Artists Present Recap | Have a Talk with the Changing Times

Apr 1, 2022

Editor / Monica / Tiffany

Rikki Cui

Rikki is a photography student interested in the interaction among photography, language and culture, the male gaze and feminist art.

Personal Website: rikkicui.com

Instagram @rikkicui


Carrying out his project “My Hometown” in the mountainous area where he was born, Rikki aimed to reflect on the development of China’s countryside as well as the value conflicts coming along with such development, from personal, cultural and economic perspectives via photography. The old photos that inspired this project and those that he took with a cell phone on his way back to his hometown and in his village all demonstrated how the changes of the times, culture and economy had influenced his hometown.


The old photos that Rikki found at home impressed him with the huge changes that his hometown had gone through in the landscape, living environment and economy. Such changes, positive and negative, made him so powerless that he hoped to document the different aspects of his village via photography. Rikki has traveled between the city where he lives and the small mountain village which he calls home since 2017 whenever he is free. While having talks with local villagers to understand their attitudes towards the local development, he contrasted the village’s past with its present, and photographed the changes that he saw. Economic growth brought a better material and cultural life to local people but resulted in overexploitation, waste and pollution, depriving them of the green mountains and limpid rivers that they used to enjoy.



“The Body of the Mountain Was Cut into Pieces"


According to Rikki, the contrast between the old and new photos illustrated the fast changes in the rural areas of China but more importantly shed light on the conflicts and confusions arising out of such changes. At the same time, the contrast showed the close links among individual memories, nature, environment and collective memories. Through Rikki’s lens, the changes were transformed from something abstract to something more concrete, emotional and dynamic. Approaching the collective narrative from a personal perspective, he presented the spirit of the times and society. His works revisited people's memories about the land where they had been living for decades and focused on the complex feelings that villagers hold towards each other and their homeland.




Majoring in photography, Rikki took this project as the beginning of his exploration in documentary photography. Originally, he kicked start the project just to document his hometown, without a detailed plan. Nevertheless, he would continue with this project and keep observing and reflecting on his birthplace, to maintain the connection between the current and the past, despite the disturbances and predicaments caused by changes.


"The Mountain in 2021"


"Finished Road in 2021"


Yumeng

Yumeng is a graduate student from Claremont Graduate University. Working with media such as painting, photography, installation and performance, she discusses how social changes and personal identity changes interact with each other, in a subtle and feminine autobiographical style.

Instagram @artist_yumengzhang


Yumeng has been working on her first work “Exhale” since 2018. Over the past years, she has recreated the same work in many different places after she lined, with fake blood, the cracks on the ground of one studio in disrepair at her school.


"Exhale", 2019


After coming back to China due to the pandemic, Yumeng reproduced the same work on the alley in front of the building where she lived. This time, she highlighted a crack that extended from one end of the alley to the other. The process of creation and the final result carry the same weight to her. Among all the people who walked by her work, three boys left the deepest impression on her. “‘What you are drawing is the lifeblood of the land,’ said they when cycling by.”



"Exhale", 2020


Yumeng emphasized that her works are not pure performances. She combines different media together: a performance can be represented through photos and texts, so it is rebellious and dynamic. During her graduation exhibition this year, her work “You Have Half a Man’s Blood in Your Body; You Have Half a Woman’s Blood in Your Body” integrated text, performance art and photography with each other. Naked, she wrote on the wall the title—words that her parents would like to use to attack each other when having quarrels. “When my parents argued with each other, my mother would say to my father, ‘Half of your blood came from a woman.’ Then my father would retort, ‘Half of your blood came from a man.’ The word ‘woman’ carries some negative connotations in Northern China.”



A still from the performance video “You Have Half a Man’s Blood in Your Body; You Have Half a Woman’s Blood in Your Body”, 2022


Yumeng’s work “Family Tree,” created during the pandemic, was composed of some red tree branches, a series of photos, and some acrylic creations. When visiting the village where she grew up, Yumeng was attracted by some green safety nets used by a construction team in the demolition of a building. Seen from the top of the building, the massive nets looked like land art or waves. They became more abstract through Yumeng’s lens, so what were seen were just some green color blocks as well as some red branches popping out from the green background, like capillaries or new creatures crawling wildly in the exhibition hall.





“Family Tree Series”, 2021


When asked about the direction for future creation, Yumeng was not very sure. However, no matter which direction she would choose, her body would be part of her works, which is a way for her to feel the world.


Yuzhi Chen

Chen Yuzhi is studying Film and Video at California Institute of the Arts, with works in fields such as film, photography, performance art and installation art.

Personal Website: jingdi.space

Instagram @yuzhi._chen


Yuzhi Chen is working on two projects of digital and film photography, “MĚI GUÓ CÈ SUǑ” (The American Lavatory) and “America.”


“MĚI GUÓ CÈ SUǑ” was inspired by Yuzhi’s perceptions of languages, translation, destinies and objects. While driving all the away from Canada to the United States, he noticed that the two English speaking countries name the lavatory in totally different ways—“washroom" in Canada and “restroom" in the United States. This difference sparked his curiosity about how we ended up with so many different words for the same thing, be it “water-closet,” “toilet” or “bathroom.” Inspired by the difference, Yuzhi has been taking photos of and documenting the locations of lavatories (mainly those for men) ranging from the bathroom in an apartment to the public restroom in an art museum.




