Exhibition visit: Simple, Calm, Subtle — Korean crafts at Tent 2015

by Philip Gowman on 5 October, 2015

in Crafts, Event reports and reviews, Exhibition reviews and comment, KCDF, Roe Kyung-jo, Tent London

The Korea Craft and Design Foundation has recently been making its presence felt in London via its promotion of Korean crafts at major exhibitions. They have brought artisans and their work to Collect for the past three years, and this is now the second year that they have put on a spectacular show at Tent London.

As last year, the exhibition was titled Constancy and Change in Korean Traditional Craft, though this year we had a subtitle too: Su-su, Deom-deom, Eun-eun (수수, 덤덤, 은은: Simple, Calm, Subtle).

Mulberry paper kites by Oh Jea-hwan

Mulberry paper kites by Oh Jea-hwan

An immense amount of thought went into the display of the work. Where last year one end of the room was dominated by an illuminated translucent screen of UNESCO-listed ramie cloth, this year a similar effect was achieved with paper kites – Seoul’s intangible cultural property #4. Unusually, all the kites were pure white – normally you expect bright colours to distinguish different kites as they battle each other in the sky, but as a display that set the tone for the exhibition hall it worked tremendously: Simple, Calm, Subtle indeed.

Yeollimun ceramics by Roe Kyung-jo

Yeollimun ceramics by Roe Kyung-jo

Ceramics was a major feature of the collection, showing a wide range of techniques. One of my own favourite ceramic artists was represented – Roe Kyung-jo – with his marbled stoneware, but also included were some of his square ceramic boxes that looked as if they were of buncheong.

Large Chulhwa buncheong vases by Ree Soo-jong

Large Chulhwa buncheong vases by Ree Soo-jong

Buncheong potter Ree Soo-jong was also represented, as was Park Sung-wook who specialises in a technique known as deombeong which produces a white ceramic which could be mistaken at a distance for Joseon’s famous white porcelain.

Pagodas in deombeong buncheong pottery by Park Sung-wook

Pagodas in deombeong buncheong pottery by Park Sung-wook

His main work on show was a collection of tiny ceramic pagodas which looked like chess pieces, though he also produced a large vase which contained a very pleasing branch from an plum tree.

Samsara plum

Samsara plum flowers by Kim Chang-duk; buncheong vase by Park Sung-wook

But I only realised later, on reviewing the catalogue, that those blossoms were not real. They were in fact the work of Kim Chang-duk, and exquisitely made out of beeswax. It was a craft that Kim discovered by reading an old Buddhist manuscript. “Bees collect pollen from flowers, and make honey and beeswax; and that beeswax becomes flowers” – a perfect illustration of the Buddhist cycle of life. Kim calls his creations Samsara plum flowers. Kim’s craft was perfected through trial and error over the course of sixteen years.

Square onggi bottles by Ahn Si-sung

Square onggi bottles by Ahn Si-sung

Back to the pottery. Two onggi potters were represented: Ahn Si-sung showed some square vases while Lee Hyun-bae showed his trademark tall thin cylindrical vases.

A set of porcelain bowls from Lee Se-yong with ceramic paintings from Lee Seung-hee

A set of porcelain bowls from Lee Se-yong with ceramic paintings from Lee Seung-hee

For Lee Se-yong the pure white porcelain, and blue-decorated ceramics, from the Joseon dynasty provided inspiration. And finally, for Lee Seung-hee pottery was more than something functional: it was a two-dimensional canvas that formed the base for artwork for the wall.

Brass tableware from Kim Soo-young and Cho Ki-sang

Brass tableware from Kim Soo-young and Cho Ki-sang

Outside of the world of ceramics there was some stunning brass tableware from Kim Soo-young and Cho Ki-sang…

Vases made out of woven paper by Lee Young-soon

Vases (Jiseung) made out of woven mulberry paper by Lee Young-soon

… and a collection of jars made out of woven hanji (Jiseung) by Lee Young-soon.

Wooden lacquer bowls by Park Gang-yong and Jung Sang-gil

Wooden lacquer bowls by Park Gang-yong and Jung Sang-gil

Stretched out along a long display bench was a set of lacquered wooden bowls by Park Gang-yong and Jung Sang-gil: an impressive geometric achievement…

Lacquer bowl by Kim Seol

Lacquer bowl by Kim Seol

..while another lacquer bowl by Kim Seol was rightly attracting admiration.

Thanks to the organisers and artists for an inspiring exhibition. Here’s a gallery of all the photos we took.

Constancy and Change in Korean Traditional Craft 2015 — (수수, 덤덤, 은은 – Simple, Calm, Subtle) — was at Tent London, Old Truman Brewery, 24—27 September 2015

Participating artists:

  • Ceramics: Park Sung-wook | Lee Seung-hee | Lee Hyun-bae | Ree Soo-jong | Lee Se-yong | Roe Kyung-jo | Ahn Si-sung
  • Textile: Kim Hyun-hee | Lee So-ra | Kim Hae-ja
  • Korean Mulberry Paper: Lee Young-soon | Oh Jea-hwan
  • Lacquer: Kim Seol | Park Gang-yong / Jung Sang-gil | Choi Sang-hoon
  • Metal: Lee Yong-gu | Kim Soo-young / Cho Ki-sang | Lee Gyung-no
  • Bamboo: Cho Dae-yong
  • Wax Flower Arrangement: Kim Chang-duk
  • 도자: 박성욱, 이승희, 이현배, 이수종, 이세용, 노경조, 안시성
  • 섬유: 김현희, 이소라, 김해자
  • 한지: 이영순, 오재환
  • 칠: 김설, 박강용 / 정상길, 최상훈
  • 금석: 이용구, 김수영/조기상, 이경노
  • 대나무: 조대용
  • 윤회매 (연출): 김창덕

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