In an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it is only fair to say that the culture most practised is one of cross-pollination and dialogue. A global language of hybridisation that comes into being, blurring the lines between tradition and technology, craftsmanship and innovation, as well as the East and West. In the world of art and design, this encounter of supposed antipodes has become a subject of exploration, forging unique visages that epitomise cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary fluidity.
Duson Gallery Seoul, an art and design gallery based in Seoul, South Korea, is committed to promoting Korean crafts on the global stage. The gallery is set to make its debut at the much-anticipated Milan Design Week 2023 with an intercultural project that will amalgamate the archaic South Korean tradition of mother-of-pearl with contemporary design. The show, dubbed Mother-of-Pearl Tables, will be unveiled at Triennale Milano, reflecting a rendezvous of East and West, through a collaboration with six internationally acclaimed designers—Alessandro Mendini, Elena Salmistraro, Marcel Wanders, Marco Zanuso Jr, Stefano Giovannoni and Younghee Cha. From April 18 to 23, 2023, the design exhibition will showcase coffee tables of great artistic impact, each an interpretation of Jagae (mother-of-pearl), a material that embodies the essence of oriental crafts and culture. Each table design is realised in a limited edition of nine pieces by Deokgun Jang and Gyesoon Kang, master artisans working in the region of Tongyeong, Korea, renowned for the production and crafting of mother-of-pearl.
Foglia by Alessandro Mendini
Foglia (Leaf) is a coffee table derived from an original drawing from Italian designer Alessandro Mendini’s archives. The development of the project was carried out by Studio Alessandro Mendini in partnership with Younghee Cha, and bears the signature ‘Alessandro Mendini. Cose’ of the collection created with Elisa and Fulvia Mendini in 2018—expressing the desire to cultivate a series based on the heritage of archival objects, projects, and drawings. The top features glossy black lacquered wood embellished with the form of a leaf made with the mother-of-pearl inlay technique. The central leg in two-tone pink and yellow lacquered wood emulates a star.
Molan by Elena Salmistraro
The Molan coffee table reimagines the shape of the typical Korean hat—the Gat—in a silhouette of circular rotation, yielding a singular and highly characteristic object. The composition, conceived by Milan-based product designer and artist Elena Salmistraro, has a polished surface that radiates, owing to the fine decorations in mother-of-pearl. Intricate motifs rooted in tradition make the furniture design an inimitable work of art. The enveloping form that originated through rotation presented another challenge for the Korean master artisans in terms of precision and craftsmanship. The deliberate juxtaposition of pure and simple elements gives the work a formal contrast and a compelling presence.
Fiore Fossile by Marcel Wanders
The Fiore Fossile (Fossile Flower) coffee table draws inspiration from primordial forms of nature: a black bowl ensconced amidst rocks. The table design by the Netherlands-based designer Marcel Wanders is a simple shape that unearths beauty through ornaments of mother-of-pearl petals. Each flower conceals an artistic universe honed by expert hands, an emblem of love crafted from the creative treasure trove that transcends time. The surface of the bowl is simultaneously rugged and smooth and speaks of hope through its iridescence—a memory of love, a promise of faith, a message of outshining beauty.
Soban by Marco Zanuso Jr.
During the design festival, the exhibition space will also feature an intimate piece of furniture by Italian architect and designer Marco Zanuso Jr. Titled Soban, the coffee table is a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Korean table tray in lacquered wood. Emblematic of Korean craftsmanship, the Soban was an object that wove together sophistication and functionality, the characteristics that influenced the Italian designer’s modern version of it. The oval top in dark red lacquered walnut is inlaid with minute mother-of-pearl inserts, akin to drops of water or stars in a clear winter sky. Contrasting the top, the base is composed of slats of Canaletto walnut and zebrawood, which inject verticality into the object, while accentuating its lightness through the clean lines.
Cherry Tree by Stefano Giovannoni
The cherry tree, a traditional symbol of the East, became the muse for Stefano Giovannoni, an industrial designer, interior designer and architect based in Milan. Fittingly called Cherry Tree, the coffee table is a unique creation with extremely sinuous forms in ash wood. The base, mirroring the trunk of a plant, tapers as it ascends and then opens at its peak into the table’s surface. The top takes cues from the foliage of a cherry tree with a sectional view that is bedecked with flowering branches made with inlay work in mother-of-pearl. The wooden furniture is available in two variations: a pale version that plays with the warm colour of mother-of-pearl and a darker alternative that emphasises the contrast of light and shadow.
Ocean by Younghee Cha
Ocean is a coffee table with a dual function, owing to the two heights that can be used individually or simultaneously, granting variable geometric perspectives. The ocean facing the coast of Tongyeong inspired Korean designer Younghee Cha to create two motifs for the tabletop: one suggesting waves splashing onto the shore, while the other replicates the allure of iridescent shells at the seabed. The forms and colours of the Ocean Table narrate tales of small creatures from underwater worlds—the mother-of-pearl inlay representing the universe, expressing the shape of time and creating reflections that gleam like starlight.
The extremely complex technique of Jagae will find its contemporary revival in the exhibition taking the stage during the upcoming design event. The age-old Korean tradition blends with a more current language, bringing together Korean heritage and culture with elements and codes typical of contemporary design through an elegant dialogue. Set to take its crusade of providing visibility to tradition on a global platform during Milan Design Week 2023, Duson Gallery will bridge the East and West, the past and present—reminding how the former melts into the latter and vice versa in cosmopolitan potpourri.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables by Duson Gallery Seoul will be on view from April 18 to 23, 2023, at Triennale Milano during Milan Design Week 2023 in Milan, Italy.