Briefly describe the work you do.
Most of my projects have a relationship to society and community — the social issues intrinsic to human life. Another aspect is humanity’s relation to the environment: global interconnection, ecology, and what we generally term “nature.”
The information I gather about these themes largely derives from everyday media: the internet, sometimes the radio, TV. Also, talking to friends and thinking about people I care about.
I pay attention to changes in society and the new technologies that influence these. My work is constantly changing, just as social relations are. As an artist, I’ve evolved from working in very traditional media, like drawings, paintings, water colors, and sculptures — using wood as sculptural material — to working with new media photography, and digitally modified imagery.
Today I incorporate all of these elements with the physicality of my body, interacting with audiences, and generally mixing different media together. I use whatever medium is best to make my concept clear, to articulate a problem I see in our society.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Three things come to mind about my past and my artistic background.
I grew up as a farmer. As a child, I always helped my mother with the farming, while my father would work in Taipei city. Working in the fields, doing farm work, I got to see nature actually happen. Once, the river near our home flooded, and our whole village became water. It was very dangerous, and my mother sat me and my siblings onto the beam that structurally supported our roof. Even on the beam, though, our hands could touch the water; the flood was that devastating. A lot of houses were destroyed, and some people were even killed by the water.
Later, when it was time for me to go to elementary school, the teachers wanted all of us to speak Chinese. If you spoke Taiwanese, you were punished, because everyone was expected to learn Chinese.
Alongside all of this was the fact of martial law. Free assembly was denied; nobody could meet in the street for political reasons. Martial law obtained in Taiwan for 50 years, and shaped the political climate that informed my childhood. As an upshot, I make a lot of politically-themed work: public events that create communities.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I don’t have a physical studio space right now. At the same time, as a studio means to me somewhere I can live as well as work, anywhere is my studio.
If I am invited to an artist’s residency, that’s my studio. If I do an interactive performance near Times Square, a tree in Bryant Park, or the social interactions that emerge from being in that vicinity become materials for my work. To me, the studio means my life; where I live is where is my studio is.
I recently realized a project in Times Square, which is called “An Interactive Performance Against Corporate Waste.” I developed my concept at that very location, honing it in terms of the audiences that attended to me in Times Square. Years back, in Union Square, for my interactive sculpture “Burning Ice,” it was the same thing. I might bring certain items with me, but mainly I bring my body and my friends. That’s what I mean when I say art is everywhere and everywhere is my studio. I do not have a specific place to call my studio. I can’t work like that. My art can happen anytime, in any location — anything can happen and my art will happen there there too.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The art world is confusing. I don’t quite understand what it means. When I was making objects — manipulating stones, Iet’s say, or drawing as a child — I didn’t know that was called art until someone told me. Even today, when I’m engaging in interactive performances, everybody says that they’re art but I don’t quite grasp how the professional art critic or art historian can distinguish what I do from life and call it “art.” At bottom, it seems whenever I do something interesting, or at least something that interests me, it’s art. So I wasn’t sure what my role was when I first started out, and in certain respects this question still puzzles me.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time every day or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I don’t think I have a schedule. I never think, “right now I’m making this or making that.” Of course I’m always working on something, but I don’t have a regular schedule. Daily pressures inspire my work a lot: social relations, etc. Supposedly I should be able to quantify how many things I’m doing and for how long; but the way my work develops is so conversational that it’s hard to distinguish the scheduling of my life from the scheduling of my art. Not having a fixed studio space ties in with this. I don’t have a specific time or location where I do art. That’s not part of my practice.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I put to use whatever media I feel I have to in order to convey a concept; but I wouldn’t say the results are cumulative.
My work keeps changing all the time because I instinctively follow the rhythms of human feeling. Certainly, 5 years ago I was focusing more on digital media, whereas now I’m more interested in what can come out the human body: how it changes, the strangeness of sensation, immersion, etc. But it’s not like I’ve abandoned one practice for another. I pay attention to current events, and respond accordingly. Right now, I’m engaged by the police shootings happening across the U.S. And this will be going on in my mind for a while.
Lately I want to use a very unique material and came out with something very small but interesting. I can’t say what exactly. Maybe gold, maybe some other material. I still have to find it. Everything hinges on doing something interesting in itself.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I’m more interested in the way things appear, than who. How something comes into existence influences me, which I then apply to my way of making things.
Writers, philosophers, and other artists haven’t really influenced me. But if I see an old poster with a very unique concept or design, it influences me in that it gives me some kind of shock. I’m more interested in the future, however; and I look at icons as more like symbols than celebrities proper.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I don’t know how much benefit I get from what I’m doing — I mean in terms of money. I certainly find my work personally beneficial.
And while I’m uncertain what art means, and don’t receive much money from what I do, making art is something I really desire to do.
