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Yin Xiuzhen, Trojan, 2016-2017, steel frame, used clothes, 570 cm × 220 cm × 470 cm (18' 8-7/16" × 86-5/8" × 15' 5-1/16") © Yin Xiuzhen

Yin Xiuzhen

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b. 1963, Beijing, China

A leading figure in Chinese contemporary art, Yin Xiuzhen is best known for her sculptures and installations that explore themes of the past and present, memory, globalization, and homogenization.

Yin received a B.A. in oil painting from the Fine Arts Department at Capital Normal University in Beijing 1989. During this time, she moved away from painting in lieu of sculptural, performance, and installation work, often incorporating everyday materials, such as second-hand clothes, into processes that melded the fabrics with contrasting materials such as porcelain, bookcases, mirrors, and even a bisected mini-bus popular in China during the 1990s.

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Yin Xiuzhen, Portable City: Hangzhou, 2011, suitcase, clothes, magnifying glass, map, sound element11" x 59-13/16" x 34-5/8" (28 cm x 152 cm x 88 cm)

For Yin, used clothes, and other everyday materials, carry with them latent memories of their owners and their lives, thus serving as carriers of individual and collective history. Her work Dress Box (1994) contains the artist’s own clothes worn from childhood to adulthood, folded and stacked in a trunk made by her father. The act signifies the cultural tradition of a recently married woman packing select items when moving from her father’s, to her husband’s, house. For this work, Yin filled the trunk with concrete to preserve, and solidify, the contents of the trunk as a physical, yet largely inaccessible, memory. Her Suitcases (2000-02) and Portable City series (2001 – present) would follow. Each work consists of suitcase that, when open, reveals a city in miniature made from textiles worn by each location’s citizens. By stitching together used clothing, Yin rescues it from the waste bin and rehabilitates it to draw out its latent meanings.

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Yin Xiuzhen, Blending Instrument – Ruler No. 3, 2017, porcelain, ruler90 cm × 40 cm × 3.5 cm (35-7/16" × 15-3/4" × 1-3/8")

Yin’s return to painting resulted in several bodies of works: That is Wrong (2012-2013); Silence (2017); and Fireworks (2013). The latter series consists of uniquely shaped acrylic paintings on linen that are made to resemble corridor windows from traditional Chinese gardens. Rather than depict gardens, Yin has painted fireworks after their burst but before they extinguish, capturing a cultural phenomenon—with China recognized as the birthplace of fireworks—while alluding to the ephemeral nature of memory and its fading into history.

Other works, such as Blending Instrument series (2016 – present), take this idea further by including everyday items such as shaving razors, rulers, and knives, into the porcelain-making process effectively burning out a portion of the plate to create a blackened negative outline of the object itself—a visual manifestation of use and loss. By embedding these materials into various processes, she retains the memory of the second-hand objects, and the lives to which the objects are attached, themselves often neglected in the drive toward excessive urbanization and rapid modern development. "In a rapidly changing China, ‘memory’ seems to vanish more quickly than everything else. That’s why preserving memory has become an alternative way of life."

Yin’s work is invested in exploring cultural memory and the scale of change that occurred in China in the late twentieth century, particularly in how a more international economy and new attitudes toward urbanism have created environments where traditions and objects are treated as ephemeral or disposable.

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Yin Xiuzhen, Bookshelf No. 5, 2009-2013, Worn clothes and wood, 165.5 cm x 96 cm x 26 cm (65-3/16" x 37-13/16" x 10-1/4") © Yin Xiuzhen

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Yin Xiuzhen, Wall Instrument No. 4, 2016, porcelain, used clothes, 85 cm × 57 cm × 5 cm (33-7/16" × 22-7/16" × 1-15/16") © Yin Xiuzhen

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Yin Xiuzhen, Planting, 2017, concrete, weeds, 50 cm × 500 cm × 730 cm (19-11/16" × 16' 4-7/8" × 23' 11-3/8") © Yin Xiuzhen