6 May 2022
BOBBY YU SHUK PUI
UKS is pleased to announce Bobby Yu Shuk Pui as the recipient of one of two grants from the foundation Snorre Andersen, Maleren Ambrosius Egedius og Hustrus Grant (SAMAEHL) of NOK 50,000 following the 2021 Open Call. The SAMAEHL foundation supports two younger gifted artists in 2021.
Bobby Yu Shuk Pui / 余淑培 (b.1994, Hong Kong) lives and works in Hong Kong and Oslo. Yu is a graduate from Hong Kong Baptist University and Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Recent solo and duo exhibitions include The Remains of Genetic Salon at Podium, Oslo (2022); Genetic Salon Red Room at K4 gallery, Oslo (2021); and Dimension Convertor – Artificial Waterfall at 100 Ft. PARK in Hong Kong (2017). Group exhibitions include Hong Kong Medical Science Museum, Hong Kong (2022); BOA – Billedkunstnerne i Oslo og Akershus (2021); Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo (2021); and Liu Haisu Art Museum, Taiwan (2019).
Co-curator and communications officer at UKS, Ida Møller Engebretsen, interviewed Bobby Yu Shuk Pui about receiving the grant while she was preparing for her solo exhibition at Podium in Oslo. The conversation tapped into subjects such as human genetic engineering, timelines, and hemorrhoids. Enjoy!
Ida Møller Engebretsen: Congratulations on receiving the SAMAEHL grant, Bobby! Before we dive into our conversation, can you tell us about your background and artistic practice?
Bobby Yu Shuk Pui: Thank you! I was born and raised in Hong Kong. Now I’m based in Oslo after finishing my MFA at KHiO in 2021. My practice is focused on body culture in different contexts, filtered through my own experience. I use performance, text, installation, sculpture, and video to create scenarios that engage my audience, and eventually I make them become participants in my work.
My Chinese name is Yu Shuk Pui（余淑培 / “Shuk” means ladylike, “Pui” means learning). ( >_<）My mother gave me the first name “Shuk Pui” since she wanted me to learn to be not just a lady, but my own lady. This became the starting point of my artistic foundation and has inspired me to investigate more about what femininity means to me. Most of my early works focused on how the female body is shaped in the context of Asian culture. However, in recent years I have found myself shifting from an emphasis on the female body, towards an exploration of human morality, especially the topic of human genetic engineering.
IME: I love that your mom raised you to become your own lady! This really resonates with my own experience with having a female body – and I believe many with me – by finding it hard to comprehend the past, but nevertheless having to learn what role the female body has played across histories. Human genetic engineering relates not only to all genders, but also our future fellow humans. What is your perspective on human genetic engineering, its ethics both today and in the future?
BYSP: I started with the subject of human genetic engineering as I am drawn to its paradox. Humans use genetic technology to hide our physical defects and suppress our fears about the future but at the same time this technology can become a source of much greater fear itself. While examining the topic of human genetic engineering and looking at how this technology shapes our culture and understanding of the body, I intend to invite my community in Hong Kong and Oslo, the public and experts from the scientific field, to discuss related questions. I’m interested, for example, in questions like what it means if we accept that parents can “edit” their child’s genes to enhance its intellect and better its future career prospects.
IME: And how does the ethics of future human genetic engineering manifest in your practice?
BYSP: My human genetic engineering project draws inspiration from several real events that all relate to the question of ethics: Chinese scientists gene-editing two babies in 2018; beauty companies in various countries launching customized beauty products by using genetic data; the acceleration of progress of the human gene database due to Covid-19 testing; and a DNA-based dating app entering the matchmaking market.
In these times, in which we experience a lot of fear and anxiety, I search for a fiction that can provide a different perspective on our broken reality; a retelling of the past, but also a new narrative for the present and future, that can make us trust in the time that lies ahead. The narrative of the Genetic Salon proposes that, in the future, genes could be the basis for domination, but also the main currency in circulation. In such a future, genetic manipulation would pave the way for an idealized existence and give us a chance to experience life as a non-human species. On this technological trajectory, the notion of the natural has become the enemy of this world.
