Young Artists 2023 Art

Jes Fan, Creator of Haunting Sculptures, Manipulates Materials on a Molecular Level


“The tears that you cry when you’re sad, when you’re happy, or when you’re yawning are actually different molecular compositions,” Jes Fan explains over Zoom. “Thinking about things at the molecular level excites me.” These are recurrent themes in the Hong Kong- and Brooklyn-based artist’s work: smallness, intellectual engagement, and the biological code that underpins and defines our turbulent emotional lives.

Fan was born in Canada and raised in Hong Kong before moving to New York in 2014 to study. In his almost 10 years in the city, the artist has developed a practice that harnesses installation, sculpture, and video to design, test, and even farm substances including oysters and plants.

Whatever the focus, Fan’s work of late has emphasized exploration, process, and continuity. Currently, the artist—who graduated with a BFA in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014—is at work on the third chapter of an ongoing series called “Sites of Wounding,” which began in 2020.

Jes Fan, "Sites of Wounding: Chapter 1" (Installation View), 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and Empty Gallery.

The first chapter, which he presented at Hong Kong’s Empty Gallery earlier this year, took a local oyster species as its launch point, and included video works and large glass-embalmed shells, evoking the museumification of nature, body modification, and artifacts of global capitalism. The latest chapter will focus on soybeans and the process of soy milkmaking, using the liquid as a video projection surface.

“I have a fascination with these underlying networks of labor and materials—it comes to me quite organically, because my family worked in factories, and my dad ran a factory in China,” he says. The simplicity of Fan’s persistent thematic inquiries (how is something made? where, by whom, and for what purpose?) allows for a current of complex themes to emerge, which the artist prods and unravels.

Jes Fan, Bivalve I, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and Empty Gallery.

Fan’s sculptural interventions echo the concepts at the heart of his work. In Bivalve I and Bivalve II, both 2023, bubbling, glass forms drip from shells made of resin. The pieces are situated in an industrial frame, asking viewers to confront the ways that organic materials are embedded in complex systems of labor, and how they endure in the face of destruction and extraction.

Though he confronts the viewer with these heady questions, Fan understands that he is implicated, too. “I extend these questions and apply them to myself,” he asserts. “How am I made? What am I made of?"

For more about CULTURED's 2023 Young Artists, read our features with Adraint Khadafhi BerealEmma Stern, and Oscar yi Hou.