The fragile nature of ceramics makes them objects of beauty that can easily show the wear of time. Korean artist Yee Sookyung has pushed this concept beyond its limits with her ongoing Translated Vase series. Since 2002 the well regarded artist, whose work is in the collections of The British Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Seoul Museum of Art, has used discarded ceramics like a jigsaw puzzle, piecing them together one by one. Weaving together both large and small scale sculptures, she seals the cracks with 24k gold—a process similar to traditional Japanese kintsugi. Fittingly, the Korean word for crack also means gold, solidifying the material as the perfect finishing touch to her work.
The gold is also a visually stimulating complement to the shiny, glazed ceramics, reminding us that what one might discard can often transformed into something more beautiful. By highlighting the crevices, Sookyung draws the eye across each individual fragment, the gold running down like rivulets. Not looking to create a dialogue about ancient Korean ceramics, the body of work holds a different meaning for the artist. “This work can be a metaphor of a struggle in life that makes people become more mature and beautiful as they overcome suffering,” she shares. As cracks form, what replaces the empty space is often more precious than what existed previously.
Sookyung obtains the ceramics from contemporary Korean ceramic artists who work to create copies of historical pottery. Striving for perfection, the ceramicists destroy the 70% of their work that does not come up to standard. Sookyung scoops up this “trash,” using it as jigsaw puzzle pieces and manipulating them until the object takes its final form.
Yee Sookyung is represented by Locks Gallery in Philadelphia and Ota Fine Arts in Tokyo.