Interview with Artist in Residence Casey Wei

Between shooting and production of music videos with flashing colourful lights and people singing/lip-syncing their hearts out, we sat down with UNIT/PITT’s artist in residence Casey Wei to talk about her inspirations, community involvement, and current art work: “Karaoke Music Video Maker Free Store.”

As an artist where or who do you get inspiration from?

Well, I have a video and film background with my masters, since then the aesthetics of video artists like Hito Steyerl and Chris Marker – how they combine disparate things in unique ways such as footage or subject matter and then tie it all together through narrative are inspirational to me. Their works have a sense of romance and sincerity. Maybe not so much romance, romance is more the byproduct I read into. That’s more a personal thing. I don’t consider that a starting point but an end result.

Not like romantic love but romanticizing?

Yeah, and I understand there’s baggage associated with that. And I realize that. Like the idea of romance is indulgent but a little bit of that indulgence makes for powerful poetry. I think it’s cliché and we’re all suspicious and weary of it given our place in history and the obstacles we face. But there’s always going to be a part of my sensibility that relates to that. I’m reacting to it, or against, or maybe both at the same time.

You make your own music as well right? Through Hazy and Late Spring. Now with this project how do you find it ties in, or how does this project grow your practice?

I think of Hazy and Late Spring are a kind of a practice a bit separate from visual art. This project relates more to the Art Rock and Agony Klub – this label I have that I’ve worked on the past couple of years.With that it comes from a place where you want to exist in community or discourse. I was coming in to music scene as like an outsider I feel cause I didn’t grow up playing music. I’m making music/pop music in a way I think is good. Because of my visual arts background I have other things influencing it, other visual or cinematic things. Not that musicians don’t already do that but for me those things came first. That made my music the way it was.

Art Rock and Agony Club gives more of community in my head. I try to make them the foundational space for this project to flourish. It gives people a reference point of who I am and what I’m about. It helps them trust me a little bit more and like know my motivations for why I would want to do this. It’s not to make fun of karaoke or to put on like, something where I’m a star – it’s not about that. I’m offering a service and a business, like an actual business and it’s more about the product that you would normally request and pay money for but out side of the normal monetary exchange process.

So your Kingsgate Mall Happenings and Chinatown Happenings projects had similar themes with community connection. Can you talk a bit about how community involvement is important to you and your work?

I think it Is because as an artist, when thinking about art as my life’s work, and I think about making it alone in an studio or computer – that is too isolating for me. And I don’t know how to navigate the existing ways for artists do that. There are these artists that I know and support and whose work I really enjoy. But I don’t think I make that type of work that flows in to that community easy. Even with Art Rock, and Agony Klub, and everything else, I create my own way and entry point in to bridging myself in to that [art] community and with another community. I find that’s where I get my inspiration. To me the real world more interesting than an art gallery.

But I don’t want to use that and put it in a gallery, like it’s not to use in utilitarian way or career way. I just want to be apart of it. So community engagement is just the given to how I want to exist in the world as an artist.

You are great with people, I find just from being in the space listening to you, you have a very positive and adaptable energy when working with people to make these videos, and they are mostly strangers right? So how do you tackle working with strangers and still having it be comfortable?

It’s because I’ve been doing this for quite awhile. You know, not so long, but working with people like when I made video and films where had to be in world and interact with people. Even before video work I made photographs and would put myself in uncomfortable situations like asking people to write their favourite quote – that was this one project in art school. Just making myself uncomfortable, cause I’m naturally a shy person I think a lot of artists are. So I’ve been using art as an excuse to engage with world as personal challenge. There’s this artist I really like, Gillian Wearing, she speaks about that and was an inspiration for that in art school. One of her projects was on Craigslist; she would ask strangers if she could take photographs of herself with them in bed. I haven’t gone that far — but over time pushing to put myself to be in social situations just pushed me to be more comfortable as person. Especially in art more than real life. In my art I want them to feel comfortable so how to do I make that happen. I need to be myself but more like a certain version of myself for the art. It’s a casual and a bit professional type of performance.

Artists think about that distinction between Art and Life and I’m still trying to erase that line. This is closet I’ve been able to come to that to this point.

 What sort of platform does UNIT/PITT as a space provide for your work?

