Interview | Yuqi Wang

Aug 3, 2023
by Yannie Gu

Yuqi Wang, image courtesy of the artist.

Yuqi Wang (he/him) is a visual artist who was born in Jiangsu, China and based in Tokyo, Japan. He holds a BFA in Design and a minor in Film from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Working primarily in the medium of photography, Yuqi’s practice investigates issues around cultural anachronism, reverse culture shock, sexuality and intimate relationship in the Chinese modern society. Yuqi is currently an MFA candidate in Fine Arts at Tokyo University of the Arts.

“I immigrated from China to the United States at an age when my worldview was taking shape, and returned to China eight years afterwards. This cultural experience has deeply impacted me and gave me a brand new perspective, but later I realized that this perspective was largely based on my own social alienation, caused by the lack of self-awareness and authenticity. When I compose my artworks, I don’t probe into whether these subject matters possess a sense of dislocation, but rather expressing them in direct camera language. By repetitively and obsessively capturing my subject of interest, I can manage to exceed the limitations of established social perceptions and to observe the culture, socially-constructed ideologies and traditions through the perspective of the chosen subject. It has also become a practice for me of learning how to get along with my alienated selfhood in a larger social-cultural environment.”

Yuqi Wang, Wanjian Vase, ongoing series. Images courtesy to the artist.

Q: For your ongoing photo series Wanjian Vase, could you please share a little about how these vases first came to your attention?

A: I was born and raised in a small town called JiangYin, in the southern part of China near Shanghai, this little town was known for the home to a large number of listed companies in China. The era that I was born in was the period when the Chinese economy grew most drastically in the recent decades, so I was growing up witnessing a joyful, affluent time when everything and everybody was happy, full of hope and wealth. After living abroad for 6 years, I found my hometown had changed a lot over time, but I could still see these big ceramic vases everywhere, which attracted my attention instantly. I felt familiar and related in a way, and this feeling grew stronger when I began to capture them on camera, then I started to consistently search for more of them whereever I traveled to in China.

In my childhood memories, Wanjian vases were never missing from the background, most often in city halls, shopping malls, but even could be found in police stations and private houses. Returning to this familiar yet unfamiliar homeland after years of living abroad, I can’t stop noticing the only landscape that hasn’t changed - the Wanjian vase.

I presume that the decorations with no practical value will completely lose the meaning of existence the moment the intrinsic value ceased to exist. In this case, after so many years of development, products were always being eliminated and replaced by the trend, from the big skyscrapers that were demolished and rebuilt, to the small physical currency that was no longer needed, all had disappeared or taken on a new look, but the WanJian vase still exists somehow like a bug. Because of its size, its uselessness, lack of means of recycling, and lack of market, it is a chore to even remove it. The old songs can be stopped playing, the paintings can be put away, but the giant vases can only be present constantly in the most prominent position, and you can’t help but see it over and over again, reinforcing your own sense of disconnection, that is why I chose to capture them repeatedly. I found it the best way to recreate the experiences of it, and find the harmony between such paradoxically juxtaposed past values and modern society and acknowledge the inevitability of their existence.

Yuqi Wang, Paradox of the Ritual, images courtesy to the artist.

“I also think that ritual, religion and belief in general resemble the core of a culture, reflecting the collective psychology of a nation or a society.”

Yuqi Wang, Paradox of the Ritual, images courtesy to the artist.

Q:  What is the decision process like when you choose to shoot the subjects in the series Paradox of the Ritual?

I actually did not make any intential decisions when I captured the photos, because I was still in an exploring phase in my artmaking and learning process. I chose these subjects because aesthetically I thought these ritual-related artificial objects were simply beautiful in their own way - they were designed to be eye-catching. I also think that ritual, religion and belief in general resemble the core of a culture, reflecting the collective psychology of a nation or a society. I am very interested in the observation of such things.

Q:  Do you think storytelling plays an important role in your work?

A:  I believe storytelling is an affective but somehow difficult approach when it comes to creating art and expressing oneself. I tried to apply storytelling into my work Park Backlite, which isn’t very mature and finished artistically in my own opinion as of now, but it did introduce more interesting potentials for visual effects and capacity to my following work. I normally stick with a documentary kind-of approach, which is for me, more convenient and honest. I think I will dive into storytelling more in the near future when I start my journey in Tokyo.

Yuqi Wang, Park Backlite, images courtesy to the artist.

Q:  Besides culture, intimacy, and generational differences, do you have other topics that you looking forward to exploring?

A:  I am very grateful that I am a person always full of curiosity, because I do believe that not only as an artist, but also as a person in our day-to-day life, it’s very important to have interest in exploring. So it is not hard for me to find new topics that interests me, but how to understand the chosen topics in a deeper and broader sense is more of a craft that needed to be studied at the moment. Talking about topics I am interested in for the moment, I am intrigued by poetry as a beautiful and ancient form of art, and how space can be used as an element in art practice. 

Q: Do you have any reading materials or resources that have inspired you to share with our audiences? 

Regarding the Paradox of the Rituals series, I was inspired by an essay named Burning Money: The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld written by Dr. Fred Blake. He is an American Anthropologist. He majored in Han Nationality Studies, American Born Chinese society studies and Chinese Ritual and Customs. He spent tremendous time in these felids of studies and he also traveled and lived in China for many years in order to study these topics. This paper is his Posthumous work of his.

I love watching movies, too - I recommend Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is the biggest winner this year at the academy awards. I love it simply as an enjoyable movie and also what it intends to discuss about. And also films by Jim Jarmusch and Ki-duk Kim.