Yūgen App is an ever-growing collection of exercises and instructions on reconnecting with nature and yourself created by leading international artists. Every morning, a push notification will remind you of one of the randomly selected exercises which can be practiced on a daily basis and included in your daily routine along with a work-out or yoga session. Cutting-edge art becomes part of your morning ritual and lifestyle.
The artists who participate in the App with somatic rituals, karaoke or choreographic scores focus in their practice on the investigation of the new shifts in the human’s perception of nature (specifically, after COVID-19 pandemics). The proposed exercises challenge the possibilities of instruction-based art which has strong roots in the conceptualist movement of the 1960s and can be seen as strategies to escape from the market, working as a non-monetary exhibition through the channel of a mobile App accessible for free. The genesis of this type of artworks (read Bruce Altshuler’s essay “Art by Instruction and the Pre-history of do it” goes back to Duchamp as well who in 1919 sent his sister Suzanne instructions to create a wedding gift for her marriage to Jean Crotti. To enact the work called Unhappy Ready-Made, they were to hang a text on geometry from their balcony so the breeze could “go through the book [and] choose its own problems…” Yūgen App has much to do with the blurring of art and life and was inspired equally by proliferation of wellness culture and Allan Kaprow’s Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Art works Kaprow was attempting to create in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to disclose entirely unheard-of happenings and events or discover of ordinary things the meaning of ordinariness, art by instruction capitalizes on idealistic values set forth as early as the scores of John Cage and Steve Reich that release the artist’s autocratic hold on the artwork and open it to the world, a spirit Kaprow would take further in his attempt to blur uncontrollable life with art itself.

Our relationship with nature is broken. But relationships can change. Instructions of Yūgen App propose different modes of thinking and feeling different arrangements of planetary coexistence, invite us to forge intimate kinships with nonhuman creatures and force us to reflect on endangered nature and our relationship with it by proposing face-to-face encounters with non-human beings and feeling of planetarity. The exercises propose that we find ourselves in the middle of rapidly changing natural landscapes and listen, observe, smell, touch, speak to the land, the water, the air not with the aim of distantly understanding, grasping, or exploiting, but to resonate, to vibrate, to coexist, to be together.

Yūgen (幽玄) which is the title of the App, is may be, among generally recondite Japanese aesthetic ideas, the most ineffable. It denotes an intuitive, presumed, rather than explicit, obvious perception of the essence of an object (mainly nature, sometimes a work of art) and means a symbolic perception of a natural phenomenon or the prototype of a work. The term is first found in Chinese philosophical texts, where it has the meaning of “dark,” or “mysterious.” In the criticism of Japanese waka poetry, it was used to describe the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested by the poems. Yūgen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”.

Kamo no Chōmei, the author of the well-known Hōjōki (An Account of my Hut, 1212), also wrote about poetry and considered yūgen to be a primary concern of the poetry of his time. He offers the following as a characerization of yūgen: “It is like an autumn evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.” Another characterization helpfully mentions the importance of the imagination: “When looking at autumn mountains through mist, the view may be indistinct yet have great depth. Although few autumn leaves may be visible through the mist, the view is alluring. The limitless vista created in imagination far surpasses anything one can see more clearly”. This passage instantiates a general feature of East-Asian culture, which favors allusiveness over explicitness and completeness. Yūgen does not, as has sometimes been supposed, have to do with some other world beyond this one, but rather with the depth of the world we live in, as experienced with the aid of a cultivated imagination. As artists employing yūgen principles in other genres have shown, the incompleteness and allusiveness of the artwork summons the viewer into the scene. The onlooker must merge in the image, completing the empty spaces, making it a lively element of nature itself, ‘between’ visible and invisible.

Yūgen is the sense of the mysterious quiescence beneath all things. The world this imagery evokes is a muted, tranquil world in which nothing remains immutably fixed, a world of mist, rain, and wind, of snow and withering flowers. It is much too fragile and elusive a world to be rationally understood or deliberately controlled. The only effective way to respond to it is to adopt its own coloration, that is, to assume the grey habit and aimless ways of the wandering contemplative hermit.
Yūgen App is created by Alexander Burenkov, designed by Anna Akopova, developed by Ilya Kalyuk and commissioned by Porto Design Biennial in 2021.