Jennis Li Cheng Tien

Born in 1983 in Taiwan, Jennis Li Cheng Tien moved to Singapore in 1997. She relocated to Germany in 2008 and completed her MFA in Public Art and New Artistic Strategies. She has lived and worked in Berlin since 2011.

Jennis’s work ranges from urban interventions to site-specific installations that aspire to be perceptually engaging. Her acute interest in spatial analysis and locality propelled her to focus on the points of intersection between architecture, sculpture and urban structure, subsequently refining her own conceptual and visual vocabulary. In most of her recent works, Jennis has attempted to integrate local participation, as she is interested in how her work can be shaped differently through people’s input in order to add an additional layer of relevance and purpose to a place. While metaphor is essential in her conception and process, her focus is not primarily on the ideological but on the sensory, aesthetic experience on a primal, physical level.


Time-based Intervention in the river Onyar

To various degrees

Installations based on site-specific research

Dissipation 2015, Time-based Intervention in the river Onyar in Girona


During the first part of my residency in Girona I first carried out research revolving around the most prominent row of colourful houses along the Onyar River.

I approached and interviewed various residents, such as the artist Enric Ansesa and the architect working at the city’s urban development department, as well as the paint manufacturer Pintures M. Vich, which produces specific paint colours for the Onyar houses. In addition to this research, I carried out a site-specific intervention in the river. Four large ice blocks were made from the water collected from the Onyar River. They were installed in one section of the river, creating a temporary divergence of the river flow. The duration of this intervention is determined by the amount of time it takes for the ice blocks to melt. With this work, I am interested in the portrayal of human desire for permanence in the world which is constantly confronted by the inevitable flux caused by nature.

“With this work, I am interested in the portrayal of human desire for permanence in the world which is constantly confronted by the inevitable flux caused by nature.”

To various degrees 2015, Installations based on site-specific research in Albi

My involvement with the river in Girona led me to focus on the main river in Albi. The experience of the clean-up operation of the basement of the Centre d’art Le LAIT following a recent flood prompted my research on local history and stories related to floods.

Deploying pieces of dried mud left by the flood as a visual metaphor, I created several experiments that were all presented in an exhibition resembling an artist’s laboratory. The main installation consisted of a showcase displaying pieces of dried mud covered with a layer of white water-resistant paint. These pieces were subsequently placed inside various glass recipients which had been collected from residents previously affected by flooding. During my stay in Albi I was also in contact with a local architect and an author of children’s books. They shared their knowledge about the river at an open studio event.

To various degrees

The collections are based on my research of floods caused by the rLe Tarn River in the city of Albi, France.
The essential element of all three installations is derived from a collection of dried mud tiles left by a recent flood in the basement of le Centre d’art Le LAIT in Albi, France.

“displacements of matter and transformations”

The work of Jennis Li Cheng Tien can be compared to that of an archaeologist, who explores the land in search of its origins. It also resembles that of an artisan, who experiments with the various changes in the state of matter, and that of an researcher, who draws on documentation, searching for evidence that will attest to a reality specific to his field of inquiry.

Jennis Li Cheng Tien is an artist who transposes her observations and experimentations so as to suggest a personal and poetic vision of the territory, landscape and/or city which she establishes at the heart of her work, and whose singular characteristics she consistently highlights.

Her plastic propositions and ‘translational’ work provide us with a way of deciphering the history of mankind in all its singularity.

In Albi, Jennis gathered fragments of silt left behind by the floods of November 2014 in the basement of the Moulins Albigeois (Albi Mills) exhibition space. This soil, which originated from the Rougier de Camarès area, travelled several dozens of kilometres before settling underneath the Moulins centre. As such, it already represents a form of ‘displaced territory’.

Her interest in this red earth then led her to local architecture, which uses bricks made out of this same soil, thus constituting another example of matter that is displaced in order to be transformed.

Her attention to thorough documentation then led her to Henry Ser, an architect in Albi.

The work process she engages in is identical, involving displacements of matter (fragments of silt) and transformations (pictorial treatment and various experimentations).

The act of painting the fragments gives them a precious aspect, like items from an archaeological excavation, shards of pottery of ceramics that have lived a life of their own…

In her search for individual and collective stories, Jennis first met with the writer Brigitte Coppin, an author of books on medieval history who lives in the Tarn region. She then invited residents of the Moulins Albigeois area, who endure the erratic assaults of the River Tarn, to share their stories with her and give her some clear glass containers – glasses, dishes, vases… Serving as metaphors of their homes and personal stories, these containers were gathered together at the Moulins centre, on a table facing the river.

For the Open Studio she designed at the exhibition space, Jennis displayed a few of her painted fragments on shelves, like a collection of archaeological treasures. The containers provided by the residents are filled with water, into which she delicately deposits her fragments. The earth crumbles in the water, which becomes cloudy at first, before the sediment gradually settles.

Only the ‘skin’ of the paint is left at the surface of the water – an imprint of the transformed matter, the creation of another form of memory. The silt resumes its movement at the bottom of the container, dissolved, shapeless. After becoming solidified by an extraordinary event and made visible for a short while, it once again reverts to its initial shapeless and elusive form.

Further back, on the windowsill overlooking the river, Jennis placed a flat screen that shows a static shot of the red, roaring river. The colour contrast is startling on the days when the river reverts to its pale green hue, reminding us of the ever-changing nature of things. The screen sits on a layer of silt, which the artist crumbled and filtered until she obtained a soft, smooth powder, reminiscent of spices or pigments, or other noble and precious substances…

Jennis’s work process, which is very rational and relational, documented and protean, matters as much as the result that summarises these various aspects. All the different elements produce a metaphoric, poetic and singular proposition, which reflects each studied location. There is nothing automatic about her work, despite the fact that she always uses some form of natural element (light, water…), and consistently reproduces a plural approach that involves elements of archaeology/handicraft/documentation/art. Each new work is a new beginning. The protean nature of Jennis’s artistic productions might at first make her work seem a little hard to comprehend as a whole. But hidden under this apparent disparity of forms is a subtly constructed, delicate, and highly contemporary practice.

Murielle Edet

“The different elements produce a metaphoric, poetic and singular proposition which reflects each studied location.”