A spotlight on Nina Yuen

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As we celebrate the first opening week of Tall Tales exhibitions across two of our London Venues, we take a look a closer look at some of the exhibiting artists’ work on show.

Currently exhibiting at Swiss Cottage Gallery is Hawaiian born artist Nina Yuen. I first came across Nina’s work through my previous role at Centre For Contemporary Chinese Art, Manchester where the organisation was delighted to be presenting Nina’s first UK solo exhibition in 2013. Hearing from the artist then, it became clear her inspiration to create artwork sprang from a preoccupation with sharing personal stories from her childhood and relationship with those around her.

What struck me about Nina’s work was its ability to completely immerse you within another world, her world. Every element of the artist’s  video works draw you in closer, whether it’s through her striking use of colour, montage imagery, playful performance or melodic narrative.

Although you remain standing within a public gallery for the duration of your viewing, you become convinced she is telling a story that only you can hear. Like a parent telling their child a bed time story, you are hooked on every word, shift in tone or new narrative which comes your way.

For Tall Tales we have selected two video works by the artist; Hermione and a new work which makes its UK debut, Raymond. 

In Hermione, we follow a story which combines the biographies of Simone de Beauvoir, Twyla Tharpe, Dorothy Parker, Vera Nabokov, and Hilda Dolittle. Nina references these women’s thoughts, behaviours and individual life stories, throu453877058_1280x720gh re-imaging their external biographies an internal autobiography, of a singular female Character.

We follow the artist’s life from Childhood
to Adult and all the joyful, painful and awkward years between. Although the years are clearly passing, the repetitive and sickly sweet aesthetics remain frozen in time. The number of candles on the birthday cake advance, but the cake is perpetually decorated for a child.

The use of literature referencing, personal story telling and vivid aesthetics reminiscent of Children’s playtime sits perfectly within the Tall Tales overarching themes and was an easy choice for the Tall Tales programme.

In Raymond, we see a truly intimate video work about the relationship between the artist and her father. Located on the island of Hawaii, where Nina grew up, the viewer is taken on a journey of her childhood. We are exposed to the artist’s background, and all the emotional weight that comes with this. The work is narrated, for the first time in any of her films, by a male voice-ver, by non other than her father.

We hear how her father tries to understand the world by quantifying and categorising certain things, from calculating the calories that his farm produced to measuring the number of miles that he travelled while commuting. This numeric/ systematic approach to life is echoed in the playful use of counting and recording numbers and objects in her earlier film Hermione and we see a pattern between father and daughter emerge when the two video works are presenting together.

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Raymond also includes her father revealing the ‘little fantasies’ he had as a child (bending trees with his fingers, or playing guitar on electrical power lines), he talks animately about the origins of the world, and tells his daughter lovingly how she behaved as a baby.

Raymond showcases the idiosyncrasies of the human condition, and how we aspire to make sense of the world. Moreover it hints at the power of human relationships, and asks how our upbringing can shape our own behaviour and understanding of the people and places around us.

By Elizabeth Wewiora, Co-Curator, Tall Tales

Image credits: Featured Image & Top Right, Hermione, Nina Yuen, Bottom Right Image, Raymond, Nina Yuen. All images C. Artist
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