GIO Ki-sang, Honorable Table, 2015 © GIO Ki-sang

Gradute of Industrial Design at the Koomink University in Seoul and of the Green-Yacht Design at the Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan, GIO Ki-sang transposes in his art the Yugi tradition.

Article by Roxana Florina Popa

Miraculous, simple solutions of art and craft making, by listening to the material and by contemplating nature, are offered graciously by Korean designers and craft makers in Munich on the occasion of the exhibition Korea Now! from 20 February 2016 to 29 March 2016.

Korea Now! is a unique opportunity for those who long to dissolve and balm their souls in aesthetics, natural beauty, sensuality and simplicity. Opened within the framework of the Munich Creative Business Week, the Korean design exhibition can be visited and enjoyed in the Gewölbte Säle, the Vaulted Halls, of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. Over 300 decorative, design and furniture objects, as well as exhibits made of paper, metal and textiles are presented for the first time in Munich by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism represented by the Korea Crafts & Design Foundation.

Korea NOW! Ausstellung im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum in Muenchen am 19.02.2016 Copyright Hannes Magerstaedt hannes@magerstaedt.de Tel.01728178700

Korea NOW! Opening
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich © Hannes Magerstaedt

Korea NOW! Ausstellung im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum in Muenchen am 19.02.2016 Copyright Hannes Magerstaedt hannes@magerstaedt.de Tel.01728178700

Korea NOW! Opening
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich © Hannes Magerstaedt

Korean traditions and culture melt in modern techniques, materials and objects with the purpose to reach out to contemporary and future generations. The highlights bring before our eyes the quiet mirror of a pond’s still water, enchant through forgotten techniques for crafting a Pyonyang cabinet from the North Korean town and through materials, such as the translucent resin, reestablish dignity to the act of eating in our hectic days, interconnect playful arrangements of lines and forms with the multiple functionality of objects or convert decorative objects into images of the artist’s own memories and life symbols.

Exhibition curator, Rheem Mi-Sun (middle) and

coordinator, Keumhwa Kim (right)

Korea NOW! Ausstellung im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum in Muenchen am 19.02.2016 Copyright Hannes Magerstaedt hannes@magerstaedt.de Tel.01728178700

Korea NOW! Opening
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich © Hannes Magerstaedt

Interview with Mrs Rheem Mi-Sun, the curator of the Exhibition “Korea Now!”

Roxana-Florina Popa: The exhibited design objects express the Korean sensibility for nature, history, social and individual life. They say heritage is the witness of a past social life. All these design objects are innovative and modern and contain a piece, symbol or idea of the Korean heritage.

Could we focus on the preciousness of these traditional elements and imagine how a nowadays’ person, let’s say a woman, would use them? How would this woman move among them, handle them and make them functional and alive in her day-to-day life?

Rheem Mi-Sun: The exhibited objects are living items which relate to the life of Korean people who are mostly interested in interior, tableware and fashion. If you look at the key visuals, you understand how the Korean makers and designers apply the traditional elements to the objects they produce. These are the decorative and functional elements so that objects can be used both aesthetically and practically. For example, the ottchil or the Korean lacquer is a traditional technique that has been being used for thousands of years. Lacquered objects used by Korean people are jewelry, tableware and decorative objects. Objects like balwoo, pots, chop-sticks and stools are used by women in their house.

RFP: Chrysanthemum is the favorite flower of my mother and mine, too. I would love to learn about the meaning of this flower in the Korean culture.

RMS: The chrysanthemum not only signifies integrity and fidelity, but also longevity. It is one of the motifs in the Korean ink painting. Traditionally, scholars practiced painting as a further study of the Confucianism and as meditation. The pattern and decoration of the chrysanthemum continues being present in various ways.

Pyongyang with small chrysanthemums by JUNG, Ku-ho 2016 © JUNG Ku-ho, Courtesy of Choeunsook art & lifestyle Gallery JUNG, Ku-ho is fashion designer, costume designer and film director, Creative/Artistic Director of the Seoul Fashion Week and of the SULHWA Cultural Programmes of the Korean National Ballet

Pyongyang with small chrysanthemums by JUNG, Ku-ho

2016 © JUNG Ku-ho, Courtesy of Choeunsook art & lifestyle Gallery

JUNG, Ku-ho is fashion designer, costume designer and film director, Creative/Artistic Director of the Seoul Fashion Week and of the SULHWA Cultural Programmes of the Korean National Ballet.

RFP: Are the employed materials, such as red oak, cupronickel, marble, messing typical for the Korean culture?

RMS: Red oak is quite common while marble and cupronickel have appeared recently in the new objects. Jangseok is a type of a traditional medium reuniting form, material and function. This exhibition showcases the pluralistic aspects of contemporary Korean crafts that have dynamically developed. The circumstances and topography of contemporary Korean crafts reveal a hybrid structure in a contemporary context.

The curatorial concept focuses primarily on shedding light on the Korean crafts of today. They have taken a multi-sided approach autonomously or heteronomously in the refractive history of Korea. I intend to highlight the creativity and the sensibility with which Korean artists incorporate traditional methods and ideas into their creations.

RFP:   I liked Park Won-min’s idea to give the viewer the impression of the charming ink painting in his works. Could you make an introduction into ink painting for us?

RMS: Ink painting uses only water and ink. It is a unique style of oriental painting whose power of expression lies simply in the line tracing and the gradation of the ink color. Sometimes color is added to ink and water.

