Interview on February 26th at her studio in Huantie, Beijing
L: How long have you been creating art? Is this something you’ve studied?
YZ: No, actually. I started doing this in late 2013. It was the first project that I did after I graduated from the UK. In the beginning, I just did some body-casts and showed them at HomeShop, at that time that was an organisation in the hutong with artists and they'd have festivals or exhibitions. That was the first time I showed it to everybody and later, I was involved in other exhibitions and events. Officially, I started working on this full-time in 2014, one year later.
KL: What lead you to doing body casts?
YZ: The reason was that I studied industrial design. That’s more like doing products and lots of model making and I was particularly interested in materials, the process and trying new stuff so that’s why one day I tried a little cast on myself and thought, that’s cool. I didn’t let it go. I didn't know what I could do with it. After that, since I got back to China I thought, I have nothing to do so let’s continue the project.
KL: I can see a lot of hands. Are hands something that you like to focus on?
YZ: I think the hands have many combinations as body parts. For example, the ears and nose are just what they look like but for hands, you can have different gestures, different meanings. You can hold each other or have a single hand in different positions. I think that’s the reason why there are lots of hands here and they are all different.
KL: Do you think that hands do show a person’s personality?
YZ: Yeah, I believe that. That’s the interesting thing, people’s bodies are constantly changing every day but they do really notice. If you compare a young person’s hands with an old lady’s they are totally different so that is the time aspect. The time is reflecting on your hands. Also, there is a Chinese story saying in the old time, rich families daughters don't do hard work so their hands are really soft, very clean, but for the women in the countryside, they work on the farm, they have to take care of the children and also their livestock so their hands have lots of wrinkles and callouses. I do believe that.
KL: Is that something that you want to reflect in your art, the divide between wealth and poverty, leisure and hard work?
YZ: That's an old concept. We do believe this exists but in the modern times, everybody works at their computers. Maybe, just young and old and the passing of time. How you can see this aspect. One of my first customers actually told me a story that he wants to shake the hand of himself in twenty years. So he cast his hand right now in a holding gesture and he said, later I will let older me meet my younger self. This is meaningful and really poetic.
KL: You do other body parts as well, there is a piece here with somebody grabbing their belly. What are you trying to say with that?
YZ: Recently, I have been doing some larger scale casts because a woman asked me to do a cast of her pregnancy. This piece you see right now is actually a testing model. I want to test on myself to see whether it’s alright or what type of things I need to pay attention to. I did myself squeezing my belly because people think if you are chubby you can play with your belly. I think that’s an internet thing at the moment and I think it’s funny so I did it and it looks funny. Recently, we’ve had patients getting their face cast. They are usually couples and one couple looks very similar in their face. My mum couldn’t tell they were a couple. When they came she said, is that her sister? And I said, no, that’s her husband. So they decided to make two faces so they could take it out and see how similar they are. Many of their friends tell them they look like twins.
KL: That’s a strange kind of narcissism, falling in love with yourself.
YZ: I know. Exactly! I ask all of my patients to write a story why they want to do the cast and they wrote that if you like yourself you should marry a person that looks like you. That’s something really unusual that it would be hard to find elsewhere.
KL: It seems like a lot of people are commissioning these unique portraits. Are some of your works for exhibition? Do you try and put series together or is it mainly commission-based work?
YZ: I think we have quite a base of patients, about 260 right now, so it depends on different exhibitions and different themes. Like, last Valentine's Day we came up with a book with the theme of love. I selected the stories about love. Not only the love between couples but also, love between mum and daughter or unreachable love, people who didn't get their boyfriend or girlfriend. People who failed but still love them.
KL: How did you reflect unrequited love in your portraiture?
YZ: They usually write the story so when people see the hands they can read the story, too. I think they can relate them. We did a series called BodyMemory: STORIES last year in New York so we also asked people to donate their stories to us. To write us a message and give it to us or leave it on our WeChat account. When we do an exhibition we have a whole wall full of medical cases so everybody can participate. They can write their story and people can read about it. I think it’s half/half. People come to me to do a commission but during the process we talk and they tell me more about the story behind and I can be inspired. From my patients, I might get other stories or I can get more information and try to analyse it or get it together into a series.
KL: Have you ever considered doing a Cynthia Plaster Caster tribute in any way?
YZ: Somebody told me about her. They had a portable suitcase and they’d just knock on the door [of musician’s hotel rooms].
KL: Do you think you would ever do something so daring?
YZ: You mean making casts of penises?
YZ: We had a hate series. Last Valentine's Day, somebody gave us a story asking, why on Valentine's Day does everybody give something to the people they love? Why not the people they hate? Do they deserve a piece of your hate? So he donated a dick cast. In America, there is slang "dickhead." It cannot translate in Chinese that well because you're commenting on your friends. You don't hate this person you just think he is annoying or bad. So we just cast the little bit on the top of the penis, the dick head, and turned it into a little sculpture so people can send it to the people they don't like.
KL: Were there any takers?
YZ: Yeah. Surprisingly, we also made some chocolates because it was Valentine’s Day and the chocolates sold pretty good. In another aspect, this could be a loving gift in the LGBT community. Gay friends probably laugh at it but it's also a talking point.
KL: In China, the government frowns upon anything pornographic or overtly sexual in any way. Was that a problem or is that something you worry about?
