In anticipation of the exhibition 40 under 40: Craft Futures, on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from July 20, 2012 – February 3, 2013, the museum asked the 40 artists featured to share personal videos of themselves with our audience. Here's what Joey Foster Ellis submitted—enjoy! Joey Foster Ellis Social Media Video, 2012 Digital video, color, sound, 5:18 mins Courtesy of the artist
JOEY FOSTER ELLIS: Basically, I’m gonna do an elevator speech for you guys inside a Chinese elevator because the best way to introduce yourself is as quickly as possible and inside an elevator. I shouldn’t be shy, especially as a foreigner in China you kind of feel like this sense of freedom because no matter what, I’m gonna be stared at so why not do whatever I want. I could be purple and still be looked at.
So okay, my name is Joey Ellis or Joey Foster Ellis. Actually my Chinese name is Joe-E, it means actually the I Ching in Chinese so when I make reservations for dinner I am always saying Joe-E, table of five, which basically means the table of five for the I Ching, which is a great thing to get any reservation because they’re always like “Oh my god you must be important.” So anyway, what my Chinese name actually means is Joe. So Joe can mean week and it can mean easy so I’m somewhat of an easy week, and every time when people are walking down the street and talking about Monday, it also means Monday too, I’m like, “My name! My name!”
So, in Chinese because so many things sound the same you basically have to say where that name comes from, what part of a word does that make up. So, oh my god! We’re already on the 22nd, 23rd floor, so we need to go back down, and I need to continue talking. We’re having this amazing conversation in the elevator.
So, in English I like to introduce my name to Chinese people. I like to say I’m Joey like the baby kangaroo, Foster like to beer, Ellis like the island. So, basically I was born in America but made in China. I’ve been in China for about seven years. So, basically I got into art originally by wanting to become a chef, and then I got into ceramics and then I realized that I – oh my god, we’re on the first floor again, okay, let’s go back up – so basically I decided to make what you eat off of instead of what you eat.
So I started by life out about function, about things to use, and I think my work has always had that aspect to it. Basically, what do I do? Well, China became this home for me, and I think I tried to live the American dream there and I’m still doing it. But who knows?
Oh! Let me give you my business card, ok, because this is a little bit about what I do in my work. It actually turns into a puzzle. Because in my opinion name cards should be more than just name cards and puzzles should be more than just puzzles. It’s actually this ancient Chinese puzzle and it’s made from seven different parts, and actually from these seven different parts it can make 6.3 million different configurations – incredible! I think it shows in some sense you can do so much with so little and I think a lot of the time with my work I try to do that.
Oh, wait I have one more thing. So sometimes when I meet people I get them a present. This is made of this old way Chinese people learn characters. They have this big felt pad with all these different squares and basically with these squares they put this tiny, little thin piece of paper over it and you can see through and they write their characters within the lines.
So within this a - I think we might actually get someone – and within this is a thing made out of clay in my studio just recently. It’s a tiny little astronaut. I like to make small things too. And what I say to people is it sits on the edge of things, and basically I say put it in your desk or put it some place because you should dream big, shoot for the stars. Kinda corny, but hey, we all need to hear it sometimes.
Ok. That’s it and a pleasure meeting you and hope to meet you, some of you, at the show at the Smithsonian this summer. Alright, bye bye.