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.

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:



A story about loss, alienation and the search for belonging. A ghost of a Chinese coolie who worked on the Transcontinental railroad emerges at night in the modern-day San Francisco Chinatown. Every location presented in the images tells a story about the history and the experience of the Chinese diaspora. The series recounts the historic discrimination and prejudice against the Asian immigrant community and draws connection to today’s continuing violence against immigrants at large.

50'' x 75'' | Archival inkjet prints

Exhibited at the

de Young Open at de Young Museum
September 30, 2023 – January 7, 2024

Rotterdam Photo
February 2023

Chinese Historical Society Museum
October 16 – November 12, 2021

Press: Washington Post; It's Nice ThatSF Standard 


Yunfei Ren |  All Rights Reserved