Artist Interview: Yo-Yo Lin
Meet the Eyebeam Access Residents
Yo-Yo Lin in conversation with open call jury member Diya Vij
Learn more about the Open Call: Access.
Yo-Yo Lin is a media artist who creates audiovisual installation experiences and explores the possibilities of human connection in the context of emerging technologies. While at Eyebeam, Yo-Yo will be researching and developing methodologies in reclaiming and processing chronic health trauma. She aims to develop a digital and physical platform that serve as an ongoing documentation and artistic evaluation of active survivors of chronic illnesses. Her work has been featured in the HuffingtonPost, Indiewire, and Surface Magazine. She spoke with Diya Vij, Co-director of Public Artists in Residence at the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.
Diya Vij: What is the project that you proposed for Eyebeam?
Yo-Yo Lin: This project stems from a very personal place. I was diagnosed with a syndrome that I was super suspicious of already having, but then being diagnosed made it a real thing. It’s a disorder that affects connective tissue—so I have scoliosis and I have potential heart problems and just a multitude of different things because literally everything is made of connective tissue.
YL: So, understanding that, I began reassessing why I’m doing what I’m doing. And it developed into this project, which is all about exploring the relationship of self with illness and where self ends and this begins, or if they’re constantly intertwined. It’s different for everyone, because there’s so many different types of chronic illnesses. Just like a constant living existence of different types of conditions, and how that affects a person psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Taking that idea of self identity and illness, and exploring all the grey area in between that, using different artistic tools. So I haven’t started this project yet, but I’ve been figuring out how I would go about doing it.
DV: Of course.
YL: It will be [made up of] very personal relationships I will build with different people who want to share their story and share their experiences with illness, and develop a multi-platform journal that includes photography, writing, poetry, and different types of experiential-based events surrounding their topic of illness. The goal is to take all this information and understand it ourselves, and also have the opportunity to talk about it in a way that isn’t, you know, from a place of shame or from the place of needing help. But, as a way of sharing and group solidarity.
DV: Building that community, it sounds really social. [Illness] is something that can be isolating.
YL: Yeah, it’s incredibly isolating. There are lonely paths people take with their illness that I don’t necessarily think needs to be the norm. A lot of people tend to hide certain parts of themselves—anything that has to do with their illness. So, I think what’s going to be helpful, more so than the community, would be understanding people for themselves.
DV: And maybe some of the aspects of hiding or being isolated has to do with the way you can participate in labor, and the tools that are available to you to participate, and the ways that you can show up as yourself in different places physically. I’m really curious to know what these questions are that will be framing these experiences. What’s your process to get there? Who’s the audience?
YL: It’s probably going to stem from touching base with different types of support groups, and going from there. Talking to people, seeing who would be interested in doing an explorative, artistic therapy type of exploration of their experience. I have been talking to a few people, namely my friend Maria, who has congenital heart disease. She’s been in a community her whole life, in touch with who she is, what she wants to do, the community around her and how her health has affected how she perceives the world. There’s certain people within these communities like Maria who have a good rounding voice in advocating for their illness already. Amplifying their voices will be super interesting. Taking their experiences and distributing that information through the means of events and different types of artistic works would be all the more powerful.
DV: Like an advocacy tool.
DV: So what is the tech component? What do you normally work with?
YL: Normally, I work with a lot of motion based art. Animation, film, video, and I’ve been doing a lot of stuff that’s more installation-based. A lot of lighting, interactive objects, and building spaces for people to have meditation-based or discussion-based experiences. But for this project, I’m also seeing it from a biodata perspective. I hope with this residency I can have the time to explore that, taking biometric data from the different people I interact with or from data sets online. Understanding more from a visual, philosophical perspective of why and what we are looking at. From the heart rhythm of a person who has congenital heart disease to understanding there’s all of this data information that these people are constantly faced with every time they go to the doctor. Reinterpreting that and seeing what we can use that data for—maybe generating light or creating music. Even helping plants grow. Taking a more interpretive, poetic approach to understanding the rhythms and different numbers that make up their illness.
DV: Reading your own medical files is really hard to decipher. It’s like code and it’s abstract.
YL: A lot of people struggle understanding what their illness is, and the first person to tell them is their doctor. It’s always in abstract forms, numbers, and scientific terminology. Everything sounds scarier that way. You’re not just this section of a textbook, you’re living and breathing it everyday. How can we reinterpret that data to understand that better?
DV: Mhm, and it could be a beautiful sound.
YL: And it could be a beautiful sound! Yeah! There’s this jazz drummer that really inspired this project. His name is Milford Graves. He’s in the Bronx and he’s an amazing poly-rhythmic drummer. He started getting really into listening to different heartbeats, so he bought a heart-sensor machine and installed it in his house. He would invite people to his house and he would record their heart sounds. And there’s a quote that he said that was pretty much, “There are people who have abnormal heart conditions and yet they produce the most beautiful rhythms.” And I think that’s only an interpretation that an artist can make about a heartbeat abnormality. So reading that made me start crying. [Laughs] I had never even considered that as a possibility. And I think when you’re in that space, it’s really hard to see it in a light that is beautiful.
DV: And it’s whole, even though we call it abnormal, or it makes you feel bad, or you can’t get out of bed, or you’re dealing with some really real risks. It’s a whole way to look at something that’s supposed to be the problem, but it transforms into this beautiful whole thing.
YL: So that was the little tip of the iceberg that lunged into this project. I would love to talk to you and other people at Eyebeam more on how it can be an advocacy tool, because I never really had a social justice based art practice.
DV: There’s so many ways to think about what social justice looks like. Pleasure activism, transformative justice, rooted in moments of joy. There are ways to show a person’s full self, like what you’re talking about, or show an illness as a beautiful sound or light, which in itself is advocacy and justice.
YL: Yeah, definitely. I can only speak from my own experience and share that, and hope that people will either agree or don’t.
DV: Totally, so what else do you think Eyebeam can bring to this project?
YL: There are so many different experts and people who are working at the edge of their technology and their artform—I think it’s just going to be an inspiring place to be, but also an incredible resource to tap into.
DV: What did you think when you saw that theme?
YL: I was stunned for a while, to just understand all the different aspects of access. I think knowing that it could be about self-access, it could be something more contemplative and something more based in the search of self knowledge. Ultimately providing access to tools that one would have never had before would be the goal.