Yunfei Ren (MFA '24) at The Guardhouse

Photo by Yunfei Ren

With this installation, Bay Area-based artist and Stanford MFA art practice candidate Yunfei Ren (b. 1987, Wuhan, China) creates a “portal” between the past and present, commemorating the more than 300,000 Chinese immigrants who endured the weeks-long steamship voyage from southern China to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush (1848-1855) up until the U.S. Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, when Chinese laborers were banned from entering on the basis of racial identity. Situated on the waterfront with views of Angel Island, the artist’s installation further reminds us of the estimated several hundred thousand Chinese, Japanese, and other immigrants who between 1910 and 1940 came through the Angel Island Immigration Station, where detainment and harsh, humiliating conditions interfered with perhaps more hopeful pursuits of the “American Dream.”

Titled Prevailing Winds, this new work inside The Guardhouse hints at forces that bear on human migratory patterns from throughout history, as well as Ren’s personal experience with transpacific migration. Gold foil-embellished Joss papers—symbolic of paper money and traditionally burned as ancestral offerings in Chinese culture—flutter against the forced air of an oscillating fan reminiscent of one that cooled the artist’s childhood home. Ren speaks of “mirrors reflecting history” when unorthodoxly utilizing Joss papers. Bouncing a colorful array, he pays tribute to the earliest Chinese immigrants who entered the Golden Gate for the prospect of mining gold, ultimately building tunnels and railroads, creating lasting infrastructure in the American West. Arranged in a grid designed by the artist to evoke longitudinal and latitudinal lines on a flat map, how might gilded ‘banknotes’ make amends for the contributions, and the backbone, of generations of immigrants?

Ren’s installation is accompanied by a seven-minute, two-channel recording, Sounds of the Boundless Ocean (2023), which debuted at the Coulter Gallery at Stanford University. At The Guardhouse, visitors can listen as this sonic component to the artist’s installation plays faintly on loop. This edited recording is also available for online listening.

The installation is free and open to the public, viewable through the windows 24 hours a day March 23 - June 9, 2024.

The Guardhouse is located at the main entrance of Fort Mason Center.