South Korean Contemporary Mixed Media Artist, Ilhwa Kim, Interviewed By Tiffany Haughton, HOFA Gallery (House of Fine Art)

What is this exhibition/collection about? 

I have been putting more focus on the sculptural nature of my works in previous shows. In my upcoming show “Open your Seed”, I explore more of the narrative aspect, the potential stories my seeds have been telling, which I did not listen to enough for the past years. 

I have been surprised by the huge growing potential of my own seeds. My seeds have been growing a lot for the last few years and became quite an army and a big library. Now, they stood up in front of me and begin to murmur and whisper something more concrete in their own language. I have been enjoying all the listening hours of last year and this year in my segregated studio.

Does this collection/exhibition have a message? If so, what is it? 

When the viewers and I admit that our current vision and current thoughts are not the only inevitable ones in a particular moment, I believe we are able to make our lives more fluent and flourishing. By building up my own seed system on my works, I try to build an experience not only evoking a fresh vision and new thought. I also strive to embrace previous visions and past thoughts so that we experience the timeline of the visions and thoughts. Most important part of my work resides in how my works can support the curious flow of experiences. This can influence viewers to take a naturally relaxed and an immersive approach to the work within the space. I believe this timeline experience will help build his or her own version of the world experience, not ignoring other’s or previous visions.

How does it connect to your other collections and exhibitions?

For viewers, it would be a curious beginning to explore new style of titles attached to the works produced during 2021. Previously, most of my works have shown only the sequential number among the relevant work series. The titles functioned to give more focus on the unique sculpture of my works, exploring new kinds of material structure. 

This year, for the first time, I began to put my own or seeds’ own version of story as titles of new works. It became quite a liberating experience for me and my work.

What sort of training have you received and how important do you think it is to seek training?

My college study was Oriental Painting. I kept experimenting beyond traditional technique with various kinds of oriental paper and all sorts of brushes. 

My current paper sculpture techniques never existed in the world when I began to develop after 10 years of painting. I had to invent and develop my own first sculpture principle itself. 

First of all, I kept dividing my working process to make them as efficient as possible.  Handling combined paper units were extremely hard and tiring.  Without innovation, I felt my body cannot sustain long. That is why my working process segmentation still goes on even after 15 years of innovation. 

Based on the detailed work segments, I made my own custom tools myself or with the help of custom steel masters. For artists looking for their own original techniques, I advise them to open their eyes toward related industry practice first rather than being tied inside art field only practices. 

What is your principal medium, and why did you choose it?

If you talk with paper department of Victoria and Albert Museum, you can find there are two kinds of archival grade paper; one is Japanese archival paper and the other is archival Hanji (Korean Mulberry paper) I currently use. 

The durability of archival grade comes from the chemical character of paper ingredients and how to weave a number of thin threads to form a sheet of paper.  

However, the archival grade hanji itself did not fit exactly with my paper sculpture needs in terms of colour dying, the texture after dying process, and the length of the drying period after completion. 

I wanted to use this hanji paper with all kinds of colour and texture as I did in the painting. At that time, the colours, and textures of the existing hanji paper remained very limited.

To achieve the best ratio of each paper ingredients, luckily, I was able to meet a few existing Korean paper masters. After various experiment with the old masters, I was able to finalize my own custom paper to fit my sculpture. The masters named the customized hanji paper as ‘Ilhwa Hanji’.

Ilhwa Kim – Seed Unfolding, 21 October – 4th November – Solo Exhibition, HOFA London

An edited longer version of this interview will be published at a later date.