Thursday, May 29, 2008

Art Space Talk: Yeni Mao

Yeni Mao was born in 1971 in Guelph, Canada to Chinese parents. His childhood was spent in the U.S., Sweden, and Taiwan. Currently, he lives and works in New York City. He holds a BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and studied bronze casting at Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, CA. He works in painting, drawing, sculpture and installation.

The assembly of images and/or objects, frequently referencing the body and mechanical diagrams, characterizes his work. Natural properties such as mimicry, symmetry, and adaptation are used to investigate larger social issues of extradition, migration, and sexual and cultural hybridism.

Yeni Mao’s work has been exhibited extensively in the U.S. and Asia. Currently his work is featured in SEWN, a traveling exhibition of Chilean and Chinese artists at the Yihaodi International Artbase in Beijing and East Asia Contemporary in Shanghai. His work has also been featured at the Pulse Art Fair.

Once Upon a Time in China 01, Acrylic and pencil on mylar 36² x 24.5², 2007

Brian Sherwin: Yeni, you studied at the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, Ca... and earned a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, IL. Can you tell us about those years of study? Did you have any influential instructors?

Yeni Mao: The head of the foundry department at SAIC, Carolyn Ottmers, was an incredible influence, not so much in my work, but on how to exist as an artist. Besides the excitement and pyromania of casting metal, her being a woman was important. The departments tended to stick to the stereotypes of what an artist was according to their medium, the sculpture department was full of bearded grunting art jocks. She broke that institutional convention, being a woman in metal casting, so to me she was a star.
After I graduated, I was still doing a lot of painting, but I wanted to continue making sculpture. The only way I could continue to cast bronze on an art school graduate’s income was to actually work in a foundry, that’s when I went to California to Artworks. I learned a lot there, craft takes time to absorb, something often forgotten in the white-collar world of art.
Cluster 02, paper collage, 14² x 17², 2008

BS: Yeni, you were born in Canada to Chinese parents. Your childhood was spent in Sweden, Taiwan, and the United States. How did those early years influence the direction of the work you create today? How did those travels-- and the memory of those travels-- help to guide you in your artistic journey?

YM: Coming up, I was always seen as being from a different culture than that I was immersed in, no matter where I was. These early personal feelings changed, as I got older, into awareness of the political circumstances causing the displacement. There’s been a lot of emphasis on globalism lately, but it’s really been around for a long time. Blocks of people have moved around the world as long as Man has clustered into societies. This kind of exposure developed the world’s cultures into what they are today, though the sources may be lost or confused. And any current strife separates, destroys, and creates new ethnicity's and creeds as it’s done in the past. I think we forget this when we choose to identify in a binary manner, with one camp or the other.
So, this awareness became a large part of my work. I came to realize that conflict made all our histories, that the term "authentic" was in fact a farce. I hate the term "world view", but do think it is an essential part of any artists work. As the art world becomes more and more cross-cultural, it also becomes more nationalistic.
Enlightenment Model, rope, masonry blocks, farmhousedimensions variable, 2007

BS: Yeni, you work in painting, drawing, sculpture and installation. How does one method of expression influence the other? For example, do you learn more about drawing by sculpting... more about sculpting by painting and visa versa? Do you view the use of these mediums as an educational whole, so to speak? Or do you view each individually? In other words, do you have a favored medium?

YM: I don’t have a favorite medium. They definitely inform each other, and come from the same source, an "educational whole". My sculptures I think of more as objects, they’re meant to interact with the viewer, if only in theory, not as pedestal pieces per se. I enjoy the reality of the sculptures, their actuality in real space. This makes them simpler, while still retaining all their content.
2d work, in general, is more about illusion or description, mine follows a more traditional structure of character, scene or portrait. The content is more laid out. The unlimited possibilities of illusion in painting or drawing helps to drive 3d work; but the objects and installation are refined in a manner not possible with a painting, because of the limitations of existing in real space, with gravity and materiality.

Vascular Morphology 01, acrylic on canvas, 2 panels, 40² x 30² ea., 2007

BS: Yeni, you have stated that the assembly of images and/or objects, frequently referencing the body and mechanical diagrams, characterizes your work. You have went on to say that natural properties such as mimicry, symmetry, and adaptation are used to investigate larger social issues of extradition, migration, and sexual and cultural hybridism. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts and philosophy behind your work? Do you adhere to a certain philosophy?

YM: My work is a cohesive body that is working towards one central thematic philosophy. "Working towards" the key, that’s what really drives me to do work in the first place. Basically, I think that our bodies and our nations (American, Gay, Black, whatever) act in the same way, that political and social changes are ruled by the same principles as biological changes. These are pretty rich ingredients, and each of the works or series of works are a particular sort of investigation into this parallel.
Interanal 03, Stainless Steel, Braided hose, 2² x 33², 2007

BS: Can you go into further detail about the social implications of your art?

YM: I actually don’t think my art has social implications, not because I don’t think I address social issues, but because Art is too insular and narcissistic to have social implications. It’s arrogant for the art world to think it’s not. Once art has social implications it’s called media, design, or therapy. I’m sure somebody will take me down for that, but I think having social impact is taking an active role, like feeding the homeless, recycling your pizza box, or taking down a dictator.

BS: What about your process? How do these works come into being? Is there an intuitive aspect regarding their creation?

YM: I’m pretty ruled by intuition, but it’s a balance. The cerebral part comes in to translate for my mind, pushing abstract thoughts into some sort of coherence. It’s a non-literal language. I start out knowing what I want to do, how I want to react to something, but it changes as soon as it starts forming in reality- I constantly have to pull the work back towards my intention. That dialogue is good for me.
There’s a Bad Brains album called "I Against I", and that term pretty much pins it for me. Again, it’s the "working towards’ that’s the key- current work is built on the work before it, and is guided by a chronic obsession with reconciling the disparate images I’m interested in.

System 03, pencil on mylar 24² x 36², 2006

BS: What is the specific message you strive to convey to those who view your art? Is there a message you would like viewers to find... or do you desire that viewers discover a message for themselves through your art?

YM: I’m not going to tell someone what they should take from my work, but I do think it’s a richer experience to either find out what my intentions are, or look at other work of mine for context. What I do want to stay away from is literalness. It’s preachy and corny. If there was a literal message or explanation for every work, then I would have written it. And I’m not that great at writing.

BS: Yeni, what are you working on at this time? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

YM: I just finished some great collages, and am continuing on the series of paintings inspired by absence of identity. I keep my website pretty updated. Artware Editions is releasing the Chukar Chandelier I did with them, and there will be an accompanying exhibit this summer.

untitled, pencil on mylar, 11² x 17², 2006

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

YM: My art rules.

You can learn more about Yeni Mao by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Bill Newbold said...

I type to you, like this.

PP said...

Hey Yeni, nice work, glad you are doing well. You may remember me from your days in Hoboken.

Anonymous said...

Hi Yeni, this is Dana from long ago. This is great to see (cool metal & bleeding things) & to 'hear your voice' in this interview. Wish we could listen to that Bad Brains album together and go down to watch the river flow.