• 갈이질 Gal-e-jil, considering form.
  • Studies in the UK opened Jungjoo Im’s eyes to the world of international design, but when he returned to Seoul his focus became on creating products that had a universal appeal, yet referenced local tradition. His work with Korean timber in the creation of his decorative objects is experimental, but tends to emphasise hand-shaped craft, drawing upon the traditional wood turning technique of gal-e-jil craftsmanship. His unique approach is highlighted in his noneloquent project, which was recently displayed at the Onyang Museum, and challenged the notion of conventional form in creating designs that were deliberately devoid of function. His work reflects a mood among contemporary Korean designers challenging the norms of their industry, which typically makes objects purely for function.
    Australian industrial designer Henry Wilson’s work, which includes product commissions from skincare company Aesop and furniture for high-end Sydney restaurants, similarly pays attention to the importance of form. The sand-casted bronze objects he’s become known for all marked individually by the tactile, changeable nature of the rich material and the sculptural quality of his designs. Yet, despite being beautiful pieces to behold, Wilson’s work tends to always serve a democratic utility, blurring the lines between function and ornament.
    Wilson and Im speak about the making techniques behind their meticulously produced works and the similarities and differences in their creative processes.
    • 1. 'Noneloquent' project in different types of Korean timber and sponge

    • 2. 'Noneloquent' (coloured wood edition) made by using Korean timber 먹감(meogam) tree

    • 3. Group exhibition 'Obscure Formulas'. A few objects from the 'noneloquent' project displayed in space
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    1. 'Noneloquent' project in different types of Korean timber and sponge
    2. 'Noneloquent' (coloured wood edition) made by using Korean timber 먹감 (meogam) tree
    3. A few objects from the 'noneloquent' project being used in space
    • 갈이질 Gal-e-jil, considering form.

    Studies in the UK opened Jungjoo Im’s eyes to the world of international design, but when he returned to Seoul his focus became on creating products that had a universal appeal, yet referenced local tradition. His work with Korean timber in the creation of his decorative objects is experimental, but tends to emphasise hand-shaped craft, drawing upon the traditional wood turning technique of gal-e-jil craftsmanship. His unique approach is highlighted in his noneloquent project, which was recently displayed at the Onyang Museum, and challenged the notion of conventional form in creating designs that were deliberately devoid of function. His work reflects a mood among contemporary Korean designers challenging the norms of their industry, which typically makes objects purely for function.

    Australian industrial designer Henry Wilson’s work, which includes product commissions from skincare company Aesop and furniture for high-end Sydney restaurants, similarly pays attention to the importance of form. The sand-casted bronze objects he’s become known for all marked individually by the tactile, changeable nature of the rich material and the sculptural quality of his designs. Yet, despite being beautiful pieces to behold, Wilson’s work tends to always serve a democratic utility, blurring the lines between function and ornament.

    Wilson and Im speak about the making techniques behind their meticulously produced works and the similarities and differences in their creative processes.