While building this dystopian narrative, I often feel the work needs a silver lining; something to appease the fear of this dystopian future. I put this responsibility in the hands of my audience, hoping that their experiences of such a broken and dystopian future will push them to re-examine their lives and choices in the present with the aim of bettering what lies ahead.
IME: The Genetic Salon series definitely gives your audience the opportunity to do a reality check of our time and possible futures. The series consists of five projects so far, and your upcoming exhibition at Podium in Oslo is called The Remains of Genetic Salon. Does that mean you are finishing the series and starting something new?
BYSP: The show at Podium, The Remains of Genetic Salon, will present a pile of dusty and messy remains from the series, that will make up the on-site installation. The set introduces a far future where the Genetic Salon is defunct and the audience is invited to excavate the fossilized concept of the Genetic Salon. The exhibition provides an opportunity to explore different timelines and, eventually, examine the present through the perception of a fictionalized future past. It’s the first time that I’m bringing together elements of the project that have been kept separate. This includes a speculative text installation, sculptures, 3D animation, video, and a reading group.
After finishing this exhibition, I will start a publication project to gather all the documentation of the Genetic Salon and, this summer, I am very excited to start working on something new: a project about my family history by studying the idea of heirloom genes through the disease of hemorrhoids.
IME: Hemorrhoids – that’s quite specific! What made you want to dive into hemorrhoids?
BYSP: My family, myself included, has struggled with gastrointestinal issues for as long as I can remember. One of my family members had his hemorrhoids removed when I was in college. After he came back from the hospital, my family and I cleaned his wounds every time he used the toilet. At the time, I didn’t understand how painful it was and how much he suffered. It wasn’t until I experienced having hemorrhoids myself that I understood his pain. This experience brought back the memories of cleaning and caring for my family member’s wounds and I started to examine my family medical history.
In addition to investigating hemorrhoids, I also want to explore the idea of pain, especially invisible and embarrassing pain; pain that we keep to ourselves because most people don’t understand or relate to it – because it is taboo. I am intrigued by the connections between embarrassment, taboo, and painful diseases.
IME: You seem to have a clear conceptual idea of where to steer your next artistic project. What about the visual aspect of this project?
BYSP: I have always used the visual aspect as a tool to invite an audience into my work. Whether it is one individual work in an exhibition space or multiple works coming together, I try to create an overall environment that constructs a specific sensory experience. The experience I want to communicate is based on real-life scenarios that we are exposed to in everyday life, such as archaeological sites, renovation sites, abandoned places, and waiting rooms. Then I develop a visual form inspired by these everyday sites by enhancing abnormalities that may be sensed in these settings. For instance, in the Genetic Salon series I want to create a disturbing yet seductive and intriguing atmosphere in the exhibition space. For my new project on family DNA and hemorrhoids I want to create a different atmosphere, maybe something sweet, sexy, and irritating. Hehe.
IME: And now you have received a grant of NOK 50,000! How does that impact you as an artist?
BYSP: This grant really gives me the courage to start my new project! As I say my farewell to the Genetic Salon series I am both excited and a little uncomfortable and insecure to start a new project, but the grant gives me the confidence and security to explore new possibilities. Practically, it will also subsidize a portion of my travel expenses back to Hong Kong this summer to do research on my family history.
Bobby Yu Shuk Pui opens a solo show at Podium in Oslo on May 6, 2022 at 7pm to midnight.
Bobby Yu Shuk Pui
The Remains of the Genetic Salon
Podium, Hausmannsgate 34, Oslo
May 7–27, 2022
* Image: Behind the scenes of The Remains of Genetic Salon at Podium, March 2022. Photo by Jacky Jaan-Yuan Kuo.