Wire for flair: Korean historical fashion sculptures

Elegant and intricate fashion wire sculptures inspired by the aesthetic styles from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty are currently on display at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA).

The newly acquired works, Blue JangOt (2015) and Dream in Green JoGoRe (2013) are made by Key-Sook Geum, a well-established Korean artist and scholar with an extensive body of work.

A new look for historical attire

The two works, one in the form of a jangot, an overcoat worn by noblewomen during the Joseon Dynasty and the other in the shape of a jeogori, a traditional basic upper garment, are collected by the MOA as part of the Korean collection enhancement project, explains Fuyubi Nakamura, Asia curator at MOA.

“One of my main goals is to increase the presence of contemporary works that relate to historical materials. It is crucial to showcase connections between traditions and innovations as well as fusions of various cultures within Asia and beyond.”

Expressing the Korean aesthetic through historical clothing, Geum explains that the Joseon era’s clothing reflects Korea’s aesthetic tradition of pursuing naturalism. She feels the Joseon Dynasty is special because of its close resemblance to the present day and the traditions from that time can still be seen influencing Korean society today.

Geum also has a keen interest in historical clothing from other East Asian countries such as China and Japan, and says she hopes to make some comparative pieces one day from the three neighbouring countries showing their commonalities and distinctiveness.

Key-Sook Geum, Blue JangOt , 2015. | Photo: Alina Ilyasova, courtesy of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

The signature wire style

Using wires and beads to construct 3D sculptures, Geum has a unique artistic signature that came out of her reflections on environmental issues and the use of materials.

“At the end of the 20th century, environmental issues became more significant and terms such as ecology, recycling and junk art were popular topics discussed among experts in many areas. Naturally, I was also influenced by these issues and I reflected them in my works by using materials that are scattered around me,” Geum says.

According to the artist, in the process of researching and experimenting based on the concept of the work, she was able to learn the know-how of using a variety of suitable materials. Contrary to textiles that would deteriorate over time, Geum’s works can be permanently preserved when placed indoors.

“The way of my work is to twine the wires to pass through any material. Colour and material are determined according to the concept of the work. For example, coral or amber beads were attached to the wire for an oriental image. White crispy silk fabric or transparent beads were used to express snow or ice. Colours are used in a wide variety from white, black to pastel or vivid pink,” Geum adds.

With all her works handmade and at times physically demanding when using strong wires, Geum says a piece can take from one day to one year depending on the nature and the scope of the work. She usually starts off with a few projects at the same time and works on them simultaneously.

Geum’s first wirework, the lotus series, was exhibited at the Denmark National Museum in 1996. Since then she has developed a large body of works over the years infusing wire sculptures with her own artistic flair.

Geum was the costume director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics Game in Korea, where she designed the picket bearers’ costumes for athletes from 91 participating countries. In that same year, she also had a large installation of 20 huge works in Beijing that filled up a four-story-high space, aptly named Dancing Up.

As a multi-talented artist who is also proficient in drawing, watercolour painting, oil painting and embroidery, Geum incorporates qualities from many art disciplines into her works: the details and intricacies from drawing and embroidery, the interplays of light and colour from paintings, and the three-dimensional kinetic elegance from fashion design.

Traditionally drawing inspirations from existing types of eastern and western costumes, Geum says increasingly she is also looking for inspirations from works of art, her own thoughts and experiences, as well as original artistic concepts. Currently, she is also experimenting and proceeding with a new type of work that has never been shown before.

For more information, please visit www.moa.ubc.ca.