Mie Kongo shares experiences as an artist

Alison Pfaff, Managing Editor

The “Kongo Box” courtesy of Mie Kongo

Using materials such as repurposed wood, 3D printed structures, clay and found furniture, Mie Kongo creates whimsical art pieces. Kongo addressed art students and interested onlookers last week about her experience as an artist, her beginnings and teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as part of COD’s visiting artist series.

Kongo has a traditional pottery background and has worked in production pottery businesses in Japan and Evanston, Il. Her husband owned a pottery business where she worked to run the business. 

“For many years I was producing porcelain table wears from morning to night, every day,” Kongo said. “Our total production used to range from 2000 to 3000 pieces a year.” 

Eventually, the production pottery studio shut down, but Kongo said the experience taught her how to work and handle clay.

In 2011, Kongo completed a three-month residency at the European Ceramic Work Centre and learned about computer-aided design and manufacturing. 

“I was fascinated by everything I saw, [in the lab] such as designing in 3D modeling software called Rhino, 3D printers and so on. I was interested in learning everything,” Kongo said. 

She took classes in these new technologies she learned, and implemented them into her artwork. 

One of the projects was after Kongo was invited to an event called Chocolate Soiree. This was a collaboration between ceramic artists and chocolatiers. Those who participated were given the challenge to create a piece to serve a chocolate truffle inside. 

Kongo’s dog, Moko, enjoyed playing with a toy called Kong, a hollow toy that is able to be filled with treats. 

“It’s supposed to keep dogs busy and preoccupied, so I thought, Oh! Why don’t I make a Kong for humans?” Kongo said. 

Kongo made the “Kongo box” in five different colors.

At a young age, Kongo was in calligraphy classes, a common after school activity in Japan for children. With a lot of practice and repetition, students learned the artform.

“It is true that calligraphy shaped the way I see and think of forms,” Kongo said. “This is where I first learned notions of space, form, proportion, balance, lines, volume, compositions and so on. What I learned during those years of calligraphy lessons are deeply rooted in the foundation of my aesthetics.” 

Her most recent exhibit, called “Without Within,” in collaboration with Norman W. Long, was a sculpture exhibit with sound elements, displayed at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago. This exhibit ran from May 17- Aug. 18.

Kongo does not go into a project with a set idea in mind.

“I don’t sketch. I play really hard in the studio like kids playing with building blocks. I don’t have a conceived idea at all, and I just collect components,” Kongo said. “Usually there’s one object that I’m really focusing on or want to make work off of.

“I choose materials, basically, that I’m interested in,” she continued. “I use my intuition to choose a material, but what I think about is natural vs. artificial material or found objects or fabricated objects. The materials, sometimes I have a specific reason why I used this, but most of the times I go with my intuition.”