Winners of a 2023 DesignTO Juror’s Award, Mao and Chris of Mao Projects talk about their work, the evolution of their practice and their creative journey into ceramics.
How would you describe your profession and your practice?
Mao Projects is a collaborative art and craft practice that draws inspiration from art and craft histories, as well as our own cultural backgrounds. Mao was born and raised in the Fujian Province in south China, before coming to Canada for university. Chris has a settler background having grown up in what is known as Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with primarily Scottish and English roots.
Through our work, we present ceramic works that examine cross-cultural communication via the narrative form. Referencing classic ceramic silhouettes, ornament and pop cultural symbols, combined with an abstract painterly application of many layers of glaze, the works provide a pluralistic vision indicative of our individual and shared experiences. We utilize fragmented images, blending bright colour palettes that interest us in their ability to convey visual information, presenting potential narrative meaning through themes of time, greed, sharing, and growth. We believe combining these references re-contextualizes the fragments we draw upon from the past, adding depth to the narratives while resisting a singular didactic interpretation.
Has your work changed over the course of your career?
Working in ceramics was a big change in our career that began around the beginning of the pandemic. We both had some entry level experience working with the medium, but we were both really involved in other mediums up until this point. Mao was very focused on oil painting and Chris was primarily working in drawing and installation. Ceramics became a way to bring aspects of those previous practices together and explore how sharing our story through a collaborative series could work. We became enamoured with the medium very quickly and it has taken over our practices wholly. We are very excited to see where it leads us in the future.
What was your “eureka!” moment that made you realize that art/design was the route you wanted to take?
Around this time last year, we felt we could leave our teaching positions and focus primarily on our practice. It was a slow build up to this point and while we loved teaching art foundations and graphic design college courses, it became harder to balance the two roles and we loved putting the ideas and concepts we were teaching into practice most. We are very grateful for all the support Mao Projects has received in order to make this dream a reality, it motivates us to continue to experiment in the studio and make objects people want to have in their lives.
Is your work inspired by anything in particular? What turns you on creatively?
We cast a wide net when culling inspiration, from Kawaii culture (the culture of cuteness in Japan) to Abstract painting, to comics, and find ways to bring these sources together either cohesively or in contrast. As we grew up on opposite sides of the world, our backgrounds and how they are similar or different is a big part of the source inspiration for the work we make.
What was the name of your DesignTO Festival exhibition, event, or installation and what can attendees expect to experience?
We exhibited ‘宴｜Found in Translation’ at the 2023 DesignTO Festival. It was an exhibition that featured a selection of our collaborative ceramic works.
How long have you been involved with DesignTO? Why is DesignTO important to the creative community, here as well as abroad?
This was our first year being a part of the DesignTO Festival and it was such an incredible way to explore the city through the various satellite exhibits, displays, and talks, while meeting artists and designers from all over the country. With such a diverse range of programming, DesignTO really fosters engagement with ideas and practices that one may not encounter regularly, which we think is so important and helps to broaden the scope of how we interact with the world around us.
Do you have any memories from past DesignTO Festivals you want to share?
Coming from out of town (Calgary, Alberta), it was so incredible to meet people with whom we only get to interact with in the online space, along with meeting new people based in other cities that we can now keep in touch with via social media. Generally, the growth of the community that is fostered by the festival is something we are so thrilled about.
Is there anything in the works, future projects, exhibitions, etc., that you would like our audience to know about?
We have a few things going on right now; we will be showing work at the exhibition ‘Culture & Kin: Reclaiming the Chinese Narrative through Contemporary Art’ which opens May 10 at Fort Calgary Museum in Calgary. In Edmonton, we are in a group exhibition called ‘Ornament and Crime’ at the Alberta Craft Council which runs until July 22. There are a few works in a design capsule collection with Strada Gallery in New York, and we are coming back to Toronto in early July to participate in the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair, July 7-9, 2023.
Lastly, what random fact about yourself would you like to share with the DesignTO community?
We have two feline assistants that supervise us in the studio and occasionally perform quality control breaks on pieces that don’t meet their standards. 🐱🐱
Want to show your work at the 2024 DesignTO Festival? Visit our How to Participate in the 2024 DesignTO Festival page for more information.