Yi-Hsuan Lai (b. 1988) is a photography-based artist born in Taiwan. She is receiving her MFA from School of Visual Arts in photography, video and related media. Her past background through graphic design and documentary for theatre established her art process through performances, staged her self-portrait, installation, and sculpture-based photography. Her oeuvre explores the multi-layers of her selfness as well as the experiment of the representation of sensation through physical materiality used to build up the imagination of her mind.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Clumsy
2017 – 2018
Clumsy is a work made while the I, from Taiwan, stayed and studied in a foreign city, New York. It presents the multiple relationships between humans and Nature as well as emotions affected by me in this environment, as I am situated in this cosmopolitan city. Body and selfie become an important medium of my work expression, along with the use the decorative elements of artificial objects. Photography can be used to re-define and re-experience the daily and ordinary objects in our quotidian life. In the image, I wish to create a world of my own, which becomes the home in the foreign country. Then my body play different roles that affectively accompany me. By so doing, it reflects the different aspects among myself, plants, and the city. The plant universally exists in the world on the one hand, yet it singularly accompanies me in the foreign place on the other hand. In the city, the plant is also a total Other to the city-world, yet it affectively connects me to the essence, or home that maintains and sustains myself in this foreign city.
When and where did Clumsy begin?
Clumsy is a work that I embarked on when I moved to New York. The materials, objects, and the arrangement of the image colors selected are intimately related to the environment experienced by me. The series of Clumsy attempts to present much of my psychological consciousness through costumes and the setting of an installation. This occurs and recurs in my mind. The materials I chose corresponds to the tactile touch; they express my different degrees of emotions in an environment, their absurdity, conflicts, coordination, or the desire to be recognized. Some internal reasons for my costumes and selfies rely mainly on the fact that I dedicated my adolescence to the faint and vague search of the social frame defined and confined upon the women. Psychologically, I contend that the way of dressing is an act of anger and resistance used to blur or even erase the (female) identity labeled on me. Through playing the anonymous role, through blurring other’s definition on me, and through performative photography, I can become an Other. In the western world, I am Asian, an Other. Yet in the world of the image, I established my image world where, in a foreign land, the image builds my home, my earth, my plant, my world.
Where do you see this project going?
Clumsy is a series of work that still remains in-progress. As photography is concerned, I hope to try to build more complicated space, and meanwhile, add others into my photo. As media is concerned, I hope to combine actual performance and video. Finally, I intend to complete an installation that combines these media materials in order to build a holistic space that invites the viewers to really walk into my world of imagination.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
Through the photography education in MFA study, I also participated in sculpture classes, the materials such as wood, fabric, cement and ceramic. This sparked my interest in building objects out of materials and in combining these art practices in my photography work. I am also very interested about the relationship between object and the image of object. For instance, in many of my artworks, it is always the tactile materiality that instructs, inspires and even guides my hands to finish my word. The tactile materiality of the object touches my hand, and my hand is touched to embody the virtual concepts touched between the material and my body into the real work. Allow me to quote Charles Baudelaire’s “Correspondence”: “With power to expand into infinity,/ Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,/ That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.”
What’s next for you?
I wish to bring some of my imaginary characters out of the studio space to get into the social environment, to explore what performance is. Meanwhile, I will also use my body as the medium to make videos.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
Lucas Blalock, Alex Da Corte, Chin-Pao Chen, Rory Hamovit, Johnnie Chatman, Brett Henrikson, Julianne Nash, and Lales Petros. I am also very inspired by multidisciplinary artists like Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman, Andrian Piper, and Miyazaki Hayao, Michel Gondry, David Lynch’s movies.