The development of industrial civilization and intelligent technology has greatly altered our relationship with nature, leading to a certain degree of alienation between humans and nature. Industrialization has significantly increased our demand for natural resources, while the advancement of intelligent technology has made us increasingly dependent on machines and automation. Artificial intelligence, by automating and optimizing workflows, intensifies our separation from nature as we increasingly need less direct interaction with the natural environment. Human intelligence, on the other hand, enables us to comprehend and manage complex real-world problems and to confront the alienation brought about by industrial civilization and intelligent technology.
With a surrealist perspective, I explore the world, attempting to peer through the facade of reality and unearth the profound meaning hidden beneath. In this series of my work, I shift my focus to the phenomena of artificial intelligence and natural intelligence, endeavoring to investigate their interrelationship and their interaction with our lives through the medium of art.
Artificial intelligence is our creation, reflecting the apex of our self-understanding and our imagination for the boundless possibilities of the future. However, concurrently, artificial intelligence instills deep unease within us as it not only challenges our traditional understanding of humanity and intelligence, but also threatens our control over the world.
Conversely, natural intelligence is our origin, rooted in our biological essence, forming the foundation for us to adapt and understand the world. Natural intelligence instills awe within us because its complexity and mystery far exceed our understanding.
In my work, I regard artificial intelligence and natural intelligence as two opposing yet interdependent forces. Utilizing surrealist techniques, I break the boundaries between reality and dreams, technology and nature, machines and living beings, creating a world that is both strange and familiar. In this world, artificial intelligence and natural intelligence are no longer abstract concepts, but entities possessing form and emotion. They are mirrors reflecting our desires and fears, as well as windows allowing us to glimpse the possibilities beyond ourselves and reality.
I hope my work will provoke thought among viewers, prompting us to reexamine our relationship with artificial and natural intelligence, as well as our place in this rapidly changing world. I believe that only by understanding and accepting the contradictions and complexities of these two types of intelligence can we find true balance and create a future that respects both technology and nature.
Yen Yuzhe (Ashley), graduated from the School of Sculpture and Public Art, China Academy of Art in 2021 with a degree in Public Sculpture (Place Space Art). She is currently pursuing her MFA in Pure Art at the ArtCenter College of Design in California.
4C Gallery presents Yuzhe Yan's latest series of works, which focus on the artist's exploration of the subconscious and the two-dimensional connection between dreams and reality. In this process, Yan collects his own dreams in an attempt to capture those parts of himself that are outside of his consciousness. At the edge, periphery, or even far away, there may be thoughts, feelings, and memories that are not actively noticed or contemplated.
When you first enter the exhibition hall, you may be shocked by the strange, mysterious, and colorful scene, surrounded by all kinds of weird and wondrous creatures, not knowing how such strange images will cause the viewer's heart palpitations and curiosity: clowns with air-conditioned eyes gazing at something, monsters with long eyes, plants with human faces such as the trees in the tropical rainforests, and peculiar species of fairy-tale texture. Under the projection of fantastically colored images, the man finally has the opportunity to have colorful skin and then join to be part of the stage.
Man has never been capable enough to recognize his own subconscious mind, whether it is in present-day biology or psychology, and under the auspices of science, man has not been able to penetrate this secret passage but has only been able to try to peek into it. But these things outside of everyday life are not without significance; they are self-expressive in some unknown way and also speak a part of one's inner emotions instead. So all the discoveries in the dream world, the subtle things, the people, objects, and animals that don't exist in real life become the objects that Yuzhe Yan tries to transform. With such a strong will, those horror novels, myths, legends, and fables from her childhood memories intertwined with her dreams and eventually transformed into reality through her memories into her creations.
What surprised me most, however, was not only these marvelous imaginations and expressions, as well as the combination of installation art and video art. What surprised me the most was the sense of public expression in the private sphere, a sense of openness and exploration, an invitation and participation, a kind of entry, a sort of public discussion. Yan Yuzhe reveals a different type of emotional communication, which is difficult to be conveyed naturally by many artists who specialize in private narratives and creations. When I learned that the artist herself graduated from the Department of Spatial Art, I realized that this comes from her professional training in public space art, and from her grasp of the public sphere.
In such a public space, Yuzhe Yan builds an open space of imagination through her installation artworks with very private memories (even the stories of the artworks can only be told by her). It also makes us realize that the subconscious is laid out underneath all individual imaginations, emotions, behaviors, and experiences and becomes a kind of precursor of our connection to the world. And perhaps it is in the process of watching and transforming dreams that we are able to glimpse the self and the collective outside of the rules, forcing us to reimagine our connection to self and society.
Q: In your eyes, how do you understand the relationship between dreams, reality, and the subconscious? Is it one set, multiple sets, or never stable? Talk about your exploration and think about the connection between them.
