Work > Writing

Imin Yeh

Essay for exhibition catalog

2 X 2 Solos 2010
January 26 - February 26, 2010
Pro Arts Gallery
Oakland, CA

61 pages, paperback, 8.5'' x 8.5''
Pro Arts Gallery (2011)

Click here to download catalog

Imin Yeh's use of bold graphics, sharp humor, and hand-worked media top a conceptual foundation of semiotics. Exploring how cultural phenomenon can be studied as both signification and communication, her work invites unpacking and decoding. Two series are presented in this exhibition, Good Imports and Thank You for Commenting. A young artist who has created an impressive and growing body of work, she continues to mine popular culture to challenge assumptions about cultural exchange and understanding. Beneath the initial sheen of comic absurdity is some potent commentary about how we talk about culture and race.

Good Imports is an ongoing sculpture and printmaking project that questions signifiers of imported "exotic" goods. Everyday objects (coffee makers, laptop computers, bike helmets) are fully wrapped in hand designed and silkscreened fabric. The green geometric pattern is ubiquitously printed on fabric that covers cardboard boxes used for packaging souvenir goods produced in China intended for export. Many porcelain tea sets, Buddhist figurines, and stainless steel hand exercise balls are packaged and sold like this. Growing up working for my parents' furniture store that sold goods imported from China and Taiwan, I anticipated the inevitable question from a customer, “Does it come with the box?” The patterned box represented a priceless certificate of cultural authenticity, regardless of dusty surfaces and dog-eared corners. Customers felt fulfilled. In a way, what that pattern signified was on par with the actual object itself. Which begged the question, “Exactly what’s in this box?”

Thank You for Commenting, a series of ink drawings on paper, is predominantly drawn from an online article’s public comment section about a recent fight between two passengers on a Muni bus - an immigrant Asian woman and an African American woman. Raised voices escalated into thrown punches. Captured on cellphone and subsequently becoming a viral Youtube video (over a million views), the incident, a complex circumstance of class, culture, and (mis)communication, gets reduced by online commentators to slapstick one-liners about the confrontation itself. In a democratic era where armchair critics and monday morning quarterbacks can freely communicate thoughts and opinions to the masses, has necessary in-depth cultural discourse been usurped by reductionist stereotypes and primal urges to witness a smackdown? Imin Yeh, in turn, engineers these publicly posted impulses into the language and look of advertising campaigns, using the comments verbatim as ironic slogans that ask: "Exactly what were we talking about?"