04. in Taipei, a discussion with Yichui Chen, co-founder of Pon Ding.
shot in November 2018
Thanks for your time. I want to know more about your background, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Thanks for the interest! Well, my background is in Journalism. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing. I was young and didn’t know who to approach. After I graduated from College I went to London to study photography for the first year. It wasn’t a degree but formal studies for ten months. Afterward, I began a Master Class in publication at the London College of Communication. I enjoy doing photography, I had a passion for Arts and felt an attraction for the publishing world. I asked myself, why not try to learn more about magazines publication? It looked like another way of expression and something I would enjoy to do.
Why did you choose to move to London? Nowadays young people in Taiwan can find a lot of information on the internet. Ten years ago people were attracted to the United States. I was not aware of what was happening in Europe. Anyhow, I went where my instinct told me to. Even know I didn’t want to go abroad, I wanted to stay in Taiwan to study. However, people around me were enthusiast at this idea, to try new things.
You were doing photography, do you remember what kind of camera you were using?Yes, I was using a small Contax T2.
Oh really? It’s a wonderful one. Do you still find time to work on your photography? From time to time yes. Many things I discovered about myself and my photography work happened when I spent time in London.
Tell me more about the time you spent in England, did you enjoy it?
Well, I spent five years in London. I had a visa for two years and was helping my friend to publish his photography book printed in Taiwan. I did an internship for Tank, a fashion magazine. When I joined their team, they asked me to produce contents about China. They needed someone who speaks fluently. Thanks to this body work I quickly understood the process of creating a magazine from scratch, which isn’t difficult and I could do it by myself. Also, when you produce a magazine, you have the opportunity to meet people, to work with creatives and compose something aesthetically pleasing. I never thought of working in the publishing business could lead to this path.
You helped your friend to publish a photography book, was it the first magazine you made?
After my graduation, I stayed in London and met this friend. She was working on her own project «Water - fall». Before working alongside her, I did her inter- view and wrote an article. I was doing a feature about young Taiwanese creative people who were living in London. We became close friends. After a few years spent in London, we went back to Taiwan. It made sense to work together. We gathered with a friend and created a new magazine titled Not today. We only publish six issues, it was a choice. We used to com- mission artists. For instance, we told them to go to a specific space and produce the content they wanted.
Like a performance?
Exactly. It was a fun experience. There was a small piece in the magazine entitled Hi, Taiwan, it was a paper residency. Each issue we asked artists who lived abroad to pick a location where they stayed and produce a specific artwork featured in the magazine. That space could be a space like Pon Ding, a street, or a city. Then, I joined another magazine Voices Of Photography a year before going back to Taiwan. There was no proper photography magazine in Taiwan. I helped for the first to the fifth issue. I was doing the editorial part and joined the design meetings.
Is that around that time you launched Pon Ding? How this space was created and when did you guys meet? We are three co-founders. We met in Bangkok when I was showcasing the first issue of Not Today. Once back in Taiwan we kept in touch. We had the envy to create something collectively. For my magazine's projects, I was doing a lot of stuff, I was multitasking, planning exhibitions. I worked on several projects aside, one day Yoichi Nakamuta (a Japanese designer and one of the founder) told me that it would be interesting if I had a showroom to display the stuff I worked on, to have my own space to organize events. We already had our studio so, I didn’t think about having an extra office. But the idea to create a space seemed interesting. It was just casual discussions between the three of us when we had time to meet. Foremost, we had to find the space. It took one year to find one, thanks to the Internet. However, the pictures were not appealing, the landlords were easy to deal with, so we managed to do what we wanted, in terms of development and design... The idea to create a space seemed interesting. It was just casual discussions between the three of us when we had time to meet. Foremost, we had to find the space. It took one year to find one, thanks to the Internet. However, the pictures were not appealing, the landlords were easy to deal with, so we managed to do what we wanted, in terms of development and design...
And about serving coffee, was it also part of the initial concept? Kind off. All of us loved coffee, however, we built it afterward. It is also a common thing that Taiwanese enjoy being outdoors, drinking coffee and eating cake.
What about the name?
At first, I was thinking about Pond but it wasn’t really related to space and the people. Pon means friends Ding stands for manpower. In Chinese, these words have multiple meanings. PonDing is a water area. If you search Pon Ding on the internet, go to the image section you’ll see water space pictures. I was looking for a simple name and easy to pronounce. It just came
to my mind when we did some renovations. Two years ago there was a typhoon that hit Taipei, the ceiling was flooding. In Chinese, those words have a particular meaning to people. PonDing is a water area. If you search Pon Ding on the internet, go to the image section you’ll see water space pictures. I was looking for a simple name and easy to pronounce. It just came to my mind when we did some renovations. Two years ago there was a typhoon that hit Taipei, the ceiling was flooding. In Chinese, those words have a particular meaning to people.
