korea’s phantasma previews the cultural program of gwangju design biennale 2015
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korea’s phantasma
la triennale di milano, milan
on now until august 23rd, 2015


‘korea’s phantasma’ at la triennale di milano, marks the first overseas exhibition to offer a preview into the cultural program that is set for the 2015 gwangju design biennale (october 13th to november 24th), of which designboom is a media partner. the show emphasizes the cultural sensibility and elegant design of creativity in korea. twenty-five korean and twenty-five italian creatives were invited to develop motifs to adorn 50 hand-made vases by korean potter ga jin lee.


kyung ran choi, professor at kookmin university and director of the 2015 gwangju design biennale, said of the collaborative exhibition that, ‘it was designed to be a turning point of global positioning for the gwangju design biennale, with international collaborations and active participation from global designers. the selection of a contemporary celadon – willowy, gray-green glazing — with the modern aesthetics of the vessel, is designed to express the beauty and new interpretation of the soswaewon, a private garden south korea’s south jeolla province, which imbues korean culture and its design values.’

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25 italian and 25 korean designers were invited to create motifs to adorn vases made by potter ga jin lee
image © designboom




curated by h-sang seung, ‘korea’s phantasma’ looks at the dream of joseon period scholar, yang san-bo who originally constructed the soswaewon during the 16th centre in his hometown. yang’s intention with the garden was to seclude himself, by forming a dense bamboo forest near damyang county in order to embody the humanistic spirit of the joseon kingdom which was focused on preparing students for government service. 

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wooden furniture and displays reflect those structures found in the original soswaewon
image © designboom




describing the soswaewon, h-sang sueng says, ‘the sound of water resounding as one enters through the long and narrow path along the bamboo forest, washes away the real world. at the end of this path laid like a pilgrimage route to the mysterious world, the dynamic valley opens up to the ever-changing scenery under the bright sun. the different sounds of water coming down from the north of the valley fill up the ravine, passing through and hitting the orchestrated rocks. there are two houses on the other side. standing on top is jewoldang pavilion that has three rooms for the owner of soswaewon to live, and the structure below is gwangpunggak pavilion that also has three rooms on the front and one room on the flank with a paljjak style roof for guests. these two buildings are rather simple and modest. for that reason, people easily misconstrue that they are the architecture built conform to the beautiful nature full of sunlight. however, soswaewon is not that simple.’

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image © designboom




a closer look at this valley creates various moving lines on different levels, revealing bridges between rocks, stepping stones and a place to wash ones feet. placed here and there is a water wheel, ponds and stepping stones to climb up the slope. what seems to be natural are all artificially constructed structures. they are placed very cleverly and elaborately. the level of jewoldang for the owner comprises the flowers, trees, walls and static elements connected horizontally, while gwangpunggak for guests creates a dynamic ambiance together with the rising lines of eaves, varied rocks with the sound of water flowing through them. there is a main path between those two levels becoming a walkway that encircles around the watercourse. this path is an intermediate space of unifying the different levels, allowing them to exchange and collide. to accomplish such goals, sometimes the rocks were cut artificially and the watercourse was redirected to configure the geography,‘ he concludes.

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installation view of the 50 vases
image © designboom



with this in mind, the gallery space is envisioned by hyo sang seung, principal at iroje architects, to reflect the soswaewon. wooden furniture and display structures realized by suk jung yang, in the korean style of somokjang (wood furniture making) speak to the jewoldang and gwangpunggak pavilions, in the form of temporary rooms where visitors can sit and view the ‘forest of vases’ around them. it becomes a world of humanity, a beautifully realized fantasy that the classical scholars of the joseon period had imagined.

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the wooden structures were built by suk jung yang in gwanju
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in its entirety, ‘korea’s phantasma’ is an attempt to embody the unique beauty of korea through contemporary ceramic art and local craft. the pieces of pottery should not be seen as simple objects, but a small world that implies the dreams of the joseon classical scholars. thus for h-sang seung, the idea of borrowing the notions of the soswaewon and arranging the exhibition within a space that reflects the organized garden came naturally for him.


you can view all of the drawings of the participating designers here.

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general installation view
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room-like constructions allow visitors to sit and take in the forest of vases that fill the gallery space
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the vases are all finished using a celadon glaze
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detail of some of the motifs including designs by alessandro mendini and aldo cibic
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an marine life motif adorns one of the vases
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design by pietro gaeta
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design by mattia bosco
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design by giulio iacchetti
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the ribbon cutting ceremony of ‘korea’s phantasma’ which included alessandro mendini and stefano giovannoni
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