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Dustin Yellin - Thinking Inside the Box

Words:

Edd Norval
February 8, 2021

Growing up, American artist Dustin Yellin buried a box outdoors in his mountainous hometown. In it he left three things: a pen, a fork and a dollar note. He was eight and hopeful that one day an alien would see these objects and gleam something important about the human race. Years later, the artist is still making boxes and still trying to tell the story of the objects inside them - with the hope of understanding something far greater. 

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Utilising objects drawn inside layers of resin, Yellin was quick to develope his own artistic language, largely surrounding animals or objects being ‘frozen’ in the material. Concerns over resin’s toxicity led the artist to look for other means, which led to his use of glass, a process that followed a similar pathway of layering them up and drawing on each panel. 


Upon making this switch, Yellin began to experiment with the possibilities of glass and its incredibly clear and transparent properties. In 2012, the artist developed The Triptych, a nod to Hieronymous Bosch’s late 15th-century piece. The American tells his own creation/destruction story here, one of the most detailed and complex so far, with folklore and mythology underpinning the narrative.


As mankind, nature and myth coalesce in this piece - three of the artist’s most explored themes - so too do these elements begin to flourish in his subsequent collections. Psychogeographies is a 2015 piece, building on the philosophical concept, itself an offshoot of the Situationist International movement, exploring how each body is - like in his triptych - comprised of physical, material and metaphysical elements.

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Using these humanoid figures, constructed of paper trapped in glass and resin, he explores the cartography of the human body, building layers much like a 3D-printing machine does. Some look more fully-formed than others, whilst others look far more anatomical than the people we’d normally queue next to in the newsagents. 


A year later, Yellin began developing a new concept for his Ant Farms series. Contemplating the destruction wrought upon the earth through the heady consumption of the Anthropocene era, the artist decided to take this notion to its logical conclusion, imagining that human artefacts are being looked upon as a vestige of our accumulative past. 


Just as humans voyeuristically, yet with deep fascination, ruminate on the comings and goings of ants in their transparent homes (when viewed through a constructed ant farm), this collection looks at paintings, textiles and other human remnants in the same viewing structure - posing the question of how we, as a people, will continue innovating, progressing and succeeding if we refuse to balance it with a sustinable mindset and outlook.

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Yellin’s unquenchable curiosity comes through in the process of all he makes. From that very first box as a child to the boxes created as a part of his 2016 project on the future of humankind, not much has really changed in the mind of the artist. He starts out with a set of questions, before manifesting those as some kind of object that is eventually displayed to the world. They make us think, but most importantly, keep Yellin asking questions. 


What has happened? What will happen? Who will decide?

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