Briefly describe the work you do.
When I search the word “small” in the thesaurus many words associated with insignificance and being inappreciable come up. Why is something that is described as small associated with being unimportant? I think the opposite; the small parts are most significant to the whole, whether in an ecosystem, a sentence, or what affects our experiences. My work focuses on drawing attention to the complexity in the overlooked and unseen and making them monumental.
During graduate school one of my professors suggested Bourriaud’s The Radicant and I found it has helped me become more attuned to my identity as an artist. I had never heard of the word radicant before this book. A radicant is a plant that sends out multiple roots while growing (like ivy) versus a radical, which has one root (a tree).
Sometimes living in transition feels like being a radicant. When you are always adapting to your surroundings or the changes in ones environment. There isn’t always one particular moment you are reacting to, but instead propelling yourself forward in order to continue to develop versus being in a state of stillness. Does a radicant ever settle permanently or do they continue to uproot the rest of their lives and have ties allover? When I first began making art I struggled understanding what an artists style meant, was there a certain type of work I was going to make that would be my “style”? As I made and looked at more art I felt more comfortable not settling on creating one type of work but enjoy not knowing the answer and the ability to experiment. Bourriaud also speaks of disintegrating the boundaries that can sometimes be put up around cultures. I associated that to being a metaphor for artists and the overlaps between disciplines as well as ideas. I have found other artists to be greatly influential and the open exchanges between one another makes a thoughtful community. We are an ecosystem that is constantly growing together.
I grew up in Rochester, NY where it snows a lot, and I think is beautiful in all seasons. I spent my summers playing in the woods and sifting through creeks and starring at deciduous trees.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My practice has adapted to changes in my life and the process for some of my projects involves me working wherever I can carry a lump of clay around, ie: at home, on a bus, or at a movie. These projects allow mobility in the process, however the finished pieces are in a static setting. I adapted this process in relation to grief work, where there is a relief and mediation drawn from keeping my hands busy.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never thought that I would be working with clay. When I started making art I focused on painting and drawing. Since taking an introduction class during college, I have loved the versatility and experimentation in form and surface that ceramics allows.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
The quietness of the morning means a lot to me. I run at least an hour everyday and it is a time where I can think or not think. Sometimes I work through project ideas and other times I just
listen to my breathing or the sound of my feet. This time in the morning is mentally as well as physically refreshing with the morning light, air, and absence of traffic. Running helps me focus my mind for when I work in the studio. When I work at studio depends on each day because my work schedule fluctuates. The time also changes depending on the project, some projects I need a large span of time to complete in one day, versus a longer project I can break up into weeks or months.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
Making work that exists outside of a white space. Before, I solely installed work in a conventional exhibition space, but now I can see a crevice in the sidewalk or a break in the horizon as a site for a specific piece. Five years ago I used the figure for metaphor, the figure has completely left my work but my sensitivity to creating immersive environments is still present.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
During undergrad I found a copy of The Sea Around Us being thrown out and took it home. The author, Marine Biologist Rachel Carson encapsulates how much life is in the liquid film around a grain of sand as becoming an ecosystem where “ insects and the larvae of certain infinitely small worms — all living, dying, swimming, feeding, plants, water mites, shrimp like crustacea, breathing, reproducing in a world so small that our human senses cannot grasp its scale, a world in which the micro-droplet of water separating one grain of sand from another is like a vast, dark sea.”1 I love how this quote transports me to another world and thinking about all the life concurrently existing that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
My friends, family, professors, and strangers that talk to me have all had a great impact as well.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I thought I would be a marine biologist because my fascination with the ocean. I am glad I can still explore this fascination in my practice along with new and old interests: exploring parts of the country that are still wild, running, reading, and watching Parks & Recreation and cat videos.
Rachel Eng holds an MFA from The University of Colorado at Boulder and a BFA from The Pennsylvania State University. Her work has been shown nationally, most recently at the Carbondale Clay Center and she is a part of Hyperlink, a mobile artist collective presently based out of Chicago. Currently she is the year-long resident artist at Mudflat Studios in Somerville.