    Jungjoo Im
    Henry Wilson

    Illustrations by Jiye Kim
    • My first work began with traditional woodworking - from joinery to learning very fine hand-skills. I realised that I wanted to work in production, but I didn’t want to work in a mass production where the same product was made over and over again - I was more interested in the idea of taking the production method to create something unique. This led me to sand casting and now my studio does a lot of metal casting, and even casting in glass and carving in stone. I understand that your work also comprises of different materials, so I’m curious to hear about it.
      • My design career started with woodwork as well, but before studying product design in London I actually studied Graphic Design in Seoul. When I came back to Korea in 2013, I set up my own studio intending to work on graphic, product and spatial design projects. But I didn’t like working in front of the computer - I wanted to work more with my hands, and this led me to learn wood-turning gal-e-jil technique. All my projects began with using wood as material. But like you, I wanted to work and experiment with many different materials and techniques such as sand casting, aluminium casting, and recently I’ve been using Line-x which I quite like – it’s a very hard but flexible material depending on its different treatments.
  • Before I design I think about the functional side of the products – where the candles will be placed on the object or where the oil will drip on a lamp. How do you approach function as a product designer?
    • I always thought form must follow function and I kept to this very strictly in the beginning. But around 3 years ago, I visited a Korean antique market where I found this object that I thought would be perfect as a candle holder, but later found out it was originally used to hold threads in weaving – called godure. This completely changed the way I approached my work. I believe a function of an object is not created by the designer, but by people and how they choose to use the object. My recent noneloquent project is a good example of this where I started designing decorative objects without any specific functions. 
  • "I visited a Korean antique market where I found this object that I thought would be perfect as a candle holder, but later found out it was originally used to hold threads in weaving – called godure. This completely changed the way I approached my work. I believe a function of an object is not created by the designer, but by people and how they choose to use the object."
  • How do people use these decorative objects that you’ve designed?
    • I once created this really sharp cone, where I couldn’t really predict any functions of this object. And my mother-in-law came to my workshop and asked me ‘What can you use this thing for?’ Later I found her hat hanging nicely on the cone object! So I think a lot of the time “function” gets determined by the names that are given to items. And when the function is not pre-determined by a name, new uses will come about.
  • I think it’s important to talk about this non-prescriptive design, because we create and put so much energy into making these objects to build a sense of timelessness in them. There is a nice rationality to making something that is not too prescriptive. One of society’s problems is we throw away things that are prescriptively functional too easily as soon as there are new items that serve us better. There’s no human attachment to these objects. Whereas when the items have some humanity and humility to them, it’s more likely that they will make their place in someone’s life more permanently. I’m curious though when it comes to designing decorative objects, like the 'noneloquent’ project, where do you get your ideas from about the forms? 
    • I have a unique approach to this. In a project where I am aiming to create 20 different objects I might first sketch many different forms, not thinking about their functions. This allows me to draw shapes and silhouettes without limiting the ideas to how they should be manufactured. During this process I also sketch objects that I do think have a specific use. I might end up with 200 to 300 different sketches and I chooses the 20 that work together. The people who buy my work are divided – some want to use them for a specific purpose and others want them for display. Sometimes people find their own ways of using my objects in ways that I never had. Do you also notice something like this with your work as well?
  • 4. Exhibition at Onyang Museum in Korea. Noneloquent objects displayed side by side with traditional Korean folk items
    5. One of Noneloquent objects in fiberglass, displayed at Kkotsul (traditional Korean bar)
    • Yes, it’s funny, some of my work does get re-appropriated, not in the same way because there is a prescription in how my work is used. However, one of my products is called the Thoronet dish, people sometimes use them as decorative items, but it can also be used as a bowl, and they will often get interchanged like that, which is a nice feeling when people find their own use for it. I don’t really think about my products being used as display objects, not concretely, but perhaps those thoughts exist subconsciously. But I think it’s a nice balance, finding that sculptural essence is something that I also want to strive to do more in my work. I also wanted to ask about the manufacturing side of your work.  When you manufacture a lot of items, you usually lose personality in your work, how do you deal with this?
      • When it comes to wood-work, I do the manufacturing on my own. But I have partners working with me for aluminium and brass casting. When I use 3D printing alongside sand casting in my work it is easier for me to keep the personality of my design. But the reason why I insist on doing all of the wood-work myself, is because wooden products can only be finalised by my hands. This is especially the case with the wood turning gal-e-jil method. This method involves carving a rotating piece of wood by hand, so the form is entirely based on where you place your hand. Even when I gave the exact design dimensions to someone else to do the same thing, the finished object was different. I initially created objects with wood turning, but this became impossible for large-scale production. I now only use this wood turning method for objects displayed in exhibitions.
  • What types of wood do you use mainly in your work?
    • I use quite a lot of Korean timber in my work. Because Korea is a small country, there isn't much available land. So the Korean timber industry tends to plant trees in a dense manner, which means the wood doesn’t absorb enough sunlight so trees grow very slowly. So, when I compare Korean timber with Northern American timber, the Korean timber’s tree rings are much more dense. And as you might be aware Hinoki timber from Japan can last for 1000 years, but in Korea we have Gingko trees and Zelkova trees, which both produce timber that can last that long too. However, we are still behind with wood drying techniques compared to the West, so instead of using properly dried timber, I mainly work with raw Korean timber. I love how this Korean timber naturally changes forms and cracks over time when applied to my designs
  • "One of society’s problems is we throw away things that are prescriptively functional too easily as soon as there are new items that serve us better. There’s no human attachment to these objects. Whereas when the items have some humanity and humility to them, it’s more likely that they will make their place in someone’s life more permanently."
  • Ah well that’s interesting, I didn’t know there was also Korean timber that has similar characteristics to Hinoki wood. What I have always loved about Hinoki wood is the way it ages and also how it cracks open but it still has a lovely strength to it I think. But going back to your designs, I understand that in Korea decorative objects that have no function are quite a unique concept, and a lot of objects are designed for utilitarian use, why is that? 
    • Yes, it’s related to Korean history. After suffering from the Korean War in the 1950s the nation went through industrialisation in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, Korean manufacturing factories were very much focused on making products that were multi-functional – producing as many as possible, in the shortest amount of time in ways that were affordable. Koreans all the way up to my parents’ generations are used to this standard for items. But now, my generation, designers in their 30s and who were able to study abroad and participate in foreign exhibitions, have slowly started to learn that a mass produced item are not always the best items, in other words they have started to appreciate the hand crafted works, and also the decorative items that do not have any specific functions. I can see that today Korean people are seeing the value and the beauty in those objects.
  • This reminds of when I was in the Netherlands eight years ago and was visiting second hand markets in suburban areas. I saw people selling beautiful vintage pieces that were highly collectible, but they were basically giving them away for five Euros. I was quite stunned by this, especially coming from Australia where we didn’t have such a history for production and manufacturing. Everyone wanted to get rid of all this ‘old stuff’ so that they could buy new furniture, from places like IKEA and Habitart. It was quite a curious time, I didn’t get that, why would people want to do that? Why wouldn’t you want to have these beautiful crystal glasses? What better things were there than those crystal glasses?! Well that’s it from me, thank you so much for your time, and sharing your work and about design culture in Korea.  
  • INTERNATIONAL VOICE
  • HENRY WILSON
  • Sydney based industrial designer Henry Wilson’s line of products in bronze, aluminium, brass and stone, continue to grow as he explores various casting techniques and expands his network of collaborators. Popular pieces include his Brass Oil Burner created for international skincare company Aesop, which is a refined yet functional take on a conventional oil burner. At Milan Design Week in 2019, Wilson’s travertine objects, including the curved, carved Surface Sconce received acclaim from the international media. Wilson continues to collaborate with architects and designers on interior design projects across hospitality and retail.

