People

Hyeyoung Cho

Art Director, KCDF Craft Trend Fair

Gong-yae is a particular type of art object that comes hand-formed, nuanced, and complementary to a certain way of life—one of pleasure and surrounding oneself with meaningful things. Last year, the Craft Trend Fair, the only art fair specializing in these art objects, celebrated its eleventh anniversary. Here, enthusiasts viewed gong-yae and considered its connection to similar types of objects from around the world.

The 2016 fair, titled Heritage to Originality, gave insight into Korea’s history to help us imagine the future of Korea’s visual landscape and culture. Moreover, Heritage to Originality showcased a global survey of gong-yae-like works, and in turn created a bridge between the thirteen participating countries, including China, Finland, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The link was intuitive, as Korea’s cultural relations have always been fluid, and it is no surprise that contemporary gong-yae plays with traditions from both within and outside Korea.

The fair’s art director Hyeyoung Cho embodies these cultural relations. Born in Seoul and Korean by right and by lineage, she moved to Hong Kong at age four. In the international British education system, she learned English and Korean simultaneously, along with Western history. Her nomadic family moved frequently, and by the time Cho entered high school in the United Kingdom, she had lived in Lebanon, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Shaped by her personal history, her culture is both intimate and foreign. She believes that this dichotomy grants her unique insight into her heritage and enhances her ability to communicate gracefully with a global audience. It also enabled her collegiate studies in ceramics at Bristol University in the United Kingdom and for her work to flourish during her doctoral studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Discussing where she is now, Cho reveals to LIVING FORM that her childhood wasn’t completely ideal. Admittedly, after a major identity crisis in her teens, she is finally discovering herself the context of her homeland.

People

Hyeyoung Cho

Art Director, KCDF Craft Trend Fair

Gong-yae is a particular type of art object that comes hand-formed, nuanced, and complementary to a certain way of life—one of pleasure and surrounding oneself with meaningful things. Last year, the Craft Trend Fair, the only art fair specializing in these art objects, celebrated its eleventh anniversary. Here, enthusiasts viewed gong-yae and considered its connection to similar types of objects from around the world.

The 2016 fair, titled Heritage to Originality, gave insight into Korea’s history to help us imagine the future of Korea’s visual landscape and culture. Moreover, Heritage to Originality showcased a global survey of gong-yae-like works, and in turn created a bridge between the thirteen participating countries, including China, Finland, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The link was intuitive, as Korea’s cultural relations have always been fluid, and it is no surprise that contemporary gong-yae plays with traditions from both within and outside Korea.

The fair’s art director Hyeyoung Cho embodies these cultural relations. Born in Seoul and Korean by right and by lineage, she moved to Hong Kong at age four. In the international British education system, she learned English and Korean simultaneously, along with Western history. Her nomadic family moved frequently, and by the time Cho entered high school in the United Kingdom, she had lived in Lebanon, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Shaped by her personal history, her culture is both intimate and foreign. She believes that this dichotomy grants her unique insight into her heritage and enhances her ability to communicate gracefully with a global audience. It also enabled her collegiate studies in ceramics at Bristol University in the United Kingdom and for her work to flourish during her doctoral studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Discussing where she is now, Cho reveals to LIVING FORM that her childhood wasn’t completely ideal. Admittedly, after a major identity crisis in her teens, she is finally discovering herself the context of her homeland.

  • Gong-yae is a Korean art object and a term emphasizing the high level of skill and material that go into the practice of making such objects.
  • Joseon Dynasty was a Korean kingdom that lasted for five centuries, between 1392 and 1897, and is remembered for classical Korean culture, trade, science, literature, and technology.

LF What is the Korean word for the type of objects exhibited at the Korean Craft Trend Art Fair?

HC

Actually there isn’t a direct translation for craft. Until the end of the Joseon Dynasty, a period of great cultural development in Korea between 1392 and 1897, we referred to what we know as craft today with the English term. At the turn of the twentieth century, with influences coming from the West and also through Japanese colonization, we adapted the Japanese word for craft, kogei, but described it in a different manner. We say “gong-yae,” meaning a material-based process, rather than kogei, which implies a way of life or mastering an art form. For gong-yae makers, it is about labor and mastering a skill.

"We say “gong-yae,” meaning a material-based process, rather than kogei, which implies a way of life or mastering an art form. For gong-yae makers, it is about labor and mastering a skill."

LF If you had to define gong-yae, what would you say?

HC

We are living in a period where everything is crossing over. For me, I like to stretch my boundaries and go as far as a particular material or skill can be pushed. I believe that there are many different types of gong-yae makers. There are traditional makers who specialize in skill, designers who use these skills to create beautiful and useful objects, and contemporary material-based artists who explore how material can be expanded. For me, gong-yae should include all of these.

LF Are there people in the field who epitomize this exploration of material?

HC

Artist Sekyun Ju, who studied sculpture but decided to work in clay, has progressed in very interesting ways. He is a serious artist and likes tradition and roots. Therefore he found the conceptual nature of sculpture too abstract and not virtuous enough. He has taught himself to throw on the wheel by apprenticing under a master. Also my colleague Jungwon Park. We have worked on a number of major exhibitions both in Korea and outside Korea. He obtained a PhD from the University of Sunderland, UK, in the field of craft in Korea and is well versed in the subject. I enjoy sharing information with people who explore the same boundaries I do. Nothing gives me more pleasure.

LF Is exhibiting the fluidity of gong-yae a goal for you?

HC

Yes, and another goal is to make gong-yae easy to understand. One of the main reasons for the exhibition is to educate the general public and expand the Korean craft market. I want people in Korea to approach it without any hesitation and without any difficulty. Underneath everything you see here is very calculated curating to provide people with information that fosters interest in the field and encourages exploration.

LF What’s on the horizon for gong-yae makers?

HC

Well, the future is very positive at the moment. We have many events related to craft today, and I believe that we will continue to have some in the future. My only concern is that universities are now reducing their departments. It seems like an ironic development, while there are all these events that are taking place in Korea in terms of the craft and opportunities to exhibit outside Korea such as Maison des Objets, Collect in London, New York, Chicago, and so on. It would be a shame to lose the enthusiasm.

LF Could you give a few examples of what might happen, barring any impediments?

HC

There are some interesting phenomena taking place in Korean craft today. The most exciting part is the collaboration between masters of craft and designers. We have many innovative gong-yae makers such as Samyong Hwang, who flirts with tradition by creating monumental boulders lacquered and inlaid with mother-of-pearl; Daehyun Son, who modernizes lacquer and ottchil; and the young makers at MAEZM, a design studio, who hone past skills to create contemporary pieces. That’s the future, the delicate relationship between tradition and progress.

"That’s the future, the delicate relationship between tradition and progression."

Artwork Credits

1. Samyong HWANG, The Mother-of-Pearl Art Museum Korea, Cheongju International Craft Biennale 2015, Main Exhibition

2. Sekyun JU (images courtesy of the artist)
Tracing Drawing 309, 2012, Pencil drawing on fired clay

3. MAEZM (image courtesy of artist)
RE-LOVE Clothes

4. Sekyun JU (images courtesy of the artist)
Tracing Drawing 93, 2012, Pencil drawing on fired clay