Yi-Li Yeh is a Taiwanese artist who goes by the nickname of Ali. She lives and works in Taipei, but studied in Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan with a considerable history. Just in the last millennia, there have been centuries of alternating Japanese and Chinese influence, with some Dutch rule as well. Tainan was the capital city through many of these changes of power, until Taipei took over in 1887. However today Tainan is considered the cultural capital of Taiwan.
Here in Tainan, Yeh did a post graduate degree in Ceramic Sculpture at the National Tainan University after an undergraduate degree in Ceramic Sculpture in Taipei. Sculpture has existed in Taiwan for over 30,000 years and ceramics for a few years less. Both are intricately tied up with the history and the identity of this country and thus very important. She also went to Baltimore in the United States for a six-month residency.
Then for 10 years she stopped making sculptures. She needed a break. She made videos instead. However, she couldn’t stay away forever and started sculpting again five years ago. She has already received a public commission and created 3 outdoor pieces for a bank in the center of Taipei.
Today her sculpture is a mixture of the ancient art of ceramics which she considers “old” and “slow” material, incorporated with Lego-like plastic toys which she considers “new” and “fast” components. Cacti and turtles are motifs that are found often in old Chinese art and Yeh frequently incorporates with modern objects.
She creates new landscapes and objects by reorganizing scenes from her memories, scenes of Zen-like forests, creeks, remote plains and mountains. She realizes however that her memories are different from the reality of today. These beautiful memories are now only illusory, where the past is pure and clean, different from today which is littered with pollution and the extinction of the old, in the “fast” contemporary society, created partly by the invention of plastic in the United Kingdom in the 1850s. She juxtaposes her memories with these current objects with the intention of generating a bubble filled with the “illusionary passing of misplaced time and space.”
There are parallels between her work in Taiwan today and the Funk Art of the 1970s in California. Ceramics and found objects were a large part of this movement with a strong emphasis placed on personal feelings, emotions and memories. Yeh also offers humor in her work as did the Funk artists, but unlike them gently chides humanity on the less positive aspects of changes in modern day life.
“Since the development of the internet, social media and smart phones becoming widely available, everyone can be a photographer with simply a lick. Another click to post the photos, and anyone can be a celebrity…. [Similarly] plastic building blocks have delivered the concept that everyone can be sculptors.”
Yeh has exhibited in many galleries in Taiwan and has also received stipends from several of them –an arrangement that is common in the country. This year she has already had three exhibitions including one at the Museum of Modern Art in Tainan –an acknowledgement of her growing reputation. The future remains uncertain, especially with the impact of Covid -19, and other modern world changes. However, Yeh continues to preserve the old skills and arts, juxtaposed with modern elements to show that “art creation is something [that] requires long-term development and accumulation.” G&S