    JUNGJOO IM
    www.object-labs.com
    HENRY WILSON
    www.store.henrywilson.com.au

  • INTERNATIONAL VOICE
  • RYUTARO YOSHIDA
  • Sydney based industrial designer Henry Wilson’s line of products in bronze, aluminium, brass and stone, continue to grow as he explores various casting techniques and expands his network of collaborators. Popular pieces include his Brass Oil Burner created for international skincare company Aesop, which is a refined yet functional take on a conventional oil burner. At Milan Design Week in 2019, Wilson’s travertine objects, including the curved, carved Surface Sconce received acclaim from the international media. Wilson continues to collaborate with architects and designers on interior design projects across hospitality and retail.

    JUNGJOO IM
    www.object-labs.com
    HENRY WILSON
    www.store.henrywilson.com.au

    Gal-e-jil also called moksunban is a wood turning technique that involves the carving of rotating timber. It was used to make everyday objects such as water jars, pots, and canisters. In the very beginning, the craft was practiced with two people – one person would manually rotate a tool, where the wood is being held, and the other would carve the timber simultaneously. Later on, by developing a pedal for rotation, one craftsman could rotate the wood by pedalling the tool, thereby being able to carve wood more freely. 

    The craft form dates back to the 1st century AD and has been continuing for about 2000 years. It was a widely popular and useful technique that was loved by the Korean people. By being able to control the rotation’s speed, craftsmen were able to achieve finer silhouettes and forms of objects. However, with western machinery being introduced to Korea to carve wood, it has become a dying craft, only practiced and continued by a few artisans in a city like Namwon, a place known for traditional woodwork.
    1. Raw harvested timber is cut into long pieces.
    2. Different types of timber are cut into desired sizes.
    3. Some timber go through a drying process.
    4. The raw timber is set up in a woodturning machine.
    1. Raw harvested timber is cut into long pieces.
    2. Different types of timber are cut into desired sizes.
    3. Some timber go through a drying process.
    4. The raw timber is set up in a woodturning machine.
    5. Different tools are used to achieve various shapes of the wood.
    6. Using a tool called a ‘roughing gouge’ the woodturning process begins.
    7. Traditional jok-dab-ki (woodturning) machine.
    8. The meticulously carved object using this technique.
    5. Different tools are used to achieve various shapes of the wood.
    6. Using a tool called a ‘roughing gouge’ the woodturning process begins.
    7. Traditional jok-dab-ki (woodturning) machine.
    8. The meticulously carved object using this technique.

    © Images provided by
    – Jungjoo Im
    – Cultural Heritage Administration


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