9 February 2024
Danying Yu explores the
production of space
by Kate Mothes
Danying Yu‘s artistic practice embraces the visual poetics of urban spaces, especially the candid details of residents’ home fixes, repurposed objects, or ways of thinking about moving through space. The artist, who is based between Shanghai and London, explores myriad mediums, finding potential in the array of possibilities to combine and recontextualize shapes and objects. She links the ideas in her practice to “the concept of ‘making-do,’ drawing inspiration from the resourceful, adaptive, and precarious tactics people employ in their daily lives,” she says.
During the pandemic, when Danying returned to Shanghai, she began an internship at an architecture studio out of sheer curiosity. “During that time, I measured spaces for the first time, built models, drew construction plans, and visited construction sites, learning how spaces transform from digital models to the physical world,” she says. “Although it was just scratching the surface, a mix of confusion, understanding, questions, and imagination kept coming up.” She continues:
The production of space—specifically referring to measurement, modeling, design, construction drawings, and implementation—seems like synchronous windows: converting proportions, adjusting materials, layering or simplifying functions, etc. It requires meticulous attention to scale, function, aesthetics, safety, and various considerations—all interrelated. When I realized that I had the “right” to freely stretch a wall in a real space on a small computer screen, my perception of “construction” and “contingency” became even stronger.
Danying spends a lot of time wandering around the urban environments of both Shanghai and London, examining how the environment has been constructed and how it is actually being used or inhabited. Many of her pieces take maps, networks, and systems like the human body as a starting point. She often references Michel de Certeau’s treatise The Practice of Everyday Life, which examines how people individualize elements of mass culture like rituals and objects in order to make them their own.
“De Certeau regards the everyday as a linguistic space,” Danying says. “In the chapter on spatial practice, he distinguishes the notion between ‘place’ and ‘space,’ arguing that ‘space is a practiced place.'” Everyday life is a delicate negotiation between between control and resistance, which she relates to wandering around in the city. “Wanderers stop, observe, touch, smell, and taste in the urban environment, focusing on countless tiny details, perceiving and sketching their own maps.”
Danying also looks to history, considering changing technologies over the millennia and how the ways we live and work reflect parallels with ancient times. Take, for example, a time when paper was not yet mass-produced or widely used, so people used durable parchment for writing. The artist says:
In order to reuse the precious material, they washed away previous ink with a mixture of milk and oat bran, writing repeatedly. However, the ink had already permeated the parchment and couldn’t be entirely cleansed or scraped off. Over time, faint traces of the previous text would reappear. After numerous uses, countless layers of text would accumulate, forming a palimpsest. If we consider parchment as urban space, the chorus of footprints is the process of writing, even though reading the spatial text is challenging, and trajectories are continually rewritten. Hundreds of paths and practices entwine in space, weaving into a porous and unidentifiable poem.
After she returned to London, Danying drew on her experience in the architecture studio and began to incorporate walking into her practice, visually excavating the structures, roadways, and historical layers.
All images © Danying Yu