Jeongok Kim

04.07 2017 INTERVIEW DATE

Ceramist

Anseong, Gyeonggi-do

Resting halfway up the low mountain near Mirinae Holy Land in Anseong city, the Mirinae Artist Village houses a number of artists including ceramist Jeongok Kim, who’s been living in company with soil for over 40 years. We took a glimpse into her daily life that starts early in the morning from heading towards her studio right outside her front door.

Yoojin Jung

Please introduce yourself.

I’m a ceramist who focuses on works that reinterpret the traditional Buncheong celadon with a modern touch. I happened to be living as a ceramist for over 40 years now.

 

Could you share us why you chose the Buncheong(grayish-blue-powdered) celadon out of the many other porcelains in Korea?

This country has already reached the top of ceramic arts long ago. What Chopin or Mozart has shown in classical music, Korean ceramics has achieved that through the Goryeo Cheongja(celadon), Yijo Baekja(white porcelain) and the Buncheong celadon. The Buncheong celadon are perfect in every possible aspect, the shapes, the decorations and functions etc. And unlike the sophisticated Baekja or the celadon, I was particularly drawn to its freedom of expression.

As a ceramist, did living with soil for such period of time gradually change your views on soil in anyway?

When you cook a semi-solid soil(mud) it becomes perfectly solid. It means the substance changes. Repeating my work, understanding the charm of soil little by little has been the largest inspiration for me to walk this path for the past 40 years. In other words, to acquire a good amount of knowledge on a material takes that long. At first my prior focus was myself and then the soil that surrounded me but I began to learn how to be more considerate of the material I use by being aware of its conditions. It is me who sculpt them but it’s the soil that withstands everything in the fire after all.

 

It isn’t easy for us to imagine what the process is like when soil meets fire.

No matter how careful I am, there’s always a shortcoming once the cooking is over. It’s like the judging of the fire. I’m catholic and everytime I push my works into the kiln it feels like I'm going to confession. I begin wondering ‘Will my pieces withstand the fire this time? Did I take that into consideration well enough?’ and look back to see whether or not I missed out on anything all through those years.

Do you notice any change in the people’s perspectives on ceramics throughout the 40 years you spent as a ceramist?

The standard of living parallels a country’s cultural standard. I notice that nowadays there are lots of lifestyle-related fairs and exhibitions being held in various ways, getting bigger by the year and drawing higher attention from the public on lifestyle itself, not to mention the widening age group interested in the living culture. The gallery that I’m working with, Cho Eunsook Art & Lifestyle Gallery, now greets consumers of people in the 30s and 40s. So it asks artists to create light, witful pieces to meet the tastes of the younger group.

How did you get to settle near the Mirinae Holy Land?

The landlord is an acquaintance of mine and it was his suggestion. It was a fortuitous chance to find a house and a studio altogether. I’ve been living and working in Nonhyeon-dong, Hyoja-dong, Gugi-dong, near Hongdae, Ilsan and this is the first time to have a separate space for a studio. There used to be a shabby hut in front of the house which was a perfect location for a studio so we tore it down to build a new structure.

 

The area lacks convenient facilities and it’s pretty far off from the city. Regardless of that, what’s the good part about living here?

I'm always surrounded by the sun and the sounds of nature so my body and eyes feel refreshed at all times. When I return home from my studio, I blankly stare at the moving clouds. I never watched them this long before I came here. These days I see all sorts of wild vegetables like butterburs growing around my house. I think this kind of nature-friendly(natural) daily life is what makes life serene and comfortable.

What’s the biggest change after moving to the outskirts of the city?

Realizing this place could be my last studio in life, it makes me feel very warm inside. And the confidence of being the owner of my own space kind of melts into my work. My plan is to work until 85 and after that move to a special town for the elderly that’s run by the Mirinae Cathedral. I wish to stay close to soil and my studio until my last moment.

We get the sense that you consider it important to present how your works are in good use in real life.

When I was on a break after injuring my arm, I attended a cooking class. There, I was able to come up with a lot of ideas on how to integrate my works into our daily lives, usefully. When I invite guests over, I often serve them humble dish made with seasonal ingredients. I’d someday like to open a ceramist’s kitchen program that introduces food served in my plates. A lot of the galleries and exhibitions present ceramic dishware as an objet, but I’d like a space that displays them right, served with real food. I’m actually running an open studio once every two years in order to introduce to people how my works are applied in a space that’s alive and not artificial. The last one was already my 7th open studio.

You work alone. Could you share us your typical day?

From 9am to 5pm I’m at my studio. I recently watched a movie about an everyday life in a monastery called <Into Great Silence>. Life in a monastery sounds like there’s no variation in life. But after the movie, my repetitive days that go by the same cycle suddenly felt very special. And the next day, when I put on my workwear and apron, I realized that living with soil, the earth, makes this simple, recurring, somewhat tedious life extremely noble.

Is there a lifestyle you seek?

I think being natural is really important. And I think this spontaneity roots from sincerity and solicitude. Dishware these days are too nice and shiny itself without a room to serve food in them. Dishware should be complete once it’s served with food but today, it seems as if the artists pour all of their charms into their works. It applies to all living goods, materials, food, ceramics…everything has to take into consideration the final use and where it will be placed. Leaving some room for the actual user seems more natural to me.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

The Gyeongbokgung Area

161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
3 Gyeongbokgung

“I regularly visit the galleries around the Gyeongbokgung area to fulfill my curiosity on other ceramists like myself and their thoughts.”
 

With Gyeongbokgung in the center, Bukchon and Seochon are located on both sides. The Gyeongbokgung area is aligned with small and large cultural spaces, including the National Museum of Modern Art Seoul and private galleries. Consisted of neighborhoods Samcheong-dong, Tongui-dong, Sajik-dong and Hyoja-dong, the area offers a number of places to stop by such as old-fashioned tea houses, small bookstores and restaurants, which makes it ideal for gallery visits, short walks in between and a nice meal afterwards.