INTERVIEW: JOHN YUYI - UNDER THE SKIN
UNDER THE SKIN
John Yuyi’s work juxtaposes intimacy and sensuality with digital iconography – a daring combination that strikes a chord with an entire generation trying to find human connectivity within a hyper-connected digital world. Anyone who follows Yuyi on social media however, knows that her art is not only manifested through her photography, but through herself. Rarely will you find an artist as candid and open about her feelings, inner-turmoil, and every day struggles, making her not only one of the most relevant digital artists of our generation, but also a poignant digital performance artist.
How would you describe your art in your own words?
I'd describe my art as the reflection of myself and the times I'm living in.
What is your process when creating a new piece?
I have two major ways of creating new stuff: one is when something pops up in my mind and I immediately do it (usually something more random), and the other is when I want to shoot specific people or in a specific location I'll do the research and think of what to shoot, prepare the material, draw sketches, etc..
You mostly use human faces and bodies as a canvas, how come?
I noticed that when I look at images I find it easier to relate when there is a human subject, maybe because I'm also human. It's more eye-catching. And also, although we are all human, if you look super closely, and in details, you’ll notice that our skin is so different. Whether a birthmark or a scar, not two skins are the same. I'm obsessed with skin. I always fall in love with boys who have moles. I always like to watch my boyfriend’s skin pores, and when I break up I try to think of what his pores look like. If I can’t remember his skin, it means I’m over him, he's already in the past.
Your art almost seems like branding the human body with cultural references. What is the intention behind it?
The way that we receive messages is so different now. We used to read words, and then we would watch images, and now we watch videos. It became so different in such a short time span. I wonder if our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, mouth will change in the near future because of the way we use them… I think that’s why I use body parts to shed light on contemporary culture and society.
There’s a tension in your art between all things intimate and organic, and all things digital and public. How come?
Oh I like this question! I think that since I am a kid, I am full of contradictions. I can be super shy but I can be super active, super out of control yet super self-controlled... It seems there’s no grey area for me. Although the digital world is so cold, and cannot give me a real hug, maybe it's the only thing that makes me feel less lonely at the moment.
There’s something very fashion forward about your aesthetic. Who are the artists that have inspired you and why?
I really like Picasso, Jean Paul Goude, Wong Kar wai, Faye Wong, Niki de Pharrell, etc.. Depending on the stage of life I’m in, different artists inspire me, but in the end, it’s a combination of all them that has influenced who I am now. I think their work has really deep emotions and poignant storytelling which I can strongly relate to. I feel intense emotions through their work, whether love or sadness.
What’s it like being an artist nowadays, in the world of social media awareness?
You can be artist one day and nobody the next month. It's too fast. I always think that people calling me an artist is a temporary moment in my life… hence my "temporary" tattoo work. Everything moves too fast~~~~
Your Instagram account is very personal, almost like a diary. You even go as far as posting insta-stories of yourself breaking down. How come?
Because It is my dairy! I think my art is my diary. That's what I feel all the time.
And after we can archive the story so I really think it's a diary. When I feel that my post is too designed and organized, I change it. I just wanna be a normal girl in my story.
You have a very candid approach to social media, and a very specific sense of humor. Where does it come from?
Really !! You can feel my sense of humor? I really care about the humor hahahha.
I don't know where it comes from but since I was kid, people think I'm weird. I had a tough life in middle school. I forced myself to be normal like the others… reminded myself everyday not to do something weird, but when I stopped doing that I freed myself. Now I really don't like being another person for any reason. Being different is just me expressing myself.
As an artist, what are the negative sides of social media, and how do you deal with them?
I think social media is a platform and can also serve as inspiration, but I don't like myself being shaped by social media. I like to remind myself to not do art specifically for Instagram.
You travel a lot for work. What are the upsides and downfalls of such an unrooted lifestyle?
Maybe I just don’t want to stay in one place too long.I don't want to be alone in a New York room.I don't want to be alone in a Taipei room.I don't want to face familiar things.I want to be in a place where I have no sense of belonging.If I don’t belong I don’t have to think of belonging.
On the other hand, when you move around a lot, it’s hard not to feel lonely. I find it sad coming back home and having nobody to talk to, or nobody to welcome you home. I once had a panic attack in the NYC airport, crying under a charger table for 2 hours after my trips in Africa and Shanghai, because I felt so lonely. It's sad but I'm trying to make peace with it because I still feel that it’s against my nature to stay in one place for really long. Comfort makes me anxious.
What is a dream project of yours?
I want to shoot Kim Jong Un.
Is it harder to make a living as an artist nowadays, or easier?
It depends but for me, doing commercial works helps getting a better income, hahahha.
What’s next for John Yuyi?
I'm pretty unsure of my mind. I’ve never been so confused about myself.
I feel lost. What should I do. I feel like I lost the energy to be passionate.
I used to feel so excited to do new project. Now it stresses me out, but I can’t stop. I feel bad and guilty if I stop doing things. The one reason I’m in Japan is to find a balanced tempo of life, stay away from my base and take rest. I think it's a good thing. I will just do my best and keep going and see how far I can go.
Interviewed by Ralph Arida