Kanghyo LEE – in Performance
Kanghyo Lee was born in 1961, in Seoul, Korea. He now lives and works in Ochang, Chungbuk Province, Korea where he has spent more than 30 years endeavouring to interpret Korean buncheong in his own way. His technically challenging practice-based contribution to ‘Making Futures: crafting a Sustainable Modernity’ will consist of the production of one of his large-scale slip decorated coiled jars - a performance that reminds us of the ways in which many craft métiers retain strong connections to tradition, but use these to creatively mediate between past, present and future.
Kanghyo Lee’s work also connects closely with the ‘Translations Across (Post-Colonial) Local-Global Divides’ theme. In the context of rapid post-war Korean industrialization, (the late 50’s Han River ‘miracle’ and the rise of the industrial ‘Chaebol’ global corporations), during the 70’s and 80’s Korea began a process of reinterpreting its cultural assets, including ceramics. Many novice ceramicists looked to the past to modernize Korean ceramics. Lee was no exception but whereas many became reproduction artists simply copying historical items, Lee did not go down this path.
Lee originally wanted to become a painter and as he gradually mastered the skill of applying liquefied white clay to the surface of vessels and large platters, he learned to treat ceramic surfaces like paper similar to the ancient ink brush paintings of Korea. The marks he creates are comparable to landscapes depicting Korea’s four distinct seasons. In Asia landscapes are painted based on individual memory and experience in the actual environment. The ‘spirit’ of place is important so that for Koreans, landscapes are spaces to be encountered and experienced rather than subjects to be observed for replication. Lee follows this practice and seeks to imbue his work with this spirit.
From the early 2000’s, Lee became one of the first ceramicists in Korea to conduct workshop-demonstrations in the USA. His onggi building technique (involving the making of large storage jars) combined with the buncheong surface decoration (splashing with liquefied clay mixtures in the manner of Jackson Pollock’s “action painting”) has been internationally recognized and he has been in high demand over the last twenty years. His work is found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Cité de la Céramique, Sèvres, France; Gyeonggi Ceramic Museum, Korea and more.
Onggi ware is the longest existing (4000 to 5000 BC) type of ceramics in Korea and is without social class difference as it was, and still is, used by all classes. It is a type of storage jar closely related to the Korean diet – for storing fermented food. This brown ware is made from a coarse clay body, high in iron content. It is only fired once between 1100 and 1200oc. Instead of a chemical glaze mixture it is coated with ash and mineral debris found in mountains and forests and mixed together. In pre-Modern times it acted as a kind of a refrigerator by burying large jars in the earth.
Buncheong is a grayish ceramic ware that lasted for a short period of time between the 15th and 16th century during the Joseon Dynasty. The term literally means to “cover the surface”. This is an authentic Korean ceramic ware known for its surface decoration applying liquefied white clay in a number of different techniques such as brushing, sgraffito, dipping, trailing and more, fired to 1280 degrees Celsius.
Kanghyo Lee at the V&A Museum, London: Contemporary Korean Ceramics:
Making Futures delegates passing through London may be interested to know that Kanghyo Lee also has work included in the V&A show, 'Contemporary Korean Ceramics', which will be running during Making Futures. The exhibition brings together the work of 15 emerging and established artists from Korea, offering a diversity of insights into the richness of contemporary Korean studio ceramic practice, using ceramics as a medium to engage with contemporary issues ranging from mass-consumption and pop culture to the destruction of Korea's architectural heritage, and including experiments with new technologies and alternative materials. The exhibition originated by the Fondation d'entreprise Bernaudaud and their guest curator Hyeyoung Cho, organised and curated for the V&A by Dr Rosalie Kim, Samsung Curator of Korean Art. For further details see: https://www.vam.ac.uk/event/lAE6JqZN/contemporary-korean-ceramics