Yu Ji: Wasted Mud | Chisenhale Gallery

My response to this installation in the reopened one-room Chisenhale Gallery was quite visceral. The first thing that hit me was the smell of standing water, which stood in puddles on the concrete floor, after dripping down from steel pipes. The source of those pipes is also the source of the second sensory reaction: stainless steel jugs churn loudly, a threatening hum. This is an electric water pump, the source of the drips, the puddles, the smell.

What meets the eye is defiantly unpretty: a hammock-like structure made of tarpaulin, and filled with detritus from the many, many building sites in the gallery’s home borough (Tower Hamlets). And, to the side, a couple of concrete busts of a woman’s torso, partly obliterated and disfigured.

yu ji - installation view (L-r) Jaded Ribs (2019-2021); Foraged (2019-2021)

A video accompanying the exhibition explains this strange, and not entirely pleasant, scene. Pre-pandemic, Yu, her husband and child came to London and wandered along the shores of the Thames at low tide and along down-at-heel markets.

The hammock, Jaded Ribs, contains shards of one of Yu’s sculptures, since destroyed, amidst the detritus. The pump, Foraged, is there to boil water for weeds, contained in those stainless steel drums. This explains the slightly organic fug from those puddles - at first, I’d thought it was just the concrete floor.

The unprettiness of these objects, which might as well be wasted mud, is all part of the point, Yu tells us. Her ropes, rusty wires, breeze blocks, plaster boards, smelly water - and, of course, that broken sculpture - are forgotten materials that actually make up our lives, and relationships.

They are, she adds, “those things which [have] the most intimate touch on the land… these materials are categorised as valueless things to neglect, but they build our cyclical nature of life.

“For me, what is neglected or maybe cast aside holds so many intimacies and emotion.”

Yu Ji: Wasted Mud is at Chisenhale Gallery (London). 22 May - 18 July 2021