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The ebb and flow of human experience–above all, our natural yearning to rise above limitations and achieve a dream—inspires the intricate and ambitious flameworked glass sculptures of Eun-Suh Choi.
“We all desire something better for ourselves. This interest came from the new perspective I had on myself when I came to the u.s.,” says the 32-year-old, who moved from her native Korea to upstate New York in 2004 to get her master’s degree in glass at the Rochester Institute of Technology. At first alone and sometimes lonely in a new culture, Choi immersed herself in the studio, delving deep within to create a series of labor-intensive constructions on the theme of aspiration.
Images of ladders, steps and clouds abound in these works, which range from 18 inches to 10 feet tall, and bear titles like Reincarnation and Stairway to Heaven. Another recurring motif is the tree, as in Progression 1 and Dreaming which Choi sees as having human qualities— “it lives, breaths, grows and dies.” Double Conscious, featured in the “Searchlight” section of the American Craft Council Baltimore Craft Show, depicts a three-part sequence of momentum: a stirring, rising up to push a barrier, then breakthrough and transcendence. “I tried to create a physical representation of what it feels like to have a moment of liberation,” Choi says. “The moment feels sacred.”
Choi has overcome her share of obstacles, starting at the tender age of one, when she dipped both hands into boiling water. The accident necessitated four skin-graft surgeries, and compelled her to find ways to compensate for a slight lack of facility with her right hand. She idolized the Korean fashion designer Andre Kim, and envisioned a career in fashion as “my destiny.” She attended several universities in Seoul, first majoring in textile design. When she applied to a advanced textiles program and was offered a place in glass instead, she almost turned it down. “My father said, ‘Why don’t you try it? You might like it.’”
Choi took her father’s advice, got past her fears, and was soon exploring the expressive possibilities of lampwork, the technique of manipulating glass tubes with a torch. Her thesis project was a defining series of sculptures called Reincarnation, inspired by Buddhist philosophy and the idea that human life is like water—constantly changing, sometimes turbulent, other times calm.
Since coming to America, her own life has been about a single-minded focus on her art. Though she misses friends and family in Korea, Choi is determined to succeed in her adopted country. “I have a dream,” she says, “and I think I can dream here.”