What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

September 23, 2021

Yifan Jiang 
Medium-sized dry goods 
July 17 - August 14, 2021
Names for airy nothings 
August 28 - October 16, 2021
Meliksetian Briggs

Yifan Jiang 

Yifan Jiang is a young Canadian artist who was born in Tianjin, China and is now based in New York City. She recently received her MFA  from Columbia University (2020) and debuts new paintings and a projected video in back to back solo exhibitions at Meliksetian Briggs Gallery in Los Angeles. Jiang works in a range of media that includes painting, performance and animation. In the first of her two exhibitions, Medium-sized dry goods (July 17 - August 14, 2021), she filled the gallery space with five large-scale and two modest sized paintings. The second exhibition, Names for airy nothings (August 28 - October 16, 2021) also featured large and small paintings that shared the space with a thirteen-minute projected animation.

In her expressively painted, representational works, Jiang explores places where reality and fantasy collide. What is striking about these paintings is the use of perspective and to create unusual foreground background relationships. The paintings feel like close-cropped fragments extracted from larger scenes.

Included in the first exhibition is Subway Horses (all works 2021), a painting that depicts a long, subway corridor partially adorned with advertising posters. Seen racing away from the viewer and down this narrow hallway eerily glowing from fluorescent lights are four running people and two galloping horses placed in different locations along the receding space. What the people and animals are running from or toward is never revealed, but the urgency of their movement communicates fear. 

Unit 1 portrays a passageway or tunnel like those found in Central Park that while familiar, is also uncanny. The vaulted interior leads to a bright opening. In the foreground, Jiang paints an outstretched hand above which hovers a small globe that resembles a miniature version of the earth. An ambiguous, small winged creature in silhouette floats in the distance at the edge of the blinding white opening, neither coming nor going. Perhaps it is controlled or connected to the hovering orb.

Plaza Monkeys is even more disconcerting. In a city at night below a rising skyscraper, four monkeys graze and splash in a pond or puddle that reflects a full moon. Above this a horizontal yellow band bisects the painting from edge to edge just below the center. This yellow area is cluttered with mottled white-green, frolicking figures. The scene is curious as Jaing presents an urban landscape inhabited by humans and animals simultaneously. The works in this first exhibition pose strange questions that cannot be answered. In Drone, one wonders how a large black bird became entwined with a smaller drone and what its relationship is to a distant helicopter looming above. Similarly, it is hard to know if the small group of people seated in the middle of Picnic (oblivious to the goings on above them) will be obliterated by the shower of debris (from a satellite?) falling from the sky. Jiang states that the exhibition is "an exploration of vast possibilities within the neighborhood of our existence: a visit to unlikely circumstances and novel instances, a trek between low possibility events and pure fiction, a roam on the shore of the absurd."

The paintings in Jiang's second show are likewise surreal, but also melancholic. What exactly is happening in Farm? The small (10 x 10 inch) painting depicts two gigantic hands at either side of the work holding a black strap across the path of a boy who is making his way down a road. Again, Jiang confounds the size relationship as the boy is about the height of one of the fingers. Butterfly, (also a 10 x 10 inch canvas) is a yellow-toned seascape filled with disproportionately large silhouetted butterflies that float in front of the sun (or moon) above the horizon. A band of musicians walk on water in Nap—- trudging across undulating waves while in the distance, another tiny figure naps on a swan floating away towards the upper left of the composition. Two Tailed Cat is an unusual image in which a two-tailed orange-brown cat is perched high on a tree branch, its orange eyes peering down toward the viewer as if it is about to pounce. The limbs of the tree are surrounded by highly saturated green and yellow brushstrokes that suggest blowing leaves in a swirling wind.

The gallery has dark and light states: light to view the paintings and dark to see the animation. Deep red drapes are drawn to block out the windows in order to view One Sunday Morning. While her paintings depict isolated moments, Jiang tells a longer and more complex story via animation. This 13-minute piece is narrated by a soothing male voice with a British accent that takes viewers on a strange journey to places on two sides of a world where language has disappeared and experiences are shared via touch. In this beautifully crafted and evocative work, people awake one Sunday morning to find that they cannot speak. As the narrative progresses, Jiang illustrates how the communities of 'Downtown' and 'Uptown' deal with the situation and learn to communicate using touch. 
The depiction of the people and places within the animation are similar to the paintings — rendered in a loose sketchy hand, but often cut out and collaged together. Using digital technologies that emulate stop-motion techniques, Downtown and Uptown come alive. The narrative unfolds over a year and during this time, the use of touch communication becomes more complex as well as problematic. Two inhabitants— Barbara from Downtown and Trevor from Uptown— pack their bags to escape and travel the world. After a year, they crave human interaction as they can no longer tell what is real and where things came from. When Barbara sees Trevor, they run towards each other and embrace. Amidst a swirling dance and changing landscape, they instantaneously begin to relive each other's lives. Because they have nothing in common, they experience each other's history from birth to the present, but this takes so long to transpire that they die in each other's arms.

Thinking about life without language, one revisits the paintings and Jiang's idiosyncratic world. Through both painting and animation, Jiang presents the future as a place that is part dystopic and part utopic. In her fantasy, the sky turns yellow, musicians walk on water, birds tussle with drones, humans and animals co-exist and people communicate via touch rather than with words. Together these two exhibitions "explore the limits of language and human empathy" leaving viewers to ponder these strange new possibilities.