JW: Audrey, what initially attracted you to ceramics? And can you tell me more about the repeating of simple elements in your pieces?
AA: I may consider these two questions in the same context. I initially thought of pursuing graphic design in high school, which stayed the same until I was off to college at Alfred University. I would not have studied ceramics unless I had the opportunity to naturally immerse myself in the ceramics community at Alfred University.
When I began to figure out classes for my junior year, I was drawn to the description of the Ceramic Tile class taught by Jason Green. And that class ultimately attracted me to the ceramic world.
The course explored different methods of generating ceramic tiles, modules, and units to create wall sculptures. I enjoyed designing patterns that travel between 2D and 3D.
I learned how to use a 3D modeling program called Rhinoceros 3D to create initial designs of forms and patterns. Later, prototypes were modeled with plasticine, plaster, or wood in accordance with the best advantages of individual materials. This way of working iterative shared a similar visual language that I learned from graphic design. My sketches existed in a flat piece of paper or screen, and then the ideas became physical in clay. I was also attracted to the process of creating modules and their assemblage. Repetitive processes of slip-casting and press-molding offer meditative properties and dimensionality to the final product. I enjoy the large-scale dimensionality that can be achieved from this process, which refers back to my interest in building blocks and in creating wall spaces full of 3D units.
Working back and forth between 2D and 3D offered a middle ground where I can enjoy taking the best and most advantage of both directions. This class shaped a lot of my style, i.e., how I navigate visual languages in my current works.
JW: I see you’ve studied ceramics at 3 places. How are the programs different? If you were looking to start all over again, what would you look for in a ceramics program?
AA: Yes, so I spent four years as a BFA student at Alfred University and two years as a post-baccalaureate student at Colorado State University, and I am currently at Penn State University as a second-year MFA student.
I did not have prior experience with clay until I was at Alfred University. Being at a school with a rich history in ceramics education, dedicated faculties, an extensive range of kilns, and scholarship resources, I built my foundation in ceramics fast. Even though Alfred is located in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, the art school hosted many shows, visiting artist lectures and events that educated me outside of classrooms. Ceramics professors and graduate students have their studios on the same floor as undergraduate students, and so I learned a lot from just casually stopping by their offices to talk to them. I am grateful for all the mentorship I received there.
I applied to Colorado State University to specifically study with Del Harrow and Sanam Emami. CSU is special in that since there is no MFA program in Ceramics, post-baccalaureate students hold responsibilities of graduate students. So I got the opportunity to be Del and Sanam’s teaching assistant and help maintain the studio. This experience made me more attentive to how ceramic studios and classes are run. I understood a lot from learning through seeing. I learned a variety of digital fabrication methodologies from Del during my two years there. CSU has exceptional digital fabrication facilities that assisted my learning. Del and Woodshop Supervisor and Fabrications Coordinator, Scott Kreider, gratefully allowed me to use the facility to experiment freely and I think that greatly helped me understand what is what.
From that point on, I tried to search for MFA programs based on what I understood and wanted. I made a list of what I wanted and went with my gut at the end. My list included a large number of faculties, faculty members who similarly engage in my research interest, facilities that would assist my projects, a personal private studio, and a generous amount of funding.
Penn State offered all of those for me and I am satisfied with my decision. The School of Visual Arts has a great partnership with the School of Architecture, which is right next to one another, so I have been able to work with Architecture professors here as well. I would add to the wish list one more, how flexible it is to work in another area of interest.
As I benefited from the interactions with many faculty members at Alfred, I am enjoying the effective mentorship of the Penn State professors – Chris Staley, Shannon Goff, Tom Lauerman, Kris Grey, Brad Klem and Andrew Castaneda. I followed the works of Tom Lauerman, who specializes in clay 3D printing and other ways of applying digital fabrication technologies into his works, I am benefiting a lot from continuing to study with someone who can offer insights and knowledge here in Penn State.
JW: Following university, you received a fellowship to fund some research. You traveled to Korea and China. Can you tell me more about those experiences? How have those experiences informed your life and your art?
AA: I received the Windgate-Lamar Fellowship from Center for Craft to fund my two-year post-baccalaureate studies at Colorado State University and travel around Icheon, South Korea, and Jingdezhen, China.
