b.1984, Ganzhou, Jiangxi. Lives and works in Shanghai
Ni Youyu’s Dust (Thomas Ruff: 16h 30m/-50°) (2015-16) recreates one of Ruff’s huge photo-prints of the night sky. In size and appearance the two works are almost identical; in all other respects they are polar opposites. Ruff’s picture is entirely machine-made, a digitally enlarged section of an image captured automatically by an observatory telescope. Ni Youyu made his version by dotting and puffing chalk onto a blackboard; his most sophisticated tool was the vernier caliper he used to check the position of each “star” against the grid he overlaid on Ruff’s print (see Portfolio). He likens himself to a classical landscape painter copying the work of an old master or a monk performing a “devotional practice”. His aim is to “reincarnate the spirit of traditional Chinese painting”, and his method is meticulous, “slow and calm”. Ruff underscored his image’s mechanical origin by naming his print with numbers—the celestial coordinates of that section of sky. Ni Youyu’s title alludes not just to his powdery medium but to his belief that “the universe is dust”. Though his stars are fixed in their places with adhesive spray, he says, they will gradually drift off the blackboard and become ordinary dust again.