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Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better

Mable Yiu

Peter Fischli David Weiss,  How to Work Better  (1991) Houston and Mott Streets NYC, January 2016 / Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Peter Fischli David Weiss, How to Work Better (1991) Houston and Mott Streets NYC, January 2016 / Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Have you seen Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better in Lower Manhattan? Organized by the Public Art Fund, it is the first presentation in the United States of the artists’ iconic wall mural. In 1991, the work was originally painted on an office building in Zurich.

Coinciding with the Guggenheim’s retrospective exhibition of the same name, How to Work Better (1991) is a six-story painted mural of an enlarged motivational ten-point list for the workplace that the artists found on a bulletin board in a factory in Thailand. The simple statements —“Distinguish sense from nonsense”, “Accept change as inevitable”, “Learn to Listen”, “Smile”—propose a code of behavior that extends well beyond the workplace. This tongue-in-cheek bulletin suggests that “working better” is as much about an approach to everyday life as it is about productivity.

At approximately 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide, it was hand painted on the south face of a building on Houston Street at the corner of Mott Street. The mural is intentionally placed nearby billboards and advertisements. In contrast to the commercial backdrop, How to Work Better (1991) catches your eye, selling nothing beyond a simple code of conduct.

“How to Work Better points to an ethos that has deeply informed the artists’ collaborative practice and their approach to making work. Over the years, the piece has become an analogue meme, with small copies taped to the walls of countless studios and desks, advocating a practice of thoughtfulness and caring in the way art is made and presented,” said Andria Hickey, Public Art Fund Curator.  “On Houston Street, the piece is quite literally tacked to the wall of New York City, asking us to consider how we can all work better in our own lives—our work, commutes, personal interactions—and reminding us that it’s not always what we do, but how we choose to do it that matters.”

Public Art Fund’s presentation of Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better is on view until May 1, 2016 at Houston and Mott Streets.

The Leadership Committee for How to Work Better is gratefully acknowledged, including Jill & Peter Kraus, Maja Oeri & Hans Bodenmann, Donald A. Capoccia, Elizabeth Fearon Pepperman & Richard C. Pepperman II, Sprueth Magers, and Molly Duffy Burns & Hugh Burns. Additional support is provided by Matthew Marks Gallery, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Special assistance has been provided by Overall Murals. Public Art Fund exhibitions are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

By Alexandra Fairweather

Q&A with Michele Wiles, Founder of BalletNext

Mable Yiu

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

Former principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, and now Founder, artistic director, and dancer at BalletNext, Michele Wiles has an impressive resume to say the least. Before that, she trained and lived at the Kirov Academy in D.C. from the age of ten, and competed in numerous ballet competitions in places like Bulgaria, Japan, and France. See my interview with the lovely and ambitious Wiles below.

By Mable Yiu

I remember seeing you perform with American Ballet Theater years ago in Orange County, but I never knew about your training. What was it like moving to D.C. to train at the Kirov Academy when you were only ten?

This was a life changing event and a big decision for a family to make. Originally, I received a full scholarship from the Royal Ballet in London. My parents would have had to sign legal guardianship over to them- a bit extreme! Luckily, the Kirov Academy opened in 1990 and that was a car ride away. We made the huge decision that I would board at the school full time. I was there for six years training in classical Vaganova technique, character dance, and historical court dance. There were academics in the morning, and at night, I had to maintain other kinds of dance for local dance competitions I would compete in... there was no time for anything else. I lived for dance!

Did you take academic classes at Kirov as well, or did you have to go to a different school in addition to the ballet academy?

I skipped 5th grade to go there. The first two years we went to a public school in the area. It was a crazy adjustment. The kids were older… it was overwhelming at first. I wasn’t living at home during the week, it was my first time living at a boarding school, and I was eleven. I had home on my mind a lot. It was a different social scene... It was a public school and it was hard to fit to find people to fit in with. But by eighth grade, I made a really good friend, Lisa, and we still keep in touch. By the third year I was there, they started to have in-house schooling, so I could do my schooling within the Kirov Academy.

Since you started training at such a young age, was ballet always a career you were aiming for, or did you ever think about going to college or doing something else?

I started young in tap and jazz and [participated in] a local dance competition then. At that point, the goal was to be a Rockette. To improve my jazz technique, they suggested that I take ballet. I started watching videos and became completely hooked and knew that was what I wanted to do. So I set out with this one goal in mind.

You moved pretty quickly through the ranks at American Ballet Theater (ABT); it took you two years to become a soloist, and then five years to become a principal. Can you share more about your experience at ABT?

This was like going to college. There was a whole new set of people and challenges to experience. Like the big leagues. The Kirov was a place to concentrate on creating my technical foundation. ABT was about carving out a space in the world of dance as a great dancer. I went through several phases, which ultimately led me to BalletNext. 

