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Dialogue | Yixuan —— Narratives of Logic in Material Language


Guest | Liu Xiaohan

Author | Yang Xiaoying

Layout | Yang Xiaoying

Translator | Yuge Li


Yixuan Wu



Wu Yixuan, from Dalian of Liaoning province, and currently lives and works in New York. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design in 2019 and completed her Master's degree in Fine Arts from Columbia University in 2022. Her creative mediums encompass photography, painting, sculpture, performance art, etc., with a focus on the ambiguity of objects and materials in everyday family life. By exploring the emotional narratives constructed by various objects in our living spaces, her installation works articulate the blending and coordination of materials and memories.


Sculpture is an art which concerns the distribution of objects in space.

Unlike poetry, which depicts the essence of temporal activities, sculpture is a static art form where the visual and spatial experiences are perceived by the viewer at the same time. As Rosalind E. Krauss stated in her 1977 work "The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths," "Sculpture is a medium that occupies a point of conjunction between the static and the dynamic." Any spatial organization inherently involves the experience of time, and when material context is placed in dynamic time, space becomes the vessel of continuous change.

Since the early 20th century, with the development of industrial technology, artists gradually began to incorporate dynamic concepts into their formal explorations of static materials. Among them, Duchamp's concept of "readymades" interrupted the semantic connection with previous artistic language. Instead bestowed new meanings upon ordinary objects in everyday life, it brings new semantics and aesthetic judgments for sculpture. The fundamental transformation brought by readymades expanded the public's understanding of artistic space, shifting the viewer's focus from the artwork itself to contemplating the relationship between objects, environment, and the viewer, fundamentally changing the way audiences experience artworks.

Guanxiao, Pool, 2009

Laure Prouvost, Melting into one another ho hot chaud it heating dip, 2020

Yixuan, an artist currently based in New York, often features recontextualization through the secondary creation of different readymades, exploring the objects that exist in our everyday surroundings.

In her works, she integrates a wide range of everyday items that represent various traces of human life, possessing common characteristics of the mundane including glass, rice grains, sponges, faucets, radiators and cacti. she juxtaposes materials from independent or even conflicting domains, engages in contemplation around the nature, construction of the objects, and the relationship between objects and the viewer. This approach breaks the original context and linear narrative of the items.

Installation view

a swell in the drape, 2021

Yixuan focuses on the interconnected logic between things in real life, or, in other words, the different ways in which humans interact with the world. By combining everyday objects with other materials or objects in her artistic practice, she extracts the items from their original mundane attributes and imbues them with new meanings beyond their intended uses with the showing of their unique and singular vitality.

For her, expressing the immaterial essence of things through materials allows the universal nature of creation to become tangible and real.

isle I, 2022

things to undo,2022



🙋🏻: : You graduated from a photography major in your undergraduate studies and transitioned to studying fine arts in your master's program. Could you talk about how you made the transition from photography to fine arts?

🧑🏻‍🎨: Initially, I chose the photography major purely out of passion. At that time, I was still young, so my understanding of art creation was not mature enough. Today, I still have a strong love for photography, but after realizing the differences between the photographic medium and my personal creative thinking, I decided to switch to studying fine arts in my master's program.

For me, photography, as a medium that provides objective information, involves a spontaneous process in terms of its manipulation and capturing capabilities with many elements of chance. Although photographers try to control perspective, composition, lighting, exposure time, and set design, and even simulate reality in the studio to control the image, most great photographic works often arise from the uncontrollable aspects and the unpredictable traces left by accidental factors in the photographic image.

In my creative process, I have a strong inclination towards rationality and a desire for control. I fear the uncertainty that comes with manipulating the medium and strive for coherence and logical consistency in my artwork. When creating photography pieces, I often choose to arrange the scene using staging techniques to achieve the ideal image I have in mind. I continuously modify, adjust, and conceptualize every detail in the overall spatial arrangement. Through this process, I have realized that what I truly want to express in my work is the relationship and associations between different materials within a space.

As a result, I have shifted to a more diverse medium - sculpture, which allows me to break free from the limitations imposed by specific materials and forms of expression.

soft congee, still waters, 2022

🙋🏻: In your sculpture works, you utilize ready-made objects that are commonly consumed in daily life, such as radiators, sponges, faucets, and so on. What prompted you to start choosing ready-made objects as materials for your creations?

🧑🏻‍🎨‍: Ready-made objects serve as a vehicle for storytelling. They present not only a visual image but also an object composed of tactile sensations, smells, and sounds. Each object used in daily life has its predetermined function and purpose. However, through the accumulation of everyday usage by individuals, the object's definition can change based on the emotional value and personal memories attributed to it.

