Investigating the authenticity of the materials of ceramics. Studio Visit with Ling Chun

Ling Chun was born in Hong Kong in 1990, into a society that built upon a hybrid system of western and eastern. A foreign exchange program brought her to the United States at the age of seventeen. She then earned her BFA in visual communication design and ceramics from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012 and her MFA in ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design in 2016. Chun has been focusing on the physicality of materials separating from their stereotype and cultural reference by questioning their authentic use and redefining them in her language. She has been an artist in residence 2012-13 at Seward Park Clay Studio in Seattle, Washington, a summer artist resident at Arquetopia in Puebla, Mexico in 2015 and c.r.e.t.a.rome, Italy in 2016.

She is now a current long-term resident 2016-18 of Archie Bray Foundation, Helena, Montana, where she continues her studio practice.

AMM: You mentioned that you’ve moved from Hong Kong to the United States to study art and have also been an artist in residence in different countries. How do you feel your experiences shaped your subject matter and influenced the choice of medium you are working with?

LC: I have always been fascinated by people, especially the ability of adaptation. Being able to travel overseas, and study abroad really opened up my perception to many subjects. While I was in Hong Kong, the medium of art was limited by the school budget, and art was mostly considered as extra-curricular or a hobby. I didn’t experience any other art medium other than paint and paper, not until I came to the United States for a foreign exchange program, where I was surprised by the wide range of mediums in metal, ceramics, wood, glass and digital. Therefore, being in a different country, I mostly explore many new mediums to work with, and ceramics is one that captivates me as one of my artistic tools. I also find it fascinating to see how growing up in a different culture can alternate our perspective on the same object. In particular during my study abroad in this diverse country, the United States, I started questioning my own identity as to what it means to me to be authentic, and what culture am I representing. Therefore in the earlier stage of my artistic career, I had been questioning the authenticity of one’s culture, and now it extended to the authenticity of the medium itself.

AMM: Did you ever have a breakthrough as an artist? What was the most exciting moment in your art career so far?

LC: Definitely. I believe all artists have what we call the artist block. I was making a lot of representational ceramic food objects, but it shocked me to find out I wasn’t in a struggle making them. In fact, I believe being in a struggle and uncomfortable, or uncertain about the work I create is important to push my creativity further. Because of that, I did a 360 degree turn around, from a traditional, conservative perspective to refreshing, wild, no-boundaries style. It was the most exciting moment when I first showcased my work to the public, and the response was strong with emotions. As an artist who makes art objects, it is most rewarding to be able to evoke the feeling to viewers through the work. When I was first invited to a group show in New York City, being able to showcase along with a group of well-established artists like Simone Leigh, Jayson Musson, Hassan Hajjaj was definitely one of the most exciting moments for me, to be part of the show and meeting with all these amazing artists at the opening night.

The most recent exciting moment I had is to be selected as a long-term resident 2016-2018 at Archie Bray Foundation, a ceramics residency which is in Helena, Montana in the US. It is considered one of the best ceramics residency programs internationally. I was thrilled to be part of the residency and working with other talented artists, and supported by Matsutani Fellowship. Being able to follow my passion for art is the best gift an artist could ever have. I am truly grateful to be able to continue working with great support from the art community out here.

AMM: We love your use of vivid colors and different material implementations (particularly hair) in your sculptures. Where do you find inspiration for such variety in color and materials for your work?

LC: As a third child of a family, I am a very spoiled child; I have an excessive amount of colorful crayons, and paints. Colors become an access point to express my feeling as a child. My family owned a fabrics factory, and I spent a majority of time in the factory, wandering around with my tricycle. I remembered riding down that aisle where both sides were full of fabrics coated with different materials; they became part of my texture palette. I also find inspiration from Bonsai planting. It is a piece sculpture that manipulates nature. It is so beautifully crafted by the study of nature’s behaviors. It is fascinating to see how nature adapted and how that simulated human adaptation from one culture to another culture. I found that adaptation can also be applied to hair. I love styling hair, dyeing my hair into many colours; hair has such a powerful way of changing. It has a quality of transgression. It can change one’s identity, and define a personality.

AMM: Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you begin a new piece — with an image in mind or a particular idea?

LC: Whenever I begin to build a sculpture, I always seem to start with a verb or an adjective, very much like Richard Serra’s list of verbs as my starting point. I put myself in a position where I am a stage designer and a playwright, and the materials are my actors. With a verb, I begin to imagine how a stage can be designed so my actors (materials) can commend the verb I have in my mind? So each time if I am working in different materials, it will have a different stage (form) based on the properties of the materials.

AMM: Can you outline some of the themes you explore and convey within your art?

LC: I am currently investigating the authenticity of the materials of ceramics. Clay is such a primitive and malleable material; it has always been used to shape our imagination into a tangible object. It also has always been a trompe-l’oeil of other materials. The desire of my art is to discover the transgression quality from other materials, and experiment with the potential of transgressing them into ceramics-like. Hair is one of the materials I find consists of such quality, and that’s how I begin to incorporate hair into my ceramic sculptures.

AMM: What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?

LC: I hope the viewer can be just sinking into the lustrous quality of the work and the greedy use of materials, the mesmerised layer colors and refreshing feeling from my work; also, the ability to revisit my work in search of the unknown, craving for more.

AMM: Who are the artists that currently interest you?

LC: Arlene Shechet, Maria Nepomuceno, Allan Rosenbaum, Jacob Hashimoto, Nick Cave, Ron Nagle.

AMM: Do you have a motto, inspirational phrase?

LC: Listen to your guts, and trust your own instinct. I made art with my heart, and believing and trusting myself can make the most impossible to be possible.

AMM: Where can we see your work? Are you involved in any upcoming exhibitions/shows?

LC: I am currently working on a public art project, called “Hidden Food Project”, I am travelling to different cities of the US and hiding food that is made out of clay that represents the city. I am using Instagram as the social tool to promote the project and access tool for the public to participate in the search. Whenever I hide a food object, I will post an image of where the food is hidden as a hint for the public to find it. This project’s estimated run time is three years. It has been processed for six months and visited two cities in the US.

Meanwhile, I was invited to Rhode Island School of Design: Triennial Ceramics Exhibition in January 2017, running from January 13-22, 2017 at Woods-Gerry Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island. In August 2017, I will have a First-Year Fellowship Artists Exhibition in Bray Warehouse Gallery in Helena, Montana.

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