Friday, August 8, 2014

Kevin Kao: Introducing Alfred

This post is part of a series reflecting on my month-long stay at Alfred University, birthplace of ceramic wizards. Special thanks to the 2014 Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award through Northern Clay Center for helping me through a productive summer going into my thesis year!

Oh, Alfred University… Ranked as the top ceramic graduate program, it's garnered a lot of mystique and intrigue for many… well, maybe actually just me? Part of my reasons for going to spend a month at Alfred’s Summer Studio intensive was not only to gain access to new technologies and facilities, but also to experience what Alfred is about. It’s uncommon that an institution open its doors to allow people to experience what it means to be at one of the top ceramic academic programs. Furthermore, I hope that my experiences here, whether it be learning to use new technologies or interactions with faculty and graduate students, can help me prepare for an exciting thesis exhibition at my home institution, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

So, I went to Alfred (summer studio) ....

Some quick notes about the city village of Alfred itself. 
- It’s actually called the village of Alfred, and yes, its a completely accurate.
- There’s one stoplight in the village.
- Nobody is around in the summer. Well, there are cows.
- There’s about 3 places to eat… Collegiate JET, anybody?!
- The nearest Target is about 1 1/2 hours away. T_T

The JET. $1 Tacos on Tuesday?!?! What.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way… the school itself is great! Facilities, working space and library resources are virtually unmatched for students that are interested in all things ceramic. The summer studio intensive is structured around a loose schedule with graduate students doing demoes, talks and loose critiques over your work. YES - exactly what I was hoping for! The Scholes Library, which specialized in all ceramic books, virtually has every single book/catalog/printed anything that has anything to do with ceramics. Perhaps even more valuable is their collection of MFA theses from alumni over the years… Hello Christina Cordova, Christina West and Jeremy Brooks~! Hubba hubba.

My Spacious Studio Space

The summer studio itself is comprised of 40+ students this year - about half of which are from various ceramic schools in Korea. This provided the program with an international exchange of ideas and information about various processes and techniques. Rather exciting, actually. Alongside the open-access studio format, daily demonstrations by the faculty and graduate students have covered a large spectrum of making in ceramics, ranging from building, surface techniques, printmaking and firing. This type of format serves independently driven students particularly well.

You lookin' at me?!

Part of my interests this summer has been to go through as many different ideas and processes to help me filter out what will work best going into my graduate thesis year. My last (3rd) year at the UT Knoxville is structured around building a thesis show. This means I’ve got approximately 9 months to produce a show. It’s pretty awesome. I’m using this summer opportunity to look at themes related to the historic Chinese production and representation of figurines. Whether created for export or for funerary purposes, Chinese figures and figurines have historically provided insight into costume and regalia - components which define purpose and role within individuals. I’m attracted to this relationship between individual identity and societal expectations. Clothing, hairstyle and costume are therefore approached as elements of performance that regiment each of us into our roles. These things show us who we are, but further what we are through their implications. (YAY SIGNS. YAY SEMIOTICS. <3 ROLAND BARTHES).

I think this is a good stopping point for now… A decent introduction to Alfred, the summer program and my interests in making. Look forward to more posts as I reflect further on my summer experience!

-Kevin Kao

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