Into the Wild —— A Dialogue with Yu Ji regarding “Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw”

© Mind Set Art Center
© Mind Set Art Centre
© Mind Set Art Centre
© Mind Set Art Centre
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K11 HONG HONG'S SILICON VALLEY OF CULTURE

What happens when artist encounters unknown and perculiar landscape? Take young Chinese artist Yuji as an example, the result can be thought-provoking. Dairy of Sulfur Mining, the second solo exhibition of the artist presented by Mind Set Art Center, is a complete documentation of her physically demanding and mentally inspiring journey. See below dialogue between Yu Ji and  Isabelle Kuo to discover a new mode of artistic practice.

 

TEXT: Isabelle Kuo
PHOTO:Mind Set Art Center
[Originally published in Dairy of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw Yu Ji, Mind Set Art Center, Taipei, 2016.]

 

 

Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw originated from your encounter with Liouhuang Valley in Beitou , which you brilliantly described in your artist statement. The whole exhibition was like a dialogue with nature; and you also employed different elements such as natural mystical power and sorcery. Would you please talk about how you have transformed the experience of encountering Beitou into your works?

Many of my works are related to my personal immersion in the natural world. Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw represents my experience of encountering Beitou. Text study and field research were the two major methods I employed to work on this project centering around Beitou. However, results from the research did not directly influence the expressive forms of my works. For instance, I researched and read through many texts, but I gave up displaying these literatures in the final presentation of the exhibition. A lot of images and audio materials from my field trips were not directly used in the works either.

The beginning of the entire creative process could be traced back to my first visit in Taipei three years ago, which also promoted my six-week research residency in Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (KMFA) in April, 2015. After returning to my studio in Shanghai, I finished the preliminary work regarding the exhibition space. I tried to express in a conceptual and abstract manner. It was a complete process of experience, which was more rewarding than my previous way to conduct artistic creation.

© Mind Set Art Centre
© Mind Set Art Centre

 

Beitou has given you profound experiences, and you have also attained a systematic understanding of this locality. Has it always been the way you work as you would discover a new place and gain a deep understanding of it? What are other places that you have studied in this manner?

This exhibition at Mind Set Art Center (MSAC), Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw, is of great importance to me. Originally, the exhibition was planned to take place in 2015. Nonetheless, this new working method turned out to be more time-consuming than I had expected and the exhibition was thus postponed for nearly a year.

The exhibition is a small conclusion of my research on the sulfur mines in Taipei in the recent two years. Text reading and field research have been two crucial parts of the project as well as a new way of working that I tried out. It started from the very beginning when I found myself attracted to the distinctive natural landscape in Beitou, followed by my further study of the place and discovery of the close relationship between the environment and the local residents; then, I expanded my research to the humanistic landscape of Beitou ’s history and society.

At the preliminary stage, I studied texts, and then spent my residency at KMFA in April and May in 2015 to conduct advanced field trips. The farthest one took me to Ba-Yien.

© Mind Set Art Centre
© Mind Set Art Centre

 

Why is sulfur so appealing to you?

Volcano, sulfur, and geothermal energy are strange and familiar terms in our knowledge system. Sulfur is used in many things in our daily life; the sulfur mine is a tourist spot that is only open for visit and far away from the city. I was attracted by the natural ecology formed from the sulfur in Beitou. The landscape was simultaneously visually, olfactorily and tactilely invasive and aggressive. The discovery and mining of the sulfur mines was documented as a travelogue by Yu Yong-He, a geographer in the Qing Dynasty, whose work has added a mysterious and literary ingredient of fantastic imagination to the objective exteriority of the sulfur mines.

Please describe your performance work conducted in Beitou.

