In 2023, Wenyi Pan was awarded £5,000 toward a studio space and support at Glasgow Sculpture Studios. This fellowship marks the latest of the wide-ranging residencies and bursaries that ACS is proud to offer in partnership with universities across the United Kingdom.
Read on to find out more about Pan's sculptural practice.
1. How would you define your work in three words?
Metaphorical, allegorical, restrained.
2. What medium do you mainly work with and why?
I mainly work with sculpture and installation. I enjoy blending the two media together as I often find the combination produces a multitude of unexpected possibilities.
In my current practice, I express and transform the relationship between collective memory and individual stories, seeking a new explanation and outlet for various societal dilemmas. My recent works are mainly concerned with the narratives of silenced female stories. Inside the constructed space of a sculptural installation, the viewer can naturally sense various objects, details and emotions physically.
I am also interested in the intriguing spark between sculptural installations and monuments. Monuments carry the nature of incubating collective memory and present themselves with solemnity; sculptural installations are ambiguous and exist with the possibility of carrying individuals’ emotions. Therefore, I have always wanted to explore the potential of sculpture to reflect on “what is a true memorial” in the narrative of stories, and how sculpture can respond to the muteness inside the monument and transcend it.
I use different materials in my works according to different themes. I do not have a particular favourite material or one I use regularly, but I am adept at using metal, stone, wood, ceramics, plaster, wax, etc., to create art. I also sometimes use materials I make myself, like paper made from reeds.
3. Where do you find the most inspiration for your work?
My inspiration comes from some individual stories of collective trauma. In these stories, I see the conflict between collective and individual memories, and thus see the scars that are hidden. I am often shocked or touched by these scars and believe they need to be transformed and recognized. I alienate these stories in my works, making them tangible and ambiguous simultaneously, to try to recover the resonance between individuals through the viewer’s visual and physical feelings. Each person’s experience is different, but sometimes, they suffer the same; I believe it makes sense to reconnect people in this way. In my latest installation, ‘April’, the girl in the story believed the ‘folktales’ about menstruation and felt anxious, which seems a silly thing to do but it’s an act that resonates with many women who have been forced to believe things that are clearly false because they feel helpless about their bodies. This is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of security, which has become a common and collective female dilemma in the continuing information era.
Doris Salcedo and Christian Boltanski are two very important artists for me. Their expressions of collective trauma in sculptural installations have given me great inspiration. Regarding art theory, Mieke Bal’s book Of What One Cannot Speak and Umberto Eco’s The Open Work has always guided my approach to many aspects (subject matter, material, space) of making art.
4. Can you describe for us the working process behind your work?
There are artists who can start making their works constantly and at any time, and I kind of envy them because for me, it always takes me a while to find the theoretical basis and the ‘perfect’ subject matter before I start working on it. It usually starts with a specific event that gives me the passion to create: a story of my own, a story from an interviewee, or reported news. I will analyse the conflict between this event and social reality, and its connection with people’s cognition. I then think about narrating it to the viewer through a sculpture – which is often the most challenging part. I will spend a lot of time thinking about the sculpture itself, the particular space, and how strong the story should be, whether it should be more subtle or more readable. I constantly change and develop plans, sometimes even abandoning the original plan in the middle of the creation and starting all over again. After seeking the advice of other artists, I will start making it. I have to say the making process was more of a healing process for me, simply put, physical labour is refreshing. It’s gratifying to see my work being built, little by little, closer to what it once looked like in my mind.
5. Can you remember the first work of art that you created? What was it and why was it so memorable?
I am trying to remember exactly when I started picking up crayons and doodling, but I was very, very young! Many people probably begin drawing from a very young age – it’s the nature of children to create and have fun.
The first sculpture I can remember doing with my heart was when I was about four. I made a ceramic cup with a smiling face on it, and I gave it to my mother as a gift. It is still in our old house, acting as a decoration. Although it is not perfect, it is important to her and to me. Perhaps since then, I have already fallen in love with handmade art and want to share the joy of creation with people around me. Even though the works I make now are often related to heavier themes, I still like to make little items for my friends.
6. What does it mean to you to win the 2023 ACS Glasgow Sculpture Studios Fellowship?
It was unexpected, and I feel very honoured. This is the first fellowship I have received since I came to Scotland. It really made me feel recognised and appreciated in a foreign country.
Winning the 2023 ACS Glasgow Sculpture Studios Fellowship means that I will be provided with a professional and friendly creative environment for the next year. In this period of soaring prices, from a practical level, this lightened many burdens for me. Emerging artists often struggle to balance making art and working full-time, and they have to pay for their creations in addition to their living expenses. For the next year, I will be able to devote myself to researching my practice in the independent studio, which makes me feel very lucky. I will use various workshops to explore the use and combination of materials. I can also get to know more outstanding artists and institutions through this special platform, which is exciting.
7. How do you intend to use the prize money?
I currently plan to spend part of the prize money on books related to my research. Making sculptures can be expensive, so I will use the stipend on the materials, making progress, and transportation of the works.
8. What do you have coming up over the next year?
I think this coming year is going to be a year of transition for me. There are many things to think/rethink about as an independent artist away from school and many things to try. I will strive to maintain a continuous state of creation, and continue to look for suitable spaces and opportunities to cooperate with galleries. I also want to connect my practice more with the viewer’s experience and emotions, so I am planning to hold a workshop related to feminism or memory next spring. I will start looking for collaborators and venues and push the idea forward.
In addition, I hope to spend much time refining and developing my research direction. I will read more literature and research more artists related to my field. It is worth exploring a more systematic and rational explanation of my practice. In the collision between practice and theory, I hope to find the core of my artistic practice, which requires me to follow it to find the special value that my sculpture can bring.