in the future it may be possible to bring about a __ show here but, in the meantime, thank you very much for your kind offer of help.
// 24 September 1996
I much look forward to seeing you again.
// Fallen object. 1987
oil on canvas
48 x 40 in.
// 22 October 1996
Thank you for your postcard of 14 October. I apologise for not getting back to you before but I had mislaid your telephone number and did not have your current contact address.
Thank you for your interest and help with all this.
// 18 June 1998
We have been having a mass ‘clear out ‘ at the Whitechapel recently and have come across the enclosed ___ slides which you sent us quite a while ago. We thought it might be useful to you to have these back.
// 30 March 1995
Needless to say it made __’s achievement seem even more formidable than I expected and made me long to see the exhibition.
The problem about bringing the show to the Whitechapel is primarily our schedule.
I really believe the Whitechapel with its spaces and light and broader audience would be much better for the exhibition than the ____, and indeed they would have to reduce the show so dramatically that it would change character.
We would also find it hard to fund-
So regrettably I still have to say no this time. If it doesn’t come to England, perhaps we can work on another exhibition with __ for the future.
// Eulogy. 1990
Oil on canvas
105 x 92 in.
// 7 October 1994
Thank you for sending last August the detailed information on the __ show. Since December our programme has been settled through 1996 so that it won’t be possible for us to participate. It might well have been too expensive if only 45 works were included.
I look forward to seeing the show and learning where it will go in Europe.
PS Your fax arrived just as I drafted this letter – if you’re coming via London it would be nice to meet up.
// 10 January 1994
Thank you for your telefax of December 17. And congratulations on your magnificent __ exhibition! It really is creating quite a sensation in New York, as I’m sure you have seen from all the publicity generated by the show.
I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to meet when you were in New York, but your schedule was understandably difficult. As you know, both __ and I would be very excited to see his show travel to London. I understand that you have certain constraints – both in terms of budget and space. I would like to think that we can work within these boundaries, even if it means a somewhat smaller show for Europe.
// I would like to have some feedback on your level of interest as soon as possible, since, ideally, we need to confirm three venues within Europe to make this a very cost-effective project.
Thank you for your interest, and I look forward to hearing from you.
// 17 December 1993
Thank you for your fax which I received the end of a day of running between appointments with not a chance to call. I really enjoyed seeing __ in his studio on Sunday and did say the Whitechapel would like to explore the possibility of showing his work in London.
This week has been rather hectic at the Whitechapel with the ___ show opening but I hope to speak or exchange information very soon.
With best regards,
// March 14 1995
Anyway, it would be very helpful to get a sense of whether or not you are still interested in this project. I will send you a catalogue, a preliminary checklist, and some press clippings by __ this evening, and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest possible convenience.
// Deathlessness. 1987.
Oil on linen
84 x 60 in.
// I must say that your letter to me seems very unclear about the roles of all partners in this project and I think it would be very good for all of us to work in a clarified situation. Who is curating? Which institution is organising the exhibition? Who in the institution will assist the curator? Who is editing the catalogue? Who is writing for the catalogue? Who is funding this project?
Dear ‘Exhibitions that Died’,
Thank you for letting me examine you like this. The impossibility you hold scintillated off the wall and held me in a suspension so incredible I forgot about your inevitable end, and mine.
You have delivered the most rich bite of [time, passing in concern, frustration, candor]. You are history as an event, as thing one can hold and handle in its brutality…
Yet you are so hopeful. I blink back tears now for the exhibitions that could have been, lived, and would have lived on –
I do not think that the dead and the living are mutually exclusive. I think there is a slippage between them that is fiery like a perpetually erupting volcano, twitching evidence that one fought for the next, [and then the next].
I think that you are that slip, certainly aged and permitted to be [spread at any time], to be [recounted, revived, resurged, relived]…
and now I will keep you [on my mind, blanketed] with my new paper-clips, post-it notes, wish-you-were-here postcards.
[Edges, folded] with the utter acknowledgement of [the impossibility of you being anywhere] but here. You will always be [There, I understand].
In any case, your fire has touched me and I am grateful we have ever made contact in this universe.
Thank you again for this magnificent meeting, and even if I do not catch your eyes again, I hope you are always travelling to mine.
You truly captured me and so
With best regards,
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.
Yulin Huang was appointed Whitechapel Gallery’s inaugural Young Writer in Residence following a call out in summer 2022. Yulin is a London-based Taiwanese/Kiwi artist who uses creative writing in her expanded painting practice, she is also a member of Whitechapel Gallery’s youth collective Duchamp & Sons.
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.