by Heather Jerrems
The world is filled with plastic. Some eight million tonnes of it enters our ecosystems every year and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. With limited solutions to the ecological crisis that plastic creates, a wave of innovative artists are looking at ways to recycle plastic and positively contribute to the problem. FORM have opened a new exhibition in The Goods Shed called Plasticology that explores creative approaches to recycling plastic featuring artists Leeroy New (Philippines), Yufang Chi (Taiwan/Australia), Eko Nugroho (Indonesia), and Angela Yuen (Hong Kong).
Curated by Sharmila Wood, the exhibition has been put together in the hope that it will encourage people to reflect on the fact that we live in a time of climate crisis, and that creative responses can inspire new ways of approaching ecological issues. The exhibition has also set out to promote the notion of a shared vision for the future that reaches across countries and cultures.
Speaking of the artists featured, Curator Sharmila Wood said. “The exhibition focuses on Asian artists and residencies as a way to illustrate our shared regional responsibility to the environment, highlight our connectivity and present works of the highest international calibre to illustrate the ideas and actions making a difference in our region.”
I was lucky enough to be able to have a discussion with one of the four exhibiting artists for Plasticology, Yu Fang Chi to speak about her practice and and installation Remnant featured in the exhibition. You can read our chat below.
An interview with artist Yu Fang
Yu Fang, thank you so much for speaking with me. I am incredibly blown away by your work and your beautiful installation in Plasticology. It’s amazing to see high profile artists such as yourself responding to the ecological crisis we are facing and bringing much needed awareness to these important issues.
Can you tell me about your installation piece Remnant that will be featured in the plasticology exhibition?
The installation comments on the impact of consumerism using a hand-crafted, slow version of the ubiquitous shopping bag. It uses light to overwhelm and immerse the audience- to remind us that we are suffering under a tidal wave of the products of consumerism.
The rotated and crystalised scene reflects a spinning, shifting, and an unstable situation. It is infinitely weightless, transparent, invisible and lacking in volume.
The repetitive movements of the making process connected [me] to [my] cultural and familial lineage based in the garment industry. [I] built a production line and immersed [myself] into a labour-like process of the monotonous making, cutting, patterning, sewing, knotting, and finishing the bags.
How did the concept for Plasticology come about?
In 2014, I moved to Melbourne and studied my PhD degree. That’s the first time I saw ‘grey’ plastic bag, I found it in the markets, stores, almost everywhere. It is very different from my experience in Taiwan, the most common, iconic plastic bag is always in red and white stripe colour. Which is also a strong reminder of traditional markets and old Taiwanese culture. It might be because of the impact of cultural difference, I was soon fascinated with the semi-transparent, neutral, grey bags.
One thing that inspired me particularly is….I remembered one time I stood on the street, in front of the junction (between Victoria library and Melbourne Central). There was grey plastic [bag that] flew into the sky, up and down, near and far, it flowed, wandered around the street and tall buildings. It actually looks very poetic, almost like a silver fish swimming in the air. I spent a long time looking at it, thinking about the movement, meaning and the complicated feelings of it. Plastic Bags in Taiwan. Grey Bags in Australia.
Would you say that ecological issues, such as plastic pollution are close to your heart?
Where did you source your materials for your Plasticology installation?
The material I used for the artwork ‘Remnant’ was collected from the remnant fabric in a textile factory. I applied these synthetic fabrics and sewed a very fine fishing line (monofilament nylon thread, which has also been called ‘invisible nylon thread’ in the textile industry) to build the structure. It also responds to my previous artwork ‘Veiled Memory’, another installation in 2017.
The exhibition features three other incredible artists, Leeroy New, Yufang Chi, Eko Nugroho, and Angela Yuen. Have you collaborated with them prior to this exhibition?
No, I haven’t exhibited with Eko, Angela or Leeroy before.
It is my honour and great pleasure to work with them and especially with the wonderful team of The Goods Shed. I really appreciate the opportunity from the curator Sharmila, she is such a generous, kind and thoughtful person. And also the strong support form Rhianna, with all her patience and help.
When I worked with the other artists, I found so many interesting points and similarities between us. For example, when the toy industry fell and disappeared in Hong Kong, which is very similar to the difficult time of the textile industry in Taiwan. And the shape of Eko’s sculpture character… it looks really like the traditional Taiwanese God. We had some very interesting discussions.
