Stephanie Shih Wedges Mass Culture Against Loss in ‘American Gothic’
All photos by Robert Bredvad, courtesy of Harkawik, shared with permission
In a world saturated with logos, branding, and advertisements, is it possible to find comfort in commercial objects? By reconnecting with fragments of her childhood, ceramicist Stephanie Shih replicates domestic items from the ’80s and ’90s, portraying mundane goods with potent emotion.
Molding each sculpture by hand, the Brooklyn-based artist uses stoneware clay to create hollow forms. She paints each with underglaze and adds a clear layer to some, achieving a finish similar to plastic or glass packaging. Extensive lettering appears in the form of logos, ingredients, nutrition facts, and even newspaper articles, all done freehand.
The artist’s forthcoming solo exhibition, American Gothic, borrows its name from Grant Wood’s prominent Great Depression painting. Referencing an artwork identifiable with American culture, Shih directs viewers toward the dissonance between Asian immigrants and their children when generational identities become intertwined with consumer goods. Viewing her sculptures as “stuck in time,” she focuses on uplifting the evocative qualities of obsolete objects, in contrast to their fleeting existence in the real world.
Shih explains that while personal reflections are welcome, “the work isn’t exactly about nostalgia. Whereas nostalgia implies sentimentality and longing, for me, these objects gesture toward a sense of loss: lost time, lost usefulness, meanings lost in translation, lost selves.”