Phase 1 was the Kirov training for 6 years, and winning the gold medal in Varna, Bulgaria.

Phase 2 was company life. I was dancing through the ranks: studio company, Apprentice, Soloist, and Principal. My Kirov training carried me through becoming soloist, the Princess Grace Award in 2000, the Eric Bruhn prize in 2002, and my first principal roles in Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. In 2005, I sustained a back injury which sidelined me for 7 months. Ironically, I was just promoted to principal when this happened.

Phase 3: emotional life begins. I met David Howard [one of the most sought-after ballet coaches], and worked on rethinking how I approached my work. The first thing he said was "Let go!" I had spent so many years examining myself in the mirror; it was time to go inside and figure out what was going on. A whole new emotional side was added to my work. I learned a new way of working with ballet mistress Georgina Parkinson. She would always ask, "What do you want to do today"? 

Phase 4: emotional life continues to build. I had a lot of success with more dramatic roles, which require an emotional understanding of the character. Ultimately, I came to the decision to leave American Ballet Theatre to expand and experience a new way of creating art. BalletNext was born out of a desire and need to have a more process/experimental type environment. Then I started choreographing myself and collaborating with unlikely artists such as Jay Donn and Tom Harrell.

Dancers at BalletNext, in costume for Wiles'  Ushuaia . Photo by  Albert Ayzenberg

Dancers at BalletNext, in costume for Wiles' Ushuaia. Photo by Albert Ayzenberg

So did you start BalletNext while you were still at ABT, or was it something that came about afterwards?

I started thinking about BalletNext the last year I was there. It was just a conversation and I was just wrapping my head around the idea of creating a new company. It was definitely a risk, but a risk worth taking. You know, you come from a ballet company and a ballet school, and your main job is to dance. I had to break those walls and learn about it.

I love how BalletNext works to, in your words, "pair classically trained dancers and live musicians in a collaborative setting that encourages risk taking and a focus on process." What was your inspiration for founding BalletNext and what do you hope to achieve with it? 

My inspiration is finding new energies to pair with the strong foundation of classical technique and to bring the style into the future. This is also helping me find out how I really want to dance. I hope to achieve a bi-coastal presence and show other ballerinas who leave a company that there is another way and to bring up the next generation.

How have you selected your company members, choreographers, composers, and musicians? Did they have to audition, or did you reach out to them?

It's been a little bit of both. I have auditions in the summer- mostly for the dancers. [For] choreographers, musicians, etc., I reach out to them.

You mentioned that your husband, James, is a chairman on the board. Is he a dancer as well?

No, he is on the business side of cancer research. He develops companies - young and entrepreneurial biotech companies.

How did you guys meet?

It’s a funny story. I call it the “Chinese-Arranged Marriage.” It was all Irene Shen, who’s on the board for YAGP [Youth America Grand Prix competition] and ABT. James was on the board for YAGP. She kept telling James that she had the perfect woman for him and to not get married, and wouldn’t tell him who it was. I was dating someone at the time, but Irene took me to dinner and told me, “I have this very tall man for you. When you are done [dating], let me know.” This went on for two years. One spring I told Irene that I was ready, and she tells James. Then three weeks later, he calls me, but I’m busy and didn’t call him back for another three weeks. But Irene was persistent and said I have to call him back. Finally, I do, to satisfy her, and we met up and had a blast. It's sort of history from there.

You've also taken on choreography, and recently debuted Ushuaia, with music by Heinrich Biber, last February. How has that process been? Do you tend to choreograph works on specific dancers or simply to the music? 

I tend to choreograph to the situation. Ushuaia began with a male dancer and three females. Then there were four female dancers and I adapted the piece to that. It was like three different ballets all in one. By the end, everyone was like “I like it better with four girls now.” I liked the process and I don’t necessarily want to make the dancers to do the same choreography. Choreography is alive, too, and it always has to be changing, especially if you are doing the same work with the same music. It's never done, but you have to move on.

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

I saw that you regularly work with YMCA to teach some of their young members ballet. What has been some of the most meaningful charity work you've done? 

YMCA has been my heart for the past 5 years. I fell in love with the dancers from PS 54 and with the Tiny Toes [program], it doesn't get any better. I've recently taught at 51st Academy for the COMPASS after school program. One of the boys said, "I thought dance was only for girls, but l was wrong," which melted my heart! You realize in those moments that you are changing lives.

How did your partnership with the YMCA come about?

In 2010, I was given an Arts and Letter award at the YMCA Gala at the Time Warner building. They were honoring me for my work, and it was amazing. Then I was introduced to the program, Tiny Toes, and I taught the class out there and we decided in 2011 to do a joint collaborative performance with the Y and Ballet Next. There were high school kids that they invited to watch the performance, and I danced the White Swan pas de deux, where the guy comes out in white tights. They were all laughing! But the moment he lifted me over his head, they were like “Wow, this is amazing.” So I’ve been teaching there and doing the gala in Brooklyn. This will be the fifth year.

