As a seven-year-old, Yueh Luo adored pulling the fluff off her jumper and felting it into translucent spheres. “My classmates liked them so much they used to donate their sweater fluffs so I could make them different coloured spheres inside one another,” the Hobsonville Point resident says. "We had no idea back then that the fluff was there to keep us warm.”
Thirty-three years later Yueh is crafting three dimensional objects in a different form- ceramic art. The full-time artist has earned acclaim, winning the Portage Ceramic Merit Award. Her artwork, Innerspace, is being exhibited with this year’s finalists at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi until 3 March 2024. Jino Jeong was crowned the winner and Debbie Barker received another merit award at the Portage Ceramic Awards 2023, presented by Te Uru and sponsored by The Trusts.
Yueh’s captivating creation explores the intricate landscapes within the inner consciousness. She likens it to “a vessel brimming with thoughts, our mental expanse delicately balancing on the edge of its capacity.” The mother of one says she has become increasingly mindful of her mental health in recent years. “Being a parent to a young child means juggling countless responsibilities—work demands, caring for kids, managing household chores, attending to aging parents—often slipping our minds. We forget to refuel our own reserves, unwittingly operating on empty. I wanted to depict this challenge, to visualize it not as a complaint but as a gentle reminder of the existence of the reservoir within our introspective selves, thus the crucial need to empty before replenishing.”
She launched Innerspace early this year, finally bringing the piece to fruition in August. Yueh wanted to introduce fluid lines into her work and due to the fragile nature of ceramic material, incorporating metal components became the obvious choice. Securely attaching two different materials with a very limited contact area proved to be highly challenging, she says. “I spent days researching bonding methods, reading about surface energies, reaching out to various adhesive shops seeking advice, experimenting with different products, and eventually achieved success after many trials.”
Innerspace bears a beautiful blue/purple glaze with golden speckles, designed to evoke the colour of space. A $1000 prize for the eye-catching piece will go towards buying a pugmill, to help process raw clay. "This will really increase my productivity," she says. "I'm very happy and grateful."
Yueh plans to hold her first solo exhibition in 2024. “I’m also working on designs of functional ceramic objects, hoping to create a line of products that will bring some aesthetic joy to people’s daily lives.”
Emmy Seccombe, Te Uru’s Business Services Manager, says the Portage Ceramic Awards featured 238 entries this year with 45 of them chosen for the shortlist. The selected works represent a wonderful cross-section of high-quality ceramic works, she says, that illustrate a rich diversity of contemporary practice in New Zealand.
Without The Trusts’ backing, these awards would not be possible, Emmy says. “The Trusts’ ongoing support has ensured the legacy of this award which has been running for 23 years. The West has a deep history with ceramics with the Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company, New Zealand’s largest manufacturer of bricks and producer of Crown Lynn, as well as many important potters and artists living and spending time in Titirangi and beyond.”
The annual awards and the exhibition draw many local, national and international visitors to Te Uru, she says. “It is a very real stimulus for local businesses and other arts organisations in the area during its duration, so The Trusts are really giving back and supporting local by funding this event."