Ding Ren’s “White Shirts,” from the series Invisibility Cloaks. (Courtesy Ding Ren)

Ding Ren, MFA '09, looks across cultures for "patterns that are both foreign and familiar."

Share this story:  TwitterFacebook

By Menachem Wecker, MA '09

It was a simple slip of the tongue: "Google Sheep View."

Amsterdam-based artist Ding Ren, MFA '09, had sheep on her mind. It was 2015, the Chinese Year of the Sheep, and Ms. Ren had been visiting city farms to see the ungulates, which remind her of "puffy clouds on the ground."

When her husband returned from a train trip and said he'd seen sheep along the tracks, the two used Google Street View to locate the herd, and then others.

One malaprop later, their new Tumblr photo project (googlesheepview.com) had a name—and, shortly thereafter, international attention. People began sending in their own finds from Google Maps.

The blog, though lighthearted, relates to a broader artistic vision. Born in Wuhan, China, Ms. Ren seeks in her work "cross-cultural patterns that are both foreign and familiar. ... This can be anything from common, everyday observations, like the way laundry is hung out to dry, to the way curtains are used or not used over windows, to the way certain shapes, colors, shadows or lines are naturally found in the urban landscape," she says.

She aims to capture essences or feelings that otherwise evade capture in words. "I don't set out specifically looking for anything to photograph, but I let the place and the situation guide me," she says. That approach, she says, stems from her having been born in China, grown up in the U.S. and living in the Netherlands for the past five years.

Ms. Ren's photographs have appeared this year in an exhibit at South Korea's Czong Institute for Contemporary Art and last year at the He Xiangning Art Museum in Shenzhen, China. The latter exhibition, "Double Vision," featured her among 18 Chinese women artists living and working outside of China. "I think this is an important segment of Chinese art that is completely overlooked most of the time," she says.

"Nationality and one's cultural identity are more nuanced than just what it says on a passport."

For more on Ms. Ren’s work and upcoming shows, visit dingren.net.

Other Spring Features

Card Catalog

Card Catalog

A niche collection of baseball cards makes it to Cooperstown.

Between a Rock and a Soft Place

Between a Rock and a Soft Place

In his new book, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen explores how "human" stone can be.

Norman Rockwell

The Rockwell from the Vault

Brady Art Gallery exhibition showcases little-or never-seen art from GW’s permanent collection.