Q&A with Samuel Draxler

Mable Yiu

Samuel Draxler is an artist, curator, and co-founder of the "New York Performing Artists Collective (NYPAC)" whose practice has most recently challenged conceptions of failure, performativity, and context.

By Mira Dayal

Fairweather Magazine: How has your work as a curator affected the ways in which you think about your own art practice?

Samuel Draxler: I started curating and making art around the same time. For me, producing an artwork is a curatorial act at heart, at least in terms of the underlying logic. Buyout / Tragedy, for instance, is organized around a proposal for “a new work – a tragedy in which the characters, dialogue, and plot have all been removed, leaving only the landscape.” The work is to be exhibited “with or without accompanying text and illustrations,” which allows it to be reformulated in different contexts using different materials. At the ACC Galerie Weimar, for instance, the installation was structured in relation to the life of Christian Gottlieb Priber, an 18th century German utopianist. The piece was first conceived of as a literary work, inspired by the scene descriptions from extant Greek tragedies. The combination of texts and images, both original and appropriated, lets the references shift with each iteration. It’s become a more open investigation into the depictions and functions of tragedy.

FM: In founding NYPAC, you identified gaps in the accessibility of performance art. Do you feel that you have been able to address those gaps? 

SD: For artists working in the medium, one of the biggest issues is the lack of year-round organizations dedicated to performance art. It’s not only an issue of having opportunities to present work, but also of receiving financial support and professional services. Our goal was to work with these artists to help realize projects that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, all while representing these pieces in the clearest language, and with high-quality documentation. We didn’t only want to present well-developed work; we also wanted it to connect with an engaged and excited audience. While we’ve received a great response from our artists and audiences, we’re still a small organization. The art world is evermore vast, and the need for these types of services isn’t going away.

FM: COLLAPSE (or, falling flat), one of the most recent NYPAC events at the Knockdown Center, addressed "the legacy of failure in contemporary art," in this case partially through humor. What sources of failure persist? How can failure be productive?

SD: To oversimplify, there are two common ways failure appears in performance: as a planned motif that references postmodern dance, or as an unintentional outcome and source of abject terror. Implied in the title, COLLAPSE (or, falling flat) was both. Things fail for many reasons, but when you're looking for failure, everything's a victory. "What if it doesn't work?" "It wasn't supposed to!" [laughter]. That night, I was curator, stage hand, photographer, and sound guy. I had no functional experience with mixing, and when I caused a spike between performances – that terribly loud popping sound – Sara Grace Powell applauded. Broadly, though, I think failure is interesting because it’s hard to operationally define, and even harder to identify the stakes. It’s cathartic, too, to rehearse for the worst, but I’ve been told that I tend to catastrophize.

FM: How is performance art more suited than other media to address contemporary concerns, in art or otherwise?

SD: There's certainly a history of political concerns within performance, in regards to gender, sexuality, and the body. With a body at the center of the work, and with a performer investing their time and labor one-to-one with their audience, it's, in a way, naturally predisposed to examine and critique political and structural governing forces. At the same time, that doesn't absolve other media from being actively engaged with these types of concerns. Just because performance as a medium tends towards this focus doesn't mean that other media can't or shouldn't as well.   

FM: Your own art does not always involve explicit performance (as movement through space in time) but frequently involves multiples, collections, and juxtapositions of discrete elements. Several of your pieces (Watershed | The End, 2011 and Strike, 2012) attempt to literally freeze fleeting moments — the daily news. As the frozen pieces melt, there is a sort of performance involved, but it does not involve your body. Similarly, in one of your photographs, plants grow in a bathtub, and this itself is a sort of performance. How do you define performance? 

SD: I myself am not a performance artist, though performance, as an academic and curatorial interest, does seep into my work. Watershed | The End isn't not a body, though. The headline of the original paper in the work is "Qaddafi, Seized by Foes, Meets a Violent End." The form of the work enacts a bodily and state instability. As such, the works as you describe them are all performative, but in no sense performance art. As far as defining performance: there are video works, and installations, that are experiential to the point that performance can be a useful lens to understand them, even if the artist’s body isn’t present. I think fixing a definition is only significant so long as there's something at stake.

FM: What performances, events, or traditions are you looking forward to this winter during the holidays?

SD: ’Tis the season for end-of-year fundraising, when all of the nonprofits in your life ask you for money. We're no different, and you can donate to us at More seriously (or perhaps less seriously), the most “holiday” event I’m attending is Justin Vivian Bond's “Angels We Have Heard When High” at Joe's Pub. V is incredible, and I can’t wait. As far as traditions, I host dinner parties frequently throughout the season. Friends, brothy soups, and “Lil BUB's Magical Yule LOG Video” on repeat – what more do you need?

