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Yujun Ye: L.A. Dreaming

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In partnership with 18th Street Arts Center an artists' residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making.

18th Street Arts Center visiting artist in residence, Yujun Ye of Taiwan, explores the multi-faceted dream that Los Angeles represents to its residents and to the world in her solo exhibition "El Sueño de Los Angeles." Incorporating elements of sculpture, video, audio, light installation, and live performance, the exhibition creates a surreal landscape of the city exploring themes such as alienation, immigration, the subconscious, childhood, fantasy, film, Hollywood, and dreams. Produced in conjunction with a three-month residency supported by the Ministry of Culture Taiwan, Ye's installation will continue to transform throughout its duration to reflect her evolving experiences of the city. The project will culminate in the construction of a new interactive work in collaboration with French multimedia artist Alexis Mailles alongside a final performance realized with L.A.-based artists Dan Kwong, Monel Chang, Frida Li, Oshus, Mystic Pete, and others, on Thursday, December 11 at 7pm.

Growing up in Taipei, Ye was interested in art, drawing "as most children do," but became seriously committed to art practice when she began her studies in France in 2001. She obtained a Master's degree from Ecole Nationale Supérieur d'Arts de Paris-Cergy and a MFA in Media Numérique from Paris-Sorbonne -- eight years in France that were fundamental to the development of her practice. At the school of new media at the Sorbonne, Ye became introduced to the fields of performance, dance, sound, video, and installation, meeting and working with influential artists and teachers like Orlan, Skip Arnold, Judith Perron, and well-known choreographer Daniel Dobbels. There she joined an international art group, Réseau Artskool, and through years of individual and collaborative work, became focused on performance art.

Yujun Ye, "The Ghosts of LA," 2014. Digital print.
Yujun Ye, "The Ghosts of LA," 2014. Digital print.

Upon returning to Taipei, Ye founded the arts organization "Instant 42" in the hopes of creating a space for performance art in Taipei. Converting her living space into a gallery, studio and residency space, Ye directs a residency program similar in ethos to that of 18th Street, which, in her words, provides "international and local artists a new space, besides commercial galleries and art museums, as a creative and professional platform." Hoping to "revitalize the communities and the art of Taipei" with Instant 42, Ye also remains committed to stimulating dialogue with her own work that largely takes the form of public performance pieces, speaking to the political and social climate of particular urban spaces. It is with this same attunement to space and its subtext that Ye turns her eye on Los Angeles.

Overwhelmed, Ye spent her first month as visiting artist at 18th Street "as if sleepwalking." She approached this disorientation with an attitude akin to an anthropological study. A careful observer, she "recorded everyday in writing and taped people talking about their personal experiences of Los Angeles." She witnessed inclusiveness and warmth alongside racial inequality, rigid class hierarchy, poverty, geographic and infrastructural segregation, and a striated, market-driven art world. "People can pursue their dreams in L.A, but they also have to survive," she says.

Yujun Ye, "El Sueño de Los Angeles," 2014. Mixed media installation, video, foam, wood. | Photo by Yujun Ye
Yujun Ye, "El Sueño de Los Angeles," 2014. Mixed media installation, video, foam, wood. | Photo by Yujun Ye
Yujun Ye, "El Sueño de Los Angeles," 2014 (detail). Mixed media installation, video, foam, wood. | Photo by Alex Drost
Yujun Ye, "El Sueño de Los Angeles," 2014 (detail). Mixed media installation, video, foam, wood. | Photo by Alex Drost

These social, economic and geographical realties are in conversation with Ye's preconceptions of Los Angeles gleaned from popular culture. She recounts, "Everything I knew about L.A. came from movies and the media." To her L.A. was "a place of drama, with movie stars and crime and a place where dreams come true." Understanding the fantastical nature of these impressions, she didn't know what exactly what to expect, and sought to unpack her sense of L.A.'s truth from its fiction. "I heard from one person about L.A.: one does not know what the truth is. Hollywood fictionalizes reality and each individual will figure out what is true, or what is false." With this in mind Ye decided that for her, L.A. "is like a field of dreams." Reflecting on this thought, she produced "El Sueño de Los Angeles" exploring the many different ways of dreaming in and about Los Angeles.

