Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Qianqian Ye, but I go by Q. I was born in China and moved to the US in 2012. I went to architecture school and graduate school. After graduation I worked as an urban designer and public art consultant. I’ve been interested in art since childhood. No matter what field I would end up in, I always knew that I would come back to art.
My fairly new series ‘Ink paintings’ are influenced by calligraphy. I learned calligraphy when I was six when my parents sent me to calligraphy school; I was a very restless child and they thought that calligraphy school would calm me down, keep me still, and help me focus. I did that for ten years and absolutely hated it. While I was studying calligraphy, they sent me to competitions. I would send my work to friends and families, and they would love it. But I never saw what they were able to.
In my early 20s, however, I picked up ink and brushes and felt a kind of nostalgia and started to do calligraphy again; that’s when I fell in love with the ink, water, and brush. I think being forced in my childhood pushed me away from it. But when I grew up and had no obligation to do calligraphy, I felt more freedom. So I not only started spending my time doing calligraphy again but also ventured into drawing other abstract figures and forms with ink and water.
How would you say that your background in architecture guided your work?
Architecture has always been something I deeply love because it is about creating space and an atmosphere and sometimes about creating a social game. In my architectural practice, the questions I find fascinating are: what kind of social behavior or tension can be cultivated in this space that I am designing? How would people, even strangers, connect with each other in the building that I am making? I care more about how my design affects people and social relationships and so people have always been the subject of my art. I try to treat architecture as a social concept and question how social behavior would occur within buildings and walls. My architectural practice has guided me to consider the ways in which people connect and socialize.
You say that you are a “creative coder working at the intersection of art and technology.” What has been your experience as a creative coder? And how does technology influence your artwork?
Most people would think of using technology to do industrial work or would find technical applications for it. But I believe that technology can be used for creative purposes as well, and can be used in a very human way by creating art. That is my way of thinking about creative coding.
I am a futurist. Consider how technology has influenced our social routine: the way we connect with each other, date, break up, maintain relationships with family and friends. I like to think about how technology can reshape human behavior and consequently, art. Last year, I worked on developing a robotic hand that will hold your hand and a robotic scarf that will hug you, when you feel lonely. I decided to work on this project because hand holding is such an intimate behavior and now we can create a robotic hand to provide that comfort for those who are unable to make social connections. For me, technology is another medium and tool—like ink, water, oil—that I can use to ask these questions about social behavior and find answers. All these elements make the world more interesting and I would like to explore them more.
The minimal figurative shapes in your series ‘Ink Paintings’ and the narratives they weave are very striking. You say that you aim to capture the “vulnerable and awkward aspects of daily social life.” What is it about social awkwardness that inspires your work?
For some reason, genuine and authentic social interactions have always been something I find fascinating, and I have noticed that the most genuine interactions can be very awkward. For example, I have a friend who is a very genuine and sweet person, but is also slightly awkward. When he hugs other people, he somehow ends up twisting their arm. Some people find it very hard to express their affection and concern, and show you their vulnerability through their awkwardness. I find that very powerful because it suggests that they are not good at this but they are still trying. There are the ones who are well put together, have figured things out, and know what they are doing, and then there are the socially awkward ones who are still figuring it out. I can relate to them more because I am an introvert and can be awkward, but I know that I do want to connect with people and do my best. This part of human behavior speaks greatly to me.
How does being an immigrant in the U.S. and a woman of color influence your art?
These identities are definitely new to me. In China, I don’t think of myself as an immigrant or a person of color. After moving to the US, I have these new identities that lead to these questions: Who am I? Where am I from? Where am I going? These questions hit me really hard. It’s interesting because I had these questions in my head when I was in my teen years and then when I moved to the US, these questions popped up again. I am very confused about the answers to these questions. Being an immigrant and a woman of color, there are many challenges I face that make me vulnerable and uncomfortable during social interactions since most of the people across the table are white and native English speakers. This identity crisis has been very influential in the exploration of my own art. I have come to realize that identity crises are going to continue happening throughout the span of our lifetime and that makes me look forward to them and learn from them. I want to channel this internal conflict into my art and connect with other people who feel the same way. It is important to let people know that they are not alone; the best thing to hear when you are feeling down and lonely is someone else telling you that they don’t feel great either. Just knowing that someone is there, is helpful.
Could you tell us about your studio YE/S?
‘Ye’ is my last name and I like saying ‘yes’ to things and ‘S’ is the first letter of ‘studio’; YE/S therefore becomes the perfect name for my studio. I always wanted to have my own studio and I have spent many years thinking about it. YE/S is a good studio with high ceilings and plants; I work on own projects, take commissions, and meet my clients there. The most recent commission I worked on were with a set of electricians trying to create a dystopian future of China, commissioned by Shanghai Auto Museum. They came across my work and liked my style and its focus on people’s emotions. They asked if I would like to work on the illustrations for a science fiction series they were producing which centers on how people would feel in a world where technology takes over.
Advice for fellow budding artists?
First, self-doubting is inevitable and sometimes it can be actually great. I feel that if you stop doubting yourself, then where are you going? But I do realize that you have to still believe that you are unique and special. If you haven’t found our calling or your path, continue to believe in yourself. You don’t have to try that hard for it is already inside of you. You are bound to create something. When I doubt myself, my friends remind me that I am special, my work is unique, and to keep doing it. That realization and reminder is necessary; that encouragement is very important and so I want to share that with others. Some might think that established artists have it all figured out, but no, they are constantly learning and relearning. Focus on being yourself; that is what I believe in and practice in my own life.
Secondly, don’t be afraid of showing your work. Before I complete my work, I put it on social media and receive a lot of feedback which helps me create even better work. So, showing and sharing your work always allows for feedback and that can be very helpful.
Qianqian Ye is a Chinese born artist and designer based in San Francisco. Emerging from an architecture background she explores the complexities of human interaction in various media including installation, performance, and ink.
Her works have been shown at Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Ecobuild London, Killscreen Magazine and various exhibitions in US and China. Most recently, Ye is collaborating with Shanghai Auto Museum to illustrate human emotion in a dystopian science fiction. You can find her on Instagram @44ian and Twitter @4444ian. Yes, she likes number 4.