• Campeche presents Yerba Mala, a solo exhibition of new work by Mexico City-based artist Yeni Mao, opening February 8th. Featuring...

    Yerba Mala, installation view, Campeche, Mexico City. Photo: Ramiro Chaves

    Campeche presents Yerba Mala, a solo exhibition of new work by Mexico City-based artist Yeni Mao, opening February 8th. Featuring a room-sized installation—comprised of individual ceramics, electro-plated volcanic rocks, and a pyramid-like structure—flanked by mixed media sculptures, the artist responds to cultural elements that surround him in his adopted home city through the lens of his own transnational family history.

     

    Central to the presentation is a pyramidal structure, a five-piece installation looming between sacred structures, architectural modernism, and futuristic aesthetics. Each plinth is made of steel, a material commonly used by Mao for its structural and historical properties—and ultimately a nod to the gallery’s floor—and are articulated with sculptures made of clay, electro-plated volcanic rock, leather, and chains, among other found materials. As a whole, the archipelago-like structure is a living yet fragmented body, pieced together by its different organs and its own internal systems; and references the different subcultures that, brought together, create a whole ethnological entity. 

     

     

  • Surrounding the installation is a series of sculptures that explore the relatioship our bodies have with territory, architecture and each...

     

    Surrounding the installation is a series of sculptures that explore the relatioship our bodies have with territory, architecture and each other. In to lay in the great city (2022), the artist utilizes a chain—an industrial and hard material—which clashes with the soft, tender vulnerability of leather. Similarly, ​​the many parts that make up blossom (2021) hint to body and flesh, which embraces the architecture of the space it lives in. 

     

    Speaking of alchemy as an exploration within his work, Mao shares:  “I am dealing with this line between the most primal of materials, and how that primacy can transform itself into an object of significance, an altered condition”.

     

    Autobiographical in nature, many of the symbols within the exhibition stem from Mao’s personal history and heritage. His work speaks about free vs. restrained sexuality—his and culturally speaking—most often represented through materials that attest to queer culture and fetishism, such as leather and studs; and which emanate from the complexity of patriarchal lineage. For example, the snake motif references some of the oral history passed on by his mother, but also appears recurrently in history throughout multiple cultures, whose representation symbolizes sin, rebirth and sex.  

     

    Most of the answers that the viewer may have, however, remain unresolved as the artist not only accepts, but actively invites, the viewer to complete a fragmented narrative through their own visceral and lived experiences in an act of recognition.

     

  • Text by Amy Sadao Text by Amy Sadao

     

    Is it the pandemic or my age? More often than not these days I’m attuned to art troubled by what Avery Gordon names, ghostly matters. Today, the artist speaks with reverence of The Menil Collection. The rarity of contemporary art unapologetically keeping company with totemic relics from grand, non-Western traditions. Power objects of the colonized. A resonance found in the work at hand.

     

    Yeni Mao’s work hurtled from the future into Campeche for a winter moon cycle. Undoubtedly, it survived a flaming journey through the atmosphere landing softly, if solidly, before our eyes. Obviously, the works were blown up from the earth’s molten core, transmitted through volcanic processes of electroplating. Clearly, it’s 4AM and the dancefloor empty but for one backlit dancer psychically holding these very objects in a mesmerizing, internal loop of drumbeat and dream.

     

    In the studio, the sculptures popped up like seals where the swells break, in and around Mao’s recent themes: the fragmented body, the loss of migration, an alchemical relationship to materials, intersections into the built environment, and the way ancestral stories are misremembered.

  • Labyrinthian, nested against I desire the strength of nine tigers (May 2021), this is sculpture as distillation. Built like a...

    Labyrinthian, nested against I desire the strength of nine tigers (May 2021), this is sculpture as distillation. Built like a temple more ziggurat than pyramid, this one invites viewing from above and below. While at the room’s edge another has infected the architecture’s support. A zodiac, a refracted menagerie. Animal, animacy, mythological circuity. Heavenly chain blossoms restraints.

     

    Forms as tightly packed impressions (organs and sex, rooster head, lion/foo dog claws, knotted serpent) sequenced between intervals like stutters, like our ever shifting attention. Layers of recovery, "nothing in that drawer, nothing in that drawer, nothing in that drawer"* . What is an origin story anyway? Is Mao’s mother explaining the dislocation of a Chinese girlhood spent in Malaysia? Or is she simply afraid of snakes?

      

    What if the Abstract Expressionists were onto something? What if I am or you are experiencing, somatically, lacking all rational explanation, what Mao sent into the art? What if we are energetically receiving the spirit he called up in forming these works? With his hands, his touch, he imbued these fetishes with revelations that are released under the energy of the eye. It feels so.

     

     

    * Ron Padgett, “Nothing in that drawer,” in Great Balls of Fire (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1990)

  • fig 33.1-5 yerba mala, 2021 Blackened and painted steel, glazed ceramic, cochineal on ceramic, gold and nickel-plated volcanic rock, brass,...

    fig 33.1-5 yerba mala,  2021

    Blackened and painted steel, glazed ceramic, cochineal on ceramic, gold and nickel-plated volcanic rock, brass, leather, horse hide, aluminum, chain, hardware

    48 x 148 3/8 x 80 in

    121.9 x 376.8 x 203.2 cm

  • About Yeni Mao

    About Yeni Mao

    Yeni Mao (b. 1971, CAN) was born in Guelph, Canada. He received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and subsequently trained in foundry work in California, and the architectural industries of New York. In 2016 Mao relocated to Mexico City.

     

    Recebt exhibitions include I desire the strength of nine tigers at Fierman Gallery in New York, and vol. 2: cabal, an installation of ceramic-based sculptures at PAOS in Guadalajara, Mexico. Among other group exhibitions he has participated in Otrxs Mundxs at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, Transnational at Proxyco and The Waste Land at Nicelle Beauchene in New York; and The IX Bienal De Artes Visuales Nicaraguenses in Nicaragua. Mao is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant 2021, and has been awarded residencies including Casa Wabi in Mexico, The Lijiang Studio and Red Gate Gallery in China, The Fountainhead Residency in Miami, OAZO-AIR in Amsterdam, and Flash Atöyle in Turkey.