The funding offered moments for me to connect back to my heritage. Though having a BFA degree in ceramics from Alfred University, much to my shame, I did not have deeper knowledge about Korean ceramics and the contemporary ceramic art scene in Korea. The Fellowship fund allowed me to experience both traditional and contemporary ceramics in Icheon and Yeoju, Korea and to have a good opportunity to deepen my link to Korean ceramics.
Tiles, modules, and three-dimensional units allow me to express my conceptual interests with exactness and mass. Slip casting, press molding, and hand-building of tiles or units, all require craftsmanship and advanced skills. A research trip to the Porcelain mecca, Jingdezhen, China undoubtedly enhanced my multi-cultural understanding of porcelain tradition while connecting with artists through direct interactions. Such first-hand experience allowed me to be more acutely aware of the 1700 years of history that continues in today’s Chinese porcelain tile productions. Knowing that porcelain created in Jingdezhen are especially grand in scale, I tried to investigate and learn the traditional processes of achieving large scale. I hope I can utilize this cultural and artistic research experience to innovate new ways to approach large-scale installations.
JW: Your work involves the application of technology (specifically, digital fabrication techniques) to ceramic creativity. Does that mean applying technology to ceramic production? Or incorporating more of a “tech look” to your pieces? Maybe you could clarify what you’re trying to do with technology and ceramics.
AA: It can be both. I work in a project by project mode where each work is approached differently. For ‘Homes in Sequence’, I digitally sampled topographies of places I noted as homes and created a ceramic version of such data. The accuracy of topographic data was essential for me in this work. For works like ‘Extruded & Multiplied’, some components are coil-built, extruded, and molded. Not much digital fabrication process was involved in this work. But they offer that ‘tech look’ from the way I was sculpting them. (I laser-cut the plexiglass part to slide between my ceramic forms though.)
During my recent conversation with Chris Staley, we discussed how we love clay as a material of mimicry. We talked about possibly creating works that mimic the hand-sculpted look through digital fabrication and vice versa. I hope I can work on that narrative soon.
JW: Where do you look for inspiration?
AA: I look at furniture and architecture designs books for installation ideas, Korean architecture for motifs, and patterns. I have a private Instagram account where I gather images all together like a mood board. I also print these inspirational images out to create a separate collage. Artist wise, I have been looking at works by Francesca DiMattio, Robert Lazzarini, and Ron Nagle. Most of my works are monochromatic, so I am looking for works with vibrant colors to try something new.
JW: Your website includes links to many other artists. How important is a sense of artistic community for you?
AA: Yes, I included links to my close friends’ websites. I did so for whoever visits my website could get to know them too. They are the ones who shaped me outside of academic mentorships. I thought this could be a small gesture to show my gratitude towards them. We share works for feedbacks and support each other for various professional opportunities. My parents currently live in South Korea, and I do not have relatives here in the United States. So I consider this artistic community of which I am a part to be my second family. My clay family here offers me a sense of belonging.
JW: Has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted you and how you create? & Do you have any direction you want to take your work in the future?
AA: When the COVID-19 hit around March, I lost the opportunity to work in my studio at Penn State University. Thankfully, I recently got back into the studio.
During those five months, my good friend, Brad Klem, who received his MFA at Penn State in 2018, invited post-bacc student, Max Henderson, and me to make works at his basement. Recognizing the need for social connection, especially during that time of physical distancing, I am grateful to Brad and his family for having Max and me over. I got to make life-long friends thanks to the COVID-19.
Throughout my first semester at Penn State, I took the best advantage of the digital fabrication lab of CNC-mill and 3D print for my prototypes. Being confined at Brad’s forced me to work back fully just with my bare hands. This experience made me note that integrating digital technology with the analog handling of clay can be a metaphor for my transcultural experience. My work makes transitions between these two creative methods, just like how I navigate between cultures of the United State and South Korea. This trans-processing style of making objects is reminiscent of the transcultural influence on my works. I want to think more about this notion while producing works during this year. I also hope to delve more deeply into how I could use the visual imagery of architecture, landscape, and topography to offer a mixture of organic and mechanized tension in my work.
Penn State University MFA program is a two-year program. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the faculties at Penn State School of Visual Arts recently made a tremendously generous decision to let the 2nd year graduate students have an extra year of research and additional funding. I feel like I got another chance. I am super grateful for their decision and aim to make a new series of works by utilizing the extra opportunity.
Additional information on Audrey’s work: