#196 Jan 2019, Solid-State Poems

Every Object Is a Rabbit Hole

an Interview with artist Chengtao Yi

March 30th, 2023

Chengtao Yi

Chengtao Yi is a Chinese interdisciplinary artist currently based in New York. Yi observes the world’s cultural and spiritual condition through the lenses of man-made objects. His practice explores the criticality of production and consumption, function, and dysfunction.  He investigates and confronts the ontology of ordinary objects, both physical and virtual, alongside the economical, technological, and cultural backgrounds that conceive them. In his current practice, Yi uses various media such as sculpture, installation, photography, video, and digital media to construct specific narratives for the arguments and speculation to manifest.


What inspired you to become an interdisciplinary artist, and how did you begin your career in this field?

Having an industrial design background naturally brings various disciplines into my practice. And I got my master's degree in Interactive Art at ITP NYU so that's another set of disciplines that makes being interdisciplinary inevitable lol.

Your work often explores the criticality of production and consumption, what motivated this focus, and how do you approach this theme in your art practice?

I used to be an industrial designer in tech corporates designing consumer products. And that gave me a closer look at how things are mass-produced and then pushed to the mass. So how a product/object got made and then influences our world and experience always triggers me. I hold a critical perspective on these themes but I would describe my approach as being humorous. A lot of my friends think my art is 欠, but I don’t know how to translate that.


#291 Nov 2020, Solid-State Poems

Could you describe your creative process, from the initial idea to the final artwork?

I often have ideas while commuting. I am the kind of artist who can not generate ideas while in the studio so the NYC subway becomes the birthplace of many of my works. And then the workflow is divided into research, digital, and physical production. My studio does not have internet so it is for pure physical labor.

You use various media such as sculpture, installation, photography, video, and digital media to construct specific narratives for the arguments and speculation to manifest. Could you speak to how you select the medium for each project and why?

This is such a saturated era with saturated media and information. Contemporary artists are all, to some degree, DJs.  I really like to do an extended amount of research on the medium I choose, however, I still regard the ‘choosing’ part as very very intuitive.

#140 Oct 2017,Solid-State Poems

In your opinion, what is the role of art in society, and how do you see your work contributing to this role?

Such a grand question! From the top of my mind, I feel like It has a shifting boundary quality to it and it interconnects all areas and disciplines in society. But eventually, this shapeshifting boundary will ‘materialize’ and become the residue of our existence and human experience. As for my work, I can only assure you that they are the residue of me haha.

Lighted a lighter at Madame Tussauds, Size Variable, 2019

Your work investigates and confronts the ontology of ordinary objects, both physical and virtual. Could you talk about your definition of ontology in this context and how you explore it through your art?

It is so interesting to talk about ontology in our time when the virtual world is exploding and our attention is being colonized by digital content. I feel like back then when certain video games or movies or art broke the so-called 4th wall it was such a novelty but now breaking it becomes some sort of necessity, especially in the mainstream culture. The ontology exploration in my art often revolves around the interaction of different mediums. For example in the rocking chair piece, the lenticular image of the rocking chair rocks when the material chair rocks, that kind of awkward, almost dysfunctional relationship between the mediums is where I think the ontology lies and manifest. Moreover, all aspects of an ordinary object are subject to study, their genesis, function, and cultural influence are all part of the ontology study. There are endless opportunities there.

Rocking Chair, Rocking Chair, 2023 
Lenticular prints, light oak, plywood, magic tape, plastic zip tie
34 x 27 x 45.25’’

What economic and technological conditions influence your work, and how do you incorporate these elements in your art?

Definitely the social media and image-sharing culture. I became increasingly aware of how Instagram is changing my approaches to documenting and presenting artwork. It’s almost two pieces of artwork that you are making now, the ‘aura’ has almost shifted onto the cellphone screen. I am still processing this shift and figuring out how to ask the right questions.


Aura Study No. 1 No.4, 2023, acrylic, prints on paper, size variable 

You have exhibited your work internationally, including in China and the United States. How do different cultural contexts influence your art, and how do you adapt your work to different audiences?

Language is a big part. A great thing about mass-produced visual language is that it is inherently trying to appeal to as many people as possible so there is a universality to it.  Because of that certain intentions of my work can be conveyed without specific cultural signifiers/backgrounds. Might sound a bit like a cliche but I still believe that great art is universal. Meanwhile, I do love playing comparative games with these two cultures and each case can be situative and contextual.

Southern Weekend, 2021. 
Chinese Ancient Wine Jue Replica, Alcohol, Plastic Straw, Lime

What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect from your future artwork?

I am working on a series of aluminum sculptures so that's exciting. I really wish I can have the chance to touch more areas so I hope all future projects can be very very different.

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