The history of ceramics is one of interaction and trade, with ideas and practices moving around the world at the speed of foot, carriage and ship. New techniques changed and developed in each new place they arrived, with novel practices quickly becoming localized. In The White Road, celebrated ceramicist Edmund de Waal describes how, for centuries, western potters strove to understand the secrets of East Asian porcelain from the few pieces which made it to the end of the Silk Road. It was only after Marco Polo made his way in the other direction, and global trade and travel became more feasible pursuits, that explorers were able to journey east and learn the craft first hand. The dissemination of techniques and information that this exploration provided were central aspects to the development of contemporary Western ceramics, as well as setting the scene for the mass production that the Industrial Revolution is characterized by.
In today’s world of globalized communication and effortless travel it is easy to forget the importance that such intercultural interactions have had on local crafts, except when reminded of them by contemporary examples. One such example is the work of Ahryun Lee, a rising star in the world of ceramics who, despite her youth, has accrued an impressive list of achievements in both Asia and Europe.
Born and raised in South Korea, Ahryun cut her teeth with a BA in ceramics at Seoul’s prestigious National University. She was recognized early for her distinctive style and technical expertise and has since taught, worked and practiced in numerous institutions, as well as exhibiting around the world. Ahryun recently finished her Masters at London’s famous Royal College of Arts, where she expanded her technical repertoire and developed her style through studying western techniques and practices.
Ahryun’s latest collection is evidence to the development which her transglobal studies and international experience have allowed for. Imagined Drinks is a physical manifestation of sensory childhood memories, with a focus on one which many hold dear: candy. The form of the pieces take inspiration from soda bottles but, rather than being smooth on the outside and flavoured within, they wear their respective tastes, colors, smells and feels for the world to see. Each inverted container represents one particular childhood memory – be it the fizz of a sweet fruity soda or the tingle of a sherbet – and whether alone or together they form a vibrant, dazzling display of popping colors and extrusions.
Imagined Drinks does not feature the delicate porcelain pieces traditionally associated with East Asian craft, but then Ahryun is not a craftswoman who sticks to the boundaries of traditional practice. Like her pieces, Ahryun treads the spaces between art, craft and design, creating work which is sculptural, architectural and functional at once, whilst being none exclusively.
This interloping, interdisciplinary practice is in part allowed for by Ahryun’s astounding technical abilities, and in part by her unique conceptual approach. This is most evident in Imagined Drinks’ use of color and glaze. Traditionally these aspects of ceramics are superficial, serving as a skin to the otherwise naturally colored clay. Through experimentation, however, Ahryun made color a central aspect of the making process itself, adding the distinctive dyes she uses whilst the porcelain is still in its liquid state. This not only makes color an elemental aspect of the pieces, but also allows for the implementation of new techniques during later stages of production – such as using a syringe to suck out spikes or create bubbles of translucent glassy glaze on the surface of the pieces.
This innovation in practice is typical of Ahryun’s work and is one of the many things which makes her so unique as a craftsperson and artist. We are proud to carry her current collection and cannot wait to see what she does next!