American Design Hot List 2021
Ellen Pong never went to art school and began making ceramic furniture only last year. But, as she told Curbed earlier this spring, “there’s so much possibility in being naïve.” A nubby French blue massage stool, a vase fashioned after a Wilson tennis racket, a tissue box that resembles a slightly grotesque charcuterie board — if this is what naïveté looks like, consider us all in.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
I honestly have no idea what American design is. I have a vague idea of what an academic answer might sound like, but I’ll spare myself the embarrassment. I’m relatively new to design. I don’t even know if what I’m doing is design. My hunch is that there’s no American design now, there’s just Instagram. But that’s not to say design isn’t exciting anymore. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there, but it makes it all the more exciting when you come across something really great. It just happens on a smaller scale. They say it gets really bad before it gets good, and there’s something kind of exciting about that, too — about not knowing where we are or where it’s going.
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
I keep telling myself that I’m going to explore materials outside of ceramics, but I never get around to it because I’m lazy and my brain only knows how to make things out of dirt. But next year, I swear, I’m going to do it! I work out of a communal studio building in Ridgewood called Permanent Maintenance, and everyone there is working on different things, in different materials, so I’m just going to bug the shit out of all of them until I know how to use a table saw.
I’ve also been thinking more about making collections of objects rather than just singular works. I’d like to spend more time thinking about the relationships between pieces and how they could come together to create larger installations. I’m looking forward to pursuing that and seeing where it leads. Also, for most of this past year and the year before, I was working at a desk in the communal ceramics studio in my building. I recently moved into a private studio space, and now have much more room to make a huge mess and collect lots of junk, so I plan to do more of that next year.
What inspires or informs your work in general?
I’m really interested in design with a lowercase “d”, like the aesthetic decisions that normal people have to make just to get through the day. I love seeing the creative solutions that people come up with out of necessity or convenience. Scrappy design is the best kind of design; it’s so weird and unstable. But I just say that because I don’t have a formal design background and I’m always trying to spin that into something positive, even though I am insecure about it sometimes. At this point, doing things wrong is just part of my process, so I’m going to run with it.