Artist Heather Yip Explores What it Means to Play Within Her Practice

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Heather Yip, Not-So-Happy, Meal. Mixed-media installation with audio track. (Image courtesy the artist)

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By Sára Molčan

Posted on August 31, 2021 | Updated June 06, 2023, 12:19pm

The recent low-residency MFA grad has been expanding on the ideas developed during her degree.

Heather Yip (MFA 2020) is a conceptual artist creating work derived from the world around her.

“I’ve been inspired by what my kids are doing,” explained the artist. “How they play, their spontaneity, their interactions with technology and devices. Expanding on play, right now I’m working with ants and Slurpee cups, things that bring up memories from childhood.”

While there’s a certain level of nostalgia with play, Heather’s work is deeply influenced by the world around her. One of those areas is technology, which for many of us, became crucial over the course of the pandemic.

“I’ve watched my children use it for school, my partner uses it for work,” said Heather. “And in observing that, technology has become less of a negative for me as a parent and instead something that is nebulous in our lives.”

In terms of incorporating technology into her work, Heather has veered away from it little by little. “It’s still there,” she said. “Like a flicker in the back of my mind. It’s been such a necessity during the pandemic, technology has become a nuance in my work instead of the focus. I’m more interested in bringing play to the forefront of my work at the moment.”

Heather also has an alter ego. Sounding like a superhero, Super Fun Mom was born out of her practice during her Low-Residency MFA (LRMFA).

“In all honesty, finishing the LRMFA during the pandemic and kind of at the height of the pandemic, it was so stressful that Super Fun Mom which grew out of my practice, was never as fully explored or expanded upon as I would have liked,” shared Heather. “If my mental health had been better at the time, I would have explored a Twitch channel. I think this will nudge me to further explore the origin story of Super Fun Mom.”

“That, along with technology is sitting on the backburner,” continued Heather. “I feel like I’m still decompressing in many ways.”

Unsurprisingly, graduating during a pandemic is no small feat and it’s hard not to feel a sense of loss of certain ideas not coming to fruition. “Some fellow members of my cohort have reached out to me,” said Heather. “They’re still feeling pain and unsure of how to deal with it.”

Her recent residency at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre culminated in a group show where her multimedia piece Not So Happy, Meal was on display.

The piece combines classic McDonald’s garbage alongside other elements often found in public campgrounds, beaches, and parks. There are cigarette butts and plastic containers woven in between the fast food trash and natural elements such as twigs, leaves and branches. It is accompanied by a track of birds squawking.

“I was able to connect with my local gallery here in Salmon Arm and be one of the first artists for their virtual artist residencies,” said Heather. “There were two of us artists and we were paired with a local Indigenous knowledge keeper, Louis Thomas.”

They met once a week at first and the purpose of the residency was to develop a piece of work for the exhibit that incorporated a sound element.

“In thinking through some of the conversations I had with Louis, especially ones about his grandmother and the land, and the interactions with animals, for me I thought about I couldn’t envision anything similar. I don’t have that type of connection with animals and the land,” said Heather. “That led me to think about how European settlers took raw materials and capitalized on them. We make containers of our lives, especially in urban centres. Our homes, our apartments, we’re very possessive of these spaces.”

As Heather began to investigate the human connection to containers and the land, the work began to take form.

“I live quite close to the beach,” explained Heather. “We have a huge population of gulls here in Salmon Arm, and watching them fly back and forth from the landfill, I saw lots of different fast food containers in their space.” The impact of humans on nature is certainly evident in Heather’s piece.

Heather felt prepared for the virtual residency after exiting the LRMFA. “I think the low-res program prepared me for anything virtual,” laughed Heather. “I may have started it before covid, but after the varying ways we communicate through screens, I was fully prepared for a virtual residency. That said, I think I prefer in person.”

The most interesting aspect of the residency for Heather was the documentation of the process. “They wanted it in video, which is something I’ve never done,” said Heather. “I was watching myself, which is new and something I plan to explore further.”

Heather is currently living, creating, and playing in Salmon Arm, BC.