Rae-Yen Song is an artist creating work around cultural identity, expanding on semi-autobiographical experiences with Asian and Western culture. Rae Yen’s practice is particularly interested in the historical and contemporary links to ceremonial traditions, ritual actions and attitudes which informs the work she creates. Working largely from first-hand research around cultural identity, the artist’s work explores the “collective energy, movement and emotion” that occurs during ritualistic ceremonies. The work often has site-specific intentions and performative elements in a multi-disciplinary effort to communicate alternative perspectives on social realities.
Through the creation of the cross-cultural idolatries, Rae-Yen creates her own cultural language that positively occupies the gap between her Scottish and Chinese identity. Rather then expressing “an emptiness or an absence”, the artist attempts to speak more broadly about the politically-charged themes of race, culture and the act of belonging.
An example of this is_Happy Happy Leaf_ is a kinetic sculptural installation in the form of an obscure being that is suspended while slowly rotating and dripping. The unspecified idol is informed by ritualistic actions like the drinking of tea in Asian cultures which symbolises good health and respect. The sculpture is the first object in a series of a larger array of objects that will celebrate the collectivity of music and dance. The sculpture is surreal and reflects her intuitive making process that “typically involves characters or forms in an illogical situation that broadens ideas around cultural identity.”
Another project Song Dynasty, is a collaboration with Rae-Yen’s immediate family documenting an alternative series of family portraits. The inter-disciplinary artwork documents a family outing wearing costumes and props made by the artist in the figure of a lion. “The costume references both the traditional Chinese lion dance as well as the lion rampant of Scotland — an unclassified beast which speaks of a foreign culture that is absurdly alien and simultaneously uncannily familiar”. In an exhibition environment, the costume becomes an artefact of an “abstruse event”. Artefacts can seem sterile in a white cube, they become a token of a distant culture with a small plaque captioning the strange significance of the object to whatever culture it comes from. Rae-Yen subverts this voyeuristic lens of her artefacts through site-specific performances. Her family went out in the costumes in their locality of Glasgow, providing another dimension to the cultural work which plays with “formulations of truth” and the objectivity of cultures seen through a Western gaze considered to be “other”.
In the performance, the Song’s wear identical costumes and silently process with a “deity-sedan-chair” — made by Rae-Yen — from Glasgow’s East End to the Laurieston arches. The procession marks the awkward aesthetic clash between Western and South Eastern heritage. Referencing Asian and Scottish mythology, the work hints to the prominent concept of an “alien foreign culture” which seems imposing and strange amongst the Glasgow red-brick tenements but is in fact, disturbingly familiar; highlighting the randomness and incongruity that makes up our cultural identities.
Rae-Yen continues to develop her work into larger-scale installations. “I get carried away with wanting my work to be, and do, everything. To smoke, drip, sing, smell etc. It can get quite ridiculous”, she tells It’s Nice That. “I’m still learning to step back and strip the work of its unnecessary paraphernalia that can deter from the original idea”. The artist adds, “that’s why I started making costumes and props, I want to make things to exist in some way that expands on the imagined cultural terrain that I am shaping and performance and video lends itself well to that”.
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