SSNYC-Projects is a curatorial program dedicated to promoting contemporary visual art focusing on ceramics, sculpture and three-dimensional work. Based on funding and availability, Sculpture Space NYC also offers residency opportunities by invitation.
Framing together the works of two artists working in a similar fashion, with the same material and with a similar background is not without risk, especially when the works defy conventional ceramic norms and processes as in the case of the delicate porcelain structures of Xi Nan and Shu-Mei Chan. In Unless & Until, the shortened bandwidth offers viewers an opportunity to quietly sense the microtones that would normally get lost in the typical “Where’s Waldo” scenario. Indeed, the synchronicities between the two enhance our understanding of each artist’s distinctive concerns and palpably demonstrate how subtle shifts in form, material, scale, color and light can engage the body-mind in drastically different ways.
Fitting in the palm of your hand, Nan’s painstakingly assembled and wire-framed structures tend to pull you out of your body and into highly complex micro-universes that mirror her psychological states. Nan states, “We are the architects of our own psychological spaces. We design the spaces subconsciously, and we are also the residents in our spaces as well as in reality…I am fascinated by architecture and the mechanical apparatus – these are metaphorical devices for me, providing form and access to reflect, express and evaluate my artwork, as well as my inner world.”
In contrast, Chan’s sculptures and installations firmly plant you in real-time and physical space. Approaching her tenuous clusters of bone-like needles is like approaching a wild animal; you immediately get jolted into your body, becoming aware of your vulnerability and power. According to Chan, “I think of myself as a constructor of moments rather than a maker of objects. I’m primarily interested in the transitory nature of all things, especially the things we assume are permanent.”
So while they share a fascination with the experience of space and time, they have very different motivations and approaches. This could be attributed, in part, to the 30 years separating their arrival to the U.S. and the changing face of Chinese immigrants. Born in Hong Kong to parents attempting to flee Communist China, Chan grew up in the suburbs of North Jersey during the Reagan/Cold War era. Fast forward 30 years, an interesting inversion happens: Nan, instead of having to escape China, is sponsored by the China Disabled Persons' Federation to study in Norway and then in the U.S. as a young adult. So on the one hand you have the unwanted guest, and on the other, you have the guest of honor. Unless and until you look at seemingly similar things side-by-side, such revealing nuances could go unnoticed.
Shu-Mei Chan (b.1973, Hong Kong) Chan’s sculptures, installations and interactive works have been exhibited in major cities across the US and abroad, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia. Most recently, she was part of a three-person exhibition at Galerie DeWitte Voet in Amsterdam. She received the Gillian Jagger Fellowship from the Women’s Studio Workshop, along with several awards from the National Council on Education for Ceramic Art. In 2011-12, she served as Visiting Assistant Professor at DePauw University. Chan received her MFA in ceramics from Indiana University; a BA in Studio Art from Wesleyan University, and has also studied at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. She lives and works between New York City and the Netherlands.
Xi Nan (b. 1987, Jilin, China) Nan was selected nationally from China Disabled Person's Federation to study abroad at Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway and earned her International Baccalaureate degree in 2007. In 2011, she received her BA in studio art at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. She took several ceramics courses at Maryland Institute College of Art, and worked as an intern at Baltimore Clayworks from 2011 to 2012, in Baltimore, Maryland. Xi Nan completed her MFA in ceramics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2015. Nan’s work has exhibited nationally including juried shows in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati and Washington DC. She lives and works in New York.