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Interview: Suyu Chen's Study of Snow

Interview: Suyu Chen's Study of Snow

Lives and works in Rochester, New York

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

When I was in kindergarten, one of my classmates was particularly talented at drawing, I was amazed by his works then I asked my mom to take me to art class. I have been obsessed with it ever since. My artistic path probably originated from some sort of jealousy.

A Study of Snow 2 on-body (necklace), 2021; sterling silver, pvc tube, resin clay, enamel paints; photo credit: Haolan Zhou, model: Anna Leung

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I am originally from the south of China, and came to the United States in 2017 for MFA program. I’ve explored many materials in my jewelry practices since 2015, such as precious metals, fabric, plaster, found-objects and resin. I am attracted to the unique forms and textures of man-made objects—they always have some oddity that can never be found in nature, the form exists for a certain function. Currently, my work focuses on the repeated use of the same component, PVC electrical conduits, to create both wearable and sculptural objects.

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

When I realized that my instructors’ approach to painting was a blend of Western art academies and Eastern Asia traditional apprenticeship, I found that repetitive practice was an essential part of the training in arts and crafts. The systematic and repetitive process is joyful and brutal and leading to perfection with a risk of numbing self-awareness. This training method is deeply embedded in my culture from language, text character and arts, and I embrace the pain, power and imperfection it brings me.

I see the variation and endless form from all practices I’ve been through. When I come across a material that interests me, I tend to explore possibilities of the material itself in various ways to a great extent. Although I love to draw, I barely sketch when making jewelry, it is the material in my hands that leads my thoughts.

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

Agnes Martin’s drawing, Ledelle Moe and Sol LeWitt’s sculpture, jewelry by Otto Künzli, Manon van Kouswijk, Iris Bodemer, and works of my peers.

Where do you find inspiration?

Through all relaxing activities after a busy day: walking, driving, cooking, baking. 

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

It seems difficult to consider a particular work or project as the origin, I see my creations are all linked to each other like a cycle or have intertwined relationships.

Individual Artwork 02, photo credit: Haolan Zhou, model: Anna Leung

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

By coincidence, I got a plastic conduit pipe in a store, and I was interested in the strange texture of its gray matte surface. For my MFA thesis, I explored the idea of modularity by repeated use of this material. During the process, I realized that I always start or end up a work with a hollow form or close loop. It could be related to my subconscious understanding of jewelry: the most primitive jewelry is always formed by hollowed objects such as beads, and jewelry needs to be a close loop in order to be worn by the human body.

Individual Artwork 08, material: PVC tube, sterling silver, resin clay, enamel paint

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

Wear safety glasses when operating rotating machine.

 A Study of Snow 2 on-body (necklace), 2021; sterling silver, pvc tube, resin clay, enamel paints; photo credit: Haolan Zhou, model: Anna Leung

What are you working on now?

My recent project called ‘A Study of Snow’ was inspired by the observation of the last long winter in upstate. I embraced the present moment by creating an abstract replica of snow-covered objects, at the same time, I continued thinking about the giant plants and humid heatwave in tropical Asia during the last long winter, attempting to recall the heat of my hometown by taking a hot bath.

I turned my attention to the association between objects and nostalgia. Probably because of the long winter and not being home for two years, I had a new perspective at objects and self-awareness. With the arrival of spring, more symbolic motifs are growing in my works.

Artificial Orbit 04 (necklace/body piece), 2019; pvc tube, acrylic paints; photo credit: Jiageng Lin

About the Artist

Based in Rochester, New York

Originally from the south of China, Suyu Chen is currently living and working in Rochester, NY after graduation from the MFA program at Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY). Her works are inspired by her personal experiences of living in different places and relationships of her cultural background. Through repetitive experimental explorations of alternative materials and fine metal practices, her works got unique consequences and forms. Suyu received a BA from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, China in 2015. She also studied at RISD (Providence, RI) and Kunstuniversität Linz (Linz, Austria). Suyu has exhibited her works nationally and internationally.

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