THE SKATEROOM’s limited collaboration with global artist JOHN Yuyi is a special one, not just because it’s the first, but also because it sees her at the beginning of a brand new era - both artistically and personally.
THE SKATEROOM’s limited collaboration with global artist JOHN Yuyi is a special one, not just because it’s the first, but also because it sees her at the beginning of a brand new era – both artistically and personally.
After a decade of bold cultural commentary and digital inspiration, the artist turns her focus inwards in an authentic exploration of emotions, independence and the simple beauties of the world. In this exclusive conversation, Yuyi brings us along for the journey of her life and career, revealing more about her current projects and her passionate (albeit platonic) relationship with skateboarding.
How did your journey in the art world begin?
I studied fashion design back in Taiwan and then I came to New York to do an internship after graduating. When I arrived in New York City, I instantly knew this is where I wanted to be. So I went back to Taiwan and did a lot of things to build my portfolio, in order to receive the US Artist Visa. I was playing with clay, then I made it into a photography series and then, since my major was fashion design, I thought I should make it into a fashion collection. So I made a swimsuit collection and posted a photo of myself to a Facebook fan page, wearing it together with a temporary tattoo I made of a Facebook Like button. Surprisingly, that gained more attention than the swimsuit itself. This is when I started to get some recognition abroad, outside of Taiwan. After two years, I finally got the US Artist Visa.
What was it like to finally move to New York as an artist?
I went there for a few months but I couldn’t get fully used to the lifestyle. So I went back to Asia – to Tokyo – and did a full project of temporary tattoos there. Then I went to London and did another full project. But back then, I wasn’t aware that I was creating art. That wasn’t how I felt about myself. I guess growing up, being an artist wasn’t a realistic idea. Even recently, when I went back to Taiwan during the pandemic, people [heard that I was an artist] and just assumed that I painted. But I don’t paint, there are so many other forms of art.
Maybe it’s changed since then, but people are really judgmental if you say that you are an artist in Asia. I remember the BBC did an interview with me and I got a lot of hate comments saying “if you call this art then you should interview me too”. So I wasn’t really able to feel that I’m an artist who is creating art. But still I kept creating, because I kind of needed that. It was my escape from depression. I’ve always had a feeling that creating is like recording my diary, my daily life. Even now, looking back, I can see that some [of my artworks] are already historical, irrelevant.
How does it feel to revisit those older projects?
A lot of them feel very cringe *laughs*. Cringe, but also cute. I don’t deny them because it’s also me, even though it’s not who I am right now. I was definitely bolder and much more fearless then.
And who are you now? Both in terms of your art but also your personal life, because the two are so interconnected.
Back when I had just moved to New York, my English wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t really able to express myself, or to interact with people and show them who I really was. But now I can. Not as well as when I speak in my mother tongue, but at least people know who I am. When you’re in your early 20s you just want to make people see you. You want to be seen so bad, you want to prove yourself. I think I was at that stage too – very impulsive, productive, hypomanic… but now everything is calmer. I’m happier, I know who I am. I’m not being as productive as I was before, but I also love that and I want to create something slower. I’m a rebel, so if everyone is doing Instagram, Internet art and working with brands, then it’s just not interesting to me anymore. I don’t want to do that. Instead, I just spent a year and a half doing installations, camera work and photography.
It’s very bold to step away from the artform which you are most known for and which people expect from you, and to pursue a different direction that’s more authentic to your current self.
[Social media] is a shortcut for people to see you but you’re not supposed to be shaped by it. I see a lot of people get drunk on likes and audiences. I was too when Social Media wasn’t as popular or influential – but if you see that something is saturated then you know it’s time to move on. Now I care more about emotional stuff. The other day I was thinking that if people are constantly posting stories about how cute and luxurious their lives are, and then constantly checking who’s viewing those stories – then who will be the one spending five years painting the ceiling of a church like Michelangelo? And so, even though I benefited from social media at the start of my career, now I rebel against it.
The city has been another big influence on your work. Did your relationship to New York also change during this rebellious phase?
Definitely. I just got back from Europe and the first thing I felt about New York was – ah, back to reality. When I came here after graduating, I wasn’t able to do anything by myself. My ex-boyfriend came with me, just for company, and I was super codependent. After I got the artist visa we broke up, and I became really unstable. Then I went back to Taiwan during the pandemic and explored my isolation phase. When I returned [to New York], I finally felt that I became a fully independent person who is totally engaged with the city and its people. The first time I came here was ten years ago, and now I pass by the same streets and I’m a completely different person. I’m the most independent person. I travel the world alone and I don’t need anyone, but ten years ago I couldn’t even take the Subway by myself. I had to ask my boyfriend to pick me up at the station every time I got off work. That’s why I keep telling all my girlfriends that every breakup will make you evolve into another, better version of yourself. It’s amazing, it feels really good.
Which themes are you currently exploring with your art?
The images we are using for this collaboration illustrate well the transitioning from the object on the face, to the face on the object. It’s a theme which still resonates with me. I’m also working on an ongoing project which is focused on something more intimate. It’s a capsule which looks like little robots with all the antidepressant pills which I’ve had to take during the past years of my depression. That might not resonate with anyone but I did it for myself because it was therapeutic. I’m also trying to make a short film.
I just feel that there are so many ways to live life. It is limited by time but it is not limited by possibility. I try a lot of things and there is still a lot that I would like to explore. In terms of Internet art which I did in the past, I would still want to do that, but maybe for a one-time project to revisit certain themes of the past.
It’s great that you are feeling so much happier, and also that we were able to collaborate during such a special moment in your life. This energy of inspiration really resonates through the collection. How did you choose the artworks featured on the editions?
I think the chosen images are cute – it’s that simple. I just chose the ones I liked the most. Especially the cup noodle one. It’s one of my favorite images and it’s never been published before.
What interested you in working with
I was really impressed by the list of artists that THE SKATEROOM collaborates with and I also always loved skateboards. I tried skateboarding when I was young but I hurt myself and got stitches on my chin. After that I never tried again… But I’m a fan of skate culture and every time I see people skating on the street I just think – this is the ultimate lifestyle. They’re so happy and fearless and everyone has their own style. I love the spirit of skateboarding. And, since I don’t skate, this collaboration is the perfect thing. I love seeing my own images on a skateboard.