Ceramics can be both practical and decorative, and for artist Ling Chun, creating ceramic art is also cultural and psychological. Chun is currently part of a group exhibition, in which her brightly colorful work is being shown alongside that of nine other artists at the Traver Gallery through February 26, with an artist reception on February 3.

The Traver Gallery near Pike Place Market provides a home for visual artists of all mediums, providing Chun with a dedicated page. In March, Chun will combine her passion for ceramics with her love of neon to present her solo exhibit Missing Moon at the Gallery, exploring both her sense of temporality and her connection with the world.

Chun says that the combination of ceramics and neon reflects her identity as being part permanent and part ephemeral. “The exhibition explores the moon as a symbol of togetherness in my culture,” Chun said, “and how it has become my trail in searching for the meaning of belonging.”

Her first experience with ceramics occurred 14 years ago when Chun was a foreign exchange student in Wisconsin. “I didn’t speak English very well, and I didn’t seem to fit in at that time,” she said. “The language barrier, the cultural shock, it really took a long toll on me.”

Chun admits she had trouble adapting to her newfound city. “It felt like holding a porcelain spoon in my mouth, so much emotion to express, but no one could understand a word I said,” she said. “I found my way of communication through ceramics.”

And ceramics communicates back, she found. “Clay is honest,” Chun described. “It responds to my emotion.”

Chun conceptualizes ceramics as a long-term relationship that always comes with surprises. “When I am frustrated while working with clay, the frustration reflects on the piece in the ceramics process,” she said. “It appears with cracks or sometimes explodes in the kiln.”

Sometimes those explosions reflect how Chun is feeling in her broader life. In her artist statement on her website, Chun writes that “long suppressed anger and cultural expectations combust onto my ceramic forms,” because her work is influenced by her immigrant experience in the US. “I have heard in the past from professors and curators that I would be more successful if I made more ‘Chinese’ work,” she reported. “I questioned how I could make my work more Chinese?”

Ultimately, she realized these comments were born of stereotypes. “In reality, my experience growing up as Chinese is more enough,” she said. “What really I was suggested to do is work that fits in with the idea of ‘Chinese’ or ‘Asian’ work to the Eurocentric art market.”

Chun respects Chinese tradition but doesn’t feel constrained by it. “The history of ceramics in China has a long history, and its beauty and historical value are undeniably important,” she said. “Still, it doesn’t mean porcelain is the only clay body I use, or blue and white is all my ultimate palette can do.”

Yet she doesn’t shy away from borrowing cultural references either. “I draw references from a wide range of imagery from my cultural experience, for example, Canton Opera costumes, headdress, lion head movement, Chinese calligraphy, and the city-scape of Hong Kong,” she elaborated. “These experiences are authentic to me, and they define my identity as Chinese.”

One of her favorite creations is her work Pine-apple, from 2018. “I was highly fascinated with the history of pineapple at that time of creation,” Chun recalled. “Its origin is a sweet fruit in South America. Still, colonialism alters the meaning of pineapple and turns it into an exotic luxury fruit and a social status of the upper class that you can show off at a dinner party.”

Chun combined historical study with improvisation to construct the final multi-color piece. “I didn’t intend to make a pineapple, but my mind was occupied by that one fact of history, and I got a colorful abstract version of pineapple,” she said. “This exemplifies to me an ideal ceramics creation. You don’t even plan it, it happens naturally.”

In a recent article by Sarah Archer, the focus is on how Chun blends her Hong Kong and American identities. “Those identities have definitely gotten more complicated,” Chun said. “The last time I visited home was three and a half years ago. Since then, Hong Kong has changed so much, including political upheaval in 2019.”

Chun felt at a loss during these changes. “Not able to be there at that moment of transition, I felt my loss of connection to this home,” she recounted. “With this loss of contact, my identity as a HongKonger becomes a memory or even a ghost.”

But this absence was not fully replaced here in the U.S. “My identity as an Asian immigrant is unsettled with the surge of Asian hate crime in the US and the increased tension of foreign politics with China,” she said. “I feel in limbo with my identity.”

In response to these feelings, Chun is seeking to deepen her roots both in the U.S. and in Asia. “After my exhibit with Traver Gallery, my goal is to work up to a grant to travel home and learn neon light-making from the master neon-maker in Hong Kong,” she said. “Meanwhile, I will be traveling to the east coast to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUarts) as part of their visiting artist program in early April, and I am hosting a three-week ceramics makerspace at The Ox-bow School in July.”

Until then, Chun will be preparing for Missing Moon. “My goal for this exhibit is to hope I will find some peace with my limbo,” she said, “and connect to those who feel the same way.”

Ling Chun’s Missing Moon exhibit will be display from March 3 to 26 at Traver Gallery, 110 Union Street, Suite 200, Seattle. https://www.travergallery.com/exhibitions/

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