Well they’ve been so chill about everything I’ve been wanting to do. Even painting the walls. The space is amazing and don’t know if any other place of this size and is a professional gallery would allow be to do. Kay [Higgins]’s attitude towards it has been light and accommodating. Neither her, nor I, nor Jamie[Ward], were really prepared for the undertaking it has been. Now the project has hit its groove. The first few days were trial and error – figuring out how it would work with the tenants and such. To be fair it’s not normal exhibition so I’m asking them to adapt with me. It’s the exact kind of experience at Kingsgate Mall with trying to adapt to ecosystem but here is way more contained and gallery with studios so less potentially loaded with traps that public spaces have. It’s great they’re so supportive of this happening. I think UNIT/PITT is kind of like a funky weird artist run centre and not so traditional in the way the exhibitions and stuff, so I actually think it’s the perfect place to do this.

That’s awesome. Speaking of trial and error is there something that surprised you or that you found most interesting so far with this project?

I would say the way people have been with me, in the maybe six people I’ve had so far. At first as a human being coming in to a room without knowing what it would look like and how it would function and over the course of an hour or less the shedding whatever guarded reservations they may have had. Even with 2 or 3 songs they become more comfortable and had no camera shyness, um, no reservation redoing it, and it just became this natural being present in the moment experience. That’s not something you can anticipate. That’s something I hope happens every time! Sometimes it might not be as smooth but that’s my job to facilitate good energies. I think of like a mall portrait studio and the photographer in a way, getting people to smile, but doing that with making a video is … maybe it’s easier. There’s an hour time slot instead of five minutes with a screaming child or something.

More fun too probably

 Yeah,  haha.

In the promotions it says anything is possible …

It’s true!

What sorts of backgrounds are there? Can they choose or?

I’m going to shoot all the footage and then ultimately I guess I do have artistic control but with bands and people who have ideas I really want to be accommodating to them, but at the same time I’m editing it so there will always be my sensibility to it. I think there is a level of trust operating between the bands and me. It might be found footage and stuff I can shoot in the world. I like looking through old movies for obscure references and affecting or collaging them to look trippy or strange. The challenge will be in making all 20ish videos look dissimilar.

 What are your hopes for the videos/ project?

At the end of all this in the summer after editing, maybe have a performer screening and possibly with everyone’s consent at the cinematic, they have this dim series for artist films. I don’t have any desire for a festival showing. And then just giving everyone that participated their copy.

Anything else you want us to know about that you’re involved in right now?

The Art Rock series is every third Tuesday of the month at the Astoria. It’s a night of curated live music. Like experimental and a bit out there I guess, for people to make music who don’t really fit in to normal indie or underground shows. And, which is the label where I make music and printed matter.

To book your free hour-long session, contact Casey at:                                               [email protected]

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Insights on “It Was Something and Then It Became Something Else.”

Juan Cisneros Neumann’s exhibition isn’t just focused on the space within the gallery, but instead extends from the neighbourhood around him to all of North America. On the back wall is an illustration of the American and Canadian flags crossed with an arrow pointing to LA LA LAND. Hollywood being a huge influencer of both countries culture and consumerism. There is also a galaxy in a frame seemingly out of place. But with the knowledge that it is the “Sombero Galaxy” one can make connections to both major symbols of  heritage and the truly infinitesimal importance of man in the universe.

Not only are the symbols of his illustrations compelling, but the material itself as well. Juan created his drawings with hand made crayons consisting of chilli peppers, beeswax, and earth. Different chilli peppers were used to achieve the range of colours. These organic marking materials have a faint scent that is enhanced by the slow cooking chilli peppers in the gallery. The materiality is soft and has deep cultural ties showing the artists hand. His reflexivity to his environment is also present in his drawings.

At first look one might wonder “Who is Jordan Eng? And why is he leasing the land?”  A little attention to the neighbourhood reveals the answer – his signs are across the street advertising prime China town real estate. His sig are actually all over the area. Juan has also chosen to include the paper which protests the gentrification of the area and rallies to save  105 Keefer street from development, and contrast it on the same window with a historical illustration depicting the bounty of the “new world.” His work is enjoyable, but also includes serious awareness of the history of colonialism and present day world issues. As with most art you could say the work is a reflection of Juan Cisneros Neumann himself – Or you could have entirely your own interpretation of it and that works too. There’s lots more to see in this show. It’s definitely not one to miss.

