“I’ve always been drawn to art in different ways, but sculpting clay by hand seems to come most naturally to me. I think it is my most effective means of communication,” says Janny Baek, whose playful, abstract ceramics blur the line between form and function. Drawing on fundamental compositional elements like color, line, and volume, she creates characterful shapes from clay that “advocate for the strange, uncategorized, undefined, changeable, hybrid, multiple, alien, and pleasurable.”
After studying ceramics in college, Baek worked as a sculptor for animation and toys before pursuing graduate studies and a career in architecture. As an architect, she used digital tools like parametric 3D modeling, which employs computer algorithms to create advanced designs, and while she enjoys the possibilities of technology, she was pulled toward working with her hands. “As life becomes increasingly screen-based, I also made an intentional choice to engage in a physical mode of making. I’m learning a lot about sculpting with each piece I make,” she says. “Even though I do it a lot, I still find it very intriguing and mysterious.”
Baek’s pieces incorporate colors in gradients or patterns onto textured surfaces that show where she has rhythmically pushed and formed and the clay with her fingers, emphasizing the connection between maker and object. Asymmetrical and bulbous, her otherworldly sculptures are redolent of boulders, cacti, coral, or micro-organisms. Ambiguity is a core tenet of her practice, especially as it relates to transformation and growth. “This is a central theme in my work because I think this active moment is an opportunity for questions rather than answers and wondering rather than deciding.” She continues:
I make forms that may seem like hybrids of familiar things or something with unexpected qualities that may make something appear strange or foreign. I see this as a entry point for questioning our assumptions and allowing ourselves space for reflection and curiosity. As a Korean immigrant growing up in the U.S., I understood that minimizing my differences was important in order to cause less friction or discomfort to others. Now, I perhaps feel some strength and joy in revealing the stranger side of something through my work.
Baek’s first solo exhibition The Pleasure of Growth continues through May 20 at Culture Object in New York. Find more on her website, and follow updates on Instagram.
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