Jinny Yu : Hôte
As part of the event Pictura Montreal
Text by Sarah Amarica
In recent months, encumbered by the realities of art-making during a global lockdown, Jinny Yu began a new daily drawing practice. For Yu, painting and drawing are actions, processes by which the artist repeatedly marks the surface of a paper—scratching, looping, hatching, both softly and cautiously—not to arrive at a final image, but rather as a continual process of uncovering. The velvety, smooth traces of Yu’s oil-based graphite pencil cover the paper from edge to edge, no space left untouched. Over forty drawings later, Yu’s Hôte (“Host” and/or “Guest”) series emerged, and with it, a view into the ongoing ideas driving the artist’s practice: an exploration into belonging and unbelonging.
From Yu’s former series Perpetual Guest to her current series Hôte, the artist has fixated on the roles and responsibilities of guest and host to negotiate ideas of self, land, and national identity. As a settler-immigrant, Yu explains that she is constantly reckoning with her own role as someone welcomed by a settler state, yet never able to fully belong when the state itself is rooted on contested Indigenous land. For Yu, this sense of unease or complicity as a settler-immigrant in Canada brings up larger questions surrounding ownership and right to land, or, more specifically, who welcomes and who dispels people from it; who is the guest and who is the host.
In Hôte, Yu uses the door as a symbol for this grey-zone between guesting and hosting, belonging and unbelonging. In some images, a sharp, delineated shape cuts through the centre of the image, like a stone monolith imposed onto a barren landscape. In others, the difference between foreground and background, object and space is less discernible, as greys, blacks, and whites blur together, with only Yu’s delicate marks to tell the difference. Architectural in nature, Yu’s images both beckon and confront the viewer, providing little certainty as to whether one can step through the cavities safely, or peer into the empty voids without being confronted or struck by whatever awaits beyond. In both composition and concept, Yu’s Hôte series does not make clear whether the visitors (and the artist herself) are imposing or being embraced, forcing us to ask the question: are we welcome here?
And herein lies the message or realization that Yu is grappling with: neither fully guest nor host herself, the desire to belong can be as messy and fraught as it is alluring. Rather, sharing a space, a country, a territory, or a home with others requires critical reflection and does not always elicit the pleasantries that hospitality usually connotes. Like Yu’s drawings, this distinction is blurry, but necessary.