Meet The Maker - Chen Yihan

Posted on 10 Aug 08:00

To celebrate our latest New Designers Exhibition we are continuing with our 'Meet the Maker' series of blog posts. The New Designers exhibition is always one of our favourites as we have the opportunity to showcase a handpicked selection of Graduate Designers with vivid and varied contemporary collections.

This week, we interview Chen Yihan and her 'Holding on' collection featuring glass beads made with the ashes of burnt paper. An ancient Chinese tradition to honour the dead.

When I go to the cemetery to do research, my friends ask me "Aren't you afraid of meeting ghosts?" It seems that encountering ghosts is a very scary thing, and I always answer them "The ghosts you are afraid of are people that many people want to see day and night, so what is there to be afraid of?" My project is to convey to those who do not want to get over the loss of a loved one or refuse to forget a family member who died, that it is ok not to forget, we can always find a way to remember them for a long time.

Chen ihan sketchbook development

Where do you draw inspiration from?

When I did primary research at Sheffield general cemetery, I found that life and death coexist here. It is more like a park than a cemetery, Today it is a listed landscape and nature reserve. Some original planting exists and the cemetery has some unusual hollies, fine oriental planes, open grassy areas and wildflowers. Its woodland habitat and location next to the River Porter makes it a valuable habitat for wildlife. This got me thinking about the relationship between life and death. In contrast to the vibrant flora and fauna, some tombstones shatter over time. Does this mean that the dead will eventually be forgotten? This got me thinking about the relationship between life and death.


What was the inspiration for this collection?

The death of someone people care about is a sad event. Sometimes, people respond by comforting the grieving people, maybe too much. Those who are comforted are expected to come out of grief. But is it true that all bereaved people hope that "everything will be alright"? Are there people who don't want everything to be “alright"? Is anyone afraid that they will forget their lost family members? What if being forgotten is the real end of life? My work is a response to this worry.



Please can you tell us a bit about your creative process?

I create a connection between the living and the dead through the burning of paper offerings and paper money in traditional Chinese funeral rituals. The fire is a way of passing on the thoughts of the living as well as the paper offerings to the dead through the burning and wishing them well in the world of the dead.

Chen Yihan, Work in progress


What is your favourite piece that you’ve made?

My favourite piece is the mask. The glasses on the mask contain cracked glass beads, and these beads have been burned with paper money. So the living can connect with the dead and share their vision of the world through the glasses on the mask.

What pieces would you like to add to your current collection given more time and resources?

I wanted to add my unfinished 'Moon Phase' necklace to the project. In traditional Chinese culture the 'Mid-Autumn Festival' is a time when families must eat together, but some people are no longer able to be present, and this necklace expresses how family members will still remember their loved ones.

Chen Yihans work was a stand out collection for us at the show! The mask, although not available to purchase is available to view along with her other pieces in her collection in our New Designers Exhibition. Featuring alongside the talented works of Amy Findlay, Itziar Olaberria, Liz Crow, Lorraine Murphy, Nina Letts and Rachel Adam. The New Designers exhibition is avaialble to view in store and online until October 22nd.