Under the Influence: Julianne Ahn of Object and Totem

Mon Nov 02, 2020

Julianne Ahn's ceramics career was forged in an difficult yet creatively fertile time not unlike the one we're currently living through now — the economic downturn of the late-2000s, when Ahn moved home to Philly for a job, lost it, and reinvented her career after taking pottery classes just to pass the time. She'd studied Textile Design at RISD and intended to veer towards fine art after graduating, but when she founded her ceramics studio Object and Totem in 2011, she decided to work squarely on the line between art and design, creating some functional, affordable pieces — like the new Wave Tray ($90) she's designed exclusively for Tetra, below — and some conceptual one-offs.

Both sides of her practice are united not just by her recognizable aesthetic — which marries spare, highly refined finishes and textures with sculptural or geometric forms that sometimes have classically-influenced details — but by the quality that's always drawn us to her work: her incredible taste. It's what separates her from the ceramicists that rely on trendy Instagram vibes or ambitious technical feats, and it's what makes our Wave Tray such a showstopper. We interviewed Ahn about what 5 outside influences have been informing that taste as of late; read on to discover them. (Portrait above by Clement Pascal)


Julianne Ahn's influences:

Vintage Braun Electronics
"I've always been a fan of Dieter Rams, and the Museum Der Dinge in Berlin has the most amazing archive of mass-produced, industrially manufactured works on display — everything from brushes to teapots to stereos, the Braun electronics being my favorite. They're just so easy to look at and use. I followed similar design rules to Rams's when designing the Wave Tray for Tetra, joining extruded clay ripples with a flat surface so it could function as a way to hold things and roll on without looking too obtrusive." (Photo by Wright)

Ocean Vuong Poetry
"Like everyone else, I’ve been trying to implement a lot more literature into my life these days in lieu of social media, but it’s hard to name other authors that have had the same impact on me as Ocean. Night Sky with Exit Wounds was one of those poetry compilations I had to re-read over again because his choice of words is so melodic — the way they stick with you and explore so many themes of identity, nationality, war, etc. I just love how he uses language and negative space."

Korean Scholar Stones
"After watching Parasite (pictured above) last year and learning about Korean scholar stones — aka 'Suseok' — I got really into them as beautiful objects of art, and their symbolism of academic nobility and class. It sort of reminds me of how bonsai plants have that natural impact of conveying a much larger idea of nature beyond their small scale. The stones have a way of capturing that essence in a way where they feel kind of alive."

Fidget Cubes
"My friend Natalie Herrera told me about fidget cubes after I was telling her that my son started to bite his nails during quarantine — she suggested them as a way to ease his anxiety at night, so I bought a few. They’re these small, cheap, plastic, non-functioning cubes that have buttons and switches on all sides, so you have the satisfaction of clicking them when you’re nervous. The first one I got him he completely tore off all the silicone buttons somehow, but I decided to keep it as a way to remind us of what we all went through, and are still going through, this year."  

Matt Kleberg Paintings
"I went to undergrad in Textile Design, but sometimes wish I’d taken painting, and when I came across Matt’s paintings I had that gushy feeling of attraction while simultaneously having a feeling of 'god damnit, I wish I’d painted that'! He uses just the right amount of color and optical illusion to create the most beautiful arches and spaces. I just wish I could see these in person some day soon."