Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale

Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World


Yin Xiuzhen: The Tenderness of Memory

Yin Xiuzhen is a prominent figure in the contemporary Chinese art space. After graduating from Capital Normal University of Beijing in 1989, she quickly began to express her impressions of modernity, industrialization, and changing culture through her sculpture.

Yin cites her childhood as her biggest artistic influence. The Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) was an emotionally defining period for her, during which she and her family struggled with poverty, rapidly shifting governmental policy, and a general sense of tumult. She describes this period as being one of “singularity.” Manufacturing practices were changed to prize uniformity. In that sense, individual objects took on new meaning—when goods were made to look identical in the thousands of units, countless Chinese people could relate to these objects and thus to each other. As she stated in an interview with Phaidon Press,

“My Cultural Revolution experiences directly shaped my working method, which was to draft from one’s own experiences; and they have formed my interest in the interplay between the group and the individual.”

Today, Yin frequently incorporates textiles, clothing, and relics from her childhood into her art. She prizes individual experiences, hoping to illuminate them when they are so often crushed by efforts toward globalization, industrialization, and hyper-standardization.

Yin has created one series that exemplifies this sentiment: Portable City. Since the 2000s, she has created over 40 of these unique sculptures that pay homage to different cities worldwide. Embedded within a suitcase, she creates sculpted replicas of distinct skylines made of recycled clothes. When the suitcase is open, one can a,so hear an audio recording of the each city’s soundscape. The symbolism here is striking: as one packs up all of their objects to take with them elsewhere, they also bring their culture and memories, which are embedded in the objects we treasure.

Along with her critiques of the way that industrialization washes away culture, Yin also addresses these harms through an environmentalist lens with her series Washing the River. In a performance art display, Yin constructed a large cube of frozen river water and invited strangers to come and wash it away with brooms, mops, Swiffers, and brushes. Yin staged the performance in several countries, rendering her message clear and universal: with industrialization and capitalism comes the harmful erosion of the natural world.



By Brooke Price

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