Photos courtesy of Sam Draxler.

Q&A with Daniil Simkin, Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of the NYC Dance Project

Photo courtesy of the NYC Dance Project

by Mable Yiu

You could say that Daniil Simkin was born into a ballet family. Born in Russia, to two ballet dancers, you could often find Daniil Simkin performing on stage alongside his father, Dmitrij Simkin, in Wiesbaden, Germany from the age of six. By nine years old, Simkin started training directly under his mother, and soon after, started competing and performing in galas around the world. 

Now a principal dancer at American Ballet Theater, Simkin sat down with us to discuss his “normal” childhood, unique Youtube story, and what’s on his holiday wish list.

Mable Yiu: What was your childhood like? What was your experience like privately training under your mother in Germany without any other peers?

Daniil Simkin: I was very lucky because my ballet education was very compact. If you went to a normal ballet school, you would train the whole day basically. My parents wanted to make sure I had a normal education and a normal childhood, with a regular way of life besides ballet. That’s why they wanted me to finish high school in Germany. It gave me a certain grounding experience, because I knew there was a life outside of ballet.

For me, becoming a dancer was an option and not a necessity. Academic school was fun for me, and I also enjoyed other subjects…such as art, psychology, and neuroscience. Only at around the age of sixteen, I decided to be a dancer. We went to all of these competitions not to compete and win, but to be surrounded by all these other dancers my age. So when I was sixteen, I was like ‘Let’s give this a try, I can also go back to University in case it doesn’t work out.’ My parents wanted to give me the opportunity to decide myself, if I wanted to become a dancer, because they didn’t have the possibility. 

MY: What was it like dancing with your father?

DS: It was very special. The audience appreciated it a lot, since you had this intergenerational factor as well. It was funny and I still treasure my moments and memories with my father on stage.

Daniil Simkin performing in "Till Eulenspiegel" with his father, Dmitrij Simkin in Wiesbaden, Germany

Daniil Simkin performing in "Till Eulenspiegel" with his father, Dmitrij Simkin in Wiesbaden, Germany

MY: I actually first found out about you through Youtube, from that SIMKIN vs. Simkin video with your father. How did you end up on Youtube, and how did that impact your career?

DS: Before Myspace and all of that, I learned html, coded my website myself, and uploaded my own videos. When Youtube came along [in 2005], I found out I was already on Youtube. Someone had downloaded my videos and uploaded them and was selling DVDs of my performances. I tried to comment on Youtube, and they would actually remove my comments because they wanted the monopoly to sell the DVDs. So I wrote a copyright infringement notice to Youtube, and they took down the videos. Then I put my videos up there, because I thought if I didn’t, someone else would. 

For whatever reason, I was one of the first people on Youtube, so if you typed in “ballet,” I would pretty much be on the first page. [My videos] sort of became viral, and when I competed [at the USA International Ballet Competition] in Jackson in 2006, a lot of people knew who I was. In a way, I was lucky that someone stole my videos and put them on Youtube.

Looking back, it aided my career in a big way. Someone that saw me on Youtube invited me perform in Paris, and then because they liked my dancing, they invited me to New York, and that’s where I got my contract with ABT. Of course, you still have to prove yourself and back up your reputation. Both New York and the ballet world are really competitive, but nevertheless, it gave me a certain ignition.

MY: Similarly, you have a great following on Instagram, where you post a variety of content from behind-the-scenes shots of fellow dancers to funny videos. What role does social media play in your career? 

DS: Instagram and social media…it’s my way of giving. It enriches my life to see the world through other people’s eyes. Each photo I put out there, I am trying to tell a story. In my opinion, it’s not about self-publication and it’s not an egocentric thing to do, but it’s more about sharing your life with someone else…It helps [me develop] my photographic eye, and I use it as a motivation to improve my dancing and to practice my video editing skills. It’s a school in itself. 

MY: Please tell us about INTENSIO. What was your source of inspiration for starting this project?

DS: We premiered this summer in Jacobs Pillow [known as the oldest internationally-acclaimed summer dance festival in the United States]. It has been four new creations of contemporary dance and it stemmed from the fact that I grew up in Europe, with a European aesthetic of contemporary dance. Then I came to New York, and I am very thankful for dancing the more American modern dance choreography, but I missed the European aesthetic, and I wanted to explore that. One way was to to spearhead a project like this and take my friends from ABT on this journey because I thought they would benefit from this experience as well.

It’s a win-win situation because we get to dance works that have been created on us. And that is one of the most beautiful things you can have as a dancer…to have something be originally created on you, with your particular skill set. At the same time, it adds a bit of European choreography to the New York landscape. 

