Yunfei Ren ("yoon-fay"; he/him) is a visual artist living in San Francisco, working in installation, photography, sound and sculpture. His art practice centers on immigrant experience, exploring the complexity of identity and belonging in the context of history, citizenship and queerness. Ren seeks to connect the past with the present by constructing conceptual "portals" which transport the viewer across time, encouraging contemplation about our contemporary existence. His work has been exhibited at The Guardhouse, part of FOR-SITE at Fort Mason (2024), de Young Museum (2023, 2020), Stanford University (2022), Chinese Historical Society Museum (2021), and has been featured in the Washington Post.

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Between the Gold Rush and the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, over 300,000 Chinese immigrants endured a month-long steamship journey from southern China to San Francisco. The prevailing winds that propelled the ships also symbolize the forces that drive individuals to leave their homes.

Joss paper, traditionally burned as ancestral offerings in Chinese culture, serves as portals bridging the past and present. The grid pattern evokes longitude and latitudes that map the movement of people. While the fan, reminiscent of those from the artist's upbringing, intertwines personal history with the legacy of transpacific migration.

Now on view at The Guardhouse at Fort Mason till June 9, 2024
15x8ft | Joss paper, threads, fan, LED lights


Sounds of the Boundless Ocean is a body of work consisting of an installation, a soundtrack, a photograph and a performance. It is inspired by the trans-pacific journey that 19th-century Chinese immigrants embarked towards San Francisco. The installation evokes the immigrants' sense of hope and loneliness during the arduous passage, yet hints at what awaited them in the decades and a century to come. Tensions are emphasized throughout the piece; the tight ropes contrast with soft curves of the balloons, while the dim lights inside flicker to the thuds from the soundtrack. The kinetic construction and the live performance fuse the artist with the diasporic community. Meanwhile, the movements shuttle the audience between the past and the present, drawing a lineage between historical racial trauma and contemporary immigrant experience. The balloons, while light and buoyant, are fragile and ultimately not in control of their fate, which serve as a metaphor for the immigrant labor exploited in building the American Empire.

Installation: 150’'(W) x 180''(L) x 160’'(H) | balloons, LED lights, LED controller, electrical wires, ropes, pulleys, railroad spikes, fabrics
Soundtrack: 7 minutes | two-channel sound recording, four speakers
Photograph: 24’’ x 36’’ | archival inkjet print
Performance: 7 minutes | performed live at the Coulter Gallery on February 22, 2023

Exhibited at the Coulter Gallery at Stanford University
February 21 - March 17, 2023



Installation view:


Yunfei Ren | All Rights Reserved