Yu-Chen Wang: The Splash and A Last Drop
When Yu-Chen Wang first walked into Victoria Baths she was overwhelmed by the space – its size, Edwardian grandeur and industrial-age history. Invited by Future Everything to produce a piece of work in the building, to coincide with the drawing to a close of a three month residency at the Chinese Arts Centre, she decided that, rather than try to fill or change the space she was working with (the former female pool, the smaller of two, now drained, pools that remain in the building), her work would focus on the way the audience experienced the building. She explains: “When I first went I was immediately in love with the space but I found myself very small. My own voice sounded very different. The space itself has already done a lot and there’s a lot going on in there so I’m getting people to experience the space differently rather than constructing a lot or displaying a big artwork.”
On the final day of FutureEverything, visitors to the Baths will encounter Yu-Chen’s work in different spaces around the female pool as part of a sound and performance piece entitled “The Splash and A Last Drop” which imagines the creation of a machine that produces a last drop of water in Victoria Baths then multiplies it so the water will never dry up again. The work will function as a “moving device”, playing with the transition between different parts of the building.
The story starts at the Chinese Arts Centre, where an actress playing Yu-Chen is filmed boarding a spaceship which transports her to Victoria Baths. Visitors to the Baths will catch-up with the story so far by viewing this video in the former female cloakroom that once served the female pool. A nearby room housing the aeratone – an early, yet still slightly futuristic looking, jacuzzi that, when it was installed at Victoria Baths in 1952, became the first such public facility in the country – will be transformed into an installation of Yu-Chen’s highly detailed drawings, which often focus on aspects of machines. When she saw the aeratone’s buttons and controls, Yu-Chen was struck by the feeling “it should be moving, going somewhere”. Yu-Chen’s interest in machines is closely connected to her approach to drawing: “Machines are very much about structure and structure is about creating something. Drawing for me is a concept – how bits fit and are connected to each other. It’s very much about movement. Machines have a performative element and quality and a human presence and spirit – I always imagine they will start moving and talking. And that’s how I would describe what drawing is – it’s not just about pencil and paper.” Likewise, The Splash and A Last Drop itself will consist of a number of “components”: “There are lots of bits and pieces put together. The viewer can look at it as a whole or as individual works.”
Yu-Chen has been exploring the history of Victoria Baths through its archive, which includes photos, hundreds of memories donated by former users and artefacts relating to its past. Actors playing uniformed ticket officers will regale visitors with stories and hand out publications drawing on industrial heritage, which will act as a programme. The work will culminate with the Cavendish Singers from Didsbury singing a song entitled Songs of the Machine in the female pool, a 1910 poem about machines that start talking to humans that was later set to music by one of its members. Yu-Chen explains: “The space is so big it needs a group. A group of people gives power.” The performance will become a short film that will be screened in Manchester city centre in the days following Future Everything.
The work is a collaboration with writer Bob Dickinson, who Yu-Chen met through her residency, and six MA Media Lab students from Manchester Metropolitan University. She says: “I like to work with people who aren’t just artists. The idea goes to writers, filmmakers, actors, costume makers – it organically develops and becomes a collective idea. It creates different readings – the text levels, the costumes, the actors, the live performance – it is a different way of constructing narrative.”