Interview with Yan Gi Cheng
27 jun 2014 by Ashton Chandler
AC: You're a British-born Chinese artist who nows lives in Brooklyn, NYC. Can you tell us a bit about your background, such as your MA study at Chelsea College of Art in London and how long have you lived in New York?
YGC: I was born in England and started my artistic career as a fashion designer for Hussein Chalayan. I always knew I wanted to pursue art from a very young age but because the rest of my family were in other more practical professions such as law or finance it seemed out of the question. I had an obsession for travel and I would take any design job just so that I could disappear from civilization for a while, I was like a vagabond not knowing where to plant myself. I went back to England to do my MFA and it was highly conceptual and devoid of any making but I had the best time studying in London. I've been in New York for nearly two years now.
AC: You were a resident artist at Residency Unlimited, can you tell me how your practice has evolved since being a part of their program?
YGC: Residency Unlimited was a very rigorous and intellectual program and I really thrived on the dialogues and critiques from all the curators and art professionals. It really helped me refine how I articulate my art practice, and I was so happy to be able to meet other people who could engage in my work. I think my art since RU has been about trying to bridge my ideas to the making process and retaining the technical ability and aesthetics of the image.
AC: How have western and non-western cultures influenced your artistic practice, as you come from both?
YGC: Well I've always had an interesting negotiation with my identity but it's been something which informs my art practice. When I was studying I was fascinated by the perspectives of Francois Jullien, a French Sinologist and how he thought about ancient Chinese philosophy, so I've always been searching for trajectories which meet the ancient and the modern. I lived in Hong Kong for three years prior to New York and it had fascinating juxtapositions of tradition, modernity and east and west coming together. I used to do ethnographic research for Hermes and this opened up my interest in indigenous cultures and arts.
AC: Can you tell us the ways in which your art merges math and science with religion and philosophy?
YGC: Well when I was making this series for the Nolitan exhibition I was interested in bringing the polarities of these disciplines together. The geometric shapes that I painted onto the pages seem like they are pasted onto the surface like graffiti art in the streets. So the process of making these works is trying to convey the contradictions and similarities between these ideologies.
AC: Geometry plays a fundamental role in your work, where did focus develop?
YGC: I remember seeing these polyhedrons in the Science Museum in London and it's been a thread running throughout my work ever since. I remember I deconstructed them and put them back together in strange ways. Geometry fascinates me because of the universal structures underlying everything from plant growth, to the human body and the architecture of spaces.
AC: Geometry is employed in your work as an agent to convey metaphysical realms, with mathematics lending way to philosophical awareness. How do you perceive common mathematical activities as a means for enlightenment?
YGC: Well geometry has been an ancient practice, particularly for this series from Ancient Indian tantric art. A sequence of intersecting or grouping of circles, triangles and squares have been known to aid yogis to higher states of consciousness. But geometrical forms have also existed in western art such as Kandinsky, Mondrian and Sol le Witt. I like to use a language which can speak across a multitude of traditions and cultures.
AC: You work mostly across drawing and collage, can you expand about your techniques and how the mediums allow you to articulate your artistic vision?
YGC: I like to collect vintage encyclopedias and journals and I enjoy working with paper which already has imagery on it as it's less intimidating than a naked white page. I like to use very humble materials but make work which explores quite abstract ideas. I think whatever medium I use I try to bring conflicting or jarring juxtapositions but find a harmony and beauty in that marriage.
See more of Yan Gi Cheng's works here.
"Light at the End of the Tunnel #2'" from the series 'In Search of civilization'
"How to Drink Sunlight in the Dark" from the series 'In Search of civilization'
Artist Yan Gi Cheng
All Images Courtesy of the artist
Yan Gi Cheng's works are currently on display as part of Curated by NoLIta, New York until August 24th, 2014.