Yu Honglei is one of the few artists of the post-1980s generation who makes art in all kinds of media but insists on describing himself as a practitioner of just one: sculpture. He was trained as an animator, but started producing art in the form of a series of object-based sculptures, each of which has a story to tell. Since his 2013 solo exhibition Everything Is Extremely Important: There Is Nothing That Will Not Come Back Again, at Beijing’s Magician Space, he has developed a new strategy of building up ‘scenes’ or ‘constellations of works’ that make multiple artworks part of a single narrative.
For Yu, sculpture is about developing new forms and creating new life out of the objects he encounters in the everyday. In particular, he is drawn to objects that are encountered once and then disappear without being noticed, before one day reentering his life in an unexpected way. And yet Yu’s loyalty to some sort of truth in ‘objects’ doesn’t prevent him from using media other than sculpture to document them when he realises that he needs a different voice. He makes animations, videos and also installations that combine image, object and video. He is without doubt one of those much-talked-about ‘post-Internet’ artists, in the sense that he sources images from the web and treats the knowledge and information he obtains from the Internet in the same way as that harvested from his own direct experience. But he also believes in a ‘poetry’ that exists under the skin of everyday objects, and in an object-specific ‘beauty’ (though he personally might be very cautious about using that term) that can be ‘upgraded’ once subjected to artistic interpretation. In this respect perhaps he’s too romantic to be really post-Internet.
Yu is particularly interested in how the life of an artist forms his or her art. His recent animation The Farm (2013) is a riff on Joan Miró’s 1921–2 oil painting of the same title; in it, Yu reconstructs the Spaniard’s farmhouse in Mont-roig del Camp and reconstructs, also, Mir.’s life there. I find Yu’s own existence, in his three-room apartment in Beijing, to be intriguingly similar to Mir.’s ‘farmer’s life’ of nearly a century ago. Notwithstanding the fact that, whereas Mir. and his wife raised cows for milk and grew grapes for wine, Yu has his computer plucking images from the world and rendering files of his new videos, both artists present a timeless idea of the satisfying as being one in which they are at the centre of their worlds.
Originally published in the March 2014 FutureGreats issue, in association with EFG International