Detail of “Vena #9” (2021), porcelain paperclay and glaze, 24 × 8 × 18 inches. Photo by Jeanne Donegan
At once rigidly skeletal and imbued with rhythmic movement, the porcelain sculptures that comprise Shiyuan Xu’s Growth series are intricate recreations of single-celled organisms, molecules, and other micro lifeforms. The Chinese artist hand-builds delicate ceramic works of three-dimensional webbing that swell and surges into amorphous shapes mimicking a range of living creatures. Stretching up to two feet, the enlarged, abstract sculptures incorporate both the universal nature of evolution and change, while directly tying to Xu’s background. “My attempt of using the classical Chinese blue and white and celadon color palette in a contemporary way reflects my own narratives, life experience, and cultural heritage” she shares, explaining further:
The regular and irregular structures and layers of my piece blend in with the memory of my sensations and personal experience. The repetitive and labor-intensive process seems to be a therapy to ease my anxiety and sense of uncertainty while facing constant challenges in the intersections of two cultures.
To create each piece, Xu undertakes a laborious process that involves applying a heavy glaze and then using a knife to scratch the edges away.