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Yiyi Chen

As part of the 80’s generation, I experienced the dramatic social transformation in my home city Changsha as China opened up to the world. High-speed modernization has completely rewritten the cityscape and erased our past. In contrast to the Dutch urban modernization, skyscrapers were erected at the cost of the old city center and local communities. Like many others, my family was displaced to make room for shopping centers. The river is no longer the same, the old neighbourhood no longer recognizable. In the progress of rapid material development, we gained prosperity, but lost touch with our roots; became strangers in our own cities. There is a sense of self-imposed exile and unbelonging for me when residing in a far-off land. Or, as my father puts it, living in a hometown that no longer resembles the memories of one’s childhood.


At the same time, social media has added to a global sense of disorientation. We are disconnected from ourselves, navigating in a world inundated with incomplete, fragmented information that lacks depth and substance. My grandmother often shares dubious internet information with me, which misleads her from her own perspective and disrupts our connection in terms of imparting knowledge. The misguiding information circulating on social media obscures our view of the world, and fuels misunderstanding, prejudice, or even hatred between groups and nations. As a Chinese artist living in the Netherlands, I am especially concerned about the growing hostility between China and the West.


My practice is influenced by these experiences, which have instilled in me a sense of transience. For me, reality is ultimately composed of those seemingly insignificant moments through which we come to understand the impermanence, the nothingness of life. To reconnect to reality and find a sense of belonging, I work with intimate and banal moments of everyday life, involving people, my surroundings, animals, etc. I grab them through the lens of my phone or from the fleeting stream of social media and give them meaning by painting them on my canvas. In the performance  “Rivers”, I connect to my roots, by re-enacting the daily ritual of poetry sharing with my father. In a wider context, it carries my hope to engage with the world, to contribute towards bridging the rifts between people and nations.

  • Dutch Sky
    Dutch Sky
    Oil paint on canvas Year
  • Rivers
    Duo screen video installation documenting a performance
  • Collared crow
    Collared crow
    Oil paint on canvas Year