NC Qin brings us 'Persistence'
23rd May 2017
Introduction by Laura La Rosa
Images by Felix Esteban
Growing up, Nancy Yu’s parents had hoped she would become a doctor or a lawyer. Instead she carved her own journey having known she wanted to be an artist since her high school days.
Going by her professional name NC Qin, Yu is a Sydney-based artist on a quest to better understand herself and the world around her by pushing her craft into the unknown. Having studied Fine Art in Beijing and then a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts, Yu has been regularly exhibiting since 2010 and most recently working with glass as a medium.
Her latest project Persistence is a truly exquisite showcasing of femininity, thoughtfulness, and strength, as well as everything that embodies its title. Showing at 541 Art Space until Saturday 27th May as part of Love Letter: Be With You, we were thrilled to have caught up with the artist to talk about her work and how Persistence came to fruition.
Tell us about Persistence.
Persistence features a series of glass ballet shoes on pointe with blood trickling up the sides as an exploration of persistent strength of character. I’ve always seen ballet dancers as warriors, which I guess could be strange to think about at first but it’s more to do with their stoic attitude to physical pain and their transformation of the mental limits into seemingly effortless grace. It’s also about the unseen struggle of the dancer who keeps silent about her pain to the audience. Ballet for me is an intensely feminine but strong type of art, it shows the mettle of feminine endurance.
Where does your interest in ballet dancers stem from? Have you danced yourself?
I wish I could say that I’ve danced extensively but other than my brief experience with ballet in childhood most of my passion comes from the perspective as an audience. The beautiful thing about ballet is the exchange of energy and emotion; it’s something you can feel whether you are onstage with the lights, in character with the other dancers, or in the seats watching as a spectator.
I’ve had a few ballet dancers tell me it’s like performing in slow motion when they’re in front of an audience while everything around them is operating at triple speed. As an audience member watching with bated breath, especially at the technically hard parts, I’m unconsciously praying that they’ll pull it off – and they do!
It’s amazing to watch how effortless they move while knowing that sweat is literally running in rivulets. No performance can ever be repeated.
Your work is beautiful… what is your background as an artist?
Thank you for saying so! I’d like to think everyone’s art is unique when it comes from the heart. Having grown up with the Martha Graham quote, “You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.” It’s a quote that really resonated with me at a pivotal point of puberty, when a lot of people were trying to search for their identity. In a way it made me believe in my vision and follow my ambitions, helping to become who I am at this point in time.
Can you tell us a time about when you’ve had to endure great strength in your life, and is this something that’s come up for you throughout these works?
Maybe it’s a bit morbid of me to say this, but I’ve always held a very war-like view when it comes to art, which is probably why Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art resonated so deeply with me. I’ve always felt like I’ve had to fight everything including outside economical and social influence and even resistance within myself to get any work done.
There’s also a particular brand of despair when you’re just beginning out experimenting with your technique and it fails in a spectacular and expensive way. And after that there is the fear of putting your work out there for people to judge, because what you’ve created is an embodiment of everything that is personal and everything you’ve worked for. It’s being evaluated and you feel vulnerable.
There’s also a particular brand of despair when you’re just beginning out experimenting with your technique and it fails in a spectacular and expensive way.
For me, Persistence has taught me how to get through each of these steps over and over again. Whether it is panicking alone in the middle of the night in front an aftermath of a kiln disaster, or grinding through the process and polishing my work up to a semblance of what was envisioned.
What’s it like working with glass?
I was introduced to the glass world in my second year of studying my BVA at SCA, I had always wanted to get my hands on it before then, but that was when I was truly able to experiment with glass. Though it wasn’t until I graduated last year when started finessing my knowledge with the craft under the watchful eye of my mentor, Kate Baker, who is a phenomenal glass artist herself.
When you’re an artist who works with a certain type of medium you develop a psychological bond with it. Many artists describe their choice as a calling from the medium, or an addiction. But I also see it as a reflection of the qualities within themselves. My choice of glass exists in its indomitable and wild nature, especially during its casting stages, but also in its sensitivity and transparency. When it’s hot it runs like honey, choosing its own path while you can only influence it subtly. When it’s cold it’s fragile, but beautiful, and it takes careful attention to polish it properly. Every part of the process hones patience.
Is there something metaphorical about working with glass which is translucent? Where as, the dancer’s struggle isn’t necessarily visible to the audience?
Yes, there is very much this idea of seeing but not seeing clearly that makes the velvety touch of translucent glass so magical. The slippers represent the prestige of being on stage, in the spotlight, in front of the audience. The slippers also represent what shields the audience from seeing what it took to get there. In a way, my shoes are trying to represent what is missing rather than what is there.
What sort of parallels do you see between the process of being an artist and the dancer’s performance, if any?
I see a lot of parallels between my art practice as an artist who specialises in glass casting and a dancer’s practice before stepping on stage. It’s in the hours of practice that’s put in, the persistent strength of character that needs to be honed, and the transformation of mental limits into beauty – into art.
For ballet, a professional ballerina can go through 100-120 pairs of pointe shoes per season. They literally dance from sunrise to sunset to create a performance that can take us to another world. In cast glass, we too go through a lot of positive and negative moulds before we reach that final glass product. It takes no less than three weeks to make one glass ballet slipper and even then there is no guarantee that it’ll turn out right. But the whole process is exciting as well as hard work.
I also see parallels in the collaborative effort to make an exhibition or performance happen. Whether it is sculptures or dancing, it can never be just a one person show. There’s a part for everyone to play to make it successful. It’s in the artists, the curators, the dancers, the choreographers, the space, the stage, the audience, the spectators… Each of these components are interdependent and the absence of one would be felt among the rest.
The exhibition has just begun, what sort of response have you had to the works so far?
It’s been a really positive response so far. I love meeting my audience and getting to know how they feel about my art. I’ve met some people who have danced ballet in the past and immediately related to the energy and the hardship of the art. I’ve also had people who have never really been interested in ballet come to see the art in a new way. I think it’s because the theme of struggle is universal. We’re all trying to get through to someone with our efforts and no matter what field we’re in, they all require patience and persistence.
What’s next for you with your work/life?
I do have a new project in the horizon that I’m very excited about. Right now it’s tentatively titled Glass Armours, and its theme will be on pride and potential.
All my projects have a chronological story that links them together which makes it very easy for me to transition from one project to the next, because it does feel like I am working on the same project all this time. My works are themed around overcoming mental obstacles and Glass Armours is no different.
Each project I undertake explores a certain aspect of what I feel lacking or something that I need to improve within myself. So they help me explore the subject and see them from a different perspective and hopefully make me grow a little more patient and understanding at the completion of each one.
This is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. I’ll be looking more deeply into ancient warrior culture and mythology, and the psychology behind conflict. I’ll be making sets of full body, wearable armour in glass and hopefully (fingers tightly crossed) be able to tour it around Australia or maybe even internationally!
My blessing or curse is that I'm never running out of ideas – only time.
Exhibiting as part of Love Letter: Be With You
541 Art Space
Level 1, 541 Kent Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Continuing to 27th May