We had the good fortune of connecting with Yizhu Pan from New York and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Yizhu, how do you think about risk?
I am a risk-taker; the experience of facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of my greatest strengths.
Risk always feeds me new knowledge and makes me discover things that I would not have had the opportunity to know without trying. The unpredictable situation of risk is a great impetus for me to reconstruct my way of thinking. I enjoy the bitter-sweet process of working off of the thrill of risk as it always leads me to think out of the box. My thought process that stem from risk is where some of my most unique thoughts and ideas come from.

In a creative team, risk can bring spark and beautiful surprise. In the play The Odyssey, I was deeply touched by the director’s feeling of uncertain fates. The piece of the floating boat on the waves is just like Odysseus’s fate in his 10 year itinerary. The imagery of a ramshackle land and the uncertain fate appeared in my mind, and I immediately got the feeling that the deck should have the movement imitating the way floating wood would. This brought about new ideas of performance and lighting, but not without a big risk of running over the limited budget, safety requirements, and technology limitations we have in a black box theater. Fortunately, we were able to turn my vision into a reality after a long discussion and teamwork. When the lights under the deck burn the world, the centerpiece of the deck would waggle like a ship floating on the sea. When I saw everything come together in the end, I knew all the anxiety and uncertainty that came from the risk was worth it.

The experience and things I learned from taking risks are irreplaceable and I believe everything will be play a valuable part in my future designs.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As production designers, we are able to show people the unknown world, the forgotten history and views that people probably will never see in normal life.
Sometimes I feel I’m like a detective that is trying to find the hidden clues, history and personality in the story, and transfer it into a visual language for my audience. When I worked with director Eris Qian(https://www.erisqian.com/) in her short film “MOTHER TONGUE”(https://www.mothertonguemovie.com/), I intentionally chose objects that emitted a pale and thin feeling in order to show the loneliness and weakness of the dying mom, such as washed-out blue bed sheets and the empty white wall without decorations. The only bright color in the film was the water bottle and word cards that were brought by her daughter as a symbol of the love and warmth in her life. My favorite part is working with creative teams, especially when sparks of wonderful ideas are flying as we discuss the emotion and message we want to express to people. Ideas such as a messy kitchen that is full of empty bottles, or a bedroom decorated with soft puffy pink fabrics, are all a design choice that relates to the core and emotion of the story.

It has been a long journey for me to find my way. Before becoming a production designer, I studied textile design and worked in product design. With this background, my approach to design includes new technology, material combination, and their space use. In my project MYCELIUM FOREST, a project about death and rebirth, I designed a space that is made of real mushrooms. As the mushroom grew and died in a week, the audience has the opportunity to witness the different stages of the space. In this way, I give life to space and visualize people’s experience in the dimension of time.

The biggest lesson I learnt from this long journey is to never be afraid of challenging yourself, and that every step and experience counts. The long journey I explored in textile and product design now provides me with the skillset to break through the time and space limitations of theater and explore its infinite possibilities, especially in multi-media theater and VR productions. For example, in the project “SAMUEL”(https://thetanknyc.org/samuel), we created a new audio-visual theater with multiple scaled scenery, then invited the audience to explore “an ever-shifting sense of reality” in both in-person and online versions. In my upcoming production “THE @’s”, I designed a VR interaction between the audience and social media to discuss the intimacy in a moment of disconnect. I believe that the cross-over between art and technology is an indispensable part in my efforts to create artistic influence in an era featuring technological transformations.

Now that I’ve arrived in this production design land, this is by no means my destination. Theater and Film is a the mirror of life that allows people to reflect upon themself and share emotions through a sympathetic chord. I dream of exploring more possibilities of spatial narratives that are catalyzed by new technologies. I hope that my work can shine a light on normal people in their normal life and cure them with pearling stories.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would start the day with a gallery tour in the Chelsea Art District, which is a vibrant area combining art galleries, high-design architecture, as well as a high line park From the David Zwirner gallery to Lehman Maupin, there are always some exciting exhibitions that are featuring a rotating series of exhibitions. I love wandering around the neighborhood here, especially when I am stuck for fresh ideas, the galleries in New York City are my best support in bringing my energy back.
The Highline Park in Chelsea is a landmark you don’t want to miss. It starts at the Whitney Museum and ends at the Shed. I would bring my friend to the Whitney Museum first, walk on the Highline, then enjoy the vanguard architecture along the road, and end the day with a modern art exhibition at the Shed. My biggest recommendation for anyone coming to the city soon is to not miss out Alexander Calder’s Cirque Calder in Whitney! The circus consists of an elaborate troupe of figures and animals, constructed ingeniously with simple materials like wire, wood, fabric, and brilliant and elegant art works. If anyone plans to come in September, The Armory Show near the Shed is also a global modern art fair that is worth attending.

For the theater, three of my favorites are Ann’s Warehouse and the Park Avenue Armory and BAM. I’m a big fan of experimental plays with diverse topics. They encourage creative new theater formats – immersive theater, exploration of audience and environment, or unique ways to break the fourth wall and involve the audience in story development.

Last but not least, speaking of food, New York is the best city for worldwide food trips! I love sitting by the long wooden bar at Fanelli’s cafe in the afternoon, observing the details of the molding, tiled floors and old three-globe chandeliers while embracing the history of this oldest bar room left in the city. If you want to know about Chinese food, August Gathering is the top Chinese restaurant on my list, every dish worth trying!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a big shoutout to all the mentors and collaborators that I worked with throughout my journey in achieving my dreams.
In the challenging era of the pandemic, I want to say a big thank you to all the different kinds of efforts that were made by my fellow artists through online workshops, virtual theaters, concert streaming. Even though the world was shut down and people were isolated from society, the artists around me never gave up on curing the world and bringing people together, and I’m proud to be a part of that movement. As the product designer and stage manager in the theater group NYMP(https://nymplayback.org/), also known as the New York Mandarin Playback, we organized several online theaters during the pandemic to help people relieve stress and build self-consciousness.

I’m also very grateful to join the documentary “Saha World”( https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13022724/) that was directed by Yihao Hu(https://www.yunkaii.com/), and was screened at RIIFF (Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival). In Saha World, we recorded people’s unusual life and shining glory of human nature under COVID-19 in efforts to keep these primary historical materials for future generations.

Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to my family who’s been so supportive to me in everything I do. They are truly my one-of-a-kind support system.

Website: https://www.yizhu.art/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yizhu.art/?hl=en

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yizhu-pan-003661236/

Image Credits
Ella Bromblin Yizhu Pan

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