Chu Yuan & Jay Koh’s Collaborative and Participatory Art Practice 



Chu Yuan and Jay Koh began their collaborations since 2000. Adopting forms of engagements that are responsive to and inclusive of peoples, cultural behaviors and societal structures, they often place themselves for substantial periods of time within a specific community, and devise site-specific responses to particular communities, whether in form of carrying out public art projects and/or interactive performances; devising social organisational and relational structures; organising activities and/ or informal learning programmes, with the aim of promoting interpersonal engagement, self-organisation and facilitating broader initiatives of those communities.

Their work involves the interaction and exchange of ideas and knowledge between cultures and knowledge systems - particularly the exchange and interaction between art knowledge and approaches with those of social systems, localised practices and organisational networks.

Artists in multi-faceted practice

As artists, they feel that they have to take on multi-faceted roles in order to be able to affect and negotiate with the complex structures and relations that are in place in each context that they work. These activities that they carry out include art-making, research, curating, writing, teaching, consulting, and dialogue-making. These roles and activities form the foundation of their approach in integrating art and cultural processes with wider social processes, and in working across and in collaboration with other disciplines. They also carry out shorter term projects, especially when requested by art institutions, museums, festivals and other art events.

Basic tenets of their participatory projects

In their participatory projects, they work within a framework of extended and expanded engagement with co-participants and societal structures. Each project is conceptualized in response to a local and specific context, conditions, behavior and knowledge. After an essential research phase, they begin to conceptualise a basic framework for interactions and encounters. These encounters may produce physical art works, incorporate the use of creative and popular media, communicative actions, performances, and may result in further collective actions by co-participants.

Their approach necessitates that they carry out in depth engagement with structures and components and complexities of a site/ context; work with local collaborators and participants and leave behind structures that can be sustained, or knowledge that can be applied, by the communities themselves.

From their past reflections, they believe that in a project made with a community (differentiated from ‘for’ a community) it is important that the impetus, the ‘topic’, scope and direction of the work needs to come from within the interests of individuals in the communities. The interest of the individuals for participation, for interaction and encounter has to come from the individuals and communities themselves, and not motivated from outside.

As such the following criteria are of utmost importance in facilitating their practice:

- a substantial timeframe

- access to local knowledge, structures (organizational, facilities, and networks)

- ability of develop collaborations with local persons

- possibility of engaging across disciplines and sectors of society; including local authorities

Their practice is governed by an ethics of engagement and dialogue, which deliberates on their own intervention within a community, so that they as artists can take care not to act as ‘doctors’ or ‘instructors’ who come from outside to impose a certain agenda or to fix problems. Therefore it is important to accept that they cannot work towards ‘crafting’ an expected end product or result. On the other hand, they believe that artists can neither underplay their own role, nor think that they can be ‘neutral’ facilitators, as their presence will definitely affect the direction of the work. The interest to dialogue needs to come from at least 2 parties. Each participant (inclusive of the artist) needs to bring something into the encounter.