Hyunsung Kim

09.25 2015 INTERVIEW DATE

Metal Craft Artist

Paju, Gyeonggi-do

Hyunsung Kim is a metal craft artist. With sharp and cold metal he makes warm and sentimental tableware. His works are smooth and round like his looks and are somewhat even sloppy and loose. Well of course we don't mean sloppy craftsmanship, finish nor detail, which are in fact solid and firm after plenty of adjustments—it's the shapes, which Kim states as 'silly shapes'. And by 'silly', he means the cute and friendly, makes-you-burst-out-laughing silly, not the negative silly. As a child he was the little boy that favored to play in the wild all alone. And eventually, the sense of nature and life that he learned with the tip of his fingers is now realized through his metal craft practice. We visited his studio, eager to find out about his remote island where the silly and unabashed crafts are created.
 

Yunhee Kim

You found your first independent studio in Paju, which is a pretty isolated city.

For a while I worked at a studio located in college, sharing it with a bunch of my friends but I felt as though it was time that I find my own space. I searched many areas in Seoul but as I did I wanted to work somewhere quiet and isolated, apart from all that crowd. And it's close to my sister's who influences me in many ways.

 

You originally lived on the north edge of Seoul.

I lived in Banghak-dong for 20 years and that's the north end of Seoul, sitting right next to Gyeonggi-do. As I look back it used to be a real rural town. A number of mountains like Bukhansan and Dobongsan are nearby so a lot of hikers from all over the country gather to climb up. I learned that today the area is occupied by outdoor gear shops and restaurants. When I was little I would catch fish and lobsters by the town's brook, climb up the city's famous Dobongsan like it was my backyard hill—just like a kid growing up in a countryside. While I lived in Ansan during college I once visited my old neighborhood and was really surprised to see how small the alley was compared to how I remember it.

Is there a place in Seoul you like?

These days I find Yeonhui-dong and Yeonnam-dong interesting. They're nice neighborhoods to take slow walks with a lot of fun shops to browse around. Every time I'm on the road from Paju to Seoul, or the other way around, I gaze out on the flamboyant scenery of Gangbyeon Expressway and think 'yeah, this is exactly Seoul'.

 

I was told that Professor Bohyung Koh had a strong influence on you while studying metal craft at Hanyang University.

I learned from him the very standards of metal craft. And not only did he influence me in the practice but his everyday figure also gave a large impact on me. His studio in college was entirely full of tools and machines but still he somehow managed to treat me and my friends light meals whenever we visited. I discovered the essence of craft, the humbleness and its close connection to our daily lives through him.

Works of Hyunsung Kim are round and bubble-like.

I grew up with a dog and I think that part of my childhood sparks a great affect on me. You get this certain feel when you touch a dog, a feeling that only living things can offer. Life has no straight lines and so the image and shapes that I draw of life, the living organisms, became the source of my inspiration.

 

And to self-phrase them 'silly shapes' is very interesting.

I stick to using solely my hands throughout the whole process rather than using machinery so I think that's why my works appear a bit naïve, which I describe as 'silly shapes'. Personally I favor perfectly finished structures like mass-products but frankly my works are less likely that. And I think this allows room for imagination.

Majority of your works are products convenient for daily use.

Metal artworks as art or sculpture that keep a distance from our daily lives are of course very nice but as far as I'm concerned, I prefer to make things that are handy everyday and priced reasonably. And luckily I fit in a good era for what I do. Well, I've still got a long way to go to become more known to people. I can't assure my future but I want to make a more plebeian approach towards my metal craft.

What are the attractions of using metal?

Actually metal has many flaws. It reacts to food containing acid and becomes corroded. But aside from the flaws it has many strengths as well. For example compared to glass or ceramic, metal is strong and durable which lasts long enough.

 

Are there any other materials that interest you?

As for metal, you add and build up its structure throughout the production while on the other hand, with wood and ceramic, you create forms as you remove parts of the materials. Metal is quite the picky one when it comes to production. Once you place fire onto metal in order to solder, the plate could go all wild and jolt while it gets too soft for enough solidity. And to make up for such weaknesses I tend to add wood for parts that are less complicated to make compared to metal. Wood is a very convenient medium to create shapes with volume and also adds a lot of warmth. I think I'll be using it for a while.

You make a lot of works related to cooking.

Well I once seriously thought of going for cooking since I really enjoy it. I find great pleasure in treating friends with meals that I learn from my elder sister. I guess it was just natural the way I began to take interest in cookware after all the affection for cooking.

 

Then I guess the whole dietary habits and culture should obviously have an impact on your cookware making.

Koreans tend to eat salad with chopsticks. I think this is a good example of showing our confused dietary habits. When you look at the elderly women they use nothing else but a kitchen knife to prepare a meal, which is quite a different picture from us using all sorts of tools for cooking these days. Tableware has, in general, not changed much for a long time and I have a vague vision that there isn't going to be any evolution of new creations within that category anymore. Nonetheless I want to continue in making ones that can be used for various purposes—like forks and kettles. I push myself to do studies on functions along with new approaches that breaks existing definitions of shapes and structures. 

As a product maker yourself, is there any product you obsess over?

I don't obsess over things. There are a lot of craft artists that take extra care for their favorite stuff but I'm not the type. If I was to pick one, my treasure no.1 would be the file set professor Koh brought me as a gift. It's a tool for crafting things in silver. And as a craftsman, another would be craft machines. This one's from Germany and there's only a few of these in Korea and it gives this distinctive sense to your hands that's different from other similar ones. It's an unexplainable difference.

 

Can you describe your day?

It's quite regular. I sleep 9 hours and the rest is mostly work. Working and sleeping—this is pretty much all that I do so I live a simple life. I prefer to work rather than to mingle with people but staying in an isolated place sometimes makes me long for company. 

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Huam-dong

Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
4 Seoul

"It's a fun neighborhood, to rediscover Seoul while you're in the heart of it."

Huam-dong, located in Yongsan-gu Seoul. Nearby the Seoul Station, it borders Jung-gu and Yongsan-gu, following along the fortress that starts from the top of Namsan, and is now the next hot spot after Itaewon. The area used to serve as a Japanese army base during their colonial era, and is also where the Japanese, who preferred to live highgrounds that overlooks the city, built high-class residences. Nowadays, unfortunately, skyscrapers block the open view but still the crowded old houses and buildings offer fascinating scenes unexpectedly as you walk past the allies of the neighborhood. Especially for Kim, who grew up and lived all his life in modern housings, was at some point of his life confused over the identity of this country and this was where he observed the redefined imagery of Korea as soon as he entered the area, facing the old buildings, the front gates, the structures and shapes of steel-barred windows. He recommends slow walks in Huam-dong, a place that'll allow you to realize Seoul with a new perspective while you stand in the very center of it.