THE SHAPE OF “媛 YUAN”
Fang Yuan is a visual artist who lives and works in New York. She graduated from the Visual and Critical Studies Program at the School of Visual Arts (B.F.A.) with Rhodes Family Award for Outstanding
Achievement among many other awards. Her works have been widely exhibited in the United States and China. She is currently an M.F.A. candidate at the School of Visual Arts who is expected to graduate in 2022. Fang’s practice began with a self-detachment from the external environment while maintaining a rebellious posture of exile. Throughout her upbringing, she has been constantly experiencing a lack of belonging and displacements projected by her surroundings. For her, change is a real and vivid physical experience. Her practice embodies the exploration of the concept of eternity, that is, to hunt for the illusion between infinity and the so-called reality. She allows different levels of space to blend with each other, constructing impossible spaces stacked in parallel, gazing at how ambiguous shapes in three-dimensional space rendered on the plane, and the interweaving of the intangible but apparently existing and dependent relationships between each other.
The following is a short interview between Hongzheng Han, the curator of Standing Out, the Outstandings, and the participating artist Fang Yuan.
H: Me and A Spomenik (2021) and Satellite Mirror (2020) are inspired by a trip to Montenegrin and a mirror designed by Eileen Gray; Can you tell us the significance of this trip and the Eileen Gray mirror?
F: I visited the Balkans with my parents four years ago and visited some of the Yugoslavia monuments (also called "Spomenik") around, and have been fascinated by their unusual appearance since then. More importantly, the fact that they were built for memorizing World War II battle sites or concentration camps then got abandoned because of the split of Yugoslavia adds a layer of tragedy. I am always interested in the tension and contradiction of vulnerability and brutality (the architectural style of those monuments is also called "Brutalism,") symbolic immortality, and vanishing. Eileen Gray's retrospective at Bard Graduate Center Gallery coincidentally became one of the last exhibitions I saw before the city went into that crazy lockdown last year, so her works more and less represent my very last "pre-pandemic" memory. And also, my given name "Yuan 媛 " pronounce the same as "circle 圆 " in Chinese, so I tend to find round shapes like mirrors speak for myself.
H: Looking through your oeuvre, it is not difficult to see your talent in applying colors. Why black and white for these two paintings?
F: Starting November 2020, I set up a rule of getting rid of color in my works. It is more like a training for me to figure out the relationship between unspeakable spaces, light, and shadows in my works, so I produced a couple of those black and white paintings. Additionally, I feel my choice of color naturally gets influenced by my surroundings, and winter in this concrete jungle mainly brought me black and white.
H: Tracing back to the very beginning, what made you want to become a painter in abstract art? And what is the greatest challenge as an abstract art artist in this current climate?
F: Back in the days when I was studying art history and frequently visited museums in the city, I was irrepressibly attracted to Abstract Expressionism and thinking of making things as strong as those predecessors, but I didn't treat painting as the focus of my practice, or even decide to become a "professional artist" until the senior year of my undergrad. I think the fact that people are trying to draw a clear line between figurative and abstract paintings is relatively irresponsible. In my opinion, everything just falls in between, and no painting is either purely figurative or abstract. I only use the term for convenience. Why can't painting flow, energy, and movements be called figurative? But anyway, I get it. I have a limited interest in identity politics and believe that sticking to my own route is the most essential hold. Besides that, I feel myself lucky enough to become who I am today.
H: How are you dealing with this surge of Sinophobia due to the COVID-19 epidemic? Does this situation inspire you creatively?
F: Honestly, besides feeling concerned about taking the subway alone during late or early hours, I barely notice any changes in my life during this time. I spend too much time looking at my canvases that what is happening outside tends not to bother me that much, so under this climate that protects me in some way, almost like my sanctuary. I feel that there is a limited impact that art can have in terms of political movements, so I did make my contribution to Anti-Asian Hate, but not by making things in the studio.
H: Standing Out, the Outstandings is an exhibition designed to amplify the long-oppressed Asian voice in America. As one of the ten artists in this show, are there any encouraging words you would like to say to our community?
F: Speaking up and let everyone hear our demands.