Section: Arts

Tradition and modernity collide in artist Yun-Fei Ji’s work

Tradition and modernity collide in artist Yun-Fei Ji’s work

By Dylan Manning

Unlike American children who experienced cultural change by watching leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. through their television sets, Beijing-born artist and Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Yun-Fei Ji saw the Cultural Revolution in China firsthand. Separated from his parents at age two, he was raised on a collective farm outside Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province. His grandmother told him ghost stories and folktales throughout his childhood that fed his imagination. On Sept. 26, Kenyon students and Gambier residents will have the opportunity to hear Ji speak about his artistic work and practice.

Ji’s art combines the symbolism and structure of classical Chinese painting with the somber themes of modern industrial development and its effect on contemporary life. “My work is very connected to my distress about the environment in general,” Ji said. “Specifically the process of building some of the largest hydroelectric projects in China.” The hydroelectric projects in question — the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer Project — will disrupt the flow of several rivers across China.

Ji said he was also inspired by ordinary people and activities in the modern landscape.

“I think about the displacement of people and what it means to be modern, our relationship with tradition,” Ji said. “When I was in China I visited a lot of factories. I saw villagers and young people working in these factories. A lot of my work is my reaction to these things.”

As a young man, Ji studied traditional painting styles of the Song dynasty at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where he focused on techniques using mineral pigments on mulberry paper. He relocated to the United States in 1986 on a fellowship from Fulbright College at the University of Arkansas, where he earned his MFA. Ji’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker and Artforum. His solo exhibition entitled “The Intimate Universe” was shown at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art in Clinton, N.Y.

During his talk next week, Ji will elaborate on the themes of his work and explain his creative process. “A lot of things I have brewing for years, there is not a set time or a set procedure,” he said. “It could be something brewing for a while but all of a sudden I find a new solution. Maybe color, maybe something random. All of a sudden something comes together.”

Yun-fei Ji will speak on Sept. 26 at 7:00 p.m. in the Community Foundation Theater in the Gund Gallery.

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