orientations : a small collection of wind, sound and breath (2002)
An installation of 100 inflatables, powder balls and brass bells
OPEN 2002 Feminin Imaginaire, 5th International Exhibition of Sculptures and Installations, Venice, Italy, 2002
The arc of Ye Shufang’s practice over the last 7 years has been stretched over certain focal concerns – one of which has been the almost compulsive need to render her work accessible to the larger community. Many of her driving concepts, impulses, strategies and materials are organized around this aspiration. Utilising ‘non-art’ materials, ‘non-serious’ subjects and migrating to ‘non-gallery’ spaces, her practice involves a systematic unlearning of art-college instructions and demolishing of inherited hierarchies and inequalities. The ideas of play and imagination, of space and memories, of fleeting multi-sensory experiences, of democratic audience interaction have defined and directed her work.
It is not entirely unexpected that Ye has extended her use of ephemeral materials to the air we breathe. Her signature materials are not known to be of the ‘gallery-friendly’ order. They cannot be carted away nor sensibly stored; they are quick to spoil, they court bugs and mould and nearly never retain their original shape or size. They have included chocolate, hard fat, agar-agar (dessert jelly), sago (glutinous sweet), rubber strips, party balloons, baby talc – the kind of supplies that run rampant in our lives and solicit little attention. The processes that Ye enlist do not belong to the exclusive domain of art-technical expertise wielded only by ordained ‘insiders’ of the profession. Her preferred gestures and acts of creation are as rudimentary and habitual as cooking, powdering and well……breathing.
The collapsing of boundaries, between recommended high or fine art materials and processes and those available in any household implies a ‘levelling-out’ criteria - designating one genre of materials/process to the same status (and importance) as the other. For the artist, both ‘classes’ of materials/process are profoundly inter-related - investing in one effectively sensitises us to the other. In the tradition of ‘anti-commodity’ gestures, Ye’s use of these ‘non-durables’ are also meant to strike at the widespread infatuation with the collectible, the souvenir, the art object (and artist) that can be bought and shown off. Ye’s practice also resists the impulse to privilege certain processes as artistic specialisations estranged from the efforts of common and everyday activities. There is no suggestion that her artistic productions are somehow beyond the capacity or will of the average, ordinary person – the ‘non-artist’.
Lindy Poh is an independent curator based in Singapore.
Text edited from essay published in the catalogue of OPEN2002,
5th International Exhibition of Installations and Sculptures, Venice Lido.