Shadow // Yaddo, “Invisible Among Us,” with Chin Chih Yang

Performance Artist Chin Chih Yang shares recent work and notes on his brilliant creative process

Early on Chin Chih Yang’s stay at Yaddo, he came into the office to ask for permission to climb a 100-foot tree with a rope ladder. The project he was working on is titled “Watch Me: We Can Do It,” and the performance involves a helicopter mid-flight, LED lights, thousands of feet of rope, a heart-shaped light, and Chin Chih ascending.

His work is daring, funny, disturbing, and it was an honor to include him in an episode of our podcast, Shadow // Yaddo hosted by Elaina Richardson.

Chin Chih Yang was born in Taiwan and now lives in Queens. He studied at the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan and graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a Master of Science. His work addresses society’s efforts to protect itself, both physically and psychologically, against long-term catastrophe resulting from pollution, surveillance, isolation, and social intolerance. He’s interested in the scary side of human nature, signaling experimental and creative ways to view the planet and ourselves.

For one of his projects—”Kill Me or Change,” he donned a top hat and coat woven from trash while a crane dropped 30K aluminum cans overhead, burying him alive. For a project called “An Interactive Protest Against Corporate Waste,” he created suit of recycled materials and performed a Shaman-like dance in Times Square. And as of late, he performed “Mobile Quarantine House,” wearing a plastic safety suit and engaging with strangers in in the financial district of Manhattan.

We know that the pandemic has been particularly hard on those in the performance disciplines. An audience is key to their creative work. We asked Chin Chih to tell us a bit about how he’s managing and where he finds motivation to keep on making his brilliant performances.

Q. How has the pandemic impacted your performance work?

A. The pandemic caused the loss of many opportunities. Residencies with just the right facilities were cancelled, so I went back to the streets. In 2020, I performed live in Times Square and on Wall Street. I had conversations with people in Harlem and other places in New York City. I studied people, I focused on race, class, gender, education. Mostly I watched how we react to each other in times of stress, because creating unity among people is at the heart of my upcoming performance, “Watch Us: Together We Can Do It.”

Q. How do you stay motivated to continue to make performance work despite social distancing?

A. Change motivates me. I react to humans, to our environment, our society, our disasters. So my motivation is endless. I spent lots of time reading the news on different media. As a sculptor, I am keenly aware of safety in my work. The element of interactivity, of hearing people speak their mind, is critical to my work so I have to keep thinking and adjusting.  I use large-scale performance as a starting point to invoke deeper understandings of love.

Q. Your performances such as “Mobile Quarantine House” have a great sense of humor. How do you take on hard issues, yet manage to do it with a sense of humor?

A. [“Mobile Quarantine House”] is about protecting individual freedom. I made a mobile house, an ironic, ridiculous action. Most of my art uses satire and humor way to address hard issues. A little joking makes it easier for the audience to absorb what you want to express.

Q. From conception to actual performance, what is your process like for creating new performance work?

A. My concepts are always based in social situations, in sharp changes and environmental issues. I take issues, consider my life experiences, and use time-based art to make the most impact. The concept is the most important part of my process. I spend most of my time on concept. After that research and collect the material to produce the work. I use recycled materials.  Then I choose and arrange the location and set a date and time. When I perform, I’m not concerned with how many people are there. One or a thousand is the same audience to me. I will perform my best – what’s most important is that it happened. I set big goals.

Q. During the pandemic, many artists have developed innovative solutions to getting their artwork out into the world. What do you think the post-pandemic future looks like for performance art?

A. I am very happy to see all the innovative methods artists are trying during the pandemic.  This is what I think artists should do and I have always thought art should experiment and adjust to current affairs. These performances that developed due to the epidemic situation, I think they are very good, and I like them very much. I think performance will continue to develop and become more essential.  The epidemic is having  a major impact on human life but I hope people can use these opportunities to learn about relationships and cooperation and develop more harmonious and friendly ways of living together.