MY: What have you learned from guest performing with other companies and at different galas around the world?

DS: You build yourself a network of friends. I basically have friends in every major city of the world. It gives me great satisfaction to see other people’s life paths and to be able to reconnect with them every few years. Also, every culture is different and every audience is different, so it’s fascinating and broadens your mind to see how other people think and how other cultures work. I am thankful to be able to be so lucky in having that life experience.

It’s also difficult, because I travel four to six months a year, and sometimes I just miss being home and having a night off playing PlayStation. I love routine. I love having my coffee and my breakfast at home. When you are on the road, you have no choice but be exposed to these other routines, people, and places. But because the upside is so high, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to calm that side of my life down little bit. 

MY: What do you do to relax and get away from the ballet world?

DS: I love hanging out with friends, but I do need some time for myself. I’m actually more of a shy person, but life forces me to be more social because of all the traveling. I like to stay home, cook myself dinner, play video games, and watch a movie.

MY: Because this is our holiday issue, what is on your holiday wish list?

DS: I just moved into my apartment last January so I’m still finishing it all. There’s this design chair from Artek, and this digital art frame I would like to hang on my wall. It’s a Kickstarter project, and it’s a frame specifically for digital art. Other than that, I love video games, photography, and traveling (to a certain extent).


Photos courtesy of Daniil Simkin

"Stars" by Stella Artois

Mable Yiu

Stella Artois gave "stars" to New York City for the past few days (December 10-12) in a mesmerizing, interactive art installation located at Skylight at Moynihan Station. Guests went into the room in five minute intervals, where the stars grew brighter and dropped down just out of reach. In addition to being a part of Stella Artois' "Give Beautifully" Holiday Campaign, this exhibit was inspired by the brand's own name, as "Stella" is the Latin word for "star." 

While the extensive LED installation is over in New York, it will soon be available to the public in Buenos Aires from December 17-19.

By Mable Yiu

Christopher Chiappa's "LIVESTRONG"

Mable Yiu

Courtesy of the artist and Andres Ramirez/Kate Werble Gallery, New York

Courtesy of the artist and Andres Ramirez/Kate Werble Gallery, New York

Photos of Christopher Chiappa’s LIVESTRONG exhibition are blowing up on Instagram, and there’s a reason for it. 7,000 handmade fried egg sculptures are displayed on the walls, corners, and floors of Kate Werble’s West Soho gallery. Food and art lovers, rejoice!

From afar, the eggs look delicate and almost floral…like an abstract daisy. But looking closer, they are undeniably our favorite breakfast food.

Courtesy of the artist and Elisabeth Bernstein/Kate Werble Gallery, New York

Courtesy of the artist and Elisabeth Bernstein/Kate Werble Gallery, New York

However, what the eggs represent to the artist is more complex. Kate Werble Gallery explains that while the egg is usually seen as positive, pure, and perfect, the fried egg is broken, and more "'your brain on drugs'— the domain of the slacker and a symbolic loss of potential, but also the pleasure that might be found therein." Thus, LIVESTRONG examines this duality between perfection and failure. 

LIVESTRONG will be on view at Kate Werble Gallery (83 Vandam Street) until January 9th. 

By Mable Yiu

Art Basel

fairweather enterprises

Esther Schipper © Art Basel

Esther Schipper © Art Basel

We've returned from our annual descent down south to Art Basel - while there veni vidi vici - after all, that's the attitude you must have when trying to see and do as much as one possibly can in 48 hours. On December 1st, we attended DC Finance at the Ritz Carlton (speakers included Uri Levine, Sarah Arison, Ismael Cala and Luis Ortiz among other notable speakers and guests).

Next, we stopped by the Northrop & Johnson yacht party where guests were enjoying Fairweather's Hottie Tottie and trying on Yvel jewelry. Lastly but certainly not least we headed over to the Gagosian dinner at Mr. Chow, which was of course marvelous (and we loved the new Michael Chow painting outside the restaurant).

Galleries Lehmann Maupin © Art Basel

Galleries Lehmann Maupin © Art Basel

On the 2nd, it was the VIP preview at Art Basel. We walked around for hours looking at amazing pieces, seeing friends around the fair and catching up with our favorite dealers, advisors and collectors. That evening, we were off to a VIP Party at Untitled. And before we knew it, on the 3rd, it was time to return to the big apple. For more photos of our adventures, check out @fairweathermag and @thefairweathers on Instagram. 

By Alexandra Fairweather

Q&A with Plums

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of Plums

Photo courtesy of Plums

by Mira Dayal

We don't often hear music described with terms like "spectral beauty." When we do, it's because Plums has launched a new album and its silvery dream-pop guitar riffs have captivated fans and critics alike. 

