Yanyan Huang

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Rampant bad taste and sexual repression are fighting against it, but for the Chinese artist/designer, beauty’s revolutionary potential is that it can be found anywhere.

There’s a certain “Renaissance Woman” aspect to your identity, not least because of your adopted Italian homeland. You wear the hats of artist, critic, and designer. What are your feelings about beauty in your practice, and more broadly in the art world right now? When I first WeChatted you about beauty as the theme of this issue of KALEIDOSCOPE Asia, you quickly replied, “Beauty is practically dead. Its good they are dedicating an issue to it.”

What I meant to say was that perception of beauty has been blinded and distrusted. The readily available mass of cheap items from the global import-export trade, the lessening quality of everything, standardized commercial aesthetics of public spaces, cheap furniture and copy-and-paste architecture with shoddy materials, and a desire to shock have all led to worsening tastes—or perhaps just confused tastes.

Does beauty still have any revolutionary potential, or does it just serve to enforce existing power structures?

Though there are expensive objects that are beautiful, there are also many free or nearly-free things that are beautiful, like nature or a piece of silk. Beauty does not have to enforce existing power structures because it can be found anywhere. 

How has your perception of beauty been shaped by the different cultures/contexts in which you’ve lived?

Both China and America are extremely repressed sexually. In response to growing up between both of these cultures, I modeled nude (for photographer Ren Hang) because it was natural to me and through art history.

Beauty standards have always existed and they have always gone in and out of favor. Advertising has been affecting humans to their detriment since its inception. Today, it affects people en masse to lighten their hair, inject paralyzing agents, suck out fat cells, go into debt, replace their partners and generally feel unsatisfied with themselves. “You’re worth it” somehow justifies any and all ends to reach this elusive status of perfection, which we all know is a fool’s errand anyway.

Yanyan Huang (Chinese, b. 1988) is an artist based between California, Italy, and China, working across different media ranging from painting, drawing, collage, ceramic, and silk prints.

Samantha Culp is a California-born writer, curator and creative producer currently based in Shanghai. She is the founder and director of New Territories, an experimental studio for research and production.

Image: Yanyan Huang, Expanding Universe, 2014. Courtesy of the artist