Revamping Mother-of-Pearl: In a Studio with Kang Myung Sun

April 26, 2015 - table lamp

“Would we like a crater of tea? It has cancer-fighting properties,” says Kang Myung Sun as she moves toward an out-of-date wood-burning stove that heats her boxy 2,100-square-foot studio on a farming hinterland of Uijeongbu, South Korea. Perched atop the iron abode subsequent to a kettle are honeyed potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, roasting in a rising heat. A few woven crafts line a petrify walls underneath high steel-beamed ceilings for an altogether atmosphere blending folky kitsch and industrial. Neither a nation homemaking nor a practical structure provides utterly a correct atmosphere for Kang’s mother-of-pearl seat designs, superb biomorphic creations with radiant white surfaces and black or red accents that secure a viewer’s attention.

Her contemporary riffs on a qualification used to adorn normal Korean seat have turn now tangible during Design Miami, Design Miami/Basel, and Design Days Dubai in a booths of Seomi International (formerly famous as Gallery Seomi) for scarcely 5 years. They mount out not usually for a luminescent peculiarity of a finished pieces, yet also for their prudent execution, that blends time-honored techniques with new materials and technologies. Kang’s dictatorial construction and finishing rouse her singular pieces, that hover a realms of seat and sculpture. “To some, this competence demeanour like art, yet it has a transparent purpose and duty that keeps it on a side of design,” she says, gesturing toward an in-progress stool. “Still,
 we like it when people can demeanour during my seat and say, ‘How beautiful.’”

A new pattern typically takes upwards of 6 months to produce, yet Kang is always operative on several pieces simultaneously. What starts off in her book of sketches gains dimension as a tiny in Styrofoam before holding figure as a life-size timber model. Onto this structure Kang pencils a anomalous lines that will mangle adult a well-spoken white aspect of a finished piece, afterwards lays a special fasten and relates paint or lacquer to emanate depth. The lines are a utterly manifest component that Kang says she started to use given a pieces looked prosaic and lacked a focal indicate yet them.

Next, a wooden structure between a lines is lonesome in hemp fabric to stabilise a final, tip covering of mother-of-pearl, that is sourced from a Seoul bureau that turns thick abalone shells into brittle, six-by-nine-inch sheets of veneer. These contingency initial alleviate in H2O for adult to 24 hours so they can be contoured to a issuing curves of Kang’s designs. She picks usually those of a top quality, renowned by their unchanging patterning and pristine white
tone. Costing about $8 a sheet, her selections are double a cost of some-more strange offerings. The sheets are afterwards delicately forged and propitious within a bounds shaped by Kang’s guidelines. Any gaps or warping in a timber need additional adjustments. Just a gluing of a mother-of-pearl can take 3 months.

Once a mother-of-pearl is set, a remaining manifest timber is lonesome in possibly a black urethane paint or normal red-orange lacquer and a entirety of a square reinforced with a protecting coating. While a outcome is delicate, Kang’s finished chairs, benches, and dressers are both stout and heavy.

The routine is labor-intensive, and Kang might call on
 adult to 5 assistants to assistance pierce a largest items, as good as two carpenters and dual painters to assistance during pivotal stages.
 Yet Kang is hands-on during any indicate of a process, relying on a clarity of feel to work her proceed by any pattern gift as she outlines, saws, glues, and paints. “Although it can be difficult, a construction is still a many enchanting and fun partial of a routine for me,” she explains, adding that even after her general success family members continue to doubt given she chose such a physically exhausting profession. Architecture and seat pattern are still mostly male-dominated fields in Korea.

Kang began her undergraduate studies in woodworking during Hongik University, Korea’s many prestigious art school, in 1994. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she worked during a university’s investigate core and took occasional jobs as a freelance seat engineer as she followed connoisseur studies during Hongik. During this time Kang became focused on materials other than wood, exploring paper, silicone, and polyester before finally finding mother-of-pearl and lacquer — dual elements traditionally used together in Korea to emanate musical furniture. Kang had already grown by this time a beginnings of a cultured on arrangement in her work today, but with one pivotal difference: 
Back then, she didn’t know how 
to alleviate a frail mother-of-
pearl to fit it to a well-developed 
forms she wanted to build.
 “My early works were utterly two-
dimensional,” she recalls,
 “with a mother-of-pearl serv
ing utterly as a musical component on prosaic surfaces.”

Upon completing her master’s in 2007, Kang began training during Hongik and accompanied one of her former professors as he trafficked a nation evaluating crafts-people whose work had warranted a supervision nomination of Important Intangible Cultural Properties. The pretension carries a requirement to say and pass on ancient skills trimming from a construction of normal timber windows and doors to casting Buddhist church bells. “I schooled a lot watching those artisans operative in such opposite fields,” Kang says. Though she never took grave lessons or an tutelage in operative with mother-of-pearl, she continued researching on her own, experimenting with opposite techniques and methods. She could not, however, figure out how
 to mold a element to a soft-edged forms she wanted to create. “I would ask artisans
 for their advice, yet — and pardon me if this sounds reckless — one thing about normal artisans is that they are realistic in their ways,” she explains. “They told me that we can use mother-of-pearl on prosaic surfaces, yet that it would never work on a winding contour.”