But the best introduction to our new favorite band, Plums, is below: a full stream of their debut EP, Jen.

You've recently been working on your first album release as Plums. How have you drawn on your previous experiences with music to create this album?

A few of us have made music together in the past, and each of those projects have been great learning experiences. With each new project we discover new production techniques and we find more sources of inspiration. When you make a new album, all you can really hope to do is to build upon these insights and make something that improves upon your previous work. 

How would you describe your music in terms of colors (hues, saturation, tone) or images? How do you think listeners would describe your music?

The saddest brown of all time..... 

What is your process of collaboration like while writing and producing your music? How do your diverse experiences as musicians enrich or complicate production?

Typically one of us will come to the band with an idea for a song, and then we'll work together to complete the arrangement, write new sections, and finish the piece. Working as a group helps in that it gives us more perspectives and possible directions to take the music. Music production can sometimes be a bit of a puzzle – you can tell pieces are missing, but you're not sure exactly what they are. Having multiple people involved in the writing process makes it much easier to fill in those spaces. 

Some of you are also jazz musicians. Does the structure or composition of jazz play a role in your process of creation?

Jazz really is an interactive and improvisational form. While we don't typically write music from a primarily jazz perspective, certain jazz processes influence our music in various ways. This includes compositional jam sessions, dissonant harmony, and dialogic patterns between instruments. 

What have you learned about production through this album, and which tracks were the most interesting or creative on your end?

During the production of this album we became very interested in analog recording technology, such as tape machines and cassette recorders. The drums were recorded onto cassette before being transferred to digital recording software, and many of the guitars were put through tape machines. We love the depth and distortions created by the tape – qualities that you hear in older music (pre-1980s) but get lost with modern all-digital production.

In an increasingly digital and connected world, how do you see music being shared, performed, or distributed in the future?

With digital recording software and the internet, it's easier than ever to create and disseminate your own music. Of course, we also have illegal downloading and the rise of music streaming services, and so revenue from record sales is declining and will likely continue to do so. This is bad for record labels but might not be quite as bad for musicians. Traditionally, musicians have made very little off of record sales (the standard royalty rate is about 15% for the artist), while their primary source of revenue comes from concert ticket sales and licensing. Because of social media, it is easier to connect with others in the industry (we found our record label through surfing the internet and sending them an email) and to build a following that will hopefully attend your shows. That said, it's a very complicated picture and it can be difficult to locate the exact effects of these big changes in the music world. 

Which artists do you find most innovative and interesting today? Are there any artists you tend to return to or feel most influenced by?

As we work on our full-length album we've been listening to a lot of 70s greats - Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Elton John, Jackson 5 - and we're hoping to place a greater emphasis on rhythmic elements. 

Mr. Chow

fairweather enterprises

The name "Mr. Chow" evokes images of celebrities and power players flocking to Michael Chow's storied restaurants. But Chow was always an artist, and we visit him in his studio to view his extraordinary paintings and learn how his remarkable life story has shaped his art. Subscribe or download our App to read my interview with the legendary, Mr. Chow.

By Alexandra Fairweather

Cai Guo-Qiang

fairweather enterprises

It was great dropping by the studio of Cai Guo-Qiang to discuss the renowned Chinese artist's work, the real and unseen worlds, Chinese tales, creation and destruction, the environment...and extraterrestrials. To read the inspirational feature, download our App or subscribe

By Alexandra Fairweather

Q&A with Nathan Chan

Mable Yiu

Cellist Nathan Chan recently graduated from Columbia University, but has already immersed himself in the musical life of New York City. Here, Fairweather's Mable Yiu chats with the music prodigy about the role music plays in his considerably well-rounded life.

When did you discover your love of music?

I started my musical journey at the age of three when I began conducting. I am lucky enough to have grown up in a musical family. My mother Rena Ling is a piano teacher and my father Samuel Chan is a cardiologist but also plays the violin in his free time. My sister is a violist who is studying at Barnard College this year. Growing up, conductors were my heroes. I would often watch and emulate conductors on LaserDisc and was hugely compelled by their command of sound and emotion. I guess I had an intuitive connection to the music that still astounds me to this day. Physicality was an important part of how I connected and grew to love music and I feel physicality is still a large component of how I play the cello today.

When did you start playing the cello, and when did it become a primary part of your life?

I started playing the cello when I was five years old! I think I first truly understood my passion in music when I realized how profound and positive an impact it could have on the people around me. I think there was one defining moment in my life that really solidified my desire to make this “my thing.” When I was 11, I was fortunate enough to be featured in a documentary on HBO called “The Music In Me” in which I performed and spoke about “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens. Much of the segment included me describing the musical feelings and emotions behind the piece and so I described the song itself as being bittersweet; its lyrical passages hide an inner turmoil within a dying swan. The ending result was really meaningful, and I am still amazed by it to this day. This experience showed me the importance in communicating my passion as a way to express deep inner emotions to listeners. This emotional aspect of playing the cello has really come to influence the way I approach the world and is the biggest reason why I love it so much.