Ye's multimedia installation is a fantastical and slightly frightening space. In a dark, black-lit room, neon and glowing sculptures hang from the ceiling, fluorescent graffiti brightly peppers the walls, and the familiar silhouette of the city skyline takes an uncanny turn with palm trees and buildings adorned with glowing eyes. A projected video shows a series of public performances in which Ye dressed as a hooded figure and inserted herself into various iconic settings around Los Angeles. Like "a ghost wandering in the city," she stares with red eyes from the Venice boardwalk, a teeming West Hollywood street, and Olympic Boulevard. Radiating the colors of the L.A. sunset, "El Sueño De Los Angeles" is luminescent, playful, and at the same time disarming.

The soundtrack contributes to the construction of this unsettling -- but fun -- cinematic atmosphere that invokes at once fantasy, childhood, and a strange sense of horror. Designed by French artist Alexis Mailles, the audio includes interviews conducted by Ye with mostly non-native Angelenos who describe their dreams against the soundtracks of iconic Hollywood films, carnival-like Mexican pop music, and a waltz-like composition by Taiwanese musician Dawang Yingfan Huang. The fragmentary nature of these sounds is disorienting and affecting. They are designed, as Ye describes, "to respond to the entire space through making a collage of different time, space, history, and national characteristics presenting an overarching atmosphere of terror, tragic beauty, and loveliness."

Yujun Ye, "El Sueño de Los Angeles," 2014. Mixed media installation, video, foam, wood. | Photo by Alex Drost
Yujun Ye, "El Sueño de Los Angeles," 2014. Mixed media installation, video, foam, wood. | Photo by Alex Drost

Playing with the themes of childhood and fantasy, Ye invokes Disney and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," dressing as Alice in both filmed and live performances. It is a story that has particular power for her. She explains, "I am particularly drawn to Alice in Wonderland for its exposure of fear and fantasy triggered by the process of growing, in which one explores self-identity, wrong space, and the meaning of dreams in an uncanny way." Although disquieting, this dream is for Ye "not a nightmare" but rather a renewed opportunity for insight. It offers a kind of clarifying lens with which to view reality. As she puts it, "dreams function as a tunnel that leads back to the defectiveness in a child, and repairs it. I believe that everyone has a fragile facet deep down inside."

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The dreams presented in "El Sueño de Los Angeles" are not only fantasies but speak to the real conditions of life in the city. Ye examines three discrete and interrelated dreams: "one part of the dream takes place where immigrants live, one part is the sleeping dream, and third part is about memories and the legacy of dreams." Encountering rigid racial and class divisions, Ye's work pays close attention to the particular brand of the American dream that Los Angeles holds for those Angelenos with roots in Central and South America. Her interviews with residents reflect the particular L.A. variant of that dream, in which the ambition for social mobility is skewed and intensified by the quixotic allure of Hollywood. As she describes, "Hollywood is a place where artists and actors dream big, like the American dream people are inspired to achieve." For Ye, "Dreaming reflects the truth."

Dreams offer the opportunity to be an outsider in one's own mind, granting a certain clarity to the otherwise habitual nonsensicality of subjective reality. Likewise, Ye's dream offers a transformed vision of Los Angeles for those accustomed to the landscape. Her perspective as an outsider allows the otherwise familiar to become strange, and the viewer is invited into a different mode of understanding. This is perhaps one of the most exciting possibilities opened by visiting artist residencies like 18th Street's: to be able to look at one's home from the perspective of one looking in. Visiting artists like Ye, inspired by and attuned to place, are in a unique position to explore Los Angeles. Ye's particular dream resonates with both newcomers and long-term residents.

 

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