Everything Gets Glazed - Except the Eyes

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Everything Gets Glazed - Except the Eyes

The World Ceramic Exposition 2001, a large-scale event that shows the evolution of ceramics, opened last Friday in three cities in Kyonggi province: Icheon, Gwangju and Yeoju. With an investment of 12.6 billion won ($9,775,000), this ambitious event aims to attract 600,000 foreign tourists.

So far the exposition has been a success. Pavilions were packed Tuesday with people enjoying the last week of their summer holiday. Drawn by creative programs such as a mud festival, ceramic painting and daily parades for children, families lined up outside the entrance. The restaurants, set up food court-style, were also jammed with people waiting to buy their coupons, undeterred by the fact that the fare was overpriced (4,000 won for a bowl of noodles).

Despite its apparent success, the exposition is hurt by a lack of transportation and facilities for the physically disabled. The frequent delays and inconvenient schedule of the shuttle bus irritated guests who waited in the stifling heat. The expo runs through Oct. 28. A free shuttle bus departs Coex Mall, at 10:10, 11:10, 1:40, 2:40 p.m. The return bus leaves at 12, 1, 4, 5, 7 with last bus leaving at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 031-644-2275 (English available).

Shin Sang-ho is curator of the World Contemporary Ceramics exhibition at the World Ceramic Exposition. A ceramist who contributed his own work to the exhibition ("Imaginary Animal Head 56"), Mr. Shin invited 38 artists who have advanced contemporary ceramics from 1950 to 2000. The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition met with the curator at Icheon.

IHT-JAI: Could you talk a little bit about the distinct characteristics of this section of the festival?

SHIN: Contemporary ceramics have gone beyond functional pieces. Modern ceramists have contributed enormously to turning craft into art. This was partly possible due to developing technology. Great ceramists were once limited because of the firing process. Now artists have more control over their products. You can see this change when you see that some of the best quality cutlery (delicate forks and spoons) on sale these days are ceramic.

IHT-JAI: There have been disputes about the artistic quality of contemporary Korean ceramics.

SHIN: Yes. It comes back to the tension between tradition and modernization. Some organizers made the point that contemporary Korean ceramics don't draw on "authentic" traditions of ancient ceramics. Those who say that are mostly concerned about the fact that contemporary Korean ceramics have been influenced by western techniques. However, I am not sure if "invention" is such an important concept in discussions of art. White porcelain, which many Koreans think is our innovation, was actually created by the Chinese 1,300 years before its advent in Korean craft. And there is nothing embarrassing about being influenced by other cultures.

IHT-JAI: Are there a lot of artists who use clay as an exclusive medium in their work now? If so, what does clay mean to them?

SHIN: Artists who use clay as their main medium tend to be individuals who experienced limitations with other materials. In fact, a significant number of ceramists who we call "masters" now were painters earlier in their career. Clay is a transparent medium. It doesn't have a color or distinct form until is is fired and glazed into ceramic. Artists have possibilities with clay. They can also have a final product come out exactly the way they had intended if they glaze it properly.

IHT-JAI: It's quite distracting to see "Do Not Touch" signs all over the exhibition space.

SHIN: You've got to question the cultural standard of our citizens. Security was one of the main things that I fought with my staff over. I argued there shouldn't be any glass cases in the room, no matter how precious the objects are, because they break the overall flow of the installation. However, I was thankful that I followed my staff's decision when I came for the opening. Parents are encouraging their children to touch the pieces when there is a sign right in front of them saying "Do Not Touch."

Exposition organizers suggest that after the ceramics festival visitors might want to try one or more of the following cultural sites.

Haegang Ceramic Museum

The founder of Haegang ceramics, Yu Keun-hyeong, created this museum so that the heritage of Koryo porcelain would not be lost.

The Ceramic Culture Room, on the first floor, shows the history of ceramic art. Mr. Yu's masterpieces are displayed in the Haegang Memorial room. The second floor has a permanent exhibition of ceramics that date from the 9th century onward. For more information, call 031-632-7017.

Hot Springs

For more than 200 years, Icheon was called "onchon baemi," the village of hot springs.

The hot springs in this area are between 28 to 31 degrees centigrade. The water has a mineral content that is supposed to help a variety of skin conditions, muscle pain and circulatory problems. Miranda Springs hotel (031-733-2001), Seolbong Hotel (031-31-6301) and Seolbong Elvan Health Land (031-631-9700) are three popular locations. For general information, call 031-633-8003.

Korean Folk Village

This outdoor museum recreates the traditional Korean lifestyle. There are more than 260 houses typical of the Choson Dynasty and a market with Korean cuisine from different regions of the peninsula. Shops stock a variety of traditional handicrafts and souvenirs.

Potters, weavers, blacksmiths and other artisans practice their trade the old-fashioned way. Twice a day, performers dance to farmer's music. For more information, call 031-286-2111.

Namhan Mountain Fortress

One of two great mountain fortresses that guard Seoul, Namhan Mountain Fortress was built in the early 17th century. The wall stretches 8 kilometers and has four main gates, 16 small gates, and other military facilities, including a watchtower.

The stone fortress was built during the reign of King Injo of the Choson Dynasty to repel Manchurian invasions. Visitors can either hike up the steep hill or drive on a winding road that circles the fortress.

by Park Soo-mee, Joe Yong-hee

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