Having spent her childhood on digital games, the Philadelphia-based artist uses the newest technology to create unique pieces
Jolie Ngo is a digital native. She grew up playing The Sims and Minecraft, and this “world-building” phenomenon has gone on to influence the work she makes now. The 27-year-old’s composite ceramics reference both the traditions of the craft and the technological territory of today. Ngo uses 3D printing and rapid prototyping, then embellishes the forms with hand-applied glazes and paints, often as geometric patterns in pastel colors. Though much time is spent on the computer (“I still play The Sims, but I’m mostly on Rhino,” she says, referring to her most widely used design program), her work exudes a handmade quality, and traces of her Vietnamese heritage. Some vessels are composed in layers, like the rice fields she came across as she researched her father’s homeland. Others read as maquettes for furniture, or buildings.
Ngo studied at Rhode Island School of Design, but returned to Philadelphia when she graduated, having grown up on its outskirts. “It’s a really great craft city,” she says. “There’s a big community of textile people—knitters and quilters—and jewelers.” Her own studio is in the Bok Building in the south of the city—huge and handsome and built in 1936 as a vocational high school. It now houses maker studios and small businesses. “Community is important to me,” says Ngo. “I’m a social maker. I need to be around people to make my best work.”
Ngo was already selling her extraordinary ceramics before she left college and has since been taken on by R & Company in New York. “They take great care of me,” she says. “I was pretty burnt out after finishing school, and it was hard to find my footing, to discover what it actually means to be a full-time studio artist. But I am now supporting myself with my work.”
Of course, it is a time-worn tale that artists make neighborhoods desirable. It is only a matter of time before the developers swoop in, as they did in London’s Shoreditch, and then Brooklyn in New York. Ngo and her artist friends will need to stand their ground. “Philadelphia is super affordable now,” says Ngo. “But a lot of the big studios in warehouses are already being turned into condos. It’s happening so fast.”