2020 Emerging Artist: Yewen Dong

Yewen Dong, Jingdezhen, China

Ceramics Monthly: What techniques do you use to make your work and why?

Yewen Dong: The clay-drawing installation process begins with putting wet clay on a wall. The clay dries slowly and eventually peels off. As time passes, the installation decays to fragmented clay scattered on the floor. The crumbled clay has the history of being touched and it leaves its residual history on the wall as a palimpsest. Once the work is de-installed, the residue, the fluid marks resulting from washing away the remaining clay, and the original tracing that is revealed will become part of the next work. In this way, the work lives with its current, residual, and palimpsest states simultaneously.

1 Yewen Dong’s 1 by 4, 8 ft. 3 in. (2.5 m) in length, unfired gray clay, gray acrylic paint, light coral acrylic paint wash, 2019.

I worked in ceramic tile installation for years, but over time my work has shifted to clay-drawing installations. Working with clay that can be fired as a permanent object, and using it as an unfired, temporal material gives me more space and time to reflect on the life cycle of this material. I slow down my pace and rhythm to observe my clay drawing on the wall as it progresses from wet to dry, from a smooth surface to a crackled surface, from being on the wall to the clay peeling off. I feel the intimacy between clay and myself. I make the work through the gesture of touching the clay, and the clay’s response to the environment helps me to finish the other part of the work.

CM: What is the most challenging aspect of working in clay?

YD: The unknown is the biggest challenge.

2 Yewen Dong’s Much Ado About Nothing, 11 ft. 2 in. (3.4 m) in length, unfired red clay, charcoal gray paint, 2017.

I learn things, make good friends, work with many great teachers, and travel, all of which relate to clay. The longer I work with clay, the more deeply I want to figure out my relationship with this generous medium. I give clay a shape and form through my hand in a visible way, and it shapes my life and career slowly and gradually in an intangible way. As an artist, sometimes I’m waiting. Waiting to communicate to the solitary audience who is inside my body. I invite that interior person to communicate with a broader audience in order to understand myself, as well as to bring up and exchange ideas with different people.

One current challenge is that since finishing graduate school, my life and creative path have become blurred; however, while wandering in the unknown is uncomfortable and challenging, clay helps me to remain calm and to focus. 

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