The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences recently acquired the ‘New Armor’ stool by South Korean contemporary designer Kwangho Lee, which reflects the ‘Return to Craft’ movement as featured in the Powerhouse Museum exhibition Common Good. The exhibition profiles contemporary designers who are preserving their cultural heritage through collaborative projects with artisans, craftspeople and manufacturers.
In a world of rapidly evolving design and technology, we could be at risk of losing our cultural heritage. Skills and knowledge previously passed down from generation to generation are rapidly becoming redundant, arguably leaving us poorer in historical wealth.
The ‘New Armor’ stool by Kwangho Lee demonstrates traditional craft techniques and pays respect to Lee’s family’s heritage. Lee grew up on his grandparent’s farm just outside of Seoul, and this experience has guided his design practice. As his grandfather did, Lee uses materials that surround him and develops them through traditional methods to find their natural beauty.
The design of the ‘New Armor’ stool references the wartime uniform from the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897). Each material was specifically selected for this historical illusion. For example, the primary material of the chair, bronze, was the first alloy created by humans, whilst the curved features of the chair such as the arching backrest and stool base are visibly recognisable from the shoulder and abdomen of the heavy, metallic wartime suit. The ‘New Armor’ stool appears as if each component was a relic from history, dug out with care to expose the hieroglyphs of a different era and re-configured into a contemporary setting.
On the seat of the stool, Lee applies sheets of traditional hanji paper laminated by a high gloss lacquer known as ott-chil. Once hardened, the material is distinguishably durable but still allows the texture of the paper to manifest on the surface. Lee’s bold design is a balance between his personal and national history, combined with his present-day reality.
The designers in the ‘Return to Craft’ area of Common Good are bringing exposure to historical crafts, ensuring that the designer’s local culture is passed on for generations to come. Kwangho Lee’s ‘New Armor’ series has successfully re-imagined artisan crafts, which have evolved over thousands of years, into a contemporary context.
Written by Megan Meredith, Curatorial Volunteer, working under the supervision of Senior Curator Keinton Butler