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Textile Artist So Jin-sook’s Views of Contemporary Craft Art

Encounter of Swedish Crafts and Korean Sensibilities  Textile Artist So Jin-sook’s Views of Contemporary Craft Art  As a curator, So Jin-sook has sought to introduce Swedish contemporary craft art to audiences in Korea and the world, while as an internationally known textile artist she has built up an artistic world of her own. Although she has lived in Sweden for over 30 years now and has been active in the global arena, she has never forgotten her Korean roots.

Swedish Craft Art and Design

The Korea Foundation Cultural Center hosted the Swedish Contemporary Craft Art exhibition, on October 6-27, featuring 17 prominent Swedish artists showcasing 49 pieces of unique works crafted from textile, metal, glass, pottery, and wood. The exhibition was especially worthy of note for its focus on the characteristics of the craft art of Sweden, as distinguished from North European art which is typified by its restrained and concise functionalism. Craft art is a type of artistic expression that enjoys an especially strong presence in Sweden today. The exhibition displayed a large number of impressive works that attempt to alter the traditional concepts of function and shape with refined and evolutionary techniques, which attracted the keen attention of local art lovers.

Textile Artist So Jin-sook’sThe exhibition was made possible thanks to the efforts of the Korean artist and project curator So Jin-sook, who spent the past two years contacting the Swedish craft artists and planning displays as well as presenting her own works. With her 30 years of craft art studies and career in Sweden, she was able to organize the exhibition by drawing on her extensive knowledge and understanding of both her homeland and adopted country.

“The culture of enjoying handmade crafts is so widespread in Swedish society that its standard of craft artistry is very high,” So said. “These days, international design fairs and mass media are taking note of North European design, and particularly Swedish design is referred to as the future of North Europe’s artistic design. This exhibition serves as an excellent opportunity for Koreans to get a glimpse of Sweden’s craft design. There is much enthusiasm in Korea to learn about North European design, but there’s also a tendency to somewhat overlook craft art, which is the basis of European design. I expect the competitiveness of pure craft art can be verified through this exhibition.”

Convergence of Fine Art, Design and Craft

Hanging Cabinet of Oak Hans Ahnlund, 2011; wood, 25x20x38cmSo Jin-sook is the only Korean artist represented in the exhibition. For her Wire Mesh Textile 2011, Untitled I, II works, So applied diverse techniques, such as burning, coloring, and coating wire mesh with gold and silver, before stitching and folding the surfaces. She has used transparent wire textile since 1984. Another noticeable characteristic of her work is the use of old paper. She was also deeply inspired by traditional Korean wrapping cloths displayed at an exhibition held in 1996 at the Hokkaido Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan. She has since strived to introduce ancient Korean textile arts to Sweden.

So has engaged in efforts to combine different materials, such as wire mesh, silver thread, and gold leaf, against a background of old paper from ancient Korean books. For Five Spools Utilizing Old Paper, which she made while staying in Korea as a resident artist at the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art, So applied her experimental spirit on traditional and archaic materials found after a long search. She cut and colored old books and spools to create the work, which well reveals the Korean identity of an artist who finally developed her original style after many years of study and experimentation.

Replication 2 Eva Hild, 2011; brown-black stoneware, 50x90x48cmThese days, So is gradually expanding her stage from Sweden to the world. She has been invited to a number of international exhibitions like the North Europe Triennale and the 14th International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, as well as events at the Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and the SVARJ Museum in Hungary. At “In Our Hands,” an international art event held in Japan in 1993, she received an award for her work made with folded wire mesh textile.

So often uses wire or copper mesh of diverse thickness. Working on a flat surface, she creates a three-dimensional form by folding, crimping, or twisting the wire mesh, until the work attains a sculpture-like appearance. Although she uses materials like iron, gold, and silver, they are rendered in such delicate forms that they look like feathers dancing gracefully in the air. She also expresses a natural sense of motion with depth against a background smacking of Korean tradition. She creates abstract and rhythmical works by applying various expressive techniques, such as crimping, braiding, folding, and stitching, to transparent organza or intricately woven wire mesh. In particular, her works reminiscent of traditional Korean patchwork may be seen as another type of abstract craft art, which blends Western influences with Korean sensibilities. In this regard, So Jin-sook’s art may be defined as a formative art that combines fine art, design, and craft.

Tradition and Modernity, Change and Tolerance

“I’ve lived in Sweden for 30 years and have traveled all over the world to create works and hold exhibitions, but my roots remain in Korea. Although I didn’t intend it to be, Korea and Korean sentiments have served as the spirit and inspiration that have motivated me. As time went by, it became even more evident, and I believe they will remain the roots of my work in the future. Sooner or later, I plan to hold my own exhibition in Korea to show works featuring more Koreanized materials and designs,” she noted.

As an artist who has garnered broad support and sponsorship in Sweden, So is gratified by Korea’s enhanced understanding of Sweden, if only rather recently. She also looks forward to more cultural exchanges between Korea and Sweden in the years ahead. Swedish artists who participated in the craft show also witnessed the vigorous artistic energy of Koreans and hoped to hold solo exhibitions or lecture at universities in Korea. So also expressed a similar desire to convey her thoughts to people in Korea.

Nature Morte Carl Richard Söderström, 2011; high-fired stoneware, 28x38x52cm,  Gloria, the Cotemporary Bride  Hedvig Wetermark & Mia Ögren, 2010; found and recycled materials, 120x250x170cmShe said: “You should not think of craft art as being in the same category as design. You can’t talk about design without first understanding materials, colors, and shapes. Korea is overflowing with energy, but with the speed here being so fast, it is often the case that things of only yesterday no longer exist today. In such a situation, basics are lost and fast designs that appeal to the senses will prevail. I’d like to say that craft art is the type of art that is most faithful to the basics, since it requires a long time and very meticulous attention until a work can be completed. I myself have worked with the single material of wire mesh for 30 years, and the same is true for the other artists who are participating in this exhibition. It is most important to know and master the basics. Only after you understand that crafts are created over a long time and with great care can you proceed to the next step of design and function. I hope to convey this message through my works, and if the chance arises, I’d like to teach students about functional design, too.”

So encourages us to cultivate our physical senses and awaken our dormant sensibilities through manual work in order to discern changes within ourselves. Indeed, we need to look around ourselves to see whether we are losing things that are truly important while we are obsessed with fleeting trends and speed. Through the Swedish Contemporary Craft Art exhibition, So may be calling for us to discreetly reflect on whether we are packaging a culture, or dashing to one side without enough tolerance toward change, in the name of diversity.

Yang In-shil




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