Muse Xuyoni

An Interview with Ceramicist Younghwan Kim

Ceramicist Younghwan Kim explores the value of art in everyday life


"There are countless things that fill our daily lives. In today’s society, most objects are easily consumed, discarded, and replaced. However, some require a long tunnel of time to be created; these special objects deeply impact our lives and settle into a sort of “scene.” Ceramist Younghwan Kim uses clay as a material to create objects that enter our personal spaces and quietly become part. This time, he made incense holders and tea cups for Xuyoni. His works will accompany us in our journey to find the true self. In late June, we sat down with him in his neat and modest studio located along the sloping alleyways of Bukchon.





Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?


I'm Younghwan Kim, a ceramic artist. I make objects that are used by people in their daily lives.



What led you to choose the life of a ceramicist?


Looking back, I've always been interested in making things since childhood. I was drawn to the idea of creating something new that doesn’t exist in the world. This naturally carried over to my choice of major in college.



In addition to being an artist, you’re also an educator.


Just as I was taught in school, I am now teaching the younger generation my ideas, values, and the role of a potter. We’re in search of a path to become ceramicists who create beauty through real-life applications.



As an artist, you must have your own definition of craft.


In a craft class I took in college, I learned that a craftsman must make something that can be used in real life, and I have continued to practice that even after graduation and now as an artist. I can say that my work is completed through my relationship with others. Craft is a genre that also involves “empathy” for each other.





What kind of work do you usually do?


The ceramic works that I’ve produced contain food, tea, or flowers. I guess you could say that my work acts as a kind of blank canvas. My pieces shine not on their own but in combination with someone else’s creation, like a white canvas waiting to become a beautiful painting.



Tell us about a memorable project.


I remember working with Michelin-starred Chef Minjae Park. For the first time, I learned that there are many different categories in cuisine. When first asked to collaborate with Chef Park, I knew very little about French cuisine. I was pushing forward with tremendous efforts in my own way. However, when Chef Park came face-to-face with my work in progress, he didn’t hesitate one second before taking me to Pierre Gagnaire Seoul to experience French fine-dining. Through that sensorial experience and thorough conversation with the chef, I started again from scratch.
My philosophy that a dish is only complete when it contains food may have originated from this project.



Where does the beauty of craft as an art form lie?


The definition of art is so broad and varied. The beauty of crafts as art comes from the way people use them in real life. You don't encounter a craft in an art museum. When you touch it with your own hands and utilize it as it becomes a part of your life, you see the value. Mere observation of a craft work will not cut it. Real appreciation will come through connections and communications with others. I think this is the "caring" aspect that only craft has.





I can't leave out the discussion of materials in pottery. While most of our daily necessities are based on artificial materials like plastics, pottery uses clay from nature.


My ceramic work starts with the soil, the original substance from nature. There is a widespread attitude that humans own the earth, but we really need to think differently. The earth, or nature, is not something we own, but something we borrow for a short time while we are alive. This is easily overlooked.

Pottery begins with soil in its natural state. Using untamed natural substance as a material is a more challenging process than you might imagine. The task is much more demanding than the usual mass manufacturing. In short, ceramics is an artistic approach to coexist with the earth in a sustainable way.





How did you get involved with the Xuyoni project? What was your reaction at the proposal?


I've always been interested in Eastern philosophy and fascinated by the creation of the universe and the history of the earth along with existential themes such as the universe, stars, and the birth of humanity. When I heard the brand story, I noticed those elements of spirituality and underlying Eastern thoughts.

I felt I could contribute to the project as a ceramicist, so I was happy to get involved. I also started to think about the spatial aspects of the project, such as "What kind of space will my work be placed in? I was excited and almost anticipated creating a personal universe for each user, so to speak. I imagined my work being placed in the most private space in a spatial sense and existing in an infinite dimension in a semantic sense, transforming the atmosphere it’s in.





What kind of space do you visualize for Xuyoni’s tea and incense?


I imagine Xuyoni’s space to be open with countless possibilities, as it is a small personal universe of the individual using the product. The space I envisioned is not a space that requires any additions. It is a space good as it is. I witness many people who want to relax but don't know how to, so I anticipate a space with an opposite concept.

You’ve created incense holders, incense burners, and tea cups and saucers for Xuyoni.

Incense and tea are products of nature. I kept reminding myself that they come from nature, not man-made. These unique characteristics influenced my choice of materials and the process. I wanted to use unrefined soil so that people could feel the rawness of nature and enjoy the fragrance and tea to the fullest.



What is important to you in your work?


I try to emphasize the inherent properties of the soil. I don't like to use artificial processing methods that refine the original material. Do you know what temperature ceramics reach when being fired? It's 1,200 degrees Celsius. The clay must endure this heat in order to prevent any harmful toxins from remaining in the ware. This method is inefficient in terms of time and money. However, this traditional method is the only way I can get desired products. In the past, they used to add things like oxides to skip the intermediate steps, which speeds up the entire manufacturing process; however, it is harmful to humans. The most traditional method understands the soil the best and considers others who share this planet we live on.



We mentioned earlier that craft has an element of “caring.” Is this along the same lines?


Yes. After all, craft doesn't end with making; it is completed by someone using it.

The incense holders are handmade and personalized, which make them more valuable.
I made these pieces by separating the clay into small lumps and molding it on a flat surface several times, of course all manually. I kept observing the momentary shapes as I made them, so there is no set standard. I solely focused on the sensations of my hands in interacting with the clay until I got the shape I wanted. Sometimes it took me 20 tries, and other times I found a beautiful shape in just a few. The shapes I created were not based on exact angles or strength, but rather on the intuition of the moment.



What was it like working with Xuyoni on this project?


As it turns out, the process of working with Xuyoni has opened up a new awareness for me. Maybe it's more appropriate to say that it made me think. I realized that the individual products that Xuyoni presents are ultimately connected to one another and exist in a single space, enriching the spirituality of my mind. I think this experience will be very helpful for other projects in future.



Editor: Juhwa Moon

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