In April, 2015, I completed a work from the Ta Jama series in the residence studio at KMFA. It was consistent to my previous creative work that used stone as a subject; on the other hand, it was related to the unique materials found in Beitou (the Hokutolite and sulfur mines). Afterwards, I dragged this heavy sculpture all the way up onto the mountains to look for the mysterious Qixing Pond (which has been carefully protected by the locals until today, and rarely exposed in travel blogs on the internet). The journey was lengthy and exhausting. However, when I finally reached the destination, I was deeply touched both by my own efforts and the amazing view I witnessed. At that time, Qixing Pond had no water, and its bottom was covered in tender grass and scattering boulders in the middle. I dragged the “stone” I created all the way to the center of the boulders and finished this performance.

The video documentation of this performance became a main component in the video work, Pataauw Stone.

Another work in the exhibition, Pattaauw Diary 20150504, included images from the site where the performance on May 4th, 2015 was completed. It was in the dried-up pond, where the soft grass and boulders were revealed. Instead of digital C-print, I replaced it with traditional handcrafted silk screen print, and reeled the simply and clear images back into a world where illusion and reality mixed.

In Refined Still Life 1#, you used techniques of lithography to represent a stone. Is the stone from Beitou?

It was a stone I picked up from a suburban area in Beijing four years ago. My very first idea was to find a stone without any artificial marks.

© Mind Set Art Centre
© Mind Set Art Centre

Of all types of printmaking, lithography is the most complicated. It requires extremely strict procedures. However, I am really fascinated by the time-consuming, elaborate and utterly classical processes of making lithographs. Through the burnishing, polishing, painting, etching, and inking processes, I created another stone on top of a thousand-year-old German Solnhofen limestone. Do you not find it absolutely intriguing?

Green Hair Monster is a continuation of your 2012 solo exhibition in Singapore, Not Moss. You once mentioned in a statement that using human hair to mimic stone moss did not equal using one material to simulate another; instead, it was your way of work, to find the relationship between two things that did not exist previously.

Would you please talk about the development of this concept, and how you view the relationship between humanity and nature from this perspective?

The earliest display of Green Hair Monster was at the opening exhibition of Gillman Barracks in Singapore in 2012. It played a role in many of my later works developed from stones, and I thought it was quite appropriate to include it in Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw. It has always been my working method to have constant modification on works, to exhibit them, and to have more modifications. It is thus very difficult to define the conclusions of many of my works; it seems that they have been growing all the time.

I like to collect stones. The stones used for Green Hair Monster were picked up from my travels, and they became the foundation of this work. As for the hair, I collected them from hair salons. They came in different types. I bleached them all and dyed them in green. Like what I said in my previous statement, the creative process of Green Hair Monster was not to simply use the materials to imitate a certain object. It was still a controlled balance between illusion and reality, which grew in an organic and spontaneous manner. This has been the working process I am most fascinated with.

The natural world and I, as a living individual, have a very close relationship even though I grew up in the city, and did not have many opportunities to be immersed in the real nature. From this point of view, could my relationship with the natural world be spiritual (asking herself)?

The title of the exhibition was Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw. Does it mean that there might be another Diary of Sulfur Mining in the future? If yes, could you reveal your plan for it?

The title obviously suggests another to come. Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw is about Taiwan and Beitou. It was closely associated with The Small Sea Travel Records by Yu Yong-He, which almost matched the walking route I took. I am very interested in the formation of sulfur and the interaction between its surrounding environment and people. This material is really remote from my life, and I have been trying to shorten our distance and to understand it. During the residency in 2015, I had quite a few creative ideas in mind, but did not realize them in such a short time and due to objective circumstances. However, I could not bring myself to let go of these ideas, and I will include them in my later work and artistic creation. Quite often, the process of artistic creation is constituted of an indefinite wait for one another.

Diary of Sulfur Mining – Pataauw
Mind Set Art Center
7 – 24 January 2016

 


Isabelle Kuo

Trained in Biochemistry but later went astray into the fascinating field of Art History, Isabelle was a senior editor of Art Investment and is now working for Mind Set Art Center.

 

 
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