brilliant 30: Kajin Lee
Creator of Cerulean Waterdrops
Kajin Lee, The Ceramic Alchemist
Kajin Lee’s glazed celadon (a traditional cerulean colored ceramic vessel from Korea) is a modern interpretation of Korean traditional pottery. Lee’s celadon reflects her principle that ‘The success of clay vessels lies in honest craftsmanship.’ The artist’s ‘Waterdrop’ series emphasizes the preservation of national heritage as embodied in the working properties of a clay and glaze, extending the legacy of ceramic tradition into the 21st Century. Lee’s spirit transcends time and age, investing inorganic materials with emotive properties. A traditional medium is transformed a la mode, exerting subtle contemporaneity on the earthenware’s final outcome. These contemporary celadon are born of Lee’s inherent curiosity about glazing techniques, and her pursuit of Korea’s cultural heritage.
Lee’s pottery is distinguished by her avant-garde implementation of thick glaze on dry bisque ware. The artist induces the natural pigmentation of celadon glaze ware solely through the chemical properties of iron oxide – a practice derived from earlier times. Kajin Lee pores over the physical-chemical application techniques of traditional glaze firings and realizes an exquisite, state-of-the-art celadon vessel; classic in nature and timeless in essence. Lee’s body of work, which sustains quintessential aspects of cultural heritage and experiments with materials, is far from cutting-edge; yet her struggle to balance the traditional and the contemporary makes her worthy of recognition as an alchemist-potter among ceramic experts and the larger public.
Q. Could you briefly describe your recent ‘Waterdrop’ series?
A. The title “Waterdrop” came from my experience with glaze firings. As I experimented with various shapes and forms, I discovered that a dew drop shape optimized the luminous effects of the glaze. I could have used the Korean term for waterdrop, “Mool Bang Wool.” But the direct translation of this word seemed to bring about limitations, so I stuck with the English title instead.
I like the keywords “tradition” and “modern”, or the “modernization of tradition.” I’m inspired by wood work and fabric dyeing as well. I take an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving. - Kajin Lee -
Q. What inspired you to focus on glaze as your main medium?
A. I once thought to myself, “If I were to write the last page of the History of Pottery, what would it be?” I think I would call that chapter “Discovering Me,” because the advent of technology has proved very relevant to our current context. In the same way, I believe traces of the past that are available today prove old objects' classic relevance and ability to transcend time. What was revolutionary and celebrated then can still be fresh and popular today. The most outstanding works live on with us today, and there is a reason for that. Thus, when dealing with objects of national heritage, I wish to retain their basic properties and aesthetics and focus on experimenting with the medium instead.
Q. What is the seed of your imagination?
A. I like the keywords “tradition” and “modern”, or the “modernization of tradition.” I’m inspired by wood work and fabric dyeing as well. I take an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving. I think this attitude is an important element of my practice.
Q. What makes your art brilliant?
A. Ways to describe my body of work could be “re-defining the modern celadon,” or the “wellness of being,” or “the little things are the big things.” I felt that the notion of “re-defining the celadon” in contemporary ceramic practice needed to be questioned; the last celadon vessels produced seem to this day to mimic traditional celadon without much modern spin. I thought to myself, “Is this the best we can do to realize the modernization of traditional ceramic pottery?” My answer was "No." Since then, I have devoted my time to experimenting with materials that are applicable and relevant to our current times. I stayed true to the colors of the celadon by choosing to stick with iron oxide chemicals when glaze-firing the dry bisque. These days, mediums are treated like fast food, with a demand for stronger flavors to satisfy the taste buds. However, My celadon vessels convey a deeper, more natural flavor. Key to the success of pottery-making is staying abreast of the contemporary scene and paying attention to detail.
Q. Are there other issues you wish to address regarding the modern interpretation or application of traditional pottery?
A. One trait which all ceramic pottery shares is, of course, the neck or opening of the vessel. As the clay is centered and worked on the pottery wheel, a narrow opening forms naturally. The pair-shaped celadon vessel is conducive to optimizing the chunky glaze effect. The pottery wheel allows the clay to take form as one whole piece, without the dichotomous structure of inside and out. These physical features help emphasize the effects of the glaze technique.
Waterdrop. 2009. Ceramic. 37(h) x 21 x 21cm
Waterdrop. 2012. Ceramic. 25(h) x 33 x 33cm
Waterdrop. 2012. Ceramic. 36.5(h) x 28 x 28cm
Waterdrop. 2014. Ceramic. 17(h) x 35 x 35cm
Waterdrop. 2010. Ceramic. 24(h) x 39 x 39cm
Kajin Lee acquired her B.F.A. and M.F.A. in ceramics at Seoul National University. She has been extending the legacy of traditional Korean earthenware ever since. Lee participated in Edition 5 of the Icheon World Ceramic Center Special Exhibition: An Ode to Blue at Icheon World Ceramic Center in 2014. In the same year, she made it to the Concorso Internazionale Premio Faenza, in, Italy. Lee’s works are held in the permanent collections of the Gyeonggi Ceramic Museum and The Faenza International Museum for Ceramics. In 2012 and 21013, Lee participated in Cheongju International Craft Biennale. Lee also participated in “Collect 2014” at the Saatchi Gallery, London. “Eutektikum” was held at the Gallery Rosemarie Jäger, Hochheim, Germany, and “The Culture of Drinking” at Handwerk Gallery, Munich, among others.