What inspired you to study at Columbia?

When I was deciding upon choices on where to study for college, I made a conscious and deliberate choice to pursue both academia and music at an extremely high level. I ultimately decided on attending both Columbia University and The Juilliard School for their dual degree program. So much of music is being able to relate the entire amalgamation of human thought, knowledge and emotion into your playing. I strongly feel that having this vast wealth of knowledge made possible by a liberal arts education has and will continue to be an important part of the way I play the cello.

How would you compare the music scene in New York compared to the one in San Francisco?

I am really loving not only the music opportunities in New York, but the life lessons here too. I feel immensely mobile in this city, which makes me feel so free to absorb the energy and culture here. Playing in both Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall (as a soloist with the Little Orchestra Society and with the Juilliard Orchestra) are two great examples of the musical possibilities in New York. I am excited to start my Masters degree at The Juilliard School this year and really can’t wait to immerse myself in its energy. I really love it.

What’s a current project you’re excited about?

I am currently working on a project called “Nathan Chan: Breaking the Wall.” I am extremely excited about the project, which is a documentary made by Shearwater Films, which is a small and talented team of filmmakers in New York. The goal of the project is to explore and show- case the creative musical opportunities to connect audiences with music in a way made possible by a 21st century musician. Ultimately, we would like to see the trailer reach a global audience, but are currently focusing on reaching a demographic in Asia.

How do you balance music and your ensemble, String Theory, with school and your social life?

Throughout my life, I’ve had great fortune to be able to pursue both music and academia at a very high level. I feel that beyond music and the cello, I am a great “people person.” I think I am outgoing and extroverted in my personality and have used this to bridge both these spheres of my life. I am always trying to see how things from different fields of study relate to each other. I try not to get caught up in whether or not different projects take time away from one another, but instead to see each opportunity enhances the other. In this sense, school enhances my musical life and my musical life enhances my social one. I embrace things one at a time and always try to prioritize things in order to keep myself focused and sane.

What advice would you give other musicians just starting out?

More often than not, one or two hours of the most inspired and creative practicing is much more effective than five hours of meaningless work. Reach out and practice communicating your passion to others.

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Mable Yiu

Fairweather publisher Alexandra Fairweather sat down with renowned curator and art critic Phyllis Tuchman just before the opening of the exhibition Motherwell: the East Hampton Years, 1944-52 at Guild Hall.

I always knew I wanted to be a curator, because you touch the art and it is the closest you get to being the artist without being the artist” explained Phyllis Tuchman as we sat across from one another in the offices of Guild Hall, where Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944–52 was held August 9–October 13. Despite the celebrated art curator and critic’s previous impressive accomplishments, this exhibition in particular was very special to her as it involved “rethinking the artist, rethinking the work.”


The beautiful exhibition included works that brought Robert Motherwell recognition and accolades in the mid-20th century, but until recently had nearly been forgotten. Tuchman said with a slight laugh, “He was the Julian Schnabel of his day,” in order to illustrate the fame that Motherwell experienced during the 1950s relative to his peers. Tuchman continued, “He was in Dorothy Miller’s 14 Americans six years before Pollock, Rothko, or Still got tapped to be in one of those shows.”

“I am totally in love with the St. Louis painting,” she said, pointing to an image of the work in her notes. “I love the idea that Motherwell talks about these colors being the sand and sky of winter out here and today we would just look at it as an abstract picture with grey and I love that this is just packed with all of this information that we don’t have access to except from the catalogue raisonné and now with my essay.”

In many respects these works were for- gotten because Motherwell often kept tight control over the selection of works for his retrospectives. Tuchman explained, “In the retrospectives of other artists, you saw the early work, but because Motherwell had such a strong control over which paintings got selected, this work was ignored.” Tuchman joked, “It was his fault.”


Determined to bring these works to light and restore them to their rightful place in art history, Tuchman began to work on Motherwell:The East Hampton Years, showcasing works that Motherwell created when living and working out on the East End in East Hampton. She was touched when she discovered that Motherwell viewed his life out east as a “romantic enterprise,” and that moreover, he believed that he “did some of the best work of [his] life there.” Upon her investigation into Motherwell’s time out on the East End, she reflected, “It was just this great story and I was familiar with the photograph of him playing chess with Max Ernst in Amagansett.” His East Hampton years were fundamental, not only for his own accomplishments, but for the establishment of the abstract expressionist community in the Hamptons.


