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New art exhibit explores painstaking process of craftsmanship

All News 17:45 September 06, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Sept. 6 (Yonhap) -- A new exhibition sheds light on Korea's contemporary handicraft art, the artisan spirits of its masters and the physically and mentally grueling process of its creation, a national museum said Tuesday.

"Craft Narrative: The Place, Process, Perspective" is the first exhibition on craft works by the Seoul branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) since its opening in 2013.

"The show is not about tradition versus modernity as some of you might expect. The masters that we present here do not cling to tradition but actively engage themselves in contemporary art," said the main curator Do Hwa-jin during a press briefing.

From top left (clockwise): Koh Bo-hyung, Kang Ki-ho, Pai Yon-shik, Oh Hwa-jin, Lee Bong-ju, and Park Mi-ok. These undated photos of these masterartisans are provided by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), except for that of Oh Hwa-jin. (Yonhap)

After two years of organizing and planning, the curator said she wanted to share with gallery-goers the essence of craftsmanship epitomized by the amount of time, effort and labor put into each piece. She also hopes they take a step back and think about "why the artists go through these rigorous, time-consuming processes time and again."

On display are some 100 pieces of artwork by six craftsmen -- Lee Bong-ju, Koh Bo-hyung, Pai Yon-shik, Kang Ki-ho, Park Mi-ok and Oh Hwa-jin -- who work with materials such as alloy, clay, metal, fabric and thin and delicate ramie or “mosi” in Korean. Accompanying video clips show the artists' workshops so that visitors can take a virtual tour to see the daily routine of the masters.

The exhibition has three sections; "Knocking Time," "Kneading Space" and "Weaving Relationships," all of which portray how the masters deal with their respective artistic medium.

Lee Bong-ju's works are on display on Sept. 6, 2016. The video clip shows his craft workshop. (Yonhap)

The first section of "knocking" presents two artists - Lee Bong-ju and Koh Bo-hyung.

Lee, designated as Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 77, is the country's renowned craft artist of Bangjja Yugi, a high-quality brass container made up of 78 percent copper and 22 percent tin. The finest quality, achieved only after endless hammering, can be confirmed with the clear sound and its lasting resonance.

Koh Bo-hyung, a design professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, is also a master of metal craft. He creates, among other things, uniquely designed tableware that combines art and practicality. "Craftsmanship is like one's attitude about life. It should be pursued in a persistent and consistent manner and during the repeated process, you finally get familiar (with your artwork)," he said.

This undated photo provided by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows Park Mi-ok weaving thin and delicate ramie or mosi in Korean. (Yonhap)
This undated photo provided by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows Oh Hwa-jin with her artwork. (Yonhap)

The "kneading" section also presents two artists - Pai Yon-shik and Kang Ki-ho, whose main material is clay.

Pai, well known for his bluish earthenware jars, said it takes him three years to collect and preserve soil. He bakes the clay in a firewood kiln of over 1,300 Celsius for five days. Only after the rigorous and time-consuming process, is he able to finish a work of artistic value, color and robustness. Kang, another clay artist who lives and works in Germany, builds jars by coiling white clay and forming it purely by hand.

Lastly, the "weaving" part showcases two female artists working with fabric. Park Mi-ok is a master in weaving mosi in its finest and most delicate form. It takes her about two months from harvest to completing a piece of mosi - 31 centimeters in width and 21.6 centimeters in length. Another artist Oh Hwa-jin, who said she believes in destiny, deals with her materials as if they were alive. She takes a haphazard course in creating fabric art without meticulously planning, and let her deft fingers dictate the final form of her creation.

The exhibition, which gives a rare peek into modern Korean craftsmanship, runs through Jan. 30, 2017.


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