Cristina Vezzini and Stan Chen are an artist duo who combine their own crafts – ceramics and glass – into composite works. As a couple in both their professional and personal lives, their artworks can be seen as a marriage of materials, styles and influences, that together represent a harmonious creative union.
Vezzini & Chen's striking installations are ideally suited for large-scale projects; they have recently completed commissions for hotels in Qatar and Japan, and are currently creating new concepts for hotel lobbies together with Artelier. They are also collaborating with Artelier on an upcoming yacht project, for which they will be creating a monumental staircase feature wall with integrated lighting.
We learn more about their processes and influences in a two-part interview. Here, we discuss how they draw inspiration from nature and the organic tendencies of their materials.
As you both have experience working in the other material, do you feel that is helpful for creating your work?
CV: It’s really helpful. Even now, sometimes people ask who created each part, but that’s very difficult to answer. Yes, Stan is the glassblower and the glass artist, and I'm the ceramicist, but actually our work is made by both of us in every material. Stan will do some ceramics, and I will do some engraving on the glass, so it's not really the case that we have distinct roles – we cross over.
SC: It helped our style develop, too. We feel our style really started merging together from 2018, with ‘Gem’ light. That's when we feel our style started truly growing, finding the balance in between us.
Could you expand on what you feel about that balance, and how that style of work represents a balance between you and between your materials?
CV: It's a balance between the simplicity in the glass work – Stan's glass work and his aesthetic – with the decorative in my work. A balance, too, between the clear glass and the white ceramics. Perhaps also it's a balance that is within us.
We go through a selective process when we make the work, so we make a lot and then select the pieces where we feel the balance just finds harmony.
What is the process of creating a work, working across two materials?
SC: The process of how we develop a project is that we have an initial idea on paper, and then I go to the glassblowing facility and create some shapes of what we drew. When I bring the work back, we start to study the piece and finalise it, and then we go back to the hot shop together to make the piece again. That's how the process really starts, with a lot of adjustment in between.
CV: Normally, we go and blow the glass to make the initial shape, and when we bring it back to the studio we play with the ceramics. By that point, I would have made a ceramic shape that we feel will work with that glass shape, and then we will try it, and maybe adjust it. That means going back to the hot shop to re-change the glass, while I'm working with the ceramics in the studio. We will keep adjusting until we find what we call the perfect balance for us.
SC: In our new work process, actually, we have to have a ceramic piece ready before I make the glass piece, because ceramic shrinks when it's fired. So, if I have to match the size of the ceramic, I will have to wait for Cristina's ceramics to be ready before I can go and make the glass shape for it.
CV: It is a true dialogue between the materials, and ourselves – a constant dialogue.
Given you both feel 2018 marked a stylistic change and greater harmony, did your inspiration change at that time?
SC: I think the shape we developed is actually led by the materials themselves, because we let the material itself talk. Especially when we are making a glass piece, you have to work with the gravitation. How gravity pulls the work, how you form the shape. It dominates the maturity of the shape of the glass. With the ceramics, you have this kind of liquid quality in the casting process as well.
CV: I agree, I think it changed mainly because we let the material talk to themselves more, and use their qualities. These are their organic, and natural qualities; we try to work through that, not just impose our inspiration onto the material. So, sometimes we feel our design process might take longer than a normal design process. Because, as we were saying, it's a lot of back and forth between the hot shop and the studio; whereas if you just have a design on paper and are just working to make that, it's much faster. But we feel although it's a much longer process, for us it works much better on the long run. We feel that then the two materials work much better together at the end, find much more harmony together, than if we are forcing one shape with another shape.
The way that light interacts with your work is really interesting, how it illuminates and shines through both materials. Is light something you are especially intrigued by?
SC: Both materials have translucent qualities; Cristina’s porcelain or bone china are semi-translucent, and glass is commonly used for lampshades, so the two materials are really well-purposed for use with lighting. We always say our work is more like sculpture rather than lighting, because whilst we are looking for the light, it's more a consideration for creating atmosphere in the work. Although a work that is both aesthetic and functional is always a better in-between. So, we also have to sometimes consider whether a piece is practical for a client to have, to be able to change a bulb, for example. But really, what we are looking to do is create a sculpture with a light element inside.
Do you feel like light is an important element of what your materials bring to each other when they're united?
CV: Yes, I think so. We see our work like seeds, especially with the idea of growth. So, for us, light is what really brings the piece alive. It connects back to us both taking inspiration from nature, and the importance of light in the natural world to any life on this earth.
But the idea of light also goes back to our inspiration from diving. We are both scuba divers, and are interested in how light filters through the water, under the sea. We try to capture that atmosphere, and that sense of calmness, relaxation, and peacefulness it gives you. We use ceramics and glass to filter the light and recreate that atmosphere.
How long would you say the design process takes for completely new ideas, when you’re making it for yourselves rather than on commission?
CV: If we’re developing a new design, it really depends on the design itself. But, to use the example of the most popular design that we make, which is the ‘Seed’ light that we launched last year – we had that idea in 2017. So, two years before we actually launched it.
SC: It also depends on our timing, as we are a team and there are only two of us. When we were working on other projects, we had quite a limited time to develop new work. But I'm sure the ideas we have are developing throughout, far before we really start making it.
CV: We often nest the idea, constantly working on it at the back of our minds. Or, maybe if we are making another project, we might think 'Oh, that could work for something else.' So, we write it down, even if we don't have that time to work on it at that specific time, and keep it as an idea later on.
Does that sense of gradual growth correspond to your interest in nature?
CV: Exactly, it all goes back to that. It's the idea of growth that is within a seed, and actually we take a lot of inspiration from seeds. I've been collecting seeds for over 18 years, from a many different parts of the world. That's why that light is also called 'Seed' – we decided to call it ‘Seed’ to give it credit, recognising how the seed was the inspiration, waiting for two years to grow, so it should have the name!
SC: Yes, and we both look to nature and organic forms. It’s like looking under the microscope; we look at the small details you find.
What is it about seeds that you are drawn to Cristina, so that you have been collecting different varieties?
CV: First of all, the shell – the different forms they have on the outside, and the different textures. The intricacy of the surface, but also looking inside the seed. I like thinking about what is inside, what is something that you can't necessarily see from the outside as it's all hidden. They are hiding all their information on the inside, and it is only when you open it that all is revealed. Sometimes, I'm even interested in the little holes that you see on the seeds. I'm always fascinated, thinking, 'What is inside? Why is that hole so interesting?' The negative and the positive space within is intriguing to me too. I feel I am a bit mad sometimes, but I keep collecting them, everywhere I go.
To read the second instalment of Vezzini & Chen's interview, where we discuss their career journeys and their experience combining their materials, click here.
Vezzini & Chen have recently joined our Artist Walls collection. To view their dedicated page, click here.