Since starting her ceramic journey about five years ago, Chen acknowledges the element of chance and surprise as part of her design. With humility, she does not claim to be the author of a beautiful mistake. She continually recognizes the vast knowledge to be learned about ceramics, but it does not stop her from experimenting.
Here we talk with Chen about her experience and experiments with ceramics.
GLAZE: How did you get into ceramics?
VIVIAN SHAO CHEN: I started making ceramics in 2013 when I was teaching architecture design studios at Cornell University. There were leftover slipcasting materials from a previous class that was free and available for me to use. The shop tech generously offered to teach me the basics of how to make a mold and helped me pour my first ceramic cup. Since then, I took a wheel throwing class earlier this year and became obsessed with the process of throwing.
I come from an architecture design background, which is often more cerebral than it is about making. Though materiality is very important to architects, we can be very removed from it since we aren’t the ones who actually build our designs. Making objects with clay is a totally different design process than I was used to. My favorite pieces are those that happen while I’m throwing on the wheel, intuitively. What I like is finding the subtle nuances in shape and detail that make a piece interesting and beautiful. These are things I could never design on my own and that come from the process itself. I tend to make a lot of functional pieces. There is something satisfying about making something utilitarian that also makes you appreciate your physical environment more. I look for simple shapes with refined details that blend easily into the background. I like that ceramics is a very humble and humbling craft. Mistakes and accidents are always happening, even when I think I did everything ‘right’. I will continue to learn and refine my skills, and I look forward to seeing what else the process reveals.