Mind the gap, please. Coined in the London Underground, this warning has become a metaphor for the gaps between places, people, and ideas. UIC MFA student Jenyu Wang’s works also point to gaps: specifically those formed as a result of mind-body dualism. Jenyu’s practice aims to bridge, stretch, fill, or extend these gaps. She wants us to critically examine the distinction between thinking and feeling. After her MFA thesis exhibition, That’s the First Place They’ll Look, Pinar Uner Yilmaz interviewed Jenyu about her work.
Pinar Uner Yilmaz: I want to start with an obvious question: How would you describe your work?
Jenyu Wang: I am the most concerned with the inter-relation of affect and representational medium. As an artist, I recognize it as my duty to generate affect and as a photographer, I recognize it as my responsibility to duplicate and manipulate, while creating new platforms for discussion. Thus, as a person, I am interested in the generative space created by affect and representation.
PUY: Why would you stress this generative space?
JW: In such space, I feel connected to my humanity, yet it is where I allow myself to weep in front of a painting, to get angry while watching a video, to get encouraged by a photograph, and perhaps to feel profoundly cheerful by a performance. Oftentimes theories fail to represent the real feelings, responses, and implications of life. As such, beyond Michael Fried’s notion of theatricality through sculpture, beyond Roland Barthes’s “punctum” through photography, there is a compelling mystery that conjures both intellectual and visceral reactions. Perhaps such mystery is simply the politics of being human, and it compels me to make art, while exploring the very notions of these politics.
PUY: Among the endless currents of the art historical discourse, where would you situate yourself? Especially considering the global currents of art making?
JW: The questions that the modernist canon raised paved the way for further generations, generations that I am also included in. However, these questions also compelled these generations to ask for alternative realities and modernities. Because, in the age of virtual interpersonal relationships, virtual geographies, and virtual infrastructures of the world, an attempt that would connect our history and memory to modernity often perpetuates itself into abstract and intangible disjunction. By incorporating such abstracted but tangible form into sculpture, my work has inevitably been informed by modernist considerations. Yet I question the very core of these modernist considerations. I explore the interconnections between objects and moving image as I set out to recover lost connections from our fractured experiences. I survey these interconnections with a desire that comes from my personal history, a history that is defined by a ruptured chronology and space.
Image: Jenyu Wang, After Dürer: Object, 2013, insulation foam and joint compound, 28 x 34 x 30 in.
PUY: That is why I stressed the ‘global.’ Could you please talk about the hidden yet profound impact of your personal history on your art?
JW: My interests in temporal and spatial relationships are largely due to growing up in a fractured cultural-political environment. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and immigrated to the United States in my mid-teens. Like many new immigrants, an entirely new linguistic system overwhelmed my understanding of space-time for a stretch of years. I perceive my world in disjunction instead of continuity. This view prompts me to seek, create, and treasure idiosyncrasy. Inadvertently, I come to define locality, temporality, my thoughts, and my heart in stranger segments and intervals.
PUY: So the gap?
JW: As a result, I question modernity, while constantly interrogating Cartesian duality, the gap between thinking and feeling, mind and the body. Sometimes I hope to bridge this gap, while sometimes I hope to stretch it or to simply close it. Projections, sculptures, and sound, often used in the same space at the same time are my tools to approach this gap. In pursuit of this gap, I concentrate on the moments that show the vulnerable body, the traumatic body in the psychology of the ‘everyday.’ Aspiring to go beyond Lefebvre’s ‘everyday’ of the Western experience, I introduce the cross-cultural experience. This experience amends the gap, while creating new small gaps to be amended throughout the process of my production. Coming from a background that privileges systems over experiences, I have made it my mission to dismantle the dialectical relation of intellect and emotions. My work provides indexical content where I construct and magnify moments of dissonance and resonance.
PUY: Could you please talk a little bit about your works in the MFA show? Maybe you could elaborate on the experience of making your video sculptures?
JW: Duration is the most prominent performing agent in my sculptural installations. Temporal and spatial relationships foster the kind of impetus where I materialize conflicting emotions into abstract objects. In pursuit of the right sculptural forms, I utilize photography and video to generate contexts about fleeting, nonetheless destructive moments in mundane, profane routines. Vulnerability, fear, pain, as well as strength, are vocabularies that I attempt to transcribe through my processes.
The tension that arises from the stillness of objects and the moving images in videos offers a productive, discursive arena where I produce video sculptures. These video sculptures that contain distinct embodiments of time and a physical formation that integrates content and subtext have been the subject of my studies on how to best present the paradox of human conditions. I often find myself employing formal devices, where formalism is used in contrast with weighty subject matters such as power relationships and love. The visceral side of art, the volatile nature of simple pleasures, the unresolved psychological scars, the darker corners of the human experience challenge my work. With intent to interrogate the modernist canon, I welcome these challenges, since through them exultant rhythms arise where sculpture and videos interact.
Image: Jenyu Wang, Never Let Me Go (floor piece), 2013, concrete, wood, and HD silent video projection looped, 30 x 37 x 30 in.; 4:3 (wall piece), 2013, tiles and wood, 50 x 37.5 in.
PUY: Could you also talk about the wall piece with the ceramic tiles? How would you tie this to the general flow of your ideas and work?
JW: The tile piece is titled 4:3, after the aspect ratio of tube televisions. I view it as a sort of a screen, something that projects images. As it stands at the moment, it is blank and in an idle state, hence the white tiles. I intended for the screen to be hung somewhere discreet, if its counterpart (Never Let Me Go) isn’t around, since the idea is that a blank screen is pervasive in our lives now. Blank screens are both promising and threatening, and I greatly enjoy how they fade into the background without arousing suspicion and we become used to them.
PUY: I have one last question. What’s the motivation of your practice?
JW: The madness of being human, I would say. The severe politics, the extreme pleasure, and the deep trauma balance themselves with such incredible, unbearable lightness of being. As my work evolves, its discursive space and context transforms as well. I open my life as a continuous space for art.