Fortunate are those who unknowingly encounter an installation by Julia Chiang, as I did one night a few years ago.
I was walking briskly up an avenue in New York when I came across a storefront window looking into small room with vintage mirrors hanging from the floor to the ceiling. I stopped to examine the mirrors. The words “i love you” were etched in tiny script across the glass of each one. The room was brightly lit, but the doors were locked, filling my mind with a narrative it could not complete.
Like much of her work, the installation was a half-story that engaged the viewer’s curiosity -- only heightened by serendipity -- and challenged it to fill in the blanks.
At the OHWOW Gallery in Miami a couple of years ago, Chiang used Ring Pops to write familiar valedictions, such as “Love Always” and “Sincerely Yours,” on the walls. The candies melted over the length of the exhibition, leaving streaks of color down the gallery walls, and eventually only the bare scaffolding that once supported those terms of endearment.
For her new show, “Security Is Mostly a Superstition,” at Half Gallery in New York, Chiang places several handmade white ceramic chains inside a small white room. In lending fragility to an item that’s typically robust, Chiang revisits the contradiction in the ties that bind.
What led you to create ceramics chains?
I was testing different things out to make something that seemed extremely strong and fragile. Chains have always made me think of a form of bondage, restraint, control, defining boundaries, violence, among other things, and I thought about how if they were made with ceramics they'd be really fragile- defeating their purpose and function. I was thinking about our efforts and desires to create relationships and how often boundaries and connections are forced.
So you first have the concept, and then there’s a process in finding the right object to best express that concept? Are there instances when the object comes first, inspiring a concept?
I think I am always thinking about various ideas and what I want to try to actualize. Sometimes I collect objects I'm drawn to and I just look at them a lot, not sure what I want to do with them. And sometimes it leads to me using them as part of something, and other times they just sit there. Maybe one day I'll use them, but they may just become another thing I temporarily obsessively collected.
For example, I have a collection going of old glass boxes, and I'm not sure what I want to do with them. I like imagining the stories and objects they once held, the hands that held them, and visually I like how they sit empty. I constantly think about what I will do with them but I also think they are awesome the way they are.
What is the process from the concept to the production of the art? Your work is always so precise in its message and smartly executed and ultimately, beautiful. I’m just curious what your filtering process is like in order to reach the final piece.
There are definitely times I know what I want to work on, but the process is always different. I don't have one way of working and I hope I constantly find new ways of working things out.
A lot of your work highlights contradictions (even how the imperfection of handmade objects contribute to the precision of the message). Is it because, as you say, “the world is full of them,” contradictions? Maybe contradictions isn’t even the right word ... You question formalities. And when did this become an interest for you?
I think in general there are often multiple sides to a story, an idea, feeling, way of dealing with things, and that becomes part of how I make things. Like turning a negative positive, or giving weakness strength.
There is a temporal quality to your works, also. They are constantly changing, or they hint at change. And the motor behind the change is always natural.
I am drawn to things that change and deteriorate over time. I've always loved watching things evolve, and I think making work that is left to its own nature has that beautiful element of chance and unknowing. Ephemeral materials reveal a passage of time and instability, and the materials I have used leave a mark so even as they fade or disappear, they are permanently there somehow as well.
Finally, how did you get into ceramics? And what is it about ceramics that appeals to you?
I love working with ceramics because of the characteristics of it being both extremely fragile and strong. There are a lot of issues when working with ceramics that make me feel like I'm working with a live material. It's moody, it's affected by weather, some days it's just more difficult. I'm not a technical person so I've learned to work with it in my own way and often it's a cross-your-fingers kind of thing. It forces you to learn to let go. At least the way I work with it. I'm sure there are ceramic masters that always get the results they want, but...I am not one of those people.
“Security Is Mostly a Superstition” is on view through May 2 at Half Gallery, 208 Forsythe St., New York, NY, halfgallery.com. She has also released a print (limited to an edition of 50) through Exhibition A.
For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter.
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