Livien Yin: Brim to Brim
October 27, 2023–November 24, 2023

For Livien Yin’s debut solo exhibition in Los Angeles, the Brooklyn-based artist renders humanist views that exist in proximity to the Chinese-American diaspora. Evincing fictions that reflect our inherited history and illuminate the present, her paintings offer a sentiment on evolving narratives that reflect the complexities of navigating a hybrid existence in a contemporary landscape.

For the works featured in Brim to Brim, Yin cropped and transfigured personal and found photographs to construct images of intimate confrontations between subject and viewer. While preparing the pieces, Yin reapproached the narratives around “heathenism” in her research on the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States during the Chinese Exclusion Era (1882–1943). The color and framing choices she uses challenge the meaning of Chinese heathens, as they evoke a sensation of warm suspension.

Yin's work exudes heat through warm hues inflected with tangerine underpainting. Her palette draws from "emotionally charged times of the day" like dawn and dusk, corresponding to feelings of optimism and reflection. The color scheme in the exhibition maintains thematic continuity with prior works and reflects her desire to infuse paintings with an exalted sense of humanity.

The exhibition is composed of works created throughout 2023 in New York City and Los Angeles. The subjects include reframed views from a 1916 photograph of an evangelistic meeting held in Manhattan’s Chinatown and a photograph taken on the set of Kraft Mystery Theater from Hua Hsu's article in The New Yorker on the Chinese writer H. T. Tsiang. Through the paintings, the artist also reconstructs photographs to explore her personal connections to an experimental animator and friends in the present.

Yin uses paint as a dynamic solution of energized matter. She transfigures the enduring resonance of racialized narratives and imagery embedded in the photographs by suffusing them with a potent luminosity. In Cusp and Introduction, the subjects’ faces radiate like molten magma and are further enhanced through application of layered brushwork. As the “weightiness of paint” increases, Yin's emotional connection to the subjects transfers, increasing the visibility of her subjects.

In Luna, Yin moves beyond the subjects to accentuate actions within the original photograph. In this piece, she rerenders a man whose gaze she interprets as a glance towards another man reading. Through careful adjustment, she imbues the still figures with a heightened saturation, granting them agency that challenges their portrayal as passive subjects within the confines of a racially charged historical narrative.

Yin’s paintings skillfully navigate the convergence of distinct temporal and spatial realms. She seamlessly melds elements of history and fiction while intricately weaving together the threads of her memories and imagination. Her deft brush glides between smooth and coarse strokes, allowing an interplay of shadow and light to articulate forms and establish fluid, yet inherently unstable, boundaries.

Brim to Brim reinterprets our collective inherited history, effectively challenging and subverting racial mechanisms embedded within self-image and self-awareness. By granting new humanity to subjects trapped in photographic stills, Yin opens a window through to the present, creating a multidimensional examination of narratives of Chinese immigration and diasporic communities.

–Jessica Hang