She began to examination with a textured putty that could be embellished to impersonate a pearlescent demeanour of shell. Then in a late 2000s, usually as she started to work out a resolution to this determined problem and began her Ph.D. studies in spatial design, Kang took a mangle from her educational career to get married and have a child. Today she beams when vocalization of her son, who is now in kindergarten. As he has grown older, he’s been means to make a occasional try into a studio. While a interregnum had no outcome on Kang’s passion
 for her craft, it did play a purpose in a arena of her career.

In 2011, as she deliberate returning to work, Kang chose use over theory, environment aside her doctoral investigate and signing with Seomi. Through a gallery, she gained a resources to work on a incomparable scale and take some-more risks. With that new proceed came such collection as a chainsaw, that she skilfully wields when formulating a severe outlines of some pieces. That complicated machinery, however, is in partial a reason for her stream studio’s remote locale. “I got chased out of a city due to sound complaints,” she says. After hopping between spaces in Seoul, Kang staid 3 years ago in Uijeongbu, where her relatives now live. Her father commutes an hour and a half to his polite use pursuit in a capital, while her studio sits a brief expostulate from home, nestled between a shipping association and a fortune-teller. The area comforts a mélange 
of tiny plots of farmland and industrial structures like Kang’s, that lay together in 
odd harmony. The fact that Kang works from a easy room built on a site of a former cattle strew is usually another rare facet of her career that she’s turn accustomed to explaining to family and friends.

Within a year of Kang’s signing, Seomi began to underline her work frequently in a booths during fairs in Miami, Basel, and Dubai, and a infancy of her buyers to this day are international. Her earnestness translated into a 
prolific 5 years,
 ensuing in a strong
 physique of organic interior pieces, including a 
vertical From a Glitter
 cabinet 2011-08, a lush Mermaid Bench 
2011-02, and a spherical
 chair From a Glitter 2012-
02. Because she prefers to
 work according to her possess 
inspiration she has shunned
 commissions, yet is frequency not
 producing work. Prices have increasing as 
the forms have turn some-more complex, and a standard vast work can now fetch upwards of $70,000.

More recently, she has begun to play with a incomparable accumulation of forms and sizes that maybe pronounce to a flourishing confidence. At Design Miami final December, Kang denounced her initial lighting piece, From a Glitter 2014-16, a list flare with a branching coral-like form. Further explorations of that figure are clear in unresolved works that will be seen in Basel this June. And she has incited increasingly to creation tiny tabletop pieces. “Just given a square is smaller doesn’t meant it is reduction valuable,” she says. “Rather, it is some-more formidable given we have to demonstrate within a smaller form what was voiced within a larger.”

She’s also scheming for her initial solo muster given her graduation showcase during Hongik, to be hold after this year
 during Seomi’s gallery in Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21 in Los Angeles. A new tone palette will be among a innovations denounced there. “In a beginning, we worked usually with black and white, yet afterwards we stretched my options by formulating a list done with juchil lacquer,” she says, referring to a specific red-orange paint that was traditionally used usually in stately facilities. In a pieces slated for L.A., Kang has left further, incorporating a full obangsaek, a 5 principal colors normal to Korea: red, blue, yellow, black,

and white. “Black and white felt modern,” she explains, “but I’m going to incorporate these other colors into places like a heading lines.” a engineer will also examination with other normal Korean crafts, delving into reduction required branches such as hwagak, 
a form of portrayal that uses ox horn. “There are a lot of good techniques to be revived, yet we still need to do investigate on how to update them,” Kang says. Brassware, enameling, and dyes have irritated her seductiveness as well.

This inherited enterprise to move chronological designs to a forefront of a contemporary is essential to Kang’s growth of her possess cultured vocabulary. While there are mixed ways to use mother-of-pearl, a designer’s concessions to a existence of a complicated universe have supposing her coherence and control. “There’s a famous workman in a south who still uses a normal process of requesting mother- of-pearl pieces to lacquered wooden boxes by emulsifying a glue with his tongue,” Kang says. “That’s given there used 
to be a observant that one needs to eat 5 gallons of glue in sequence to turn a famous Important Intangible Cultural Asset,” she explains with a shake of her head.

Even if she isn’t peaceful to solemnly feast her materials
 for a craft, Kang is happy with her preference to sojourn resolutely secure in a studio practice. Although she lectures on occasion, dedicating her life to training wasn’t what she envisioned for herself. “Professors don’t have a lot of time to work on their possess projects,” she says, “and it’s critical to collect a proceed that we enjoy.”

As for either she finds some clarity of temperament firm into her work, she has a elementary observation: “I don’t consider that usually given we feel a need to impregnate any work with some law of your being means it will be manifest to others. But when we work, we should feel as yet your essence is being infused into your actions.”

A chronicle of this essay appears in a Apr 2015 emanate of Art+Auction. 

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