Turchin exhibit visited by award winning photographer

Amena Matcheswala, Reporter

The Turchin Center for the Visual Art’s most recent exhibit saw the work of an award-winning wildlife photographer for National Geographic and other major publications give a talk about his new exhibition, “Thin Places,” Dec 2.

Kiliii Yuyan spends 300 days of his year traveling to distant places, primarily the Arctic Circle. He spent one of the 65 days he had left in App State’s corner of his vast world during the Center’s monthly showcase. His collection “Thin Places” is an assortment of landscapes depicting both the physical beauty of places he’s visited and abstract concepts of the spirituality behind those places. It will be on display until May 6 as part of the Center’s winter exhibition.

The title of this exhibition came from a translation of a Celtic term coined to describe locations and moments that hold relevance to many indigenous cultures. These moments reflect a bridge between the natural world and the spiritual world.

“They’re referring to places where the veil between heaven and earth is thin. That veil between magic and reality is thin,” Yuyan said. “Those are the places that often can seem mundane, but they sort of overcome us with emotion, with feeling, when we get into them.”

Yuyan gave a talk about the inspirations behind his work and described the magic behind many of the individual moments captured in the exhibit. Yuyan also talked about the struggles of capturing the emotions of these magical places in a way that could be universally understood, as well as the struggles of conveying magic through photography in a world where science can sometimes overwhelm the importance of spirituality when according to Yuyan, the two can coexist.

“If any of you have walked over a glacier or watched the fire dance inside a wood stove, you have paused inside what I call a thin place, and you’ve glimpsed a landscape of other living things,” Yuyan said in his speech.

While the crowds celebrating the winter exhibition bustled about the building to the tune of upbeat music, Yuyan’s room was the picture of serenity. Other spaces in the exhibit ranged from bright lights to vivid colors but Yuyan’s room was filled with dim lights and a dark blue matte wallpaper to set the backdrop for his similarly ethereal images. The room itself was characteristic of the portals his images displayed.

Amena Matcheswala

“Thin places themselves can be … like a portal, almost. You walk through that portal to another type of existence altogether,” Yuyan said. 

Collected over the course of multiple assignments in locations ranging from Greenland to the Arctic Circle, the works show rare states of nature when light, weather, shadows and other elements of the environment come together to show something more ethereal and spiritually compelling than the landscape alone. 

“I love that they’re not that restricted to a certain culture or a certain people. He very much establishes that it’s something that is a constant human experience,” said sophomore art education major, Jillian Seversky.

Much of Yuyan’s work focuses on indigenous cultures while also addressing the ways that climate change has affected these communities. Yuyan’s work in addition to photojournalism revolves around his indigenous background, such as the years he spent as a skin-on-frame kayak boatbuilder. His photographic work exploring cultural fires, an indigenous solution to wildfires, landed him the Zeke Award for Systemic Change in 2022. However, according to Yuyan, climate change is never the central focus of his projects, popping up instead due to the inevitability of coming across the issues it presents in the places he works. 

“I don’t talk about climate change usually that directly, I usually talk about it because it’s the backdrop to everything I do. It’s impossible to ignore because it screws up my assignments all the time,” Yuyan said.

Yuyan has specialized in wilderness survival and cold water diving, weathered extreme climates in the Arctic and even survived botulism throughout the extent of his time as a photojournalist. His work has earned him awards such as National Geographic Explorer in 2021, and one of Photo District News’ 30 new and emerging Photographers in 2019, among others.