Yuzhi’s works illustrate he has explored the relation between objects and their names, the impact of names on people’s perceptions, and the objectivity and specificity of the “facts” recorded through photography. It is obvious that all these explorations found their way into his work “America.” In the English context, people tend to have a presupposed idea of “America,” using this word to refer to the United States. However, this word in fact means the larger area composed of the two continents North America and South America. The presupposed idea reveals a United States-centric tendency. In daily use, a word can deviate from its original meaning, so it is challenging to understand the word objectively. For example, what can be considered “American” and what cannot? The answer lies in the intricate interaction between language, politics, history and culture.

Based on his impression as a new comer to “America,” Yuzhi photographed a series of things with local features. Through his photos, he would like to propose questions: Who are “Americans?” What is “America?” Where America is? He managed to uncover the culture, the capitalist way of production and consumption, and the interaction between the diverse cultures and the history of the United States, while capturing the moments of his daily life.





When talking about how he would like to develop his projects, Yuzhi said that he would keep traveling and taking photos in more different places. He would also try to add a gender dimension into his project “MĚI GUÓ CÈ SUǑ” by comparing and contrasting restrooms for men with those for women, as suggested. Additionally, he mentioned the possibility of turning this project of photography into one of performance art and even of going far beyond the gender division and taking photos of gender neutral restrooms.


Elaine Liu

Elaine Liu is an undergraduate student at Rhode Island School of Design. She explores her surrounding and inner self, with the help of various materials and media and via works of diverse forms.

Personal Website: elainejia100.carbonmade.com

Instagram @elainejia100


Elaine’s work “Good Night” is of interdisciplinary nature and composed of different materials. In this work, she broke the limits caused by the traditional ways of observation and expression, and reflected on the mutual enhancing relation between customs and technology and between the part and whole.



“Good Night” was inspired by the Chinese tradition that people would think of their hometown while admiring the full moon on the day of the mid-autumn festival, or specifically by Elaine’s childhood experience of observing the lunar eclipse. At that time, her mother promised to film the celestial spectacle so that Elaine could have a look of it the next morning instead of staying awake late into the night. The next day, her mother did show her the film and recounted the eclipse to her in a hoarse voice caused by the cold, which moved her deeply.


In the work, Elaine used some circles to represent the moon at the different stages of the eclipse process. The textures that covered the circles in fact were the microscope images of materials such as plants, shrimps and crabs, feathers, bones and hairs, things that she collected during her daily life. While some of those objects looked withered, some others remained hydrous to some extent. The microscope images with clear tiny textures offered viewers another way to look at this world. Elaine also added a strange, psychedelic and emotional touch into her work by treating the edge of the materials with the electron microscope.




The materials, under the microscope, became something abstract, composed of textures and color blocks, and looked different from what we saw usually with the naked eye. However, we could still figure out what materials they were—for example, feathers, roots or gravel—just by referring to details such as colors, luster and textures. Under the microscope, the materials became a visual language or a graphic element. Elaine planed to continue working on this work with some other materials.




“Good Night” showed how the sun and moon interacted with each other cyclically. Through this work, Elaine hoped to illustrate the integration of an outer-space phenomenon with some terrestrial materials, an integration that could also reflect the dialectic relation between objective observations and subjective perceptions.


Yaozhi Liu

Yaozhi Liu is a Los Angeles-based photographer, with a MFA Photography and Media from the California Institute of the Arts. He explores topics such as urbanization and environmental changes and protection via landscape photography and multimedia installations.

Personal Website: yaozhiliu.com

Instagram @yaozhiliu


“There it is, Take it!” is Yaozhi’s long-term project to study the main water supply system of Los Angeles—the Los Angeles Aqueduct. He studied the aqueduct’s geological structure to figure out how it was built and researched its economical, cultural and environmental impacts, by referring to related films, maps, newspaper, literature and installations.


Installation View in Three Shadows Xia Men, March 2022


The complicated history behind the aqueduct is worth of research. When immigrants flocked to Los Angeles at the end of the 19th century, the city grew wildly. Despite its access to underground water and the Los Angeles River, the city suffered from an unstable supply of surface water. At the beginning of the 20th century, city planners reckoned that the local water supply fell short of the demand, so they channeled water from Owens Valley, which however resulted in the depletion of the water in Owens Lake in just ten years. To make the matter worse, leaving the lake untreated gave rise to a series of serious environmental and social issues. It was only after 2000 that the problem was noticed.





Yaozhi’s project was mainly composed of photos, but all of them were backed by intensive in-depth research of videos, installations and archives such as hand-drawn maps, photos, statistical graphs, tourist brochures and newspaper. While trawling through all these documents, Yaozhi also carried out field studies, visiting the Los Angeles Aqueduct, having talks with local residents and documenting the oral history that they recounted. The pandemic witnessed his footprints across the aqueduct from north to south, to take photos of related installations and landmarks.



While reviewing related documents, visiting the aqueduct and narrating its story, the photographer hoped to reveal the other side of its history via photography.