Call for Papers: The LYC Museum & Art Gallery and the Museum as Practice

On the 6–7 March 2019, University of the Arts London and the Paul Mellon Centre for the Studies in British Art are convening a symposium on the LYC Museum & Art Gallery (LYC Museum), an exhibition space located in the village of Banks astride Hadrian’s Wall that showcased the work of more than 320 artists between 1972 and 1983. Transforming dilapidated farm buildings into a hyperactive space for art, the LYC Museum was the single-minded effort of artist Li Yuan-chia (1929–94), whose initials gave the museum its name.

The LYC Museum & Art Gallery and the Museum as Practice

Li bought the farm buildings from his friend and neighbour, the artist Winifred Nicholson. Transforming them into the LYC Museum consumed Li. He built most of it himself – undertaking all building, plumbing, and electrical work. At its peak, it hosted four new exhibitions a month; each accompanied by a catalogue that he designed and printed. Some of the artists shown ranged from local artists (Andy Christian, Susie Honour) to totemic national figures (Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth) and contemporary artists, now of international renown (Lygia Clark, Andy Goldsworthy), but then barely known in Britain. Apart from galleries, LYC Museum also had a children’s art room, library, performance space, printing press, communal kitchen, and garden. It was an open space for the multiple possibilities of art.

The artist Shelagh Wakely, who exhibited at the LYC Museum in 1979, saw the Museum as ‘a work of his [Li’s]’. It was an example of social practice before such a thing was named and tamed. And after its closure in 1983, it became the site of Li’s remarkable experimentation with hand-tinted photographs.

A stylised reconstruction of the LYC Museum lies at the heart of the ‘Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition’ exhibition – and embodies the possibility of a museum as both an artwork in itself, and as a vehicle for shaping collective stories and cultivating communities.

This symposium proposes a consideration of the LYC Museum as an extension of Li’s pioneering participatory art practice; for example, he was one of six participants in ‘Popa at Moma: Pioneers of Part-Art’, at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1971. Moreover, the symposium highlights the role of the LYC Museum as a site from which to explore the questions of how friendships inform shared practices, generate work, and circulate stories. The networks and practices that the LYC Museum enabled and enriched have yet to be studied widely. For example, his friendship with the concrete poet and Benedictine monk, dom sylvester houédard, or the pioneering sound artist, Delia Derbyshire – Li’s assistant, and briefly partner, at the LYC Museum (1976–77).

This symposium invites contributions that consider the LYC Museum in the context of Li Yuan-chia’s wider practice, and the role of friendships and affinities in the development and functioning of the LYC Museum. Proposals are welcomed on specific case studies, as well as those that frame a broader enquiry into the role of museums; and the place of friendships, affinities, and networks.

Possible themes for exploration could include, but are not limited to:

  • Museum as artwork: how does the example of LYC sit within wider histories of the museum as art work, and artists as proposers of alternative models for art (e.g. Tania Bruguera’s ‘Arte Útil’ or Rasheed Araeen’s manifesto for ‘Art Beyond Art’) – across time and geographies?
  • Exhibition histories of the LYC Museum: what does the mix of exhibitions and events reveal about the notion of ‘art’ being showcased and supported at the LYC Museum? How might we understand LYC in light of the exhibition histories for Li’s other work?
  • Participatory art and Li Yuan-chia: how does the Museum fit within Li’s wider practice? And what does the LYC Museum contribute to wider considerations of Participatory Art practices?
  • Staging friendships: Li’s career was shaped by his involvement in artist groups in Taipei (Ton-Fan Group), Bologna (Punto Group), and London (Signals). How might we understand the LYC Museum in relation to these, or other collective artistic practices?
  • Constructing a Cumbrian cosmopolitanism: the LYC Museum was established in a community with rich artistic and craft traditions – Audrey Barker, Eejay Hooper, and Winifred Nicholson were all Li’s friends, supporters, and neighbours. How did place and community inform the LYC Museum? And what comparative rural case studies might be brought to bear productively?
  • Research methodologies: what forms and methodologies allow art historical enquiries into friendships and sites? What complementary disciplines may expand our understanding of how art, artists, museums and publics operate and interact?

The symposium is equally interested in issues of theory and practice.

LYC is Me.
LYC is all of You.
– Li Yuan-chia

The symposium will take place on 6–7 March 2019 at the Manchester Art Gallery and University of Manchester. It will be preceded by a walk-through of the exhibition ‘Speech Acts’, curated by Hammad Nasar, with Kate Jesson, and an evening of specially commissioned artistic interventions, on Wednesday 6 March 2019 at Manchester Art Gallery.

Submission Details
Please submit the following by 11.59pm (GMT) on 21 October to events[at]paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk, listing ‘LYC Museum’ as the subject line:

  1. A 200-word abstract written in English
  2. A short, one-page curriculum vitae with complete e-mail, phone and mailing address

Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered. Final papers will be delivered in English. There will be some travel and accommodation funding for speakers.

Final entries will be reviewed by the symposium convenors: Hammad Nasar, Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre; Lucy Steeds, Reader in Art Theory and Exhibition Histories at Afterall, University of the Arts London; and Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research, Paul Mellon Centre.

This symposium is organised by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and University of the Arts London, in collaboration with Manchester Art Gallery and the University of Manchester.

Image: Li Yuan-chia standing at the porch of the LYC Museum next to a window designed and made by David Nash. Courtesy LYC Foundation and the University of Manchester.