AIR Cycle 9 Highlight: Chang Yuchen

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with AIR Cycle 9 resident, Chang Yuchen, to discuss her latest work with textiles. Chang Yuchen, (b.1989, China), graduated from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA) in 2013 and Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (BFA) in 2011. She currently lives between New York and Beijing. Yuchen’s works have been exhibited internationally, including solo shows Barbaric Poetry at Between Art Lab (Beijing) and Snake and Others at Fou Gallery (New York), as well as group shows at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (New York), Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Gwangju Biennale, Today Art Museum (Beijing), CAFA Museum (Beijing) and etc. She has performed at Salt Projects (Beijing), Momenta Art (New York) and Printed Matter Inc. (New York). Her works are collected by Museum of Modern Art Library (New York), Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection (Chicago) and so on. Yuchen is the recipient of Luminarts Fellowship in 2012. She is also a Sales Assistant at Printed Matter Inc. and the founder of usevalue.work.

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What process or technique do you use most often in your work with textiles?

I started embroidery before I came here and I still do it on a regular basis. I have a label, Use Value, where I make useful things and sell them by hourly rate. So far a lot of Use Value products are embroidered bags. But lately, I’ve been doing a lot of machine knitting.

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When did you first get interested in textiles? 

I work in a bookstore, Printed Matter, and I have a secret box there. When I see books that interest me I will put them in my box for a while, to decide if I’m going to buy them. I noticed a lot of books that interested me were somewhat related to textile. That’s how I knew. I started embroidering around 2015, because I had a lot of time around then. I do embroidery really in a way of drawing. I think of it as drawing, but with thread.

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Before then, did you have a textile background? What is your previous art background?

I went to grad school for printmaking, and my undergrad was in photography. But I never had loyalty for any single medium, I use whatever the project specifically requires. I started to have this label Use Value in 2016. And I started to make embroidered wearables, and that’s the most typical textile kind of work that I’ve started.

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Do you see any sort of relationship between your printmaking or photography and the work you’re now making?

Of course, and I’m still doing printmaking and photography. I work in a interdisciplinary manner and I don’t see them separately. For me embroidery is drawing, knitting is performance, weaving is writing, and I think through taking photos, through looking at the images. They have been always integrated.

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What is a normal day in the studio like for you? How do you like to work?

A day in studio is usually accompanied by a continuation of long projects that already exist, and occasional sparks of a new start. When I come in and sit down there’s usually some unfinished things in front of me already. If it’s a good day, I may start something new.

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What has changed most about you or your work since you started the residency?

I’ve been noticing my work getting dimensions, because now I have a space, and I can work in a spatial way, and when it’s unfinished, it’s hanging on the wall or laying on the floor, it can occupy some room. And that allows it to grow in dimensions. I used to work only in my brain, but having a studio, and also working with textiles — which is a three dimensional object itself that exists in space and reacts to lights, has a proportion to human body — has changed me. It feels liberating.

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What kind of audience do you envision experiencing your work?

To be honest, lately, I’ve been thinking of just one person. And when I make works, I would want her response. She gave me some very insightful, and vague, and beautiful comments on my past works. I don’t think I understand them exactly, but those words found their way into my present works, and probably future works. I think I’m very lucky to meet someone who truly speaks to me, and I’ve been thinking about her, recently.

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A lot of the pieces you’ve shown recently have been on the floor, and have a somewhat domestic feeling. Can you tell me more about that?

The domestic feeling of my works…domestic is a correct word. I wrote something last year for a magazine RANDIAN (http://www.randian-online.com/np_feature/dear______/), in which I related my work as an artist to my work as a “housewife”. I spent a lot of time cleaning, organizing, trying to place things in their rightful places. And I think it’s a continued act that I do in my studio. Something felt wrong here, and I would change it. Constant awareness and effort towards some kind of improvement. And in the same way I arrange my soft sculptures, or knitted piece, or collage on the floor. In a way, I’m hosting these objects, or arranging them in order to create a habitable environment for the audience.

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What are some of your other interests? Outside of the studio passions?

I have some book projects that I’m working on. I usually spend a couple of hours on them when I wake up, before I come over here. I’m trying to write more. I also have a collaborative project that involves sound, which we are both procrastinating on, but it’s ongoing in the back of my mind.

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How do you work between a traditional medium and the contemporary world?

Your question is so current to me. It’s almost a question that I ask myself everyday. I think this question comes down to me as a question about beauty, because I think that traditional art work usually contains more beauty to me. And I used to be very drawn to them, even though I am trained as a Marxist, and I should not like bourgeoisie art, but I do think there is something so beautiful and essential. What I used to call art was Vermeer, Goya, or Velasquez’ kind of work. I felt so frustrated when I saw current and successful contemporary artworks that were just “ugly”. But recently I’ve come to a understanding that I started to appreciate this kind of “ugliness” as a protest to the abuse of beauty. Because beauty was abused, during the era of say, Nazism, and the era of Consumerism also. beauty doesn’t come naturally. Beauty is a standard set by people of power, who will profit or benefit from this standard. Being open to the new “ugliness”, to me, is a big transformation that I can appreciate current artworks that are on strike constantly. If I am making a painting, I am on strike toward painting. If I am using the color red, I am on strike toward red. And it’s not necessarily beautiful, it’s against the idea of beautiful, and that’s what makes people think against their habit and laziness. I’m very conscious about tradition and contemporary, because I used to feel, used to have a hard time belonging to the contemporary world.

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Who are some of the artists you look at, or who have inspired you?

Today I was looking at this artist, Lisa Milroy. A friend of mine who lives in London sent me a picture of her current show. She thought I would like it and I do really like it. It’s about clothing but she painted them. Clothing in painted form. And it’s very ambiguous, interesting… It talks about dimensions, it talks about domestic life, and white cube life. It talks about contemporary and tradition, it talks about everything that I care about…

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Is there any imagery or subject matter you find keeps coming up?

 I was trying to write an application this morning, trying to pin down consistencies that I have, I thought about accumulation. But I wonder if it’s true that this is my special tendency or it’s just the nature of every labor. I like to create and arrange very fine, small, and simplistic units, and make them big by accumulation. But I think that’s true for a lot of things, even agriculture, or rain is made of very fine particles, and end up as a gigantic phenomenon.

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Do you have any dream projects, if you could do anything?

I think the reality of living in New York and my financial situation has limited my dream. Now, all I can dream for is a studio. I can’t dream bigger than that.

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How do you get ideas for your pieces?

I think scientists who study brains can answer that better than I do. Because I just conceive them, I really can’t see how my brain works. Of course it comes from random inspirations and experiences, but some of them may be stored in my body for ten years, some of them appear to be spontaneous. I guess, as artists, our skill is very much the ability to distinguish a good idea and a bad idea, or a practical idea, or the timing of an idea. I do have some ideas that I’ve had kept for myself for a long time, because I don’t think I’m ready.

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You can learn more about Chang Yuchen’s work and process during AIR Open Studios at TAC Brooklyn, on Saturday, May 19th from 5-8pm. 

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