PARK Wonmin_Haze Stool_05

PARK Won-min, Haze Stool, 2015 © PARK Won-min, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

PARK Won-min is an internationally recognized Korean artist and the winner of the „Rising Asian Talents 2014“ and „Wallpaper Design Award 2014“

RFP: Are there any typical colors preferred in the Korean decorative culture?

Why? What is their meaning and their relation with the home comfort?

RMS: Obang-saek, or five cardinal colors, originated from China. However, only Koreans continued its practice for 1,600 years. These colors became intrinsic to Korean people.

They are based on the principle of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements. These colors derived from the folk religion in worshiping nature. The five colors stand for directions and the subdivisions of the seasons. The directions they refer to are east (blue-wood), west (white-metal), south (red-fire), north (black-water) and center (yellow-earth). More important is the harmony relation among the colors. Green and orange are often used as a secondary color to blue and red.

SHIN Hae-lim, Der Regen der Zeit, 2015 Tę SHIN Hae-lim

SHIN Hae-lim, The Rain of Time, 2015 © SHIN Hae-lim

SHIN Hae-lim is a jewellery designer who expresses through her work her own destiny, in particular the distance she took through marriage and family life from her creative individuality

BAHK Jong-sun, Trans-14-005, 006, 007, 2015 © BAHK Jong-sun, Courtesy of Seomi International

The furniture designer is interested in the wooden furniture of the Joseun Zeit (1382–1910). He combines its simplicity, naturalness and perfect proportions with his own drawing spontaneity.

RFP: My impression is that many pieces intend to sensibly capture the image of nature and Korean artistic talent, such as the vessel of Choi Byung-hoon, the chest of Jung Ku-ho and the chairs of Park Won-min. Could you tell us more about the nature inspiration in the Korean culture?

RMS: The manner of a Korean craftsman and designer for making objects is based on worshiping the material coming from the nature and his or her environment. They are not trying to control the material and they are respecting the material itself and also its physicality. In this way, the technique and the decoration are less important than the quality of the material. The artists try to make the form as simple as possible in order to extend the limit of the natural quality of the material. The form and the decoration naturally come from the material and the technique they are working with. The Korean artists are more focused on the natural quality than the realistic form and narrative story behind. However, it always reflects the people’s response and consensus.

Reflection of trees in CHOI Byoung-hoon’s art

Afterimage 011-372, 2015 © CHOI Byoung-hoon, Courtesey of Seomi International

CHOI Byoung-hoon teaches at the Faculty of “Woodworking & Furniture Design” at the Hongik University in Seoul

RFP: What is the innovation philosophy behind the exhibited design objects?

RMS: Korea’s modernisation triggered by foreign invasion during the periods of the late Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire, social upheavals such as Japanese colonial rule, war, postwar recovery, as well as the industrialisation caused a multitude of problems, such as disconnection from tradition, confusion in concepts, dominance by the system and an alienated existence. And yet, Korean crafts and design which are deeply rooted in history have always been able to adapt to changes in political, economic, social and cultural environments.

The tradition of contemporary Korean crafts has undergone a transition through refracted history. This tradition has continued to these days either by reform or rupture. The spirit of beopgo-changsin (법고창신, 法古創新) which stands for “consulting the old and creating the new” can be a very important methodology in countries like Korea which have very old traditions and a long history. We also keep our experiences with innovative outgrowth that we have attained through audacious reformation and attempts nobody could imagine in light of our severed history. Such substantive experience is a component of Korean emotions and their innate strength, namely the potential energy that forms the contemporary Korean craft.

RFP: What was the experience at the Triennale di Milano and Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris with this collection? Does the concept of “affection” by Giles Deleuze apply to the collection of design objects in Munich, too? What is the intended effect?

RMS: The Triennale di Milano is not my curatorial work. The affection by Giles Deleuze applies to the exhibition at the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris. It is still going on in parallel with the exhibition Korea NOW! in Munich.

I am focusing on the exposure of the Korean sentiment because it deeply relates to the Korean culture and people who live in the country. Multiple layers of the cultural structure of the Korean craft and design is a specific character that affected the Korean culture and history physically.

I believe that the craft and the design is the representation of time, space and people, altogether reflecting the context of the Korean culture.

Videoprojection of a selection of Korean artists and craftsmen

Korea NOW! Opening
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich © Hannes Magerstaedt

RFP: Which are the talents and strengths that Korea proposes in a creative-industry joint-venture to the State of Bavaria and to its cultural partners in the world?

RMS: The exhibition Korea NOW! features contemporary Korean craft and design works produced through collaboration between young designers and skilled artisans seen as the holders of important intangible cultural properties. There are only two countries in the world, Korea and Japan, which have preserved and inherited the original form. We talk specifically about the methodological ways of traditional Korean crafts.

The exhibition will serve as an opportunity not only to present a wide spectrum of works by contemporary Korean craftsmen and designer-makers who have been shaping tradition of today with new materials and methods. Korea NOW! introduces also the balanced formative aesthetic of both traditional and contemporary Korean crafts and design to the entire world. It is necessary for the future to explore the context of uniqueness and universality at the same time. Individuality is diversity and togetherness.

Special thanks go to Mrs Rheem Mi-Sun, curator

of the Exhibition “Korea Now! Korean Crafts & Design” in Munich, 19 February 2016



Roxana Florina Popa is the author and self-publisher of the book “Beauty Elegance Creativity – 12 Interviews on the Act of Creation

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