In September, the Frans Masereel Center, in collaboration with HART and Rekto:Verso, organised a week of art criticism for young art critics. In various workshops, they became acquainted with different types of criticism, exchanged thoughts about its meaning and sharpened their pen. On our website, we've shared some of the results of that week. Jef Declercq wrote about a meeting he had with artist Yue Yuan during the workshop week at FMC.
I first met Yue Yuan in his studio at HISK in Ghent some eight months ago. His practice came to my attention for its limited visual output favouring a concentrated yet fluid conceptual framework that is inseparably intertwined with daily life. During our meeting, we discussed a multitude of his projects, which are always a method for the artist to interact with the world and its inhabitants. Yue Yuan describes his practice as 'creating events,' in which he can take on the role of the artist or the curator, depending on the specific circumstances. Through these happenings, the artist examines his personal understanding of the world and offers visitors an alternative perspective on their routines and surroundings.
A recent project that reveals much about Yue Yuan’s artistic attitude is OK je te donne une minute (2022), an exhibition and performance created at the invitation of Espace En Cours in Paris. The event lasted three hours, and Yue Yuan silkscreen printed a tote bag for every minute of its duration. Visitors were invited to have a one-minute conversation with the artist in exchange for a tote bag indicating the exact time of their encounter. Pinpointing our obsession with optimising our schedules, OK je te donne une minute illustrates both Yue Yuan’s interest in the organisational structures that shape our environment as well as the importance of the audience in his artistic practice.
Yue Yuan’s approach is based on a critical analysis of daily life and the conventions that shape it. As an artist, he looks for glitches in the system. A perfect example of this is the project Imperfect Collection. In all kinds of stores, Yue Yuan looks for objects considered to be defective. A bent screw, four gaskets for gas tubes in a pack supposed to hold five, or a ruler missing the marks for the eighteenth and nineteenth centimeter. Incorporating all these misfit objects in a collection and evaluating their flaws, Yue Yuan attempts to find the perfect imperfection.
On the 29th of September 2022, we meet again. This time in the Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, where we are both residing for one week. Our conversation starts in the morning after the artist's daily ritual of writing short descriptive phrases, an activity Yue Yuan has maintained over the last three years. Under the title action imaginaire, these sentences form the baseline of his artistic practice. They describe actions or give instructions, one more clear or achievable than the other. Keep walking outside until a leaf falls on your head; Record the sound of rain and listen to it the next time it rains; Throw a coin into a fountain and pray for nothing; Put a chameleon on a painting by Yves Klein, or Take a walk in Google Street View, until you find your friend.
Stored on his computer, the imaginary actions function as possible departures for future projects. The artist consciously decides to write these phrases in English, a language, he explains, that ‘does not allow me to express my emotions but keeps the descriptions purely factual.’ Two sentences that partially caught my attention are: Make an artwork on a good day and Make an artwork on a bad day. When asked how to distinguish the good from the bad days, the artist mentions their consecutive dependency. A good day follows a bad day, follows a good day and so on. This stream of thought harshly defines the rhythm by which the artist organises his daily life. ‘When I have an important appointment, I count ahead to make sure it is planned on a good day.’ Luckily, today is apparently a good day.
It is somewhat contradictory to meet Yue Yuan at the Frans Masereel Centrum, a place dedicated to various printing techniques. What characterises Yue Yuan’s practice, more than any material output, is the artist’s attitude, the way in which he interacts with the world. The relationships he pursues with his audience are crucial to this endeavour. Precisely for that reason, he describes himself as ‘anti-technical’. ‘It is important that the audience can take part in my projects. If I do something very technical, it creates a barrier that makes this impossible.’ Although the artist utilises different media for various projects, they are never a driving force in the development of an idea.
Writing and photography are a constant throughout his practice, but, according to the artist, ‘these media are employed in an untechnical fashion.’ Instead of a medium-based approach, Yue Yuan’s practice is imbedded in the necessity to communicate. In his attempt to do so, Yue Yuan is cautious not to get caught within a singular perspective. For this reason, he renounces not only any fixed medium but also any fixed location. After living in Beijing, Paris and now Ghent, the artist plans to move again after completing his education at HISK. He considers himself ‘a permanent tourist’: a position from which he can continuously examine the daily mechanisms of various cultural environments. As a tourist, the artist is free to take pictures and interact with locals while largely staying outside the established modus operandi. The nuances that reveal themselves in the comparison between diverse surroundings feed his artistic projects, which can be understood as tools to explore his own position and understanding of the world, as well as those of his audiences. ‘Art can offer an alternative vantage point to perceive and ultimately understand.’ Interestingly, this attempt has no endpoint, no conclusion, as we live ‘in a fluid society and the world is always changing.’