What was your initial goal when opening? We wanted to create a platform, not just showcase what we were good at. Build a space where people can come, work, share ideas and get inspired. We are receptive, people can participate by sharing their opinions and impressions with us. They are an important part of this project.
What about the two other floors, is there a specific use for each?
Yes, but it could change, depending on the events we are planning.
You did everything inside? Yes, we mainly built everything, except the ceiling part. We spend a lot of money on the electricity system because it wasn’t made for commercial use.
It must have been a great experience to also work on the interior. Indeed, we were surprised by the amount of space available. The only thing we didn’t change was the windows. The lightning aspect was an important factor in our final decision because we could also picture building a photography studio. We thought about the different purposes of each floor as people could explore, not only a library space, Pon Ding is a meeting place for people who are living in Taipei and visitors like yourself, where they could stay for one hour or two, studying, working, eating. Moreover, we aimed to do exhibitions and events from time to time.
Could you tell the story behind the logo?
I heard that people sometimes think about it as a mushroom or even say it is a representation of a cloud. It makes me smile, this idea that people could have a different interpretation of it.
Do you think you have reached your goals? Mmh, I’d say around sixty percent! In the beginning, it was challenging. We are located in a residential area and even know we are not that far from the subway station, it is not a crowded area. We try to reach people through our Facebook page and by sending newsletters. The people who live in the neighborhood did not understand what we were trying to do with Pon Ding. With time, patience and hard work, we are now able to gather a community.
Maybe because your concept was innovative?
Yes, a few years ago the idea of a concept store, a place where
various elements converged in one unique place was kinda new here. Nowadays, we are seeing more concept stores around town.
Why do you think so? There are a lot of bookstores in Taipei, but in my opinion, they are not that great because of their selection. I think this is what set us apart and why Pon Ding isn’t like others libraries. It was difficult to communicate. We are not trying to sell you just a lot of books, for me, it is important to have a real exchange between our team and our costumer.
You are also trying to promote independent Taiwanese publications. We have both, books from Asia, Europe or America. I think it’s necessary to combine all those publications in a similar space. Furthermore, if I have the possibility to give a significant place for Taiwanese creators to put their magazines & prints, well, I will do it.
How do you choose the people who exhibit their work in your gallery space?
In the beginning, we just asked friends. Then, after the six following months, I began to receive e-mails, especially from Japan. I don’t know why but it just happened. I think it is because we kept a good relationship with Japanese people. I am satisfied also I hope I will be able to work and develop a few collaborative projects with different countries in Asia. It is about taking the right amount of time needed, let things happened.
Have you been inspired by any other space around the world? I visited Paris a few years ago and I recall this space, The Broken Arm, it was a real inspiration. I didn’t have a lot of money although I knew I had the creative resources to build something innovative.
How do you balance when you have more ideas than money?
Great question, it is always very though. Sometimes it is complicated in term of creative aspect mainly because I am working alongside two other people and we must agree on several things. For example, if they want to do an exposition of someone that I don’t think will fit our space, then, I’d have to take the final decision.
You are the creative director.
I do think so yes. There are several tasks to take care of. When you open a location, you have to offer so- mething more meaningful than something just based on aesthetics. It happens that we rent our space for commercial use, a shooting for instance. This is a vital part. We also work on small projects outside of Pon Ding. Last week, a Japanese producer asked me to provide a few pieces of information about five Taiwanese artists for an upcoming exhibition held in Tokyo. In the future, I look for those kinds of work projects. For example, if they want to do an exposition of someone that I don’t think will fit our space, I have to make a decision.
That sounds like a lot of work. Are there any criterias where picking your book selection? At first, I ordered what I loved, of course, it’s never working that way. You have to think about your costumer. When we started to get more and more people, by getting their feedback, I changed the way I deal with the selection. started to get more and more people, by getting their feedback, I changed the way I deal with the selection. Plus, the people who are buying our books are mostly working in creative fields.
Like ourselves, they have this envy to collect things and to be inspired. I am a magazine enthusiast, however, it is not possible to gather many books in the same space, I had to get rid of some, keep a lighter selection. I learned that if you desire to be a decent Art bookstore you have to propose various choices for the people. This is one of my favorite part of the job, finding new books.
Your thoughts on social media?
I don’t like Facebook still, it’s an important tool for communication. I use Instagram from time to time and I try to post valuable contents. I guess nowadays, our society is moving fast, pieces of information as well. You have to follow some of the rules to not be left apart & excluded. Since we have an online web store, we have to stay aware of what’s going on on these platforms.