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Starting off 2017 with Juan Cisneros Neumann

Juan Cisneros Neumann: It Was Something and Then It Became Something Else

January 27 to March 11

“It Was Something and Then It Became Something Else” is the result of several cups of coffee and months of conversations between Juan Cisneros and Unit/Pitt curator Jamie Ward. Their interactions range from issues of politics to the stress of being a Second Class Citizen that is often invisible to the general public body. Notions of identity and heritage, colonialism and power are explored in a drawn installation made from chili peppers and beeswax and divided by ethnic fabrics. Halfway through the show, Juan will slowly begin the erasure of the piece, eliminating the art from the white cube. Alongside the installation in the galleries’ library Juan has also included a 2 channel video piece called South-South.

An accompanying publication will also be produced for the exhibit and available as a limited edition print.

Juan Cisneros Neumann is a recent Visual Arts graduate of the Emily Carr University. Since 2006 he has worked in advertising, television and animated films. His current studio is located in the heart of Chinatown in the Downtown East Side. His work is based primarily on drawing but is constantly supported by sculpture, video, publications and installation. Born and raised in Mexico city, Juan currently lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.


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Everybody Needs Everyone’s Help Right Now

Solidarity - Kathe KollwitzWe need your help — please donate to UNIT/PITT now, and please consider supporting some of the many great organizations in our neighbourhood with an equivalent donation.

We’re making a last-minute request — if you have considered donating to the Pitt, if you think our risk-taking programming and commitment to emerging artists and emerging practices is worth supporting, you have until midnight on December 31st to receive a tax receipt for your online donation.

We also know that our friends are receiving dozens of requests for money right now, and that many of the causes and organizations making those requests do vitally important work. That’s why we are suggesting that when you donate to us, you also donate to someone else in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods. In our earlier messages, we asked you to support the Overdose Prevention Society, who are saving lives every day, and to the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, who help provide nutritious food to some of our neighbours. We’d also like to add to this list our friends at the Chinatown Concern Group, who are working through the Carnegie Community Centre to protect the low-income residents of Chinatown who are the life of the community.

You may not have much money to spare. We understand. We live and work in Vancouver and are being squeezed by the same forces that are causing economic chaos and deprivation across the city. But your ten or twenty or fifty dollars helps immensely, especially if you are able to make a small monthly donation (they’re easy to set up using our CanadaHelps page).

Thanks for your support this year. Here’s to more lives being saved, people being fed, seniors’ housing being saved, and more art that you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else. And as artists working in and around this community, we have a responsibility to show solidarity with people doing good work all around us. Let’s all continue to help each other in 2017.

Donate now to UNIT/PITT. Donate to Overdose Prevention Society. Donate to the DTES Neighbourhood House. Donate to the Chinatown Concern Group. 

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Join the Action

Donate now to support UNIT/PITT. While you’re doing that, please also donate to the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.

It has been an amazing year at the Pitt: we did almost twice as much programming — exhibitions, talks, screenings, performance than what we do in a typical year. At the same time, we are being squeezed by the same property tax increases that are making longstanding neighbourhood businesses shut their doors.

Even a small donation helps. Please consider helping us right now, or setting up a small monthly donation if that suits you better (it’s easy to do, just select “donate monthly” on our CanadaHelps page and follow the steps).

We’re situated in a neighbourhood with a lot of urgent needs and a lot of people and organizations doing their best to meet those needs. If you donate to the Pitt, please also consider donating something to the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, which feeds a lot of people and educates the public through initiatives like the Right to Food zine.

Donate now to UNIT/PITT. Donate now to the DTES Neighbourhood House.

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Last week of Corbin Union: Inversus Mundi

Thanks to everyone who has come by so far to see Corbin Union: Inversus Mundi. In case you haven’t seen it yet, the exhibition runs until Saturday, December 17th. After that, we will be closed until mid-January.

Watch our site for announcements of upcoming events and exhibitions—you can also subscribe to our mailing list or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thank you for your support in 2016!