In my installation works, I almost alter the established functions of each ready-made object to blur and confuse their original mechanisms and linear narratives. When selecting materials, I specifically focus on simple objects with relatively ambiguous functional uses, such as the tennis balls used in "something beyond the dearest daydreams." Besides being sports equipment, tennis balls are also designed as foot supports for walking aids used by the elderly. Each object possesses a powerful material language and encompasses multiple meanings. By rearranging and combining different materials, I aim to emphasize the emotions that seemingly ordinary objects can express.

Day By Day,2020, Image

🙋🏻: The reappropriation of ready-made objects has become a consistent thread in contemporary art. Apart from the use of ready-made objects, there is a frequent presence of green plants in your artworks. What do they symbolize in your works?

🧑🏻‍🎨‍: To some extent, green plants serve a personification purpose. Both in terms of materials and artistic themes, my artistic practice extends from the concept of home.

The recurring presence of green plants in my works primarily stems from the human behavior of indoor plant cultivation. It refers to the intervention in the natural growth and rhythm of plants to fulfill personal preferences. This includes planting, watering, pest control, pruning excessive branches, and even shaping them into decorative forms. This intervention which replicates the plant habitat within a domestic environment, is intertwined with complex power dynamics. It echoes the behavioral interventions in human growth in today's society.

🙋🏻: In your artworks, you incorporate professional terms from fields such as biology and psychology, such as hydrophobia and aversion to stimuli. How do these disciplines inspire your artistic practice? Where do you mostly draw inspiration from in your conceptualization process?

🧑🏻‍🎨‍: Although I haven't formally studied any courses in psychology or biology, I have always been interested in the theoretical aspects of these fields. They have many overlaps with the social issues I am interested in on a daily basis. In my creative process, I emphasize the systematic and logical aspects of my works. I tend to approach them from the perspectives of sociology, psychology, and biology. Meanwhile, I combine what I observe and hear in everyday life to explore the underlying essence of alienation in social phenomena and the interrelationships between different systems.


Health Inspector,2019

The Perfect Pitch,2019

🙋🏻: In "Peace Pills," you depicted a scientific experimental process diagram using watercolor, leading the viewers into a bizarre and abstract imaginative space, creating a visual psychological landscape. Could you discuss your creative thoughts behind this artwork?

🧑🏻‍🎨‍: "Peace Pills" was created based on the research experiments of early American behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner in operant behavior intervention. Skinner created a series of machines to study animal behavioral activities and observe the influence and changes in animal habits through external manipulation. with extrapolating the experimental findings to human behavior, he published a series of theories on how to shape and alter human behavior through programmed means. For instance, he asserted that humans do not have free choice in their actions and can only decide how to act based on rewards and punishments.

I, like many others, oppose his theory of behavioral intervention. The human psyche is complex, and important factors such as self-will, cognition, goals, and perception of others cannot be solely controlled or manipulated through Skinner's advocated system of rewards and punishments. "Peace Pills" is a satirical response to Skinner's theory, where the seemingly logical steps of the experiment in the artwork, like his theoretical experiments, appear grandiose yet meaningless.

Peace Pills (details), 2021

🙋🏻: The artwork depicts the current state and different stages of modern human living environments and mental states. Why did you name this artwork "Peace Pills," and what is the significance behind it? Through this artwork, are you more inclined to provide healing or encouragement to viewers for reflection on existing issues?

🧑🏻‍🎨‍: 「The term "Peace Pills" refers to the concept advocated in Skinner's theory of achieving a stable society through "control."

In Skinner's theory of behavioral intervention, he insists that achieving control over the behavior of all individuals, including himself, can solve various problems faced by the world today and make the world infinitely better. In his defined ideal society, children are to undergo strict behavioral training from birth through reinforcement, and as they grow through reinforcement and training, they become the role models of the human world.

Skinner's theory advocates for external operant methods, similar to the social norms and government regulations in our daily lives. However, everyone overlooks one fact: no one has the right to restrain and restrict human will and activities. Nevertheless, his ideas continue to be widely applied in psychological research, particularly in areas such as child and adolescent education and psychotherapy, even until today.

Peace Pills (details), 2021


Yixuan's artworks always revolve around a contradictory expression of emotions.

Those familiar yet unfamiliar objects in her works appear to be hard and indifferent but are filled with intimacy and warmth, reminding viewers of the meaningful emotions to our lives, even though they may sometimes be difficult to bear. Every meticulous detail and reference to academic research in her work highlight her strong personal imprint and understanding of the contemporary society.

things to do, 2022

Yixuan's sculptures depict how things are connected from a unique personal perspective. The subject matter, endowed with a new language by the artist, is transformed into a narrative texture in space. It interprets the possible cognition of mundane things by a rational and objective construction.

The core of Yixuan's creation is the exploration of the underlying essence behind real-world social phenomena. She intends to achieve a universal visual language and means of communication in her artwork, and invites viewers to explore the profound issues hidden behind alienating social phenomena.

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