The “follower” is a young creator’s greatest asset. For artist John Yuyi, her assets include 107K Instagram followers that are growing at a rapid rate (by the time you read this, she may already be at 120K). This high profile Internet popularity has catapulted her to the forefront of Instagram’s Discovery Page, drawing more followers and traffic to her own online gallery that is her profile. Very recently, she has hosted two sold-out gallery showings in New York and Los Angeles, all of which were fueled by the sharing and likings of her posts. This practice of acquiring and maintaining social currency has become a prominent theme in Yuyi’s work.
In this current state of cyber-reliance, the Internet has become a crucial tool for vindicating our individuality. A single post, “thumbs up”, or like, marks your contribution to the World Wide Web and can even imply an opinion without actually saying anything. Apps are constantly being updated to “de-bug” any hiccups, and come equipped with new features. With these developments occurring more often, Yuyi has been able to capitalize on the semiotics of these digitalized social cues and use them to her artistic advantage. Born and raised in Taipei and now residing in New York, where there is a continuous and rapid change in diverse cultures, Yuyi is disclosed to a multitude of opportunities for collaboration. In her “Face Post” project, she explores the relationship of our physical and technological realities by tattooing posts, symbols, tags, and counts of the subject’s Internet persona onto their body. These images become the personification and the exposition of our unending affinity for social media. Her success in this project gained her international acclaim, and she became one of Gucci’s viral artists for their 2017 campaign, #TFWGucci.
Yuyi has also gained exposure to the tools to make whatever she wants, when she wants, and deliver her work onto whichever platform she wants – instantaneously. Without being limited to subject matter, Yuyi is a multi-disciplinary artist. From fashion design, graphic design, photography, performance art, and sculpture art, she has found harmony in using the same tools that create her subject, to project her work out to an audience.
Where are you from? What was it like growing up?
J I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. It’s a small place. It’s safe. It’s friendly. it’s a cute place. The gap between rich and poor is not so big, everyone is quite educated. It’s developed, but our income is not as high as Hong Kong, Japan or Korea. Also our culture is a little bit of a mix and match of Chinese and Japanese because of the history and geographic. I think it’s good to grow up and get an education there, but you’ve got to have an international mindset by yourself. Also, the working environment for young graduates is bad because the economy is not as good as it was before, so our salary is not enough to get a better life.
What was the first art piece you remember making?
J After I interned in New York in 2013, I went back to Taiwan and started to do small clay installations to ease my anxiety.
How has moving to New York helped in advancing your work as an artist?
J I think New York is a really an amazing city for opportunities. The first time I got here I felt this city is just like what I saw in the movie, what I read from the magazine, what I heard from the songs. It is magical. I got to do so many interesting works and collaborations here. But also Instagram and the Internet also helped a lot! Also mentally, I feel more free and comfortable being myself here, cause no one will judge me for being an artist or for doing what I am doing. And if people see you here, the world see you.
John, do you ever get misconceived as a male artist? Can you please explain how you came generated your name from your original?
J Oh yes, more than I expected. I was thinking that because my Instagram is filled with my faces, people wont be confused. But I find that when people reach out to me they use “Mr.”, or even when
I send my photos over they will still ask for portrait pic. Hahhaha. I’m thinking that maybe “I” am the girlfriend of “John Yuyi”, and they might think “why does John take her pic so often. she even isnt that pretty.” Hahaha My last name is Chiang (this means river and pronunciation is “Jiang”), and we put the last name first. People called me little Jiang or John John in university and I wanted to open a new Facebook account not using my real name, then after that, I don’t know why, but I just started to use it a lot.
N&W Can you describe your relationship with fashion?
J I majored in Fashion Design in university and I always thought that I am going to be a fashion designer, but after studied in school, I knew that I am not talented enough, I’m not passionate enough and also the market is not big enough for me to become a fashion designer in Taiwan. So I started to think I wanna be an editor and stylist in magazine…
and then all of these unexpected accidents happened in my life. I became an artist. I really tried to keep working in the fashion field while doing what I’m doing right now. I tried to combined both. I do feel really lucky to work with the magazine and brand that I never thought I’d be able to work with when I was in university.
N&W Social media can be impulsive and instantaneous. Because you utilize these platforms as a gallery space for your work, do you like to curate what you post? Or, do you post whatever you want, when you want?
J Yes, most of the time I curate the posts, but sometimes I would feel this is not what I want! I used to post on Instagram like my diary of all my selfies. Just like how all the other girls post selfies and #ootd. So sometimes I will give myself a break and just post something I wanna post.
N&W In a previous interview, you mentioned you liked creating for fun, and not looking for a deeper meaning. Did you expect that your artwork would resonate with so many people?
J I didn’t, I’m shocked and flattered. Sometimes people are saying I’m so inspiring. I still think, “what did I do?”, because I still feel lost and I still feel like I’m working hard to get to the place I want. I still feel that I have to work harder. I’m really thankful for all the feedback no matter good or bad. I cherish it. It pushes me to grow.
N&W How did you stumble upon the tattoo medium?
J Back in school, there was an art supply store where you could buy something to make temporary tattoos. I started selling “temporary tattoo anonymous” on the Internet after I graduated from university. That’s how it started.
N&W How painful is it to remove these tattoos?
J It’s not…I think depends on people, but it’s just feels like removing your blackhead!
N&W In your work you often utilize your own body as a canvas, does this help in liberating yourself from your anxieties?
J Yes, I feel like if I keep doing this, it will ease my anxiety. I feel anxious if I’m lazy..and my sleeping time is very abnormal. So a lot of time, I just do things whenever I want. Maybe even in the middle of night. So I find myself as my best partner to work without any time or location limitation.
N&W How did Gucci find you? Did they simply send you a DM?
J They just simply mailed me.
N&W Are you currently working on anything new? What can we expect from John Yuyi?
J I’m trying to get myself together and tried to think of what should I do next year (2018). I need to improve.
*Transcript edited only for length and clarity. We, as a publication, are accepting of diversity. We encourage the artist to speak freely and honour the artist’s background, intent, and creative ability.