YZ: We do have some concerns about that. I don't want to be blocked by the government just because they think it’s pornography so I didn't release the hate series here. But, if somebody knows me on WeChat and they know what I’m doing and they really want that, they can still get it. It’s not publicly bought, it is more of a secret thing.
KL: Do you see yourself always continuing to collect narratives so you will have this life’s work of stories connected to some physical presence?
YZ: Yeah, I think I’ll do it until the day that I can’t do it. Maybe if some big changes happened in my life I would stop but so far I don’t think there is any problem with carrying this on. Also, we charge a fee for making casts so it’s also the income for my studio. It’s a healthy relationship. The customer/patient is happy to get a special gift and I’m doing what I like and they also really appreciate this project. That makes me enjoy doing it. I’ve recently received lots of messages from Weibo and WeChat saying, I just really like your project. I can really see the young people appreciate something different. Weird or special, they get the point. Ten years ago there might not have been much allowance or space for this type of project but right now with so many buyer shops opening, the trend of design, so many independent brands. People have different tastes and the market is getting more and more specified. I think that's a good sign for designers to find their position and their passion for what they like and what they really want to do. I feel that they do a few years and by the third year, they feel like it is kind of hopeless. I think that is just because they haven't connected with their group. I've always believed that everything has its own audience but it's about how you find your audience. How you use your brand or personal influence as a magnet for those people.
KL: Are your aspirations more commercial or artistic?
YZ: I’m still a product designer so I think I still consider the commercial side rather than the artistic but I still have an artistic side.
[At this point Li Zhou’s friend Eric interrupts to remind her of all the impressive gallery shows she has done in the US – see list at end of article]
KL: That’s impressive.
YZ: Let’s put it this way: I’m probably the most business-minded artist and the most artistic-minded person in business. It overlays because, I don't want to separate them, but, I do have an idea of how to sell these things and how to sell them at exhibitions as an art project. There are two parts to this project.
KL: How much do you guide your patients into the gestures or choices they make about body parts?
YZ: I think I usually ask them why they want to do it. They usually have some ideas. Whether it is a gift for themselves or a gift for a person they like. According to that, they will think about what their relationship is to that person. Otherwise, I will ask them if they have had any special experiences with your body parts. Maybe you cut your finger when you were little and it really hurt but later it was fine. Usually, it's really story-based.
KL: Do you find that the nature of your project makes it important that you have a very good rapport with your patients?
YZ: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s a really important part of our project. I would say the experience has equal weight to the result. So that’s why we build a whole narrative around this project otherwise it would become just some typical whatever project. That’s why I set up the doctor’s things and when I wear the doctor’s suit I feel like I am acting. I’m in the doctor mode. It’s a switch.
KL: So, it’s almost performance art in one way, too?
YZ: Well, kind of but it’s maybe not going that deep. This helps the customers come in. When they walk in and see a doctor’s office with all the decorations and they will put themselves in the role. When I ask them, what’s wrong with you today? He will understand he is a patient now. It is a whole process just like making an appointment, seeing a doctor. It all helps them understand the process rather than just going shopping.
Born and raised in Beijing, Yi Zhou is an artist and
independent designer. She received her MA in
Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins College of
Art and Design and moved back to her hometown.
Her work has covered a broad range including art,
design and fashion. Most of Yi’s projects are drawn
from daily life, focusing primarily on the interrelation
between human relations and behavior. She takes
inspiration from social issues through observation
and categorization, transferring those insights and
analysis into playful artistic manifestations.
’BodyMemory’ has been exhibited at ‘Get It Louder’
2014 in Sanlitun the Orange Hall. At the same time,
she spoke at a lecture <Pet Project: Start from
Amateurism> at UCCA as part of this exhibition.
BodyMemory has been featured in several leading
press outlets such as Timeout Beijing, Cool Hunting,
Crane.tv and Huffington Post. It is also a regular
project at Beijing Design Week since 2014.
BodyMemory Mobile Clinic 2014-2015
Sunday Market Slurp! , Mar. 2015
Aotu Studio, Dec. 2014
Ying Space, Nov. 2014
Loop Shanghai, Nov. 2014
DDC The Dusk Dawn Club, Nov. 2014
MUYE Art Studio Nov. 2014
BNC Brand New China Oct. 2014
Dashilar, Beijing Design Week, Oct. 2014
Get It Louder Sep. 2014
Living Room coffee, Beijing Design Week, Sep. 2015
Zo-ee Select, HongKong art center, Hong Kong, Sep. 2015
Story Teller Showroom, Shanghai, Sep. 2015
West Bund Art and Design Fair, Shanghai, Sep. 2015
PIN sstudio, Kaohsiung, Aug. 2015
Good Institute Store, Taipei, Aug. 2015
Maaaaaket, Beijing, Jul. 2015
Monster Shop, Beijing, Jun. 2015
Baishan Living Room, Apr. 2015
Small Cast: 540 / RMB
1:1 Scale White Resin Material
Finger necklace, ear pin, mouth pin, nose pin, tongue necklace, etc.
Single Hand Statue 1000 / RMB
Two Hands Statue 1500 / RMB
Face Statue 1500 / RMB
Bump and one hands: 3000 / RMB
Bump and two hands: 3500 / RMB
Single Baby Hand/Foot: 800 / RMB
Two Hand/Feet: 1500 / RMB
Start from 600 / RMB*
Price may be different from breed and age
Mini series: Above prince + 1500-2000 / RMB
Everything above can be made into a 18k gold plated brass jewelry.