brilliant 30: Chulan Kwak
A Dialectical Process of Connecting Logic and Intuition
Chulan Kwak, (re)Constructing the Dialectics of Art and Design through Creative Intuition
Chulan Kwak asserts that crafts are theoretically the result of ‘a blend of concept and tangible materials.’ From the point of view of craftsmanship, however, such notions arise from intuition. Conceptions of craft and design may stem from the needs and wants of the market, but it is the artist who plays the critical role, lending form. For Kwak, designed objects are more than commercial products for the consumer; rather, they are tangible archives of his personal experiences. This very philosophy is what distinguishes Kwak as an artist among designers.
Recognized by artists from diverse disciplines such as architecture and ceramics, Kwak’s extraordinary work distinguishes itself by his choice of media. The artist’s interdisciplinary approach reveals a dialectical process: crossing many boundaries and inviting organic outcomes through the association of disparate materials. For Chulan Kwak, his creative practice is the de-contextualization of given frameworks and the formation of entirely new social contexts. The artist picks out minute changes in the mundane and ordinary, and employs them as critical elements for dialog. In this dialectic “form-giving” process of materializing the dematerialized, Kwak takes a step closer to mastering his creative vision of blending logic and intuition.
Q. Please introduce yourself briefly.
A. I am a furniture designer. At times, I collaborate with conglomerates, and simultaneously create my own designs. But I’m not a fan of limiting my work to a particular field such as “furniture” or “designed objects.” I personally am more affected by the “formalization” of my work. The best way to describe me would be as a “form-giver.” Rather than labeling myself as a ‘maker/creator’ I wish to be remembered as someone with a fresh perspective on social contexts.
Kiwa raises awareness of disappearing Korean beauty around us. I wanted to offer a new life to Kiwa through variations of color and texture by experimenting with fabrication methods. At the same time, this project is also a personal challenge for me, as a designer, to continue to pursue new aesthetic values and techniques. - Chulan Kwak -
Q. Could you explain your body of work from the past couple years entitled Kiwa - the Korean roof tile series?
A. I began the Kiwa project in 2011 with an interest in unexplored form and materials. In particular, I was drawn to the notion that ‘Form is the integration of material and its technique, and its final outcome.’ Then one day, I was inspired by the words of a Beonwajang (Tile Roofer) “Kiwa tiles baked from the traditional neoguri kilns have subtle variations of color, creating a beautiful arrangement.” From then on I began to collect Kiwa tiles dismantled from Hanok houses. I sponged out the used Kiwa with water and figured out a way to effectively maximize the traces of firing on the tiles. I would cut and smooth the surfaces of the Kiwa and create new form from these materials. Kiwa roofing entails piling layers of tiles on top of one another; hence, depending on the arrangement, Kiwa tile roofs can compose multiple designs and forms. Another potential effect of the Kiwa project is to relive the lost sentiments of traditional aesthetics by offering new renditions in the contemporary social context. Kiwa raises awareness of disappearing Korean beauty around us. I wanted to offer a new life to Kiwa through variations of color and texture by experimenting with fabrication methods. At the same time, this project is also a personal challenge for me, as a designer, to continue to pursue new aesthetic values and techniques.
Q. How would you describe craft in light of art history? What distinguishes craftworks from fine art?
A. Fine art is the introduction of an artist’s mindscape to the general public. In the past, I used to draw a line between my career as a designer and as an artist; but now, in the academic context, I ask for the students to select a certain figure and share their values and sentiments regarding aesthetics. In other words, I request to know the source of their design inspiration. I have an affiliation with pubic art, but have always been skeptical about the limitations of materials. However, during my recent involvement in Ilsan, I was inspired by the great potential of public art alongside my neighboring sculptors. This affected my perspective on my work as well.
Q. What is the seed of your imagination?
A. It’s the notion of going half a step forward, rather than a full step. Innovations should stay closely connected with society by going just half a step forward. This is not easy, but a critical thing to remember in our creative practices.
Q. What are your inspirations?
A. Recently I have been inspired by my students. I am not inspired by a particular element or words; but rather the youthful energy of challenging oneself to try something new. In reality, it is difficult to depend on college students for “fresh new ideas,” but their aspirations to knowledge and attempts to make the most of every opportunity exude strength and vitality. I rarely use the word ‘confirm’ to my students; rather, I use these times to learn something new from them. And when I come across a student who is unafraid to break with repetition and convention, that is when I am most inspired.
Q. What makes your art brilliant?
A. “Continuous Movement.” In my craft work, my ideas itself do not really play a critical role. Rather, the act of realizing these concepts as tangible objects has more meaning. I think it is my effort to stay acquainted with new materials which sustains my creative practice. This is ultimately what makes my art brilliant.
Moiré Chair 04-2. 2015. Birchwood, epoxy resin, organza. 60 x 58 x 70 cm
Moiré Chair 04-2_Detail Cut. 2015. Birchwood, epoxy resin, organza. 60 x 58 x 70 cm
Moiré Chair 04-1. 2015. Birchwood, epoxy resin, organza. 43 x43 x83 cm
Moiré Chair 04-1_Detail Cut. 2015. Birchwood, epoxy resin, organza. 43 x43 x83 cm
Moiré Chair 03-1_Detail Cut. 2015. Birchwood, epoxy resin, organza. 46 x 55 x 85 cm
Chulan Kwak graduated with a BFA in Woodworking & Furniture Design from the College of Fine Arts at Hongik University. He then acquired his MFA in Contextual Design at Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Upon re-entry, Kwak pursued a career in design. He is currently a faculty member at Sangmyung University. Kwak has been actively exhibiting since 2011 including solo shows titled <Iceberg> (The Next Door Gallery, Seoul Korea, 2011), <Wooden Table> (Templehof Berlin, Berlin, Germany, 2012), <Kiwascape> (Stockholmsmassan, Stockholm, Sweden, 2013), and <YOUniverse> (Les Docks, Paris, France, 2014). Kwak has participated in the group exhibitions <Inside Design Amsterdam> (Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2010), <Super Organism> (Nova Gallery, Eindhoven, Netherlands, 2010), and <Life. A User’s Manual> (Culture Station Seoul 284, Seoul, Korea, 2012), to name a few.