My desire is what I’m making now, so I don’t know what others desires I could have had. A mansion, maybe? A private island? I don’t think that’s what I truly want.
And even the money is not what I truly want. I need the money to spend to make what people call art, or to buy materials, but again: that’s my desire.
Multidisciplinary artist Chin Chih Yang was born in Taiwan, and has resided for many years in New York City. He studied at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan (BFA, 1986) and graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a Master of Science in 1994. In a 2009 review Holland Cotter of the New York Times called one of his projects “a magical tunnel of love.” That same year he received a grant from The New York Foundation for the Arts; the following year he was awarded fellowships from the New York State Council on the Arts and another grant from The New York Foundation for the Arts.
His most recent work addresses society’s efforts to protect itself, both physically and psychologically, against long-term catastrophe resulting from pollution, surveillance, isolation, quarantine, and religious/political/social intolerance. The modern world, as Yang conceives it, is a graduated mixture of anxiety and entrancement. 21st-century products can do wondrous things, but producers and consumers alike wantonly discard waste. He explores such short-sighted practices by combining found materials, video projections, performance, and his own body to make art that spotlights ways forward. He likes to collaborate with other artists to create work which deals with the issues affecting individuals and, by extension, specific communities as well as society at large. Incorporating a touch of irony, his art helps us become better acquainted with the frightening side of human nature, signaling experimental and creative ways to view the planet and ourselves.
In 2011 He was honored with a NYFA Digital Electronic Arts Fellowship, a solo exhibition at Five Myles Gallery, and a Franklin Furnace Fund award. 2012 My project “Kill Me or Change” was selected from among 400+ international applications and this vital institutional support, funded in part by Jerome Foundation and The Lambent Fund, enabled presentation of a major work in front of the Unisphere. With the collaboration of Franklin Furnace, the Queens Museum of Art, The New York City Parks Department, Bay Crane Company, and over 100 volunteers, thousands of members of a very diverse general public watched as a construction crane raised, suspended, and then dropped 30,000 used aluminum cans on me. This intentionally playful and provocative project was my attempt to bring to light the effects of over-consumption. 30,000 is the number of aluminum cans one person will throw away in a lifetime. By showing, quite literally, the suffocating effects of one person’s personal polluting, this piece serves as a call to action for the public to examine their habits of personal consumption.
His professional art career began snowballing early in 2003, when his digital article “The War Against AIDS ” was published in Art Asia Pacific Magazine, and In 2005 his new media interactive article “The Control of Fear” was selected for presentation at the ACM 2005 Multi Media International Conference. In 2006 an exhibition of his work was sponsored by The Taipei Culture Center of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in NYC, and another exhibition was mounted by the Taiwanese American Council the following year. Additional career highlights include a 2014 residency at Arteles in Finland, and artist’s talks and demonstrations at School of Visual Arts 2012, and for Princeton University’s graduate fine arts students in 2010. Yang’s first solo project in the United States of America was a video installation in Union Square Park in 2007. That same year he presented solo performances and installations on site at The United Nations building and the Consulate General of China, and have since gone on to share my work with the public in Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Wall Street, and many major public gathering points in Manhattan. He has also presented solo work at colleges including Towson University and Queens College, and at the Manhattan galleries of Tribes Gallery, Tenri Cultural Institute, and CUE Art Foundation.
He strives to reach new audiences and relish opportunities to share his art with people who do not ordinarily encounter art. His work has been presented in forty major group exhibitions between 2005 and today. He has performed and exhibited in universities and museums across Taiwan; and in America at the Weatherhead East Asian Insitute of Columbia University. It is a pleasure to have had work included in the inaugural exhibition at Flux Factory and in prestigious venues from Exit Art to The Nathan Cummings Foundation Gallery. He has shown at art fairs in Miami, and Taipei Art faire, at the Asian Film Festival in Warsaw Poland, as well as in Hong Kong, and in Singapore. Back home in NYC, He has reached local audiences with interactive events at important cultural centers in all five boroughs, from The Queens Botanical Garden to the DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival, from the Bronx River and Longwood Arts Center to a public pool on Staten Island. On a glorious Saturday in 2009, the audience for his outdoor performance in Union Square Park was estimated at 20,000.
He has been commissioned by the Queens Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Transportation, and has completed energizing and productive residencies at Byrdcliffe Art Colony and at the University of North Carolina (and was unfortunately forced to defer a residency offered by The Vermont Studio Center). He also completed a 2010 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Swing Space Residency at Governors Island.
His work has received extensive coverage and critical acclaim in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Art Asia Pacific Magazine, The Taipei Times other major publications. Profiles have been broadcast on television stations from WCBS, NY to the BBC World News, and online coverage has been presented by Art Beat, Art Radar Asia, Flavorpill, NY1, The Village Voice, and Time Out New York, among many other websites and blogs.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.