Y: I feel that the real world is objective to me, but it is influenced by my subconscious mind as a host, which includes beliefs, emotions, memories, and expectations. The subconscious mind is like the part of my mind that I am not fully aware of most of the time, and it involves my memories, emotions, desires, fears, and habits many patterns of behavior, just as our reactions and emotions are driven by our subconscious mind. And this subconscious content may be reflected in our dreams. To me, dreams are like windows to my subconscious mind, and the episodes and emotions in my dreams are often related to my subconscious content: hidden fears, unfulfilled desires, or repressed emotions, to name a few. Between these three, they have a fixed pattern but at the same time unstable variations. For example, in my works, I consciously juxtapose these subconscious elements in my dreams and subconscious through "Body transformation". While changing their meanings, I create metaphors and tensions that did not exist originally, just as I like to combine props, costumes, and stage sets to create a certain kind of psychological theater.
我热衷于使用我自己的身体并融入到我的作品中，我称之为“Body transformation”。所以我创造的这些角色经常发生身体变化或以身体变化的形式出现，而角色本身以无生命的物体、不太可能的生物组合或虚构的怪物等表现形式出现。身体被视为一个想象和开放的地方，由我的深层无意识产生。我通过这种方式，身体既成为转变的载体，也成为转变的象征，这是一个同时“进行”和“颠覆”性别的阶段。就像我非常喜欢的艺术家Matthew Barney的Creamaster系列作品，其中他通过创造作为人类内部体现的物理空间，赋予空间意识，把他角色的身体变成了无意识空间的傀儡。在他所居住的那个世界中，环境是清醒的，但是角色却不是。所以在另一种意义上，Barney也在这里找到了另一种自由。
Q: Many of the works in this exhibition come from childhood memories, memories that have been submerged in my consciousness for many years. What drove you to "materialize" them in the end? What kind of "symbiotic" relationship is there between the different installations, projections and paintings in this group of works?
Y: For me, childhood is an important period in my life, because many of my emotions, experiences and memories were formed during this period. As time passes, these memories are buried deep under my consciousness, but they are still there, influencing my emotions and behaviors as a teenager and even as an adult. Sometimes an event or stimulus in life may trigger one of these deep-seated memories. The stimulus may be a place, a person, a song or anything else. This sudden "trigger" actually gives me an opportunity for emotional release and healing, allowing me to create them.
I am passionate about using my own body and incorporating it into my work, which I call "Body transformation". So the characters I create are often physically transformed or take the form of a body transformation, while the characters themselves appear as inanimate objects, unlikely assemblages of creatures, or fictional monsters. The body is seen as a place of imagination and openness, generated by my deep unconscious. In this way, the body becomes both a vehicle and a symbol of transformation, a phase that simultaneously "performs" and "subverts" gender. As in the Creamaster series by Matthew Barney, an artist I like very much, he transforms his character's body into a puppet of unconscious space by creating physical space as the internal embodiment of human beings and giving it spatial consciousness. In that world he inhabits, the environment is awake, but the character is not. So in another sense, Barney finds another kind of freedom here as well.
In the gendered space I have created, which I call "Purlieus," we can see the invisible species and genders that inhabit our conceptual or dichotomous societies (the word "Purlieu" is derived from (the word "Purlieu" comes from medieval English law and denotes a place of exception hidden in plain sight), they are "symbiotic", and through "Body transformation", the characters I have created undergo a transformation born out of search. They lose their innocence, they become stronger or weaker, but as long as they change, I'm happy.
Q: Through creation, you visualize your personal dreams and subconscious, reimagining connections to self and society. This is a very personal creation, how do you think a private narrative will resonate with the audience?
Y: First of all, I think that even though everyone's experience is unique, basic human emotions and psychological reactions are largely similar. Just like fear, love, loneliness, desire, and loss are common human emotions. The emotions and experiences expressed in my private narrative may touch the audience's heart and make them feel certain commonalities, triggering the transformation and connection between personal and collective memories. Secondly, private narratives may provide viewers with a new perspective, enabling them to see their lives and the world from a different angle. As in the world I have created, Purlieu, the body is imagined as an open place, a stage where gender can be "performed" and "subverted" at the same time, where the body is a stage where gender can be "performed" and "subverted" at the same time. "The body is a stage, an arena where gender and species are fluid, where there is no single dichotomy to honor. Like in the video and collage work of another artist I love, Marnie Weber, women can take many forms, women are not hysterical but nonconformist beings. It's like I'll always make scary stuff, scary bodies, scary characters. The body is the vehicle and the symbol of my creativity, it's the way to connect to my interior, or the internal valve itself; it's as a way to keep the possibility of the narrative that's happening to be an internal narrative. It's a freedom for the body, but ultimately, a freedom for my mind, and why wouldn't it be a freedom for the audience?
Q: Did you understand yourself and your dreams better after this work? Tell me about the feelings that arose after the "completion/finishing" process.
Y: I think I'm more determined about the path I'm going to take after this work. Just as "Body transformation" is something I've been working on for a long time, I think I'm going to create more characters that work with my own body. I hope that in the world I inhabit, Purlieu, I can really make the audience think about the fact that the world is diverse and there are not only men and women. As a woman, I firmly believe that women do not only exist in stereotypical dichotomies, but that in this day and age, women are versatile and are not limited or defined. I try to break the automatic feedback loop between mind and body, and I want to make art a discipline where the separation of internal and external life in our culture leads to diversity rather than limitation.