Since I was a child, I have been taking great pleasure in “making.” Regardless of technique or material, I purely enjoyed using my hands. When one piece of work was done, I was thrilled to be able to move on to something else without taking a break.
In 2011, there was a really important project given to me and while I was pondering for ideas, I realised why I became a “maker.”
The collaboration project between the Royal College of Art and the British Museum was called Easy Living. It gave us the ancient “stone hand axe,” which was the origin of human making and was what we used to start our journey for the project. Despite using this ancient tool as a starting point, the way we interpreted and developed ideas was up to us.
Through the preparation for this project, I had a chance to rethink about tools in general. My thought for the project was eating utensils as the second tool for human beings coming after the first tool, the hand axe.
However, as I kept thinking about the first tool and my favourite tool, I found out that we have another tool that comes before the hand axe: our hands.
It all starts when we begin to stand on our feet after crawling. Freedom is given to our hands and anything that is held in our hands becomes a tool. We have physiological needs to be fulfilled in order to survive in this world, like any other animal: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion.
The ancient stone hand axe tool is the first and the longest-used tool for hunting food and basic survival. It is known that the human is the only species that uses tools, but that is not true. Some animals, such as primates or birds also can use tools for simple tasks such as hunting, getting food, or grooming.
Here, the difference between the tool usage of animals and humans are that animals use whatever has been given to them as it is, while humans can alter the shape or add mechanisms to improve the function of tools.
The ability to use and create tools is the most distinctive characteristic of human beings thanks to the freedom of our two hands. If we did not have our hands in the first place, the hand axe and other tools would not come to exist either.
My desire is to tell my personal story about how I use my first tool, hands, through my work.
I like making. I like to make jewellery, but it does not have to be jewellery. It simply has to be held in my hands. I have to feel its existence in the world with my own hands.
The touch of my hands against objects is important in my practice. I learn while I make objects and the ideas get developed together with my hands. I remember the joyful moment of my hands and the pieces together and that is why everything starts from my hands.
There are two sets in my work: cutlery and jewellery. My hands were the first tool. My hands create new life with material as a piece of jewellery with the simple act of “pushing through” material. Hands also capture the essence of using old cutlery to deliver food to our mouth, completing its duty.
The idea of starting jewellery began from one chapter of my dissertation, which was about the void in Korean landscape painting. In these oriental paintings, there are certain reasons to leave some space empty, in its natural state. A void exists for the substance which is the parts that are painted and it is that emptiness that makes us focus on the real things. From this point of view, I started to think about the meaning of the void in jewellery by observing a little hole in a little ring.
A void in a ring needs to be filled with the human body and by putting a finger through the void; it can be verified as a wearable ring.
When we see something that has holes big enough for our fingers to go through, it has the possibility to become a ring. A thought then occurred to me, what if I push my finger through something to create a void and contact to make a ring?
What if my hands were to be the first tools to create a void which will then give material new life as a piece of jewellery rather than simply wearing them when the void already exists?
Pushing fingers through material leaves evidence of the touch of hands on the pieces. The act of “pushing through” shows the moment of creating the contact between material and my hands, which then becomes my personal jewellery making process.
The material I chose for the project was diverse: raw material and ones already existing in the world with its own function. But the idea was the same, it was about taking on the things that were not in the realm of jewellery and by one hole, I took the items and brought them into the jewellery realm.
They were objects from somewhere and they still carry the memory of the past.
Cutlery is instruments we use every day with our hands. The idea of completing cutlery started from the piece I made for Easy Living. Originally, the idea was to combine two different cutleries: spoons and chopsticks to celebrate the New Harmony in our food culture.
The form looks like chopsticks holding food or a petal. This form gave me an idea. Since it looked like the chopsticks were in use with a hand, I was able to see the possibility to capture the actual moment of using cutlery.
After observing different types of cutlery and them being in use, there were more possible ways than just using chopsticks to pick, spoons to scoop, forks to stab, and knives to cut.
My pieces show the moments of when we use cutlery with our hands and when they are laid on a table. We use that very moment to deliver food to our mouth which is completing the duty of cutlery. With the cutlery pieces, I wish to tell the story of how my hands seized the moment, and made that moment into new cutlery.
For some of the pieces, old cutleries from antique markets that are no longer in production were used. The reason is similar to the choice of material for my jewellery. I take the items and bring them into the jewellery realm by simply creating a hole in them.
I take old cutleries that are not in use anymore and turn them into a new contemporary cutlery by capturing the moment of using. The knife carries its memory as a knife and becomes a new spoon.