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John Yuyi naked plane selfies
Photography John Yuyi

Nude selfies at 35,000ft! The artist stripping off in airplane bathrooms

Initially a spontaneous moment designed to break the monotony of a long-haul flight, John Yuyi’s Instagram series just spawned its own action figure

In 2018, on a 16 hour-long flight from New York to Taipei, Taiwanese artist John Yuyi stepped into the bathroom cabinet and took a selfie in the mirror. It’s something most of us have done at some time or another, as a way of capturing an unusual, disjointed, and occasionally disconcerting moment when there’s nothing but 35,000 feet of air between us and our lives on earth. 

What likely separates most of our shots from Yuyi’s, however, is one small detail – having stripped off her clothes as she entered the cubicle, the image depicts her almost entirely nude. 

“It was definitely a bit of a lightning flash moment,” she reveals. “I couldn’t sleep, so I went to wash my face and clean up a bit, and just decided to do it. After I left the toilet, I just walked back to my seat. It felt really weird – like you’ve told yourself an inside joke, and you’re the only one that knows.”

In the three years since that first, spontaneous moment, the idea has evolved into a full-blown series – although not all of the photos make the cut. “I try to take one every time I go on a plane, but sometimes I look really shitty and tired, so I don’t post those ones,” she laughs. “The ones people see are the good takes.” Slipping into the toilet mid-long-haul flight, Yuyi sheds her clothes and utilises the items she finds in the cubicle to create subversive, tongue-in-cheek ‘looks’. 

One shot sees her fashion a mummy-like balaclava from toilet tissue, while in others, a paper seat protector becomes a frame for her face or, otherwise, her bum. The Gucci-collaborator is also seen in a lo-fi look that calls to mind Leeloo from The Fifth Element, and with paper cups on her head that appear like animal ears or horns, depending on your outlook. 

“There’s only a thin plastic door between me and the other people on the plane, and when I come out (after doing it) I sit back in my seat and pretend like nothing ever happened. It’s like a joke that only I’m in on” – John Yuyi

Now, Yuyi’s nude selfies have inspired a ten-inch tall action figure, which she designed in collaboration with artist @hardleveltaro. Like an undressed Barbie with bright blue hair, mini-John cranes her neck, phone in hand, to capture her reflection in the mirror, and is encased in a box depicting the original selfie she was inspired by.

“I came back to Taipei due to the pandemic and met @hardleveltaro through a friend,” Yuyi says. “He’d made some weird concept action figures in the past and liked the concept of ‘Naked Selfie On Airplane. My friend actually reminded me recently that I’d been asking where to find a manufacturer to make action figures since 2018, so I’ve had the idea in my head for a while.” Where the selfies are ephemeral and easily deleted, this new addition roots Yuyi’s work in the physical world. 

Beyond Yuyi’s selfie-taking miniature self, her thinking surrounding the series has also evolved. Born out of impulse and, to a certain extent, boredom, it’s now become an exploration into the relationship between a space and what’s actually happening within it.

“There’s only a thin plastic door between me and the other people on the plane, and when I come out (after doing it) I sit back in my seat and pretend like nothing ever happened,” Yuyi explains. “It feels weird, but it’s not illegal. It’s like a joke that only I’m in on.” The resulting images are a window into a what is usually a private moment, and tap into the very human desire to know what goes on behind closed doors. 

For those reading this with particularly keen interest and wondering how to spice up their own long-distance journeys, Yuyi has a few tips: “My number one policy is to make it as quick as the time you pee, wear as little as possible to make it quicker, and don’t occupy the toilet so people have to queue!” 

Click through the gallery above for more.