Pretty Ngo Girl with fans is a blobby, wavy vessel with piercings and lollipop-shaped fins that appear to ooze glaze. The piece, which was inspired by traditional Vietnamese fans, is actually 3D printed on clay and was on display at Design Miami in December. But maybe the place he lives most comfortably is online. “I want my pieces to look like renderings,” she says.
Although Ngo is currently in the first year of a master’s program in ceramics at Alfred University, his work has already caught the attention of collectors and curators. His RISD BFA thesis – a series named 100 vases – was highlighted by curator and historian Glenn Adamson on his personal Instagram (he was also Ngo’s advisor at RISD) and sold out within days. Buyers included Michelle milar fisher, curator of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and design gallery owner Zoe Fisher, who commissioned works from Ngo for the Essential goods exhibit at Fisher Parrish last summer. And the inclusion of Girl with fans and two of his other works in Miami design – a maker of kings for artists and designers who make furniture and collectibles – is a break as big as any. And to think that just a few years ago, Ngo was fiercely opposed to working with ceramics. “I hated the time it took, hated the process and was really against the glazing, which is so ridiculous to think about because it’s something I really love to do now,” she says.
Pretty Ngo’s Girl with fans was exhibited at Design Miami in 2020.
Photo: Jolie Ngo
Ngo, who is 24 and was born and raised in Philadelphia, entered RISD as a sculpture student in 2014. After the first semester she knew it wasn’t good for her, so she decided to take time off. Meanwhile, contemporary ceramics were booming, which got her thinking: Maybe it’s something to review? Then Ngo read Glen Adamson’s 2019 essay, “The rise of the hyper potAnd things started to click.
In the essay, Adamson described a type of pottery that had “all the hallmarks of Instagram bait: vibrant colors, a sharp graphic figure, just the right balance of quirk and familiarity. This quirk often came from their dripping surfaces, crackle finishes, and hyper-pigmented hues, but what may seem haphazard and organic actually demonstrates a mastery of the chemistry involved in achieving these effects. If you have seen Ceramics by Seth Rogen, you saw a hyper pot. Artists like Anton alvarez and Takuro Kuwata are hyper-pot makers as well, although that’s not a name artists themselves use. Saying that you are doing something optimized for an algorithm might sound like a slight, but for Ngo, it is an exciting challenge. She wants to decipher the algorithmic code.
“I’ve been obsessed with creating what I think a hyper pot should be,” says Ngo. “Obviously some of my teachers and my cohort think Instagram is bad, but I think it’s a really wonderful tool and my work thrives on it. It looks great in person, but the habitat it belongs to is this hyperspace. You can see it in the bubble ships that Ngo made in their recent collaboration with an independent fashion brand. Tyler mcgillivary; the ultra-saturated, gradient objects Looks like she pulled them straight from a pixelated ’90s webpage in the real world.
To achieve this effect, Ngo plays with shapes and volumes in Rhino, a 3D modeling program, until she finds a satisfying shape. Then she prints tests using a robot potter, which is basically a robotic syringe that squeezes the clay in the programmed form, layer by layer. (It’s not that different from a spool pot.) However, not everything it programs can be printed. “Sometimes you ask for something really unrealistic from the material, but I’m looking at it,” she says. She often prints and pulls multiples of the same design, subtly tweaking it until it feels right. When the vessels are drawn, they retain the robot potter’s crafting language – those little ripples on the surface – and Ngo uses stencils and an airbrush to apply a very fine polish so you can still see that texture. Often, artists who varnish their 3D printed ceramics do not. “They hide the surface and the printed tongue that you get,” says Ngo. “And I think [the texture] is what makes them so wonderful.
“Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say that I 3D print plasticine because people have such a special idea of what it looks like,” Ngo says. (In other words, not good.) “A lot of people just post videos of their object being printed – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but I find it really good, as if it was about the performance of the printer and not about the real object. For Ngo, digital manufacturing is not the only focus of his work. As she puts it, “I am leaning on the post-internet aesthetic», Referring to a vague definition art Movement which explores the effects of the Internet on visual culture, in real life and online.
But a hyper pot is not just about skewing algorithms. As Adamson wrote, hyper pots still play the symbolic role that ceramics have long held: challenging the clean, industrial surfaces of mass production and modern capitalism with a handcrafted aesthetic that just happens to be the one. that the digital world really appreciates.
Ngo merges these worlds together. While digital design and manufacturing can sometimes have an aura of precision engineering, it’s more idiosyncratic – and more emotional – in Ngo’s hands. His sensitivity is also inspired by Betty woodman, a post-war ceramist (and Alfred alum) associated with the Pattern & Decoration movement, who asserted that the surface of an object can convey complex meanings. Ngo’s first major project, 100 vases, takes this surface experimentation to extreme lengths; every ship is radically different.
100 vases actually from an exercise her therapist suggested about a year and a half ago: going to 100 dates (which could just be for coffee or a walk) to practice meeting new people . This idea does not stick. She did a few, but quickly stopped because she didn’t like it. Instead, Ngo figured she could craft 100 vases (which she actually wanted to do) to achieve the same goal: to feel comfortable expressing herself fully. It coincided with a personal milestone; she had decided to get sober around the same time she had started working with clay.
Ngo molded 100 vases from a mold made from one of his 3D printed designs. She came to think of each empty container as a symbol of her body, then applied a different ornamentation to each to symbolize her struggle to reconnect with her past self before sobriety. One is covered in a moss green texture, another in luster paints and airbrushed gradients, while others are scribbled with hand painted phrases like: “My thesis show has been canceled and I’ll cry if I want to. ” Sticky and sticky glazes are particularly significant; they remind her of “my memories of me before I got sober,” she says. “Every time I revisit these memories, they ooze and merge into each other.”
She wrapped up the series during the first few weeks of the pandemic and sold them out later this summer. “I’m a little sorry I sold them all,” she said. “[At the time] I was just like: I don’t want to hang on to it. Will I be carrying them for the rest of my life? They filled three or four big Rubbermaid containers, and that’s where they would live for the rest of their lives. I felt they should go to houses where people would display them. “
Ngo did it Terracotta tower by stacking multiple 3-D prints as a way to increase his work.
Photo: Jolie Ngo
Now, a little reluctantly, she tries to expand her work, at the suggestion of her instructors to Alfred. Most of Ngo’s work to date is quite modest – Girl with fans measures only nine inches. The tool she works with can only print volumes around 13 inches, and she thinks the texture of her work doesn’t always translate into bigger things. His latest experiment is a 3D printed chair. To do this, she needs to divide the design into 40 different parts for printing, and then glue the prints together. But the stretcher bar between the legs keeps crumbling. Ngo remains fearless.
Although she has had huge success so far – after exhibiting at Design Miami, she has been told over and over again that she is one of the stars of the show and that she is also included in shows at the Shelter in Place Gallery and to Shoshanna wayne – she struggles with what this success and this exhibition means for her early works. She is not interested in being cataloged. “I’m grateful to have these opportunities,” she says. But, she admits, “I feel weirdly in conflict because I’m also a student and time is so limited here. I should focus on experimenting and expanding my practice, but it’s difficult because I don’t want to say no. “