Ones to Watch
A Matter of Taste
Breakout talent Ahryun Lee’s new solo show serves up childhood memories and grown-up reflections on identity
Over the past few years, emerging talent Ahryun Lee has made a name for herself by crafting joyful “ceramic universes,” as she calls them, composed of playful forms, bold colors, and unexpected textures. This month, the Seoul-born, Bavaria-based ceramicist launches her first solo show in France, A Matter of Taste, at the esteemed Galerie de l’Ancienne Poste.
Lee’s latest work draws on childhood memories, interpreting her recollections of games, flavors, and more into striking, three dimensional objects intended both to delight and to elicit conversation on the influence of culture and heritage on our perspectives. The effect is, in a word, delicious.
Read on for more in Lee’s own words.
Tell us about the idea behind the title of your new exhibition, A Matter of Taste.
I think of my ceramics as amuse-bouches, little pieces of happiness intended to amuse and delight. I want to create mouthwatering treats for viewers that elicit a strong sensory reaction, even a taste, at first sight.
In my own life, taste has always had an important role in how I discover and experience the world—from infancy, of course, putting everything in my mouth to today, when I find myself living the life of an adventurous, avid foodie. Since I moved to Europe from Korea, tasting has become a significant activity for me as a means of learning about different cultures. Eating and drinking aren’t just gustatory experiences; they’re also intellectual activities, delivering multifaceted layers that allow you to understand different cultures, histories, and philosophies.
The title A Matter of Taste comes from my own experience with and appreciation for taste, as well as my hope that viewers will savor my work—that they enjoy my pieces both on an aesthetic level and use them as tools to reflect on how their own backgrounds might inform what taste or sense they have when they encounter my ceramics. It is quite interesting for me to see the different reactions people have to my work, and how one’s cultural background often impacts interpretation. Over the past few years, I’ve become very interested in exploring our connections to the senses through my work, and I always enjoy interactions with viewers to share and talk about each other’s tastes.
We understand the show features 20 new pieces, all inspired by childhood memories. Please tell us a bit more about your latest work.
Play and joy have always been at the core of my creative thinking, and the ideas behind much of my work are deeply linked to childhood, especially sensory memories. Recent works are built on the strong nostalgia I’ve felt since moving to Europe. I’ve found myself missing aspects of my childhood—a carefree, uninhibited, innocent time full of happiness and creativity. So much of my work stems from my memories of fairy tales, games, toys and more.
My new Tasty collection, in particular, is all about memories relating to my perception of taste. Each scrumptious looking object summons up a recollection related to candy. I’ve abstracted the memory of tastes like sour, sweet, and bitter, or even the sensation of fizziness, using ceramics’ tangible, vibrant visual language.
How would you describe your process of transforming personal memory into three dimensional forms?
I describe my working process as a sort of play, similar to a game of association, matching words and images. First, I begin with a memory, and then I gather words to match it—emotional expressions such as happiness, disgust, excitement—and then devise visuals for these words using color and texture, translating memories into a visual language.
For example, with the work Melting Blue [pictured above center], I began with the onomatopoeia word clang, and I was thinking of one of the hardest Jawbreakers of my childhood. It was almost transparent, and it gave me such pain while biting it. Or Juicy Blue Pop II and Crunch Blue [above left and right], inspired by memories of the most gorgeously blue, sticky, dreadful tasting jelly. And then there’s So Sour! My idea was to express a moment of sense awakening when I first tried the sour fruit of the lemon. The wiggly texture illustrates the sour, bitter, and tangy feeling.
So much of your work is about pushing the possibilities of clay. How do you think about your work within the larger historical and contemporary landscape of ceramic art?
This is a very interesting question for me. I think my work contains both traditional and contemporary aspects. My experiences with the different educational approaches in Korea and the UK [first at Seoul National University (2011) and then at London’s Royal College of Art (2016)] have influenced my perspective so that I see ceramics on many different levels. My Korean education focused primarily on achieving high technical skills, as they wanted to cultivate students as master craftsmen rather than artists. I appreciated this in-depth, skill-based approach and the emphasis placed on the traditional and historical value of ceramics.
But I was also very interested in developing my own voice and identity as an artist, which my UK education strongly encouraged. I think ceramics offer fertile territory for experimentation and creative speculation within contemporary art and design. Therefore, I aim for more versatile expression in my work, utilizing this dynamic material and all the skills I’ve learned to create outstanding aesthetic results that blur the boundaries between Art, Design, and Craft.
I hope to continue to develop these ideas in my work—a discourse between the traditional and contemporary—as I am torn between the identity of maker and artist. And my work also throws a question to the viewer, asking how they consider ceramics, either within a functional, historical context or as something more unconventional, unexpected and sculptural? I would like to put my work in the middle somehow and consider the compatibility of traditional and contemporary aspects.
What do you most hope people take away from your latest work?
I hope people will see ceramics with a fresh eye. I hope the work awakens their senses, perhaps even leading to a synesthesia experience. I’m very interested in stimulating associations between the senses and creating a relationship between the object and the viewer. Hopefully people don’t just see yellow as a color, for example, but really feel and taste the yellow and find themselves wanting to understand the story behind it. I hope my work can encourage curiosity and passion for ceramics. ◆
Ahyrun Lee’s solo show, A Matter of Taste, is on view through September 8th at Galerie de l’Ancienne Poste in Toucy, France. Learn more here.