A while back we explored Japanese techniques such as kintsugi ("to patch with gold") and kintsukuroi ("to repair with gold") in connection with fashion.
In one of the previous features we mentioned Korean artist Yee Sookyung, known for her hybrid sculptures that incorporate shards and fragments of discarded ceramic pieces made by master potters.
The artist is featured also in this year's 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice with one of her monumental pieces, the latest from her "Translated Vase" series (that started in 2001).
The five-meter-high sculpture entitled "Nine Dragons in Wonderland" incorporates shards and fragments of traditional pottery and ceramics collected from more than 20 ceramics workshops outside Seoul that the artist duly visited (a collaborative approach the artist developed a long time ago when, during a residency in Italy between 2001 and 2003, she visited ceramic manufacturers in Albisola and Savona to discover their skills and their stories).
The original inspiration for this piece came from a documentary film about Korean contemporary artisans trying to perfectly re-produce Joseon-era (1392-1910) white porcelains and destroying the finished vessels that came out of the kiln and that looked imperfect (a traditional rule of master potters).
The piece is featured in the "Pavilion of Traditions" section of this year's Biennale, a space dedicated to artists who try to create connections between old and new traditions and who investigate the distant past, reinventing it for the future.
Yee's work is indeed not a reinterpretation of traditions: her piece could be conceived as a physical manifestation of the contrasts between traditions and innovation, conservation and Westernisation, but also as the artist's vision of the "perfect" vase, an assemblage of bits and pieces characterised by an intriguing texture and unusual shape and enriched with 24-karat gold leaf.
Through re-composition and reinvention Yee Sookyung achieves therefore an entirely new degree of perfectionism, while giving new life to the discarded vases and assorted pottery.
The sculpture could also be interpreted as a metaphor for rebirth and triumph after failure and for a final destruction of social divisions.
The monumental concatenation of pottery includes indeed blue/green and white ware, that is the celadon favored by aristocrats, and black-glazed ceramics and earthenware used by commoners in old Korea.
Yee Sookyung claims her works are ultimately mutant entities like the nine sons of the Dragon King in Chinese mythology (hence the name of the sculpture) that, according to the legend, were hybrid creatures that combined a dragon with another animal (a cow, a wolf, a goat, a dog, a lion, a turtle, a tiger, a snake and a fish).
The possibility of creating innovative and hybrid artworks moving from the past is a principle that could be easily applied to fashion as well, an industry that has so far been appropriating from the past or from specific cultures, rather than reinventing.
For this biennale, Yee also showed a performance along the same lines, "Chasing the Sun's Orbit", in Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi, near the Giardini. The project reinterpreted the traditional Korean dance called Taepyungmu (again dating back to the Joseon dynasty), creating a new hybrid performance of music and dance.