Translated Vase

Michael Rocco

Last July my friend Griffin visited me in Boston. I couldn’t wait to update them on everything new and exciting in my life. First we visited the MFA, our old stomping ground as art history students at Emerson College—and now my workplace as a staff member. I led Griffin on a scavenger hunt through the galleries: up to a painting by Beauford Delaney, their favorite artist, and down a corridor into the Korean gallery to see Yeesookyung’s Translated Vase (2011).

This is my favorite work in the Museum. I love the way the artist took fragments of celadon pottery discarded for minor defects and combined them into a new form open to interpretation. At different stages of my life, this artwork has taken on new meanings.

I was first introduced to Translated Vase within the methodical academic environment of an undergraduate art history course. Celadon, kintsugi, Gangjin, Goryeo: memorizing wares, techniques, places, and time periods gave me a new vocabulary for understanding artworks in cultural contexts different from my own. Learning about Korean art throughout history gave me a foundation to appreciate Yee’s stunning and chaotic masterpiece and the artistic traditions it draws from.

In college I found my passions and a family of creation I could share my whole self with. I had a plan to realize the potential I saw so clearly in myself. Griffin and my other friends gave me the confidence to pursue the life I wanted, and I knew we would shape the world for the better together. At the same time we were growing closer, I was learning more in my art history classes, and Translated Vase began to represent unlimited possibilities of an unwritten future.

A few years later, Griffin’s visit felt like a pinnacle to everything we were working toward. I shared my progress on creating the life we planned. Griffin brought a new artwork they made as a gift, a token to our friendship. Like Yee, in their artistic practice Griffin used discarded materials in new ways, transforming their meanings in the process. Through found materials both artists draw attention to waste in material culture. In this interpretation, Translated Vase is a poignant political critique that points to a new conception of progress—one that embraces our past to help create a better future.

A brightly colored painting of a human figure on reclaimed wooden boards.
Mr. Blank, Untitled (Self Portrait), 2021. Reclaimed wood, barbed wire, Salonpas patch, and acrylic. Private Collection.

When Griffin died last summer, it felt like a dead end. A dropped call. A full stop. The future, once so close to our grasp, now distant and shattered. Griffin’s potential, now lost. Their artworks, now sacred relics; my memories of them now in need of constant conservation.

Minute by minute, step by step, and day by day, grief begins to dull. Memories, however small, are treasure. As my friends and I celebrate Griffin’s life, we’re grateful for the time we shared. Now we continue Griffin’s legacy and live our lives with their values at heart.

Retracing our steps through the Museum, Translated Vase now points me toward acceptance. In its cracks I see the life I planned for myself forever out of reach. But I also see its shattered fragments repaired with shining gold. Its organic form appears ready to accept new broken shards and grow in new directions, evoking what could have been while transforming into a beautiful new whole. This is my path forward.

Looking at Translated Vase today I appreciate everything that has shaped the person I am. Nothing will bring back Griffin’s potential, but my memories of us together can continue to shape the person I’ll become. Using Yee’s template, I’m learning to honor my past, hold it dear, and allow it to guide my present. For now, I’ll take it one day at a time.

See a selection of Griffin Fisher’s artwork in “Now Introducing Mr. Blank,” on view at Gallery 263 in Cambridge from July 2 through 9, 2023.


Michael Rocco (they/them) is Marketing and Communications officer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.