brilliant 30: Kwangho Lee
Traversing Blurred Boundaries of Objects and Furniture
Kwangho Lee, a Quest to Discover New Uses from Unique Properties
Artist Kwangho Lee traverses the boundaries of practical furniture design by associating new utility with every day, ordinary materials. Lee’s work is about optimizing an object’s properties by modifying the original usage of common materials such as Styrofoam, electric wires and PVC pipes. This is how the artist distinguishes his work from traditional art and crafts and conventional furniture design. Lee does not impart distinctive purposes to his materials lest it limit the scope of his work; rather, by redefining an object’s function, Lee invites the public to discover new possibilities through his avant-garde art. His work retains the original utility of the object’s material; yet by combining multiple materials, Lee invests the final product with an entirely new function.
When one looks at a work of fine art or craft, it is common to measure and define the material properties of the final product. However, Kwangho Lee does not specify the user or the utility of his piece; rather, he leaves room for the transformation and modification of his work depending on the context of space and location. Only at this stage does the artist begin to intervene as a designer. The statement, “The balance between a material’s unique properties and its utility reconciles the ambiguous relationship between ordinary objects and furniture, yielding new aesthetics in the field of furniture design,” reflects the contingency of his work. Lee leaves room for interpreting his body of work both as a standard furniture line and as work of fine art. Ultimately, the object’s user has the freedom to impart new functions and possibilities to his work.
Q. Please tell us a little bit about your work.
A. I apply different molding techniques to ordinary, off-the-peg materials, and use them to recreate furniture or lighting pieces. My medium is familiar to the public, so viewers are naturally inclined to relate to the artwork.
Q. Of all your works, what would you pick as a representative piece?
A. Perhaps the New Armor series can be considered representative of my body of work. I had the opportunity to receive theYeol Young Craftsman of the Year Award in 2013, and submitted a proposal for New Armor. The aesthetic inspiration comes from the Korean armor recorded in the Chronicles of Sejong the Great and in a fifty-five volume set of geography books called Dongguk Yeoji Seungram. Traditional Korean armor was constructed with layers of hanji (traditional Korean paper handmade from mulberry trees) and varnished with ottchil (lacquer); it was strong enough to withstand arrows. Upon excavation, the armor was found to be well preserved in shape and form due to this outstandingly durable material. In order to convey strength and power, the curved volumes and segments of this wartime garb were coated with super-resistant glossy ottchil, offering a substantial variation on stratified surfaces in which matte meets gloss and lacquer meets bronze.
I always emphasize the integration of multiple mediums and their effect on the form and shape of the final product. I convey utility to an object after I have covered this process. - Kwangho Lee -
Q. What inspired you to combine traditional mediums such as ottchil (lacquer) and cloisonné enamel with metalwork objects?
A. Back when I was in college, there were no courses on traditional media for metalwork. So I got involved in various campus clubs and was able to access all sorts of materials. I was deeply concerned with the design focus of my major, Metal Art and Design. I shifted my focus from the traditional and began to experiment with diverse materials, such as joining together two alloys like bronze and brass. I visited master craftsmen and young artists across the border in order to learn new techniques and uses of materials.
Q. At college, you majored in Metal Art and Design, and have had numerous exhibitions of metalwork furniture designs alongside other artists who work in the field of fine art. In light of this, how do you define your field of expertise?
A. I struggled a lot with this question in the initial stages of my career. Now, rather than labeling myself as a designer or an artist, I consider myself as a maker, or someone who constantly creates something. I have come to terms with this, because I feel a greater sense of achievement when I do not assign a certain attribute or utility to what I am about to create. Recently I participated in a group exhibition in Paris; through this experience, I realized that fine art is not just about the final product itself, but also the object’s story and the person behind this narrative.
Q. Are there particular points of interest that will help viewers to fully appreciate your work?
A. Rather than acquiring information from words or texts, I wish viewers to first appreciate the colors and form of my work. After they spend time enjoying the piece itself, they can feel free to explore other options to learn more about the work. I believe in first impressions, and consider it of utmost importance that my work has a big impact on my audience at first sight.
Q. Is there an aspect you would like to highlight with regard to the form and shape of your work?
A. I always emphasize the integration of multiple mediums and their effect on the form and shape of the final product. I convey utility to an object after I have covered this process. When I first come across my materials, I plan and scale the project accordingly; however, throughout the course of the working process, the results change continuously. Initially, I was interested in malleable materials, but now I choose heavier mediums and consider this a kind of training course.
Q. What is the seed of your imagination?
A. My sources of inspiration are various, but the fundamental catalyst for my next work is the process of repetition
Q. What makes your art brilliant?
A. It’s the present moment. The present moment stands for the right now with regard to the stage of my working process. My work is difficult to describe in words; but I can say for certain that it is part of a continuing process. In other words, the current stage of my working process could be an incubation period prior to my next work; hence, my answer to this question is subject to change in a few years.
The Moment of Eclipse. 2014. Authentic Korean enamel, copper. 30 x 5.5cm
The Moment of Eclipse. 2014. Authentic Korean enamel, copper. 39 x 63.5 x 38cm
The Moment of Eclipse. 2014. Authentic Korean enamel, copper. 40.5 x 55 x 35cm
The Moment of Eclipse. 2014. Authentic Korean enamel, copper. 35.5 x 46 x 38 cm
Indefinite Objects Installation View. 2014
Obsession. 2014. Polyester. 47 x 1137 x 30cm
Obsession. 2013. PVC tube. 800(h) x 1000 x 1000cm
Obsession. 2014. PVC tube. 450(h) x 1200 x 450cm
Obsession. 2014. PVC tube. 450(h) x 450 x 450cm
Kwangho Lee majored in Metal & Art Design at Hongik University. His work has been on exhibit in over 7 solo shows such as <Indefinite Objects>(One & J Gallery, Seoul, Korea, 2014), and over 9 group shows including <Furniture 2013>(Johnson Trading Gallery, New York, USA, 2013), <DNA>(Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea, 2013), to name a few. Kwangho Lee was awarded <Yeol Young Craftsman of the Year> in 2013.