Tell me about your practice, what is it that you set out to do as an artist, and what is it that you create?
My practice involves numerous, repetitive trivial movements such as sewing, cutting, crocheting, twisting and other fiber-related techniques. Through the conversations and the relationships I have with materials, technique and my own body gestures, my work explores the positive aspects of creative processes in the trivial movements connected with femininity rather than the critical controversy of the past and the loss of identity during the industrialisation of these processes.
In my own work, the simple, trivial, small muscle movements construct my creating process, which is related to my childhood memories of the domestic environment with outsourcing being present in Taiwanese families.
I was born in Kaohsiung, an industrial city of Taiwan. The area I lived call: Nantze Export Processing Zone.
My family live in here because my father worked for the Refinery plant within National Petroleum Corporation. There are huge group of factories built in Japanese colonial period (1895-1945). In this area we got so many different factories, petroleum, textile, semiconductor etc.
The archival images included show a large number of women, who worked in the textile industry in the 70s and 80s. When these women finished a whole day in the factory and returned home, their living rooms were transferred into another factory. In my generation, this is a very common experience to work and support the family, it is a reminder of my own childhood memory of workers, labours from the textile industry working in the domestic setting. In Remnant, the fabric I used was collected from the leftover of the textile industry in Taiwan. It responds to the invisible bodily experience and the outsourcing/ Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) history in Taiwan.
When I look back to my practice, I notice there is always a strong connection between my early experience and my way of making. It appears that the experience of repetitive work, industry and labours, remains in my culture’s history and in this way, it appeals to me when I work and when I create objects. It seems that the female labour’s experience has internalised in my whole body and spirits, and my practice brings into play a process of recalling and reflecting the lost memory and history spontaneously.
Come back to the work of ‘Remnant’. Consumerism is a speedy endless cycle; however, in making and producing the work of ‘Remnant’, I applied an extremely slow, hand-craft way intentionally. It is an introspective statement in response to the movement and action we make, could be very quick, but the impact leaves behind might be very slow and long.
Angela Yuen, Chrono Cross III, 2018, plastic toys, motor, perspex, resin, LED lights, 45Hx34dia.cm.jpg
I read that your work often explores the role of femininity and its cultural connotations, could you tell me a little more about that?
My work focuses mainly on art techniques such as weaving and crocheting, which have often been deemed as ‘female’ practices because of their domestic associations. In the history of art, domestic handicrafts have often been considered as decorative ‘women’s work’ and therefore not regarded as ‘high’ or ‘fine’ art. Processes such as weaving, quilting, sewing, embroidery, needlework, and china painting have long been positioned as traditional activities of women. They have historically been depreciated and categorized as ‘minor’ art or ‘low’ art for the reason of their close association with the domestic and the feminine. This attitude comes from a normative view of women’s work and its cultural position in a patriarchal tradition of cultural production, and social and economic values.
My early practice (mainly focuses on jewellery and objects) has been established over a period of sixteen years. In that time my practice has sought to make jewellery and objects that combine the solidity of metal with the softness and malleability of fibre. To create softness I use a process that involves repetitive fiber-related techniques. The selection of fine thread and wires explores the meaning of objects through the associations and relationships with materials. In 2015, I started to create more and more immersive installations, and explore different scales and mediums.
My work applies and develops studio processes that include repetitive fiber-related techniques to allow me to question and explore and depict femininity through cyclical methods of making. Weaving differs greatly from current state of the art techniques such as computer-aided manufacturing and automated processes. Weaving and fiber-related processes are by their very nature slow, and the maker cannot hasten the process. I know my woven pieces cannot be finished in one day, it may take weeks or even months to complete one piece; the repetitive and rhythmic movements of weaving allow me to enter a state of tranquility and meditation, helping me to develop patience and peacefulness in the face of life’s demands and obstacles. Through slowness, I am able to reflect and become introspective during the creation of a piece, to find a meditative space separated temporarily from the complexity and pace of the world we live in.
What do you hope people will take away from your personal practice?
For my own practice, it could be a response to my own context, my cultural history. In making artwork, I used my body, the labored gestures as a statement, to talk about my story. It could also be like an open platform, to share my Taiwanese identity.
And finally, what do you hope that people will take away from this exhibition?
For the installation work ‘Remnant’, I wish to provide an immersive, bodily experience for the audience to engage, to stand under it or within the artwork. It could be a space for people to look, to feel and to contemplate.
For more information click here.