Exhibition Review_ Variations into Organic Beings


Yeonjoo Kim_ Curator, Daybyday Yang 

Heejoo Kim creates her works primarily using two techniques: electroforming and enameling. Forms are created through electroforming. The advantage of this technique is its ability to produce forms in metal that are more delicate and diverse than when the material is cut and attached, bent, or beaten. Enameling, in the meantime, is used to color a piece of metal by firing the material with pigment on top at a high temperature. The two techniques share a common trait: both are used to overcome the limitations of the physical properties of metal that make it difficult to be manipulated. Electroforming not only allows the artist to create complex forms, but also reduces the weight of metal. Enameling conceals the original color and texture of the material. The two techniques, therefore, were well-suited to create the forms found in nature, portrayed in the artist’s early works. Throughout history, both in the East and West, patterns inspired by shapes of plants were widely used in arts and crafts. In many Asian countries, including Korea, the traditional pattern referred to as dangchomun, derived from the shapes of vines, was a popular pattern choice to be used in crafts. Art Nouveau, which peaked in popularity in the West between the late 19th and early 20th century, became a very unique artistic style through the use of curves of plants as a design element. Such historical trends may suggest that Heejoo Kim’s attention to the forms of plants for her artwork doesn’t warrant particular attention. However, what stands out is the fact that she doesn’t use the forms of plants as patterns; the originality of her works lies in the fact that she created jewelry that embodies the vitality of plants by recreating them as three-dimensional beings with rough textures. The pieces displayed at Kim’s first solo exhibition, <Fifth Season>, showed no smoothness or luster, the distinct characteristics of metal. Metallicity of the material was concealed underneath the rough textures that embody plants. Once the metallicity was concealed, plants that used to be deprived of their life after being reduced to flat patterns were revived with infinite life. 

There has been a change in Heejoo Kim’s works over the recent few years: the forms of her works have become abstract, transcending the shapes of plants. Her second solo exhibition, <UniverShell> was a clear demonstration of such change. The transition into abstraction was the result of Kim’s contemplation on her identity as a jewelry artist. She began to focus on the fact that jewelry is pieces of ornaments that are worn on a person’s body. To enhance the level of comfort when a necklace is worn around the neck, Kim softened the rough textures of her necklaces, and transformed the structure of the jewelry to become more organic so that it can be worn along the curves of the body. While her earlier works were constructed in a way that independent objects were simply combined with each other, her recent works are created in a form of a single organic being, where various parts are interconnected. The transition of Km’s artwork into an organic form is particularly distinct in necklaces. The necklaces created under the theme of UniverShell were made by connecting multiple funnel-shaped parts into a single piece of jewelry. Kim has been keenly interested in the shape of funnels for a long time. She began collecting a wide variety of funnels in 2004, and has been studying the origins, functions, and symbolism of the object across various locations and eras. Such collecting and research efforts directly influenced her art, resulting in the artist beginning to create funnels as her artwork in 2005. She gradually turned her attention from funnels themselves to the shapes of plants similar to that of a funnel, and in 2010, began creating jewelry that recreates shapes of plants. What once had concrete forms that mimicked flowers or fruit has now returned to the shape of a funnel in this exhibition. In essence, Kim’s art has transitioned from recreation of nature into abstraction. Abstraction in form induced changes in color as well. While brown and black were the dominant shades in her plant-shaped pieces of work, colors have become far more exuberant in the recent works. The vibrant colors are acquired through a series of steps. First, multiple shades of pigment are layered on top of a metal piece to be fired. As the pigment melts, layers of colors are created on the metal piece. After the firing process, the surface is filed in different depths with sandpaper. Depending on the depth of the surface being filed, different colors are revealed. The rich colors gained through this process seem to have the untamed vitality of nature condensed into the artist’s works.           


The brooches exhibited in <UniverShell> are in line with the artist’s earlier works in the sense that they are very much of sculptures that serve the purpose of being displayed for viewers’ appreciation. In other words, the brooches already seem complete as a piece of work on the display plinth without having to be worn on the chest. As with the necklaces, the brooches have become simplified in form compared to Kim’s earlier works and been abstracted into circles or cubes. In addition, the principle of connecting various formative elements is heightened in the brooches, as a result of which they take on a more organic form. Artistry bore greater importance in Kim’s early works. Gradually, however, her interest expanded into the relationship between people and her works. Being in the closest contact with the body of the person who owns a piece of jewelry, it has the most direct influence on the owner’s body among various types of works of art. Unlike works of fine art, people often acquire jewelry in order to display it to others along with themselves rather than for their own appreciation. Also, those who see a piece of jewelry do not simply focus on the artwork alone; often, they look at a piece of jewelry and the person wearing it as one to make their judgment. In other words, a person becomes part of a work of art when wearing a piece of jewelry in the sense that he or she is perceived as an aesthetic object along with the body ornament.  A relation is formed hereby among the three parties of the person who wears a piece of jewelry, the jewelry itself, and the person who looks at the former two. Heejoo Kim has an in-depth understanding of such nature of jewelry. The insight leads to ensuring that a necklace becomes complete as a work of art when worn around a person’s neck and the necklace feels as if it was part of the body without causing any discomfort on the wearer. In order to achieve this goal, the artist formed her works in an organic way where the elements are interconnected. The transition from recreating nature to abstraction that gives rise to the organic form is inevitable–it is the culmination of the artist’s careful deliberation and hard work to create, as a jewelry artist, works that are craft in the truest sense. She keeps intact the artistry of her works without compromising the functionality of jewelry.

The organic forms and exuberant colors of Heejoo Kim’s works are not recreation of vitality, but vitality unto itself. The powerful vitality of her works is rooted in her strong passion. As she continues to explore the essence of craft and jewelry, the organic beings created by her will continue on journey of transformation. Her works compel us to wonder how her creations will evolve. Sparking imagination, her works will continue to expand the horizon of the artistic field of jewelry and our world with its abundant vitality.