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The Other World Brought to Me by the Glass that Scarred My Eye

ARTIST INSIDE 2022 | Sangmin Lee

The other world brought to me by the glass that scarred my eye

Sculptor Lee Sang-min carves shapes into 10-millimeter-thick glass plates.
He was actually injured in the eye by a shard of glass as a child.
The accident, which resulted in a tear in his crystalline lens, left him with vision problems.
The boy who couldn’t even play sports because his eye couldn’t focus embodied his own unique perspective until he decided to major in art.
Now he uses glass to engrave the essence of things.
With his pain engraved in his body, the way he gazes at the glass is unique.
The essence he wants to engrave on the glass is not rhetoric, but something tangible.

Sangmin Lee, 이상민, 백자청화수복자문화형발(白磁靑畵壽福字文花形鉢), Flower shaped Bowl with Characters of su bok Besign Underglaze Blue, 2022, Engraved glass and framed, 129.3 × 129.5 × 6 cm

How did you choose glass as a medium after suffering an eye injury from a shard of glass?

I was studying abroad in France and my professor suggested it. We were having a conversation about the physicality of things, and I mentioned my childhood accident, and he suggested glass. I understood it as a mantra to study the properties of glass intuitively, and since I already had a scar, I could study it through that embodied intuition. To borrow a phrase from phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, to see is to perceive with the body. I look at glass with the perception of my whole body.

The glass sculpture on the wall is unfamiliar to the public. Can you describe your work?

I carve shapes into glass plates and polish their surfaces. Whereas in painting you create shapes with line and color, what I’m doing is abrading the surface of a piece of glass with diamond sandpaper to create shapes at different depths. But the shapes I create are variable and have no color. It’s about moving from the material to the immaterial. The glass is just a medium, and it’s the immaterial shapes that become visible in different concentrations when light is transmitted through the glass that matter.

The shapes in the transparent glass seem to catch and then disappear as the light catches them. The description of immateriality makes sense, but it also raises questions. For example, how can we explore the essence of a bowl through its changing shape?

About 10 years ago, I felt a tremendous energy from the ceramic objects I saw at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. That led me to explore museums in Korea and study ceramics. However, I was not moved by celadon or white porcelain, which were conveniently categorized and named. It was the sense of history that seemed to swallow me up, and I was in awe of the vessels that captured that time and connected me to my ancestors in the past and me in the present. It made me ask the question, “What’s important?” I want to get down to the essence of the piece, not the years and names.

Sangmin Lee, 이상민, 희망이 피어나는 곳으로 2, Coming into the Bloom of Hope 2, 2021, Engraved glass and framed, 104.4 × 129.4 × 6 cm

How did the process of engraving cacti into glass begin?

Being isolated in my studio during the pandemic forced me to look deeper into the question of “who am I”. I was engraving glass thousands of times a day, fighting with its properties, its strength. The cactus, which grows in harsh conditions without water, is a mirror of me, and of all of us overcoming our own difficulties. I hope you can feel the elegance of the cactus and its strength together.

Interview by Heaseung Kang, published on Kiaf 2022 Catalogue