Interview with Cherrie Yu
Cherrie Yu is a 25 year old artist born in Xi’an, China. She currently lives and works from Chicago, IL. She makes videos, films and performances. She has shown work at Chicago Cultural Center, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Links Hall and Mana Contemporary. She has been a resident artist at Contemporary Calgary Museum, Emory University, Monson Arts, and ACRE.
Who or what has a lasting influence on your art practice?
Someone that I constantly learn from is the American choreographer Trisha Brown. I first learned about Brown’s work through a teacher, who introduced me to Brown’s “Roof Piece.” I went on to learn a little bit of her choreography from “Watermotor” from watching the documentation, which is wild to think about now, since I didn’t understand her work conceptually back then, and wasn’t dancing as much as I am now, and that was one of her most difficult pieces to learn. But at the same time, I can’t really think of a better way to get to know her, other than this almost blind and bold intuition to try it out on my own body. Her work influenced me in so many different aspects, not only in thinking about different ways movements can transfer from one body to another, but also in understanding movements as existing in devised systems, and understanding choreography as devising new systems of writing. I also just love learning her movement materials. They are fun to practice. I think that is another great thing I learned from her — art can be about really serious things, but fun is always an important part for me.
What is the most challenging of being an artist?
For me the most challenging thing is to strike a balance between constant moving and settling down. I have always had a hard time staying in one place for a long time. I am an extrovert in that I get my energy from other people. So that when I am moving around, it becomes really exciting because I am constantly experiencing stimulation. My work very often involves collaboration with other people, and it often requires being in the same room together with my collaborator for weeks or months. When I am in an intense relationship of exploration and collaboration, I am content with staying in the same place for a long time, because I am constantly moving in the creative process. However I always have a hard time keeping touch with the people that I collaborate with after the project is finished. Sometimes I feel like I carry these past experiences of collaborations with me everywhere I go, and it becomes really heavy, because they only exist in archival forms. I think it also speaks to the fact that the people I collaborate with live in very different worlds, which makes the collaboration interesting, but also unsustainable in the long run. For example, for my most recent film “Trio A Translation Project,” I worked on constructing a solo with Ignacio Morales, a custodian worker I met quite randomly right before the pandemic. We worked on it from May through the end of July, and it was quite extraordinary. I loved the way he communicated with me and the way he practiced movement. But we are not in touch anymore now.
In your opinion what does art mean in contemporary culture?
I cannot wrap my head around the fact that art at the end of the day is a luxury object. Artists go to art school and learn to talk about their art practices through different lenses, such as social engagement, experiments with perception, poetry, activism, or exploration of their cultural heritage. The list goes on. However I find it quite muddy when these good intentions land in real-world situations. It costs money to make most art. Sometimes it gets expensive. There is labor on all levels of artistic productions. The artworks become objects for exchange, collection, and exhibition. I think the best art acknowledges its complicity in capital exchange, and projects some sort of hope or alternative at the same time.
How would you describe the art scene in your area?
I currently live in Chicago. I engage with both the visual art and also performance. I think the art scene is quite vibrant while extremely flat at the same time, quite similar to the landscape. I moved here in 2017 to work with performance artists and writers from the performance group Goat Island whose works I admire since college, and since then I met so many wonderful people from different parts of the world. My best artist friends are from abroad such as Korea, Iran or Canada. The art scene feels flat at the same time possibly from the Art Institute being a dominant presence, so everywhere you go, you run into people affiliated with the institution, which is a horrible feeling. The art institution becomes this giant looming presence, and for a while I stopped going to see visual art for that reason. I do love making friends with filmmakers. I worked with my friend Julian Flavin, who is a musician and filmmaker from Montreal, to film my performance in 2019. And the same year I worked with Armin Hayrapetian from Iran to make a film with my parents. Filmmakers are the best audience for my work and they have the sensibility of understanding what I do as somewhere between live action and a documentation. I am not super involved with the dance scene in Chicago, and I don’t feel particularly excited about the works coming out that are strictly labeled “dance”. I think my work sort of straddles uncomfortably between visual art, film, and dance. And in each field there is a small group of people who seem to understand it, whereas for others maybe it feels inadequate or ambiguous. I also sometimes feel that it matters to me more whether people from the non art world understand my practice.
What do you like/dislike about the art world?
I like the art world to the extent that I like people in general as individuals, and through making art I get to engage with people I would never meet otherwise. I am talking about the process of making art, where I get to collaborate with other people, and being in conversation with other artists, as well as working with art writers and independent curators. I don’t think my practice works well on a more commercial level, which seems to be what people mean when they say “the art world” a lot of the time. Most of the artists I know do not make their living from making art. I wish more artists would have the time and space to focus on their practice, instead we sort of normalize that artistic concentration is a luxury. I am also seeing a huge disconnect between people in the arts who have money(donors, collectors, foundations etc.) and people who do not.
Name three artists you admire.
Recently I am revisiting the films of Charlie Chaplin. I learn so much from watching him as a performer, and also as a storyteller. Another film I recently watched that I found inspiring was “I Never Climbed the Provincia” by the Chilean director Ignacio Agüero. The other artist would be Ellie Ga. I saw her film installation “Gyres 1-3” at the Whitney Biennial in 2019 and it left a huge impression on me.
What are your future plans?
I plan to spend February and March working on a short film with my friend and film editor Tamer Hassan. I plan to spend the summer in China and work on a new project with my mother. She is someone that I collaborate with often in my past works. In October 2021 I will return to the US and start a residency at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.