Yiyun Chen

Yiyun Chen is a photographer, artist, and educator born and raised in Guangdong, China, and currently based in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2015 he received his Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Cleveland State University, and in 2018 Yiyun earned his MFA in photography and related media from Rochester Institute of Technology. Yiyun is known for portraits and artist books and his poetic images of immigrants. 

“My photographic works are a collection of emotions, symbolizing a person’s life in a place without the primary language, culture, and familiar habits.”

Photo of Yiyun Chen
Photo of Yiyun Chen

“It becomes a metaphor for memories and the longing for a better future, a metaphor for the contextualization of being disconnected from history.”

Photo of Yiyun Chen in his studio
Photo of Yiyun Chen in his studio

Chen’s process for making work comes out of his daily practice of walking in and photographing unfamiliar places, such as the streets of small towns and cities, parks, and the interiors of buildings. Throughout the work, there is a repetition of motifs, visualizing the contradiction between the old memories and his current reality. This practice reminds Chen of his early experiences living in the United States. 

“Whenever I had days off from work, I would walk around the Chinatown area, looking at the street lamps, mailboxes, and old confusing posters stuck to the city’s walls. Sometimes I would sit in a parking lot or watch TV shows in the laundry.”

“Finding something interesting and enjoying the playfulness in its boredom is my shooting process.”

Chen’s most significant influences on his work are Susan Sontag’s book As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964–1980, where the practice of photographing and thinking are referenced in the concept of boredom as a function of attention.

“I was drawn to this concept of boredom and attention in photography, using it to create a romantic and poetic communication of my inner meditations.”

Artwork titled "Man on the Street"
Artwork titled “Man on the Street”

“I become most aware of subtle feelings when I am in a state of extreme boredom.”

Artwork titled "Snowy Day Hush Hush"
Artwork titled “Snowy Day”

And Jason Fulford’s work, The Mushroom Collector, because of his way of using an image as the language to communicate with the audience.

“Fulford states, ‘When you embrace the fact that pictures are inherently ambiguous, the possibilities open up in terms of using images as language.’ I realized that I was looking for a superimposed picture of the past and present in the physical world. A conversation between my emotions and reality.” 

As a lens-based artist/photographer, Chen continuously thinks about the future of photography or moving images. Currently, he has been focusing on creating 3D modeling scene photographic work. 

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