As the age of technological pursuits advances forward, the creative industry also experiences a counter movement that looks back at traditional crafts. Much different from the Arts and Crafts movement, this new perspective looks at how conventional design and craft-making methodology can evolve and adapt in the contemporary market; therefore, it also values utility and simplicity over pure decorative objects.
Many emerging creators, artists, and designers alike, are experimenting with ways to incorporate traditional elements into new innovations. However for Kwangho Lee, a designer based in Seoul, Korea, the effort had already come forth back in 2014 with a series of stools called New Armor. Inspired by bronze—the first alloy created by humans—and wartime uniforms from Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897), this series of artistic objects are simple bronzed planes intersecting to create mesmerising forms.
While geometric and perpendicular surfaces are present, more complex details like curves and enclosed extrusions are inserted as a way to add structures and provoke images of wartime armories. The invisible soldering seams create continuous surfaces on all sides of the objects, speaking of the intricacy and focus on craftsmanship. By itself, the New Amor series can be seen as a composition of archeological artifacts nailing on a long historical timeframe.
The sophistication does not stop there—it also appears with the lacquer additions of each object in this series of minimally designed stools. Tracing back on Kwangho Lee’s heritage and educational background, the designer created a contrast in textures in order to weld two different eras into one whole entity for an elegant output. Sheets of kanji paper are added with a layer of glossy lacquer, known as ott-chil, onto selected surfaces. Golden accents are then embedded between the earthy texture of kanji paper and the highly polished outer finish, furthering a graceful luxury that’s apparent in every corner of the designs.
To challenge a direction or movement is not to directly counter it, but to pose questions and thoughts in order to open up conversations surrounding its issues. With movements like “Return to Craft”, as put by Curator Keinton Butler of the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, artists and designers are able to question the perception of contemporary control in relation to traditional craftsmanship. With projects like New Armor by Kwangho Lee, the designer was able to deliver a dialogue not only between past, present, and future, but also amongst artistic visions that often latch onto substantial flows of creativity.
New Armor was acquired by the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia, in 2018 as a part in the Powerhouse Museum exhibition Common Good.