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S94D presents Kwangho Lee's ‘Infinite Expansion’ of materiality and techniques
Installation view, Kwangho Lee, Infinite Expansion, 2023
Image: © Kwangho Lee Courtesy of Kwangho Lee and Salon 94 Design. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein

S94D presents Kwangho Lee's ‘Infinite Expansion’ of materiality and techniques

The designer’s solo exhibition in New York is a reimagination of chilbo, an ancient metal-working technique, and his exploration of braided furniture, inspired by his rural upbringing.

by Zeynep Rekkali Jensen
Published on : Mar 25, 2023

Pioneering design gallery S94D, previously Salon 94, unveiled Kwangho Lee's first solo exhibition Infinite Expansion in New York. Over the last two decades of his career, Lee has been experimenting with and refining materials such as baked enamel, metal sheets, and malleable ropes and this exhibition is an extension of those experiments. Kwangho's ever-growing knowledge and curiosity about metal and rope and the ability to transform lines and planes into functional objects manifest throughout the exhibition.

Based in Seoul, Kwangho Lee (b. 1981) found great joy in making things by hand since he was a child, as it reminded him of his grandfather, a farmer, who made daily household goods from natural materials found nearby. Lee appreciated how his grandfather looked at everyday objects and began approaching things similarly, giving new meaning and function to the most ordinary materials. With a unique combination of materials, methods and concepts, Lee conjures empathy and emotion in the viewer. Through his latest exhibition at Salon94, he develops his practice further by discovering the junctures of materials and through continuous experimentation. An interesting contemporary designer, his designs are presented in renowned museum collections across the world, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and M+ Museum in Hong Kong.

Trained in metal crafts at the Hongik University of Seoul, Lee reimagines a 15th-century technique, called ‘chilbo’ to create boxy metal furniture that blazes in metallic orange, blue and green hues. Translating as ‘seven colours of the gem,’ chilbo involves applying wet or dry crushed coloured glass onto brass or copper sheets and firing it in a kiln until a kaleidoscopical glare is achieved. Lee has been experimenting with this technique since 2009 and ended up building his own kiln in the studio. As industrial kilns for chilbo tend to be very small, he enjoys the unpredictability and freedom of having his own kiln compared to the rigid outcomes of the traditional way.

Aside from metal furniture designs, Lee has also created wire chandeliers, chairs, benches, pedestals, vases and planters for his solo show, using the braiding technique—that has become synonymous with his practice over the years. Inspired by his mother and grandmother's crochet skills, he began experimenting with knotted ropes at university. "It's a typical women's hobby in Korea, my mum and my grandmother and grandmother's mother were always doing small crochet everywhere, (making) like huge blankets, socks and knits for everything," says the designer, who also elaborates how it was easier for him to approach this method because he grew up seeing how it's done. During his metal craft major, Lee used to make bracelets out of knotted silver threads and developed it further to mix colours and make shapes with nylon ropes and electrical cable wires he found at the Euljiro supply market, the renowned industrial mecca in Seoul. "Rather than knitting with needles, I developed a new way of weaving rubber with solid wires into a long, scarf-like or brush-like form of lighting. They are weaved by one long wire, which varies in length from 10 to 300 metres," shares the designer. Lee admits the process of braiding can be tough and painful, sometimes even causing bleeding in his hands.

The Wire Chandeliers that take on a sculptural and organic character in the exhibition space come as a continuation of his ‘Weave your Lighting’ series, where he employs the crochet braiding technique and uses only electrical wire and bulbs. He continues exploring the braiding practice in the furniture and vessels he has created, using only PVC or nylon rope in primary colours. He explains that the rigid shapes of the designs are a necessity of the production process, as without a given frame, simple shapes ensure that the furniture does not collapse. Over the course of producing braided furniture, Lee has grown a preference for geometric forms and proportions, which has carried on to the design of his chilbo works.

With these numerous materials and techniques, Lee has created a system that allows him to build and introduce new shapes and functions as reflected in the show's title, Infinite Expansion. Salon 94 showcases a detailed analysis of Kwangho Lee’s artistic practice over the last 15 years, leaving the viewers curious about what the designer will undertake next.

‘Infinite Expansion’ is on view until April 1, 2023, at Salon 94 New York.

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