Hairs are tiny threads that link us to our past and present stories. These delicate strands have the power to identify us to the world, and this world can make assumptions about us based on its shape, color, and condition. Hair is contradictory; it is desirable or disgusting, pure or processed, innocent or sinful, an afterthought or a crowning glory. It is an extension of the body that grows in the womb before birth, and in the coffin after death, and the rate or length of growth is beyond our control.
My work has always dealt with identity, with the sense of being in-between, an imposter, neither fully Chinese nor Caucasian. I have learned to live with the constant question about my appearance: “What are you?” I change my response depending on my hair, make-up, clothes, what I am doing, where I am at, or what I am eating – who I am at the moment. We live in a world where identity can be manufactured and appearances appropriated without concern or even awareness. We question and desire authenticity of the other. I find people are rarely satisfied with my answer.
I explore this conflict through porcelain, which nods to my Chinese heritage but also represents “pure” white – the white desire I find in both cultures. My focus is the emotive power of domestic objects and rituals that fix, organize, and soothe our lives. Porcelain allows me to describe dualities, for this material can capture both fragility and resilience. Bound by these conditions, I stitch together my individual nature, unravel the pressures of conformity, and forever experience pain in search of perfection.
— Jennifer Ling Datchuk
Jennifer Ling Datchuk is a ceramic sculptor and artist born in Warren, Ohio and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother came to this country in the early 1970s from China; her father born and raised in Ohio to Russian and Irish immigrant parents. Beyond initial appearances, the layers of her parents’ past and present histories are extremely overwhelming and complicated – a history of conflict she has inherited and a perpetual source for her work. Trained in ceramics, the artist works with porcelain and other materials often associated with traditional women’s work, such as fabric, embroidery, hair, and floral patterns, to discuss fragility, beauty, femininity, identity and personal history.
She holds an MFA in Artisanry from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a BFA in Crafts from Kent State University. She has received grants from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio and travel grant from Artpace to research the birthplace of porcelain in Jingdezhen, China. She was awarded a residency through the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum to conduct her studio practice at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany. Awarded in 2016, a fellowship through the Black Cube Nomadic Museum, allowed her to create a large site specific installation in Gold Hill, Colorado that explored the historical fiction surrounding the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Currently residing in San Antonio, Texas, where she maintains a studio, teaching practice and small design line of ceramic objects for the home. On Inauguration Day 2017, she opened the Porcelain Power Factory, a 4-year body of work that reclaims the past lives of objects to raise the social awareness of causes that we need to fight for.