Unglazed and flawed: The calming beauty of ceramics: Artist Bae Joo-hyun’s exhibit focuses on the humanity of her work

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Unglazed and flawed: The calming beauty of ceramics: Artist Bae Joo-hyun’s exhibit focuses on the humanity of her work



Though most museums and galleries throughout the country have shut their doors, a small gallery in central Seoul is instead welcoming people, encouraging them to visit and take a break from the stress of living through a virus outbreak. Currently at the Gallery Woomul, ceramic artist Bae Joo-hyun is exhibiting “Wonsi Garden.” The artist says her latest exhibition is safe to visit during the outbreak because “Wonsi Garden” is best appreciated when visitors enjoy it one at a time.

“I hope each person can stand deep in contemplation in front of each artwork and take enough time to enjoy a very private exhibition,” Bae said, explaining why she decided to bring the exhibit to the small gallery in the quiet neighborhood of Hyoja-dong.

To help visitors dive deep in their thoughts, Bae, a former opera singer, selected the Gregorian chant that plays on repeat in the gallery.

“I say that people should come to the gallery and enjoy the exhibition despite the coronavirus outbreak because I want people to take this opportunity to pause for a minute, and take time to look ahead to a bright future and also look back to the past to see how we got here. I believe my exhibit can act as a channel for people to engage in that process.”

In fact, Bae named the exhibit “Wonsi Garden” because wonsi has a double meaning: one is “to be farsighted” and the other is “primitive.”

Although the exhibit is small in size, Bae displays some 150 ceramic works amongst piles of soil. It may seem like Bae’s artworks are the ceramic pieces, but in fact, the artist says they are the materials she uses to “draw a figurative painting in a space.” In other words, the focus of the exhibit is not on individual ceramic pieces, but more on the installations that Bae has put together using pieces of ceramics.


Modern oriental painter and ceramic artist Bae Joo-hyun, left, is currently holding an exhibition titled “Wonshi Garden,” at Gallery Woomul in central Seoul. The exhibit, top and above, showcases Bae’s ceramic works which she uses as a medium to “paint a picture.” [BAE JOO-HYUN]

“The exhibit is divided into several sections and, as you can see, different ceramic pieces are scattered around or placed among piles of soil in the exact spots I designated since I want visitors to see the whole picture,” said Bae.

Soil is another main material for Bae, as “it is the closest substance to mankind,” she said. Like the saying that man was formed from the dust of the ground and returns as a handful of dust after death, Bae believes ceramics made from soil clay are very similar to human beings. According to Bae, this is why the ceramic pieces in one section of the exhibit are all uneven, unglazed and even left cracked.

“I got more and more attracted to imperfect and rough pieces,” said Bae. “I guess that’s because I saw the resemblance of imperfect ceramics to human beings - myself, to be more exact. I also am an emotionally wounded person and I thought it was wrong and that I can only be ‘beautiful’ when I’m perfect. But everyone has scars, and it’s actually okay to reveal them, and if you’ve managed to heal those scars, perhaps you should show them rather than hide them. I think it makes you a lot more charming.”

Using the kintsugi technique, through which one repairs broken pottery by mending it with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, Bae attempts to show that “beauty” - despite showing its flaws.

While making the ceramics in this section, Bae didn’t want to destroy imperfect ceramics that formed cracks while she was making them because destroying them meant creating waste. She also did not glaze them on purpose, since the process emits toxic gas while the ceramics get baked. Unglazed ceramics are fragile and rough, but other than that, Bae says there’s no problem in using them in daily life, even for tableware.

“We are used to glazed ceramics and I know they are shinier, more solid and convenient to use, but through this part of the exhibition, I want people to think about the benefits that come from things that are more natural,” said Bae. “And I believe there’s no other time like the present to take a moment and think about what has brought us to be in this situation and how we should overcome this for the future.”

The exhibit runs until March 29. The gallery is open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is closed on Tuesdays.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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