Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Zhao Yu, a fourth year photography student in thesis.

In this issue, Zhao and Morgan talk about deconstructing the landscape in photography,  the relationship buddhism has in their work, and working as a transnational artist.

Who or what are your main artistic inspirations?

Olafur Eliasson is my favourite artist, he is a Danish-Icelandic artist known for sculptures and large-scale installation art employing elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to enhance the viewer’s experience.

I also look into Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism thinking to embody my research.


What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

I create mixed media artworks, photography, performances, and installations in the recent months. By emphasizing Neo Confucianist and Buddhist ideology, I intend to investigate the dynamics of the landscape in my works. Including the manipulation and minimization of its effects and challenges the limits of spectacle based on our assumption of what landscape means to us. Rather present a factual reality, I like to create an illusion of landscape that is fabricated to conjure the realms of our imagination.



Do you work in any other mediums and how does that inform your work?

I think I produce mixed media artworks quite a lot. I see the mediums as links between the landscape’s reality and that flux in its conceiver’s memories. I like to develop forms and performance that do not always include logical criteria but are based only on physical associations, formal elements, and the action of recognizing landscape from the body, which incite my acknowledge to the meaning of landscape with my personal connections.


You use a lot of different types of paper or fabrics when printing your photographic work. Why do you choose to engage with these fabrics and papers, and how does that tie in conceptually or aesthetically to the work you do?

In Buddhism, there is something called the “elegance of imperfection”. I guess that’s why I am just obsessed with handcraft papers and fabrics. I seek the imperfect in my photographic process, to create an eternal contradiction in every image. From the handcraft object’s  roughness and disordered details, I can feel the joy to be an “imperfect artist”. The warmness in handcraft papers and fabrics is what I find the most physically connected in the photographic process. After all, we are just imperfect creatures, I think the imperfections in art just speaks out to our nature, and the ever-changing spirituality in every art creation.



What do you think the value is in being a multi disciplinary artist and interweaving multiple mediums into your art practice?

I like to try new mediums, explores the new possibilities. I think sometimes i just got the idea that I have to try it, try to performance, try to do installation etc… even I don’t know what the outcome would be. it is one important part of my practice, experimentation and create new possibilities.


Why do you use photo installation to show some of your works? What is the value or significance in breaking the ways viewers typically see photographs?

I guess I see photography as a very edged medium, and photo -installation is my way to create new opticals and spaces. I like my viewers to actually go into that optical I created. I do not intend to photograph or create anything that is “physical”. I see the dimensions as a tool. The photographs, sculptures, and installation that in my works are just inputs of an equation, and I think the outputs are versatile that has many interpretations depending on what viewers think.



What body of work are you currently working on?

The discovery of Sunyata (emptiness) in art is a passionate approach in my current works. Buddhists believe that wisdom and enlightenment will be achieved through the realization of Sunyata. Sunyata stresses the necessity for voidness of self and existence, an objective defined as observing things or  regarding things. In this body of work, I start with deconstructing photography, to be aware of the most basic foundation of light, air, and space. I create installation work by using camera obscura, direct reflection, and projection, creating photography in visual, acoustic, and spatial ways. This project is a way to look inward and meditate. The deconstruction of photography is the process of decreasing complexity and turns the medium into emptiness. I guess it is an opportunity for change and renewal in photography, both visually and conceptually; afterward, Sunyata is born.



Through your thesis work, themes of landscape and the artist’s relationship to land are evident. What is your experience working as a transnational artist? How is using images from your home in the Yunnan Province, China, and merging those with images and video from Toronto significant to you?

When I was growing up in Yunnan, a province in China situated at the far eastern edge of the Himalayan uplift, I saw the most devoted Buddhists who walked for years on pilgrimages to the holy mountains. Among the high mountains, they sought self-discovery and redemption through Buddha’s teachings. Walking and pilgrimage in the lap of nature have become their meditation, which seeks the truth in this ever-changing universe. Whenever I have created my series of works in Toronto, I see the landscape and people of my hometown as the most precious memory and I have also been inspired by them. In Toronto, I re-discover these memories and re-construct it in my work.

As a transnational artist, of course, i experienced two very different cultures and values in art and life. I immigrated to Canada when I was fifteen, In the West, I saw the human spirit shine brilliantly in the expression of the creative will and in the pursuit of individualism. In the East, I learned that the human will and expression fall under the principles of nature. I have spent a long time to understand, and to merge these two together. I think my works are just the significant documentations of the discovery of a new identity.



To see more of Zhao’s work visit his website.

See Zhao’s work at the

102nd Graduate Exhibition at OCAD University, May 3rd-7th.

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a fourth year photography student and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative spaces. She is the Art Director for The RUDE Collective, a student representative on the Photography Curriculum Committee and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.