Spotlight: Yifan He
This week we’ll be exploring the work of artist Yifan He. A current BA Sculpture student from Camberwell College of Arts, Yifan’s work has been selected by both the 2018 and 2019 judging panel to be represented by Made in Arts London.
You have been involved with a lot of our Made in Arts London events that focus on wellbeing such as Affordable Art Fair at Hampstead earlier this year as well as the ‘States of Mind’ exhibition which you co-curated for Free Range’s Art Week. How do you see art being linked with well-being and what do you do to recharge?
Well-being is always a relevant subject. It considers empowerment of the others, selfcare, keeping carbon footprint in mind in everyday life. All those topics should be reflected in art. The global political climate can get stress us, so as the responsibilities we take on for our work and study. To me, the best way to recharge is to give myself some time off, quit social media for a few days and re-connect with my friends in real life. Reading and making stuff also helps.
Sculpture can be very physical, do you find that meditative?
Yes, Sculpture is very material based, it is about the surface, the roughness, the shininess, etc. Making is meditative. To mold clay into shapes, or to focus on mixing the colour distracts me from overthinking. Studying sculpture provides me an alternative way to process life and experience, and reflect onto the one that stress me out. Which led me to my recent practice where I focused on hacking the everyday-experience by abusing text and technology.
What first inspired your Boobs Buddha sculpture?
I was doing a project that concerns post-feminism at that time, while at the back of my head I wanted to make something that reveals my cultural heritage (because I barely do that). The idea just come naturally after I started to plying the clay. Some Bodhisattva that has four faces, others have a thousand arms, why not twelve boobs? Buddha can take the form of any body with no limits in form.
Do you think culture and life experiences influence or affect the work you produce?
Definitely. My inspirations always come from life experiences which have a lot to do with culture. Most of the time, my work projects the small thoughts that have been troubling me at that time. In the case of Boobs Buddha, it was created when I was troubled by the idea that to reveal boobs is against the virtues of Buddhism which my mom insisted. It conflicted with my understanding of Buddhism and empowerment. By making Boobs Buddha I figured a way to protest that alternatively.
The ‘Boobs Buddha‘ sculptures have a handmade feel to them, was that an intentional decision?
Intentionally I did not polish the Buddhas. I want to leave traces of my hand on them. There are too many mass-produced Buddha figurines in the market, you even can find one pound Buddha Head in Poundland! It is weird to see people use this religious figure as a cheap bathroom decoration. (I have never seen Asians decorate their
bathroom with Jesus on the cross). The image of Buddha has been rendered quite commercial in this country, it becomes a taste, a lifestyle. This anesthetisation of Asian culture has a lot to do with the mass-production. I hope that if I leave my Buddhas “imperfect”, people would see less of an object more of a spirit in them.
Although beautifully aesthetic ‘Boobs Buddha‘ is more than just looks, you have mentioned wanting to create a humorous effect to raise awareness on the issues of gender and cultural appropriation. Is it important to you that your work conveys a message to your audience?
I hope that the Boobs Buddha could shift some of our settled conceptions, no matter that is about religion, culture or empowerment. We are at a time when globalization blends all cultures into a melting pot, while the in-depth understanding of one another is lacking. What I hope my Buddha would do is to preserve curiosity in its viewers to explore more about Asian culture, heritage, and values.
Two pieces you were working on for the ‘States of Mind’ exhibition at Free Range are now available on Made in Arts London to purchase. What was the idea behind your ‘Type-writer analogue’ piece?
For the exhibition I worked on an interactive installation. I made a receipt-printer-chatroom-analogue that reflects the current chaos of the social-political climate. The work was presented with a computer keyboard of limited word-keys instead of letter-keys to mimic the over-use of the ideological words in political discussions. The keyboard was attached to a thermal printer that constantly printed out the words typed in by anonymous participants.