Contextualize Talismans in Everyday Objects, NYC-based Artist Xinan Helen Ran

Xinan Helen Ran (b. 1994. Inner Mongolia, China) is an artist who specializes in fabric, language, and found objects to construct emotional landscapes. She searches for the point where trauma, nihilism, and humor converge. Xinan has been exhibited internationally at SheinSpace (Hangzhou), Inna Art Space (Hangzhou), Hauser & Wirth (New York), and collaborated on public projects with Clover Nature (Shanghai) and Beam Center (Governors Island, New York). 

Xinan is a current mentee in NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program (2023). She was a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Arts Center resident (2022) and an Ox-Bow Summer Fellow (2016). Xinan also co-founded Tuft Love, a rug tufting business, and is an art educator and an aspirational set designer for new theaters. 

Xinan Helen Ran, detail image of Delays, 2023, size variable. Machine embroidery on hand-stitched pillows. 
A series of 5 pillows with subway status updates

We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far, Helen. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Growing up in Northern China, I migrated south with my family at 5, then subsequently to Canada, and eventually to America. I came to New York with the expectation to learn set design, yet enrolled in art school and have been enjoying this process ever since. Through friends, mentors, the city, and a strong curiosity to know and to learn, I use a wide (and strange) variety of unconventional materials to re-contextualize language and experiences that are otherwise overlooked or taken for granted.

Installation of solo show Very Sweet at Tutu Gallery, Brooklyn

What is your art about? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?

Exodus is a recurring theme in my work. The transitory mindset forms the underbelly of my practice. I am drawn by how everyday objects can serve as talismans, reminding us of the places we leave behind. However, rather than replicating “authentic” memories, I construct emotional landscapes through fabricated ephemera, echoing memories of departed homelands that never existed. 

I am interested in the point where trauma, nihilism and humor converge.

Xinan Helen Ran, Future Trash Tags, 2022, size variable. Inkjet on Tyvek,
5 long tags as a part of the Future Trash series

What are you working on right now?

I am finishing up my show at Tutu Gallery, where I recreated everyday items such as floor cushions, shower curtains and product labels to approach the theme of “intimate joy” in the very warm, domestic setting of the gallery.

For my upcoming show at Essex Flowers, I am exploring the politically different, yet similar cultural habits that China and the US share under the influence of late-stage capitalism. Through my handmade, speculative objects, I examine our shared scare of the unknown other, manifested in heightened reactions towards terms such as enemy, migrants and invasive species.

Xinan Helen Ran, Very Sweet, 2023, 8.5x11in. Laminated inkjet photos, sewing pins.
Series of 10 laminated photos of Chinatown fruit stands

What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?

The mutual support of friends, colleagues and mentors enables my practice to be generative and sustainable in New York. I nurture my community by offering my skill, resource and time.

As a part of the show at Tutu Gallery, April (the gallerist) and I organized a social gathering under the disguise of speed dating. Within an hour, participants opened up for a deeper level of conversation as recent strangers and within days after the event, some collaborated together for projects. 

Xinan Helen Ran, Delays, 2023, size variable. Machine embroidery on hand-stitched pillows. 
A series of 5 pillows with subway status
Xinan Helen Ran, Delays (details), 2023, size variable. Machine embroidery on hand-stitched pillows. 
A series of 5 pillows with subway status updates

Is there any advice that you would like to share with others?

I learned to contextualize my practice in different parts; each fulfills a different need/interest of mine while also contributes to my overall experience as a working artist. I think about my practice as a continuous journey anchored to different projects along the way, and each sector contributes to my act of learning, sharing and making. 

Xinan Helen Ran, Manager of Small Animals (TLC series), 2023, 3.5x3in. Thin layer chromatography on paper, marker, pencil, sewing pins.
Series of 25 individual drawings on paper

text & photo courtesy of Xinan Helen Ran

recommended by Tutu Gallery

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