This field module was not simply a “holiday”, but a great opportunity to immerse myself into the creative life in South Korea and questioning, comparing, contrasting, thinking and acting on cultural differences, similarities, and opportunities that these experiences provoke within my subject area, ceramics.
An advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before. A disadvantage is that it makes us ignore differences between individuals; therefore generalizing makes us think things about people who might not be true.
Graphic artist Yang Liu has a sharp eye for cultural comparison, honed by personal experience. In 1990, at the age of 13, she moved from Beijing to Berlin. After exactly 13 years there, she started an illustrated project to document her dual experiences in China and Germany. Originally created as 47 simple blue and red posters, Yang Liu’s nonjudgmental series playfully captures the difference between cultures: from workplace hierarchy to restaurant etiquette. It has since been shown at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany and was published in 2007 by art book authority Taschen with the title East Meets West.Prior to my trip to Korea, especially not knowing much about the country I was about to explore, I had a few misconceptions and some stereotypes that were re-enforced such as people eating kimchi, everyone owning a Samsung phone and wondering why are Koreans so good at whatever they do and on the other hand, some stereotypes were demolished, such as, perhaps people eating unusual things such as dog or cat, everyone loving K-pop and Korean dramas. All of these stereotypes are generalizations that are feed to us by the media, the internet, family, friends, teachers, etc. Even though these stereotypes are not that outrageous, it’s fair to say although a group of people might identify within a category it doesn’t mean we have to label and stereotype a whole nation or mass. Often people are put into categories (Colour, Sex, Sexual Preference, Religion, Social Status) and this leads to hate and discrimination.
However, I have been intrigued as to why I believe Koreans are so skillful and have a different perspective to detail. Looking why these ‘Cultural Others’ produce work in a vast amount with such skills, it is very much about based on commercial values, pricing, target markets, popular culture, small, cute, aesthetically pleasing, tableware. Something that is reflect around them within their culture and they have to catch up if they want to make it. I began to interact with the students, trying to get myself informed. A way of reinforcing and rejecting stereotypes within their culture and education. It really intrigued me how some students were talking about how they only made ceramics just for the joy of making it, not really looking at contextual or conceptual aspects. In addition, a student went into the extent of saying western ceramics is “more creative”. But why? Perhaps, over here being more of a multicultural society where there is a bigger and more diverse way of making and designing where different ideas are shared and therefore being “more creative”? However, they are taught in a very specific way. While lurking around the university studios where some students were (and the facilities were not that different from here), I noticed a teacher going to the students and telling them on how to improve aesthetically their work. There is something specifically they look for in a piece. But I believe it is up to the artist/maker/designer to evaluate what is aesthetically pleasing. Also, students are encouraged to stay and work for long periods of time on their work which as a society is also equated and is reflected on their skills, where as here, students only go to lectures they have to go and that if they even show up for it.
The clash and harmony between the local and the international is a common issue in non-Western countries. But when multiculturalism happens, is there loss of identity. Do things stop having a sense of identity?
Looking into what is Taste and the theory of Cool by Pountain (2000) has insight me a potential view as to why perhaps I view Koreans as skillfull. Taste is the shared cultural values of a particular social community or individual. Learned through social class, cultural background and often, education. ‘Cool is not inherent in objects but in people, then what is seen as Cool will change from place to place, from time to time and from generation to generation’(Pountain, 2000:19).
I am very interested in ways artists use their hands to produce artefacts either in a way of expressing themselves or in a way of production and making. How can I bring cultural values into my own work? Exploring the Craft Narrative: The Place, Process, Perspective exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has been a great inspiration, especially the work by the astonishing KiHo Kang. His which work relies completely on the potential and possibility of clay. The technique of coiling relies absolutely on time and the senses remembered on the fingertips as the thumb and index finger press the clay for it to form into a certain thickness and to stick together. Such way of working applies minimum use of tools and machines, and completely adapts the body of the artist. Through craft, objects are invited to return to the human life where they belong, where they can provide the psychological foundation for us to realize humanity and establish bonds and exchanges with each other.
Looking into traditional Korean Celadon glazes, it has intrigued me how could I could potentially explore them. Having a technical project running alongside my subject module where I can explore a technique or material in more depth I am interested in exploring Copper oxides and Copper Carbonate on glazes and exploring different firing atmospheres in which if fired on an oxidation the copper will give nice settled blues and in contrast the same glaze fired on a heavily reduced atmosphere the copper will produce beautiful copper red. A beautiful metaphor in the exploration of cultural differences yet its similarities. But why does it work? People are invited to interact with the objects are are told about the glaze and this might spark a conversation as to why multiculturalism is important and perhaps getting some feedback.