Motherwell’s work is very philosophical in many respects, exploring consciousness and also the unconscious; this exploration appears to draw roots from his academics. “He was a philosophy major at Stanford and I think he really wanted to prove to people that the glass was half empty and half full, since everyone always says, ‘Are you the kind of person that sees the glass half empty or half full?’ He saw it both ways.”

About Motherwell’s surrealist influence, Tuchman explained, “Like a young artist, he wanted to reconcile two things that couldn’t be reconciled, a surrealist technique with a cubist aesthetic and it is a kind of a crazy ambition.”

“I was very close with Helen Frankenthaler for many years and she was in many respects like a mother to me, and even though they were divorced, Helen still very deeply loved Bob’s work and the invitation art is a work that she owned; it’s still in the foundation and it is a very important Motherwell, and I knew that well, and during the first few years of our friendship, The Homely Protestant was just in their living room.” I wondered if Tuchman considered a career as an artist herself. “I’m one of the few people that ever saw unpainted, wet works by Helen Frankenthaler on her floor and I spent a lot of time with her and no, I’m not an artist, I know what it takes.”


“When I was in Kansas City, as soon as I saw de Kooning’s Women IV, I understood every- thing about the painting on our cover [of the Guild Hall Catalogue]. He was thinking about de Kooning and then you realized this whole period is bookended by Pollock and de Kooning. When Motherwell goes to teach at Black Mountain the first summer, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner live in his house and then in the summer of 1953, de Kooning is using the studio and painting women. I don’t think Motherwell has ever been given credit for bringing all of the Ab Ex people out here.“

Tuchman also discovered that Motherwell had taught Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. “He led the pack and then influenced the artists of the next generation.”

“He loved poetry; he belonged to a generation that loved poetry. Motherwell belonged to such a different generation. In my mind, I’ve always seen Robert Motherwell as spanning the Pony Express to man walking on the moon; it is just a different way of looking at the world and poetry said it all for him.”


Mable Yiu

by Alexandra Fairweather 


"I wish we could make basic things more beautiful," explains Isabella Huffington, the gorgeous, confdent 22-year-old whose art has already garnered attention from the likes of André Leon Talley, André Balazs, Mika Brzezinski, Randi Zuckerberg, and Fareed Zakaria, to name just a few. The California native, daughter of media mogul Arianna Huffington and former Republican congressman Michael Huffington, graduated this spring from Yale University and is ready to take on New York. As the two of us met for lunch one weekend this spring at Bottega del Vino, we covered everything from the accessibility of art in today’s society to the tyranny of social media to Huffington’s philosophy on life.

“The first piece of art I made was in 10th grade. It was a mess up; I made a bunch of mistakes. Art is the one place where I allow myself to mess up. And when I do mess up, gorgeous things happen,” explains Huffington. The young artist is known for using Sharpies on museum board to create her beautiful pieces. “I was in a bookmaking class, and I started using Sharpies and thought, these are fantastic—because I love bright colors. It is a fun and accessible medium,” the artist recalls.

The accessibility of Sharpies reflects Huffington’s core values. “My main thing with art is making it accessible,” she explains. She even wrote her senior thesis at Yale about making art accessible through museums. “It is important to bring art to people that may not have had access to it in the past.” Huffington is seeking to address that lack of access to art across the world. “Art can be anything. It is up for the person to define what art is.”

Reflecting on the meaning of her own art, she reflects, “I don’t even know necessarily what it means until I’m done,” and for Huffiington, art is very much about the viewer’s response rather than one set interpretation provided by the artist. “We need things that make people happy. If people can look at it and meditate on it, that is the goal.”

Speaking of accessibility, Huffington is very interested in uniting her artistic vision with everyday objects. “I want to put my art on objects, tablecloths, napkins, wrapping paper, and so on. There are so many things that could be so much more beautiful!”

The two of us briefly discussed how we’ve noticed how artists often feel the need today to create brands, and create social media accounts, but Huffington has a refreshing perspective,a wisdom that allows her to see above the fray: “I don’t want to do that. I’m not a brand. I don’t want to waste my time doing that. I’m not into social media. I’m not into over sharing; my life is my life, and a lot of people feel that way.”

Looking towards the future, Hufngton reflects: “I didn’t dislike college, but college was in no way the greatest years in my life. The ones who are most afraid to graduate are the ones that think that learning ends when you graduate, when in reality, there is so much to learn after graduation.” The young artist is eager to start her next chapter. “There’s a whimsy in life we can’t figure out; there’s so much in life that you don’t know and you can’t understand and you can’t reason it. I very much feel what we do is intuition and when we try to overthink it, we end up making bad choices. I’m very type A, so I used to overthink everything and I ended up making bad choices.”

Now, Huffington is following her intuition as she dedicates herself to her work and begins the exciting journey that lies ahead of her.