Yuanming Yuan

J. Hillis Miller writes that surely nothing is more natural or universal to human beings than telling stories.

No matter how old we get, we never outgrow stories. From fairytales to mysteries, from news to advertising, we are surrounded by them. Storytelling lies at the very core of my practise, its capacity to inform, challenge and dictate culture is unequaled and is an endless source of inspiration.

To wet your appetite for my upcoming Degree Show, and maybe help you make up your mind if you are as yet undecided about coming, I thought I would share some of the thinking and ideas behind Yuanming Yuan, the project I will be exhibiting.

Rabbit, plaster and gold leaf, 2017
Rabbit, plaster and gold leaf, 2017

Completing this university degree has been anything but plain sailing. I’ve had highs and lows, been desperate to drop out yet determined not to, lost all motivation, found motivation, been challenged, stretched and frankly bruised by the process. But somehow in the midst of it, I’ve found the words and skills to articulate who I am as an artist. Yuanming Yuan is both a summary, an expression of all I’ve learned, and a launch pad in the direction of future research and work.

This project is inspired by my love of story, of the strands which connect us to one another, places and objects. It is also fuelled by a life long fascination with history and archeology.

Walter Benjamin wrote that he who seeks to approach his own buried past, must conduct himself like a man digging. He could just as easily have written; buried story.

This is an activity which archeologists engage with daily, the archeological ethic of patience, association and storytelling is reflective of the artist’s own. There in lies a similar devotion to detail, labour in process and the centrality and critical nature of context and concept.

Rat and Rabbit, plaster and gold leaf, 2017
Rat and Rabbit, plaster and gold leaf, 2017

Objects tell stories, decades of critical theory support this, but archeologists will tell you that without context, the object may speak but we will never fully understand. When an artefact is removed from its context, the story becomes the property of others and the true history can be lost forever.

Dieter Roelstraete in his paper ‘The Way of the Shovel’ (which you can read here) was one of the first to acknowledge a new generation of artists engaging with what he calls the histographical mode – or mediums of history-telling. In my practice, the artist becomes archeologist, uncovering untold stories and bringing them to light.

Yuanming Yuan depicts an unhealed wound in China’s history, which still has influence today. The sculptures represent the iconic Zodiac Busts looted from Yuanming Yuan during the Second Opium War by British and French troops. Some have since been returned, but many are still missing.

Rabbit, plaster and gold leaf, 2017
Rabbit, plaster and gold leaf, 2017

Appropriating the Japanese Wabi-Sabi philosophy of transience and embracing damage, as well as the motifs of the museum, the sculptures invite contemplation and attempt to open a dialogue about the events and stories which surround these objects.

The sculptures will be on display in the Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Art at Lancaster University from the 20th – 27th June. More information about the exhibition can be found on the show’s website, here.

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