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‘Craft that responds to our problems’

Alain de Botton curates special exhibition “Beauty and Happiness” at the 2015 Cheongju International Craft Biennale to explore the psychological side of craft objects

Alain de Botton, best known here for his 1993 book “Essays in Love,” continues his relationship with art after his 2013 book ”Art as Therapy,” this time curating a craft exhibition in Korea.

The Swiss-born British philosopher and writer has taken up the unusual job of an exhibition curator at the ongoing Cheongju International Craft Biennale to offer fresh ways to view craft. He worked with 15 Korean artists to come up with craftworks and explore their psychological side.

“I started to think what makes life difficult today. Why is life difficult today? Money, stress, family problems, relationship problems, disconnection from nature in a large city, anxiety from the world we live in, loneliness and disconnection from others,” said de Botton at a press conference on Oct. 8 in Seoul.

De Botton and the artists met earlier this year to discuss keywords that modern men long for the most -- nature, elegance, strength, hope, maturity and love. After the discussion, he gave the artists a mission to create craft objects that “help us be better, wiser and happier people.” 
Alain de Botton speaks at a special lecture held in parallel with the 2015 Cheongju International Craft Biennale in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province on Oct. 10. (CICB)
Alain de Botton speaks at a special lecture held in parallel with the 2015 Cheongju International Craft Biennale in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province on Oct. 10. (CICB)

Each artist was given an abstract keyword and made craft objects that best represent the selected keywords through a variety of craft objects, including lacquered ware and a lamp made with Korean mulberry paper “hanji.” Some 100 pieces of craftworks made from this process are currently on display at the exhibition “Beauty and Happiness” until Oct. 25 in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province.

De Botton explained if old craftworks were made to represent certain religious values and ideas of Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism or Islam, modern craft has to respond to some of the problems of our time.

“Craft objects are practical and they are things you can put around your house. When you walk around or make a meal, you can just have a look around your house and have a little reminder to be the best version of yourself. That’s what I wanted the project to do,” he said.

De Botton shared his personal psychological experience with one of the signature Korean craftworks -- the moon jar.

“In my home in London. I have a moon jar. It sits opposite to where I have breakfast. It’s whispering to me to be nice to the children, be patient, be calm, life can be difficult, we must be serene,” he said.

De Botton’s appointment as a curator of the special exhibition at the biennale came amid Korea’s attempts to revive public interest in craftworks and its depressed industry. There have been showcases and exhibitions to promote modern Korean craft, which proved to be effective at bridging the gap between craft world and modern consumers.

“Korean craft can be strong if it stops being just beautiful, but also focuses on another mission to speak about nature, hope, love, companionship -- all the things that modern humans want,” he said.

He referred to the strategies of luxury goods makers such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton and how people feel it is important to have their products.

“Why is it important to have their leather bags? We don’t know. It’s just a nice thing to have,” he said.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)





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