Ceramics graduate student has two works accepted for NCECA Juried Student Exhibition

Iren Tete
Iren Tete

Ceramics graduate student has two works accepted for NCECA Juried Student Exhibition

calendar icon16 Jan 2019    

Lincoln, Neb.--Iren Tete, a third-year Master of Fine Arts in ceramics student in the School of Art, Art History & Design, had two of her works accepted into the 2019 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) Juried Student Exhibition to be held at the Soo Visual Arts Center March 25-April 20, 2019, in conjunction with the NCECA annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Only 34 pieces by 32 artists were selected for the exhibition, out of more than 530 works that were entered.

“Of course I was surprised,” Tete said of her reaction to learning that two of her pieces were selected. “I’m really happy and excited to represent UNL at the student show. We’re a great program, so I want us to be out there and for people to know that we are in the top 10 ceramics MFA programs.”

The School of Art, Art History & Design’s graduate ceramics program was tied for #9 in the most recent US News & World Report rankings for Best Ceramics Programs.

Professor of Art Peter Pinnell said Tete has been an ideal graduate student.

“She’s good natured, talented, works hard, listens to our feedback and has developed an engaging voice as an artist,” he said. “Her work is very contemporary, exploring vessel forms, as well as the environments surrounding them. She has a good eye for composition and her pieces have an intriguing individuality. I’m not surprised that she’s beginning to attract national attention.”

For Tete, this is her third appearance in the student exhibition, but her first time as a graduate student.

“This exhibition is really important because it’s hosted during the biggest conference that there is for ceramics in the world. Getting into the show is highly competitive,” she said. “It’s exciting to see what peers in the field are making. There’s great diversity in the type of work being shown.”

Tete’s first piece in the exhibition is titled “Where the Present Ends and the Shadows Begin.”

“It’s a wall piece made up of a grid of porcelain and terra cotta tiles. The original plaster mold was CNC milled and then I press molded the individual tiles,” she said. “I was actually able to make the original plaster positive at Anderson Ranch. The piece began as a study of texture and the type of shadows that result from a machined surface.”

In 2017, Tete received a Hixson-Lied graduate domestic study grant to attend “Machining Molds,” a two-week digital fabrication workshop at Anderson Ranch Center in Snowmass, Colorado.

Her second piece, which is untitled, is different.

“The other piece is the opposite, in certain ways, because it’s made though an analog process. Although the texture is also the direct result of the building process, it shows evidence of my hands working the clay,” Tete said. “It is made out of porcelain. A section of the piece is covered with holes that introduce shadows and the play of light and dark. It’s displayed on a wooden shelf and behind the sculpture, on the wall, there are rows of vinyl dots that line up with the shadow holes on the ceramic piece. I wanted to integrate the wall through the display. It’s an exploration of how we perceive things. The shadow holes become a part of the vinyl pattern, creating visual tension and conflating the three and two dimensional.”

Overall, Tete describes her work as minimal.

“I’m interested in how we perceive things and the possibilities of interpretation in seeing,” she said. “A lot of my work is an investigation of the malleable nature of time and memory. I provide the viewer with subtle cues that allow them to access my intentions and thought process.”

She also uses color purposefully.

“I have a specific yet peculiar theory of colors,” she said. “I use white because, to me, white is emptiness, and that’s the color of potential. It’s a beginning. It could transform into any other color. Black is the color of strength. It’s a journey completed. It’s the end of a day. I also use faded pinks and yellows, and, to me, they represent the fading of a memory that is the direct result of time. The way that I use color is poetic and specific.”

Originally from Bulgaria, Tete completed her undergraduate degree at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. But she was not an art major.

“I received a bachelor’s of science in the health sciences,” she said. “I was ready for medical school, and I did receive that degree. After graduating, however, I decided to attend the University of Missouri in order to do a post-baccalaureate in ceramics, and that’s kind of when everything veered off the track. Or a new path was forged. It depends on how you look at it.”

She had taken ceramics classes as an undergraduate and was the ceramics studio assistant.

“I did love clay and the community, and I think a large portion of what drew me to clay were the ceramics instructors and the type of mentorship that was foremost critical,” she said.

She likes both the community of ceramics and the challenges of clay.

“I love the ceramics community. The NCECA conference is ideal to build community. It’s not only educational but also provides the opportunity to meet peers and mentors as well as to establish connections for future exhibitions or shows,” she said. “I also love how difficult clay can be and the challenges that it poses to me. There are many times when things can just go wrong and break or fail—I find it exciting to overcome these challenges.”

Last summer, she received another Hixson-Lied graduate international study grant to participate in a residency at the Zentrum fur Keramik in Berlin, Germany.

“My partner, Jesse Ring, and I decided to apply for a collaborative residency since collaboration is becoming more and more critical in the art world, and in the world, in general,” she said. “Collaboration can teach one how to better communicate, how to learn, and how to compromise. It was a way for us to learn how to work together in making.”

They wanted to make both sculptural and utilitarian work, but ended up focusing more on sculptural ceramics.

“The sculptures we made were informed by the architecture of Berlin. The combination of Communist and Brutalist architecture stuck right next to very traditional German structures intrigued us,” Tete said. “We also went to the museums around the city to see not only what was displayed, but also how it was displayed—which was quite different than what we were used to seeing here in the US.”

They also collaborated on utilitarian forms with the two people who operate the residency.

“That was really fun,” she said. “It was four people making a line of work.”

Tete is grateful for the funding from the Hixson-Lied grants, which enhanced her experience at Nebraska.

“It’s a great opportunity. I think that everybody should apply for it, especially if you have a specific project in mind or place you want to visit,” she said. “It provides us students the option to go abroad or to do a project that otherwise would not be affordable.”

This spring, she is preparing for her Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition in April.

“A lot of the work is going to be informed by what I made this summer in Berlin,” she said. “Which is another reason why I’m so thankful to the Hixson-Lied Endowment and the opportunity to go there because I started making this lattice-based of work. I’m combining Brutalist structure with a delicate lattice, and that’s pretty new. I think that’s what most of the work in the show will be, but again, it will be quite minimal—black and white with a little bit of color.”

As she prepares to graduate, she is open to whatever is next.

“Over winter break, I’m going to have to apply for everything, including teaching jobs and residencies and just see what happens,” she said. “You have to be flexible and keep your options open.”

Tete said her lasting memory of her time at Nebraska will be the time spent with faculty and students.

“It’s going to be the friendships,” she said. “I think it’s really great that you have to share a studio your first year. I’ve become really great friends with my studiomate. It creates this partnership and knowledge that there is a community that will help you achieve your goals.”