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Self-Indulgence at this Time is Helping the Enemy

self-indulgence… but we’re going to ask you to indulge us briefly to read this message.

This is a plea for your support. You’re going to get a lot of these in the next month or so, from a lot of different organizations, who all need your support. If you’re inclined, please consider a one-time or monthly donation to UNIT/PITT, so that we can continue supporting new and underexposed artists, so that we can keep our studio rents low, so that we can continue to pay artists fairly, and so that the Pitt can keep going well past its 41st year. It’s easy to donate to us through CanadaHelps.

We realize that there are a lot of worthy organizations and causes out there that need your support too. This is why we’re asking you to contribute to a group that is doing valuable work in our neighbourhood, the Overdose Prevention Society. Please consider dividing whatever you were going to donate, so that part of your support goes to the Pitt and part of it goes to ODS (we think 50/50 would be good, but it’s up to you).

Every little bit helps. If you have twenty bucks, we’re not going to turn our noses up at it, or half of it, and neither will they. We’re all under fire here from austerity, gentrification, looming environmental and societal disaster, and the culture-war fallout from the US election, and we appreciate you standing with us.

Don’t aid the enemy. Donate now. Donate now to UNIT/PITT. Donate now to Overdose Prevention Society.

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Musik Klub 5: Culture War! Edition

screen-shot_MusikKlub5Thank you to all of you who joined us for the riveting premiere of Musik Klub’s second season, beginning with the Culture War! Edition. Stay tuned for upcoming screenings featuring a number of themes attempting to make some sense of current times. In the meantime, check out the playlists compiled by Jamie Ward below.

“For this screening, we’ll get in the the mud as the US scrambles towards election, Britain sweats out its EU referendum, and Europe’s nerves tingle from a rise in far right politics. Misogyny, authoritarianism, racism…we’ve smelled it before, and risen up in kind. Tonight we’ll look at how music and video in the waning days of the Cold War gave voice to radicalized frustration, creating new models for resistance and new visions for hope, boiled up in wicked fashion. Music is the answer, music is our saviour.”



Past Editions: Musik Klub: TV Party Edition, Musik Klub 2: Selectors Special Edition, Musik Klub 3: Phase Induction Edition, and Musik Klub: Good Times Ahead Edition with Penny Jo Buckner.

MUSIK KLUB is a video screening series organized and hosted by Jamie Ward and is intended to use the music video as a vehicle for critique, but with a nod to the tradition of classic variety hours such as Beat Club, Old Grey Whistle Test, Top Pop & Musikladen. Video performances are sourced from a variety of international television music programs, scopitones and promotionals broadcast or created between 1965 & 1995. Come out, drink refreshing beverages, hang with friends and listen to (and watch) some great music. Ends early so you can keep the night going; it’s like happy hour for adventurous music & video fan-fiends.

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Final days of Joseph Staples: Garden of Paradise

Garden of Paradise 02

There are less than two weeks left to see Joseph Staples’ exhibition, Garden of Paradise. Come by now through October 22 to watch Staples’ series of mesmerizing, collaged GIFS.

UNIT/PITT Projects is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5pm at 236 East Pender Street. See you soon!

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Fall 2016 at the Pitt starts on Friday, September 9

Garden of ParadiseWe’re now mostly recovered from the intense year of programming that was the 2055 Project, and this summer’s T.A.Z. and Chinatown Maps events, and we’re getting ready to launch another year of exhibitions, talks, screenings, and everything else.

We’re starting fall 2016 with Joseph Staples: Garden of Paradise, a compelling and strange exhibition of video loops, curated by Associate Director Jamie Ward. It will be opening during the latest edition of SWARM, a city-wide festival of artist-run culture.

The opening is not the only thing we’re doing on Friday the 9th. SWARM can be busy and sometimes loud, so instead of a loud, frantic after party, we’re inviting you to come to the Pitt after 10 to UNSWARM with music by Zen Finger and Hazy, as we turn our exhibition space into decompression zone.

Later in the fall we’ll be presenting the just-announced exhibition Atrum Fortuna by the artists of Corbin Union, and we’ll be announcing our schedule of other events as they get closer. For now, we’ll see you on September 9th.

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