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Meet Ruoyi Shi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ruoyi Shi.

Hi Ruoyi, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I have always been an imaginative kid since I was young. My teachers used to describe me as a dreamer, as my mind was always traveling somewhere else. I showed my passion for art and storytelling at a very young age — I loved to make stories in my head and then draw them out. It was a couple who introduced me to the world of art. They focused on art therapy and art education for autistic children. They showed me that art has many other possibilities besides making images. They encouraged me to pursue art as a career, I was also very lucky to get my parents’ understanding and support.

I went through the nightmarish Chinese National College Entrance Examination and finished my undergrad in CAFA, the most prestigious art school in China. I had the opportunity to continue my study there, but I was curious about the art world outside China. Since it was difficult to have direct information from the West — all the voices felt second-handed. That is why I chose to come to the United States and study art here in L.A.

I would describe myself as a wanderer and storyteller. I spend a lot of time noticing, searching, and exploring. By presenting everyday objects or encounters from a different perspective, I am slowly constructing a universe with my art and inventions.

Besides that, I am also a teaching artist. I was very fortunate to have the precious and special art education in my childhood, and I want to bring that experience to others.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Even though I consider myself the lucky one, as I always have the encouragement and support from my family and friends, making art or choosing to be an artist is never easy. I will not be me if I stop struggling or questioning.

When I was in China, I struggled to find my audiences, and I questioned a lot about the college art education I received. The neglect or lack of understanding once killed my confidence and passion. I was so confused and disappointed in myself that I even let others make decisions for me. But then I realized that I could not be satisfied by only the “correct” answers. What I was truly longing for was conversations and an opportunity to speak and express myself.

Although I secretly enjoyed the awkward Zoom silence, finishing my graduate program under the global pandemic was still a huge challenge. As a Chinese international student, it took a lot of courage and self-debates to choose to stay in the U.S. There were many heartbreaking moments, and those moments influenced me greatly.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I consider my works as fragments I collected for creating an alternative reality. I invent figures, tools, myths, and memories. Using sculpture, writing, performance, and video, I aim to experiment with the boundaries between nature and artificial existences, truth and truth-making. For me, this is a never-ending game that mirrors the past, present, and future.

My practices are always rooted in my culture and traditions. I study oral history, translations, folklores, rituals, and mythology to construct my narratives. In my recent work, Three or More Fish, inspired by the first peasant revolution in China, I placed the “talking fish” that appeared 209 B.C. in a contemporary context to discuss propaganda, fabricated facts, and how information is carried, manipulated, interpreted, and transformed. I traveled around the city of Los Angeles and reconstructed the story from multiple perspectives.

The use of language is essential to my practice, and for me, that makes my works unique from the others. The displacements and poetic sense of humor in my work come from my unfamiliarity with the English language, which is not intentional at all. My choices of words are strange, and my narratives can be out of control. However, this outsider view of the language allows me to play with the words and be creative.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
The most important lesson I learned is that it is never too late to try something new or even to start again from zero. Life will be more fun if we keep being brave and curious.

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