Yeni Mao’s debut show at Collette Blanchard Gallery explores history and its transformation into myth with photo-based works, dark suggestive sculptures, and a large flotilla of boats, hung inverted from the ceiling. This central installation, Dead Reckoning, for which the exhibition is titled, is a sculptural homage to Zheng He, a eunuch in charge of a powerful ancient Chinese army. The piece captures the dichotomy of Zheng He’s legacy as both an ultramasculine fleet admiral and a eunuch. This Canadian-born Chinese artist draws from this mythology themes of fantasy, power, masculinity and metamorphosis. The exhibition is at Collette Blanchard Gallery in New York through March 6.
Originally from Ontario and having spent time in Sweden, Taiwan, and studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mao currently lives and works in a Manhattan loft with his partner of eight years. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, at venues including Ise Cultural Foundation and Chashama, both in New York; ROM Gallery for Art & Architecture in Oslo; and Shang Element Contemporary Art Museum in Beijing.
The Advocate: Why are you an artist?
Yeni Mao: I question my surroundings, interpret them, and try to shed my particular light on them. Two people can approach an object or image with two completely different references and have a moment where they bridge the gap between their experiences. I think that moment is important.
What catches your eye?
How do you choose your subjects? Tell us about your process or techniques.
Any piece begins in a soup of research. I read historical, scientific, and occult texts. I surf the Internet for images. I watch old kung fu movies. One initial interest leads me to another, and this way I build a perception of the world. I fall in love with materials easily, so the inception of a piece is often with an object, process, or material I want to work with, and it fits with a subject I have been delving into or vice versa. The content of my practice, as a whole, builds itself naturally through the abstractness created by these marriages of material and content. Sculpture and installation is the basis for my work, but I also do many two-dimensional works that support the compositional and conceptual principles of the larger sculptural pieces.
How do you describe your work?
I like what this blog posted about me: “Mao will bring you into an existential cultural stupor while he melts your face off with Mylar collages. Sculpture, collage, and photography all serve to regenerate history.”
What makes a good artwork to you?
A good piece provides a solid base of information that’s open enough to allow questions but powerful enough to have a visceral experience.
What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
Though I try to take most of my inspiration from my source materials to keep from getting too insular, some artists I have been looking at recently are Sterling Ruby, Edgar Arceneaux, Amanda Ross-Ho, Alejandro Almanza Pereda, and Wim Botha — each for aspects individual to their work, but overall for their brave use of materials.