Fairy tale enchantment meets the uncanny as a mermaid eats a raw slice of her own tail and a woman with the wrinkled head of a Sphynx cat poses nude in the sculptural work of Tina Yu. Using polymer clay as her primary material, Yu painstakingly sculpts figurines into mysterious creatures that are incredibly ornate and lifelike. Yu shares her much of process on her Instagram account where she's gathered over 130,000 followers, some of whom have even shared photos of themselves made up to look like Yu's sculptures.
Yu tells The Creators Project that she attributes her success to persistently following her dreams. "I used to collect Barbies when I was little and growing up I was always fascinated with unique and one-of-a-kind ball jointed dolls. I never thought I would have the ability to make something like that but I also like to challenge myself. Luckily, instead of failing and giving up, I found my new passion."
The work-in-progress photos and tutorial videos that Yu shares on her social media channels help her followers appreciate the skill and effort that goes into the work she makes. Some of her videos demonstrate how she uses wire and a special kind of polymer clay that mimics human skin. It's simultaneously impressive and calming to watch Yu masterfully render minute details into the surfaces of her sculptures. Yu asks her followers for feedback and suggestions on her work as she shares it and admits that even though she often spends up to nine hours working on her sculptures a day, she doesn't plan out what she will do beforehand. "I know I will figure everything out as I go," she says.
In a recent Instagram post about her tail-eating mermaid, called Kainalu, Yu asked, "Everyone has different interpretation of an artwork, as an audience what do you think I'm trying to express through this piece?" Some of the responses included straightforward observations like, "I think it says don't take yourself too seriously," or "Humans are destroying nature." While others made more conceptual remarks like, "to me it kind of represents how the media is normalizing and romanticizing the idea of self-destruction," and "An individual must devour and destroy oneself to truly know and understand themselves."
A few days later, Yu responded to the comments. "There's really no right or wrong answers. Appreciating a piece of artwork is purely subjective, that's the beauty of it isn't it? [...] What's important is how does she impact you and your life? What do you take away from this piece?" Yu's acknowledgement of the open-ended meaning behind her art is central to her practice and philosophy towards making art. "Never be afraid of making mistakes and don't ever discourage yourself from trying and experimenting with new things. I actually really like this one quote from Joseph Chilton Pearce: 'To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong.'"