Chen Yun’s Mysterious Multipanel Paintings Enter the Realm Between Dream and Memory

Chen Yun’s recent works offer fertile soil for an active imagination. Her diptychs and triptychs portray not one scene but, in most cases, a series of interconnected moments that rely heavily on their elaborate titles. The act of naming her beautiful but mildly disturbing artwork is “like describing something that combines dreams and reality,” the Chinese artist has said.

Take Whispers in the dust. Crooning amongst the morning dew. (2015). On the left, we see a woman, her head and upper body viewed from behind; in the center panel, plants rise up past the sunrise or sunset against a dark, mysterious landscape; and on the right, a woman’s hand, elegant but disembodied, is strangely positioned as if it were reaching for something.

These motifs—the woman, the plant, the single hand, the bleak landscape—were repeated throughout “Whispering of the Hours,” a recent solo exhibition of Yun’s work at Yiri Arts in Taiwan.

There’s a subtle abstraction to many of Yun’s figures and scenes, a quality that makes it easy to project personal narratives onto her work. The woman’s head in Whispers in the dust could belong to someone you know; the hand could strike a familiar chord; the sunrise could summon long-forgotten dreams.

Fittingly, Yun describes herself as a frequent and vivid dreamer. In a recent interview, she recalled a dream in which her father took her to a coastal highway at night: “The road was significantly higher than sea level,” she recalled, “and as you gazed down, the sky was a deep, dark purple, while the ocean was pitch black. The surface gradually filled with abnormally large sea creatures—dolphins, sharks, octopus, whales, and large sea turtles—too much for the ocean to handle, and they all crowded and struggled with one another, creating a noisy ruckus.”

Those deep, dark purples and pitch blacks slip into her enigmatic work. Likewise, depending on the viewer, the lush yet spare paintings may expose a raw, emotional ruckus. “What the viewer interprets,” Yun has said, “is something created by the relationship between the paintings and their own memories.”


—Bridget Gleeson


Chen Yun: Whispering of the Hours” was on view at Yiri Arts, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, Jun. 24–26, 2016.

Follow Yiri Arts on Artsy.

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