Ling Chun’s exhibition at Traver Gallery explores the meaning of belonging

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 showcasing her colorful work alongside those of nine other artists at Traver Gallery through February 26, with an artist reception on February 3.

The Traver Gallery near Pike Place Market is a home for visual artists of all media and gives Chun a dedicated site. In March, Chun will combine her passion for ceramics with her love of neon to present her solo exhibition moon is missing in the gallery, exploring both her sense of temporality and her connection to the world.

Chun says the combination of ceramic and neon reflects her identity as 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 search of the meaning of belonging.”

She first encountered ceramics 14 years ago when Chun was an exchange student in Wisconsin. “I didn’t speak English very well and didn’t seem to belong at the time,” she said. “The language barrier, the culture shock, that really took a toll on me.”

Chun admits she had trouble adjusting to her newfound city. “It felt like I was holding a porcelain spoon in my mouth expressing so many emotions, but no one could understand a word I was saying,” she said. “I found my way of communicating through ceramics.”

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

Chun sees ceramics as a long-term relationship that always brings surprises. “When I get frustrated working with clay, the frustration affects the piece in the pottery process,” she said. “It appears with cracks or sometimes explodes in the furnace.”

Sometimes these explosions reflect how Chun is feeling about the rest of her life. In her artist statement on her website, Chun writes that “long-held anger and cultural expectations burn into my ceramic forms” because her work is influenced by her immigrant experience in the United States. “I’ve heard from professors and curators in the past that I would be more successful if I did more ‘Chinese’ work,” she said. “I wondered how I could make my work more Chinese?”

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

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

But she doesn’t shy away from making cultural references either. “I draw references from a wide range of images from my cultural experience, such as Canton Opera costumes, headwear, lion head movements, Chinese calligraphy and Hong Kong cityscape,” she explained. “These experiences are authentic to me and define my identity as a Chinese.”

One of her favorite creations is her work pineapple, from 2018. “I was very intrigued by the history of the pineapple at the time of its creation,” Chun recalls. “Its origin is a sweet fruit in South America. Yet colonialism is changing the meaning of the pineapple, making it an exotic luxury fruit and an upper-class social status to brag about at a dinner party.”

Chun combined historical study with improvisation to construct the final multicolored piece. “I had no intention of making a pineapple, but my mind was on this one fact of the story, and I ended up with a colorful, abstract version of the pineapple,” she said. “For me, this is an example of an ideal ceramic creation. You don’t even plan it, it happens naturally.”

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

Chun felt at a loss during these changes. “I couldn’t be there in that moment of transition, I felt like I was disconnecting from that home,” she said. “With this loss of contact, my identity as a Hong Konger becomes a memory or even a ghost.”

But that absence hasn’t been fully compensated for here in the US. “My identity as an Asian immigrant is being challenged by the rise in Asian hate crimes in the US and rising foreign policy tensions with China,” she said. “I feel like I’m in limbo with my identity.”

In response to these feelings, Chun seeks to deepen her roots in both the United States and Asia. “After my exhibition at Traver Gallery, my goal is to earn a scholarship to travel home and learn how to make neon light from a neon master in Hong Kong,” she said. “In the meantime, I will be traveling to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUarts) on the East Coast as part of their visiting artist program in early April and hosting a three-week ceramics makerspace at the Ox-Bow School in July.”

Until then, Chun prepares for it moon is missing. “My goal for this exhibition is to hope that I can find some peace with my limbo,” she said, “and connect with those who think the same way.”

Ling Chun’s Missing Moon exhibition runs March 3-26 at the Traver Gallery, 110 Union Street, Suite 200, Seattle.

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