Two fingers make a line – Chang Yuchen

Assembly Room
New York, NY, US
February 1-23, 2019
Curated by Jane Cavalier and Nicole Kaack

From meticulous pencil drawings to loosely woven curls of fabric and drifts of silk, Chang Yuchen takes lines and transforms them across media and space. Bringing together the graphic and textile arts, Chang’s practice pursues resonances between the shifting contexts in which to understand a line as an edge, a thread, or a mark unto itself.

Chang’s conception of drawing emerges from the Chistyakov system which has been the declared pedagogical methodology of the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Art since the early 1950s. Drawing on an educational doctrine originally established in the 19th Century by Petrovich Chistyakov in Russia, the system fractures subjects into tonal shifts across correlated planes. Its institutionalization in China marked a turn towards the style of socialist realism, and away from the Chan Buddhism-influenced Literati painting that had been practiced since the Ming Dynasty.

It was under the Chistyakov system that Chang’s father was educated, and the artist herself in turn. “There’s no line in the real world, my father used to teach me. ‘This line is created by two fingers.’” Responding to the influence of this notably Soviet style of socialist realism, Chang purposefully sidesteps its conventions, instead playing on its representational impulse by materializing line as installations of fabric or yarn. Chang’s drawings erode the space between flat planes and dimensional world, sketching across bodies and textures, applying high realism in excerpts and amalgamated forms that turn abstract. Chang also turns graphic
representation on its head when she uses detailed cross-hatching to render parts, instead of whole forms. Her etching, Eyebrow, 2015, becomes a crawling, unfamiliar streak when isolated from the contours of a face; similarly, Day 5, 2017, and Day 6, 2017, collect shadows removed from their dimensional counterparts. Her textile and threaded works are a further stage, extracting lines from the surface until they become like stretch marks: the meandering weft of Weave No. 5, 2018, the vertical lines of its warp, which come together and fall apart to create darker and lighter tones.

In this encounter between Chang’s drawn and sculptural forms, Assembly Room becomes a surface that may hold lines, be they graphite or ink on paper, textile spreads, or bare coils of woven fiber. Through a focused investigation of the role of drawing in her practice, this body of work aims to challenge assumptions about the utility of line within or apart from an image. Carving into the spaces and behaviors of the everyday, Chang creates lines which reflect upon and expand the system of drawing in which she was trained as a site of political, social, and generational exchange.