Inside

Christina Liu

MA Ceramics & Glass, 2014–

Before I started at the Royal College of Art, I had plans to attend culinary school in Paris. Most of my interests were based in food, having done some food writing and food photography for my own blog and Los Angeles Magazine. When I staged at a fine dining restaurant, I realised the intense kitchen environment didn’t suit me. At around the same time, I learned how to throw on a potter’s wheel and completely fell in love with clay. Creating tableware was the perfect marriage of my two greatest loves – food and ceramics. However, because I had studied Business Economics for my BA at UCLA, I felt like I needed a bit more of an art background before applying to the RCA, so I completed a pre-Master’s Studio Art programme at New York University.

I describe my work as ‘sculpturally functional’, so I wanted a programme that champions functional work, as well the sculptural and fine art focus of most ceramics programmes. The programme at the RCA seemed very well-rounded and could be a good fit. The RCA’s location in London was also a huge draw for me; I get a lot of inspiration from restaurants and my own dining experiences so I needed to be in a city where there are interesting things happening in the culinary world.

Studying at the RCA has been incredible. The best part, for me, is being surrounded by other students who have the same passion and respect for clay as a material. As I didn’t do my undergraduate degree in ceramics, I had never experienced an environment like this and it’s been very inspiring.

One of our first-year projects was titled ‘Food Cultures’ and it seemed like the perfect project for me, but it was not without its challenges as I pushed myself to think outside the bounds of pure functionality. My goal was to design and develop tableware that explored the visual and technical parallels between ceramic and pastry processes. Technically, wedging clay is like kneading dough, slip-casting is a lot like casting chocolate, and weighing ingredients out for a glaze is just like weighing ingredients for macarons. Visually, I wanted to create pieces that blur the line between the food and the plate, to make pieces that look almost edible themselves. My final designs included plates that look like dollops of meringue on the table and glazes that look like dripped cake icing. I wanted the designs to have a feminine and sweet quality, making it unmistakeable that they are pieces meant for desserts.

Conceptually, I’m still very much interested in cuisine and how functional ware interacts with the plated food but, technically, I’ve learned so many new skills this past year that have led to a whole new world of possibilities for my designs. I took a Digital Making short course where we learned how to use a 3D-rendering programme called Rhino. It was an eye-opening experience for me to learn what could be drawn on a computer and then 3D printed in resin or plaster. Ever since, much of my work has utilised those digital capabilities and I’m now able to realise designs that would be difficult, if not impossible, to do by hand.

In the future, I hope to set up my own studio and continue to collaborate with fine dining restaurants to create customised tableware. I hope for my work to be at the forefront of what is being done with food and ceramics. I need to figure out a viable business and production plan to make this a sustainable career for me, and I hope the programme will have taught me what some of those production possibilities might be.

I think the most valuable advice I could give to a future student would be to take advantage of tutorials and be proactive. Even if there isn’t a specific problem or question you’d like to ask, it’s never a bad idea to have a chat with a tutor about your work. Every tutor hold a treasure trove of knowledge – all you have to do is not be afraid to engage and ask questions.

"I’m still very much interested in cuisine and how functional ware interacts with the plated food but, technically, I’ve learned so many new skills this past year that have led to a whole new world of possibilities for my designs. "
Christina Liu
Christina Liu