︎ Yoon-Young Hur


Ceramicist Yoon-Young Hur shares her exploration of ancient practices, grown during a residency.

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Images courtesy of Yoon-Young Hur

Architect and ceramicist Yoon-Young Hur imbues life into intersections of clay, antiquity, and contemporary minimalism. Her work, drawn from experiences in the diverse environments of Seoul, New York, and, most recently, Florence, implies both a dewy newness and a generational wisdom reincarnated. Today, we are focusing primarily on her work as a ceramicist, but within this one can find and architectural eye for form and precision. Hur recently completed her residency at Numeroventi, an artists’ space and sanctuary in Florence, in which she grew her exploration of ancient ceramic vessels and found sanctuary in the mental and physical spaces provided by the ancient city.

There is a strong connection between your work and ancient Mediterranean ceramics⁠—when and how did this interest come about?

Ancient ceramics fascinate me because they are closely tied to the rituals of the everyday and the ceremonial. I see them as physical portals into the ancient civilizations which is, in a sense, very metaphysical since I can only imagine what the life must have been like. I have always been drawn to the traces of anonymous makers and ambiguity; fragments and speculative stories behind the vessels.

Last year, I created a collection called “Antecedere” for Still House in New York inspired by the Korean ancient funerary vessels to ancestors and nature gods. It was natural for me to look into the ancient Italian ceramic typologies since they also have similar functions yet different formal languages. The Estrucan works are especially interesting because their ceremonial vessels are rooted in Greek and Roman mythology. I’m obsessed with antefisses and protomes, which  are sculptural heads of animals and human used as decorative elements of ancient temples.

What does clay as a material mean to you?

I have worked with a lot of materials both physical and digital like wood, textile, photoshop, etc. before and clay was definitely a medium that I was most drawn to because of how it transforms through time and temperature. The material characteristic drastically changes from a malleable mass to a fragile and rigid dry surface when the moisture is evaporated and then it hardens once fired with minerals. But at any moment, it can break from a firing and/or an external force and you would have to start all over again. Such process and concept represent a path of life to me; it is about vulnerability and fragmentation as much as clarity and solidity. Ceramic is impermanent in a very physical sense yet for me the act of creating and striving for beauty and meaning in art is what gives permanency throughout history and now.

Tell me more about your residency. How has Florence appeared in your work, and what have been the best and most challenging experiences in the residency?

When I started my own ceramic practice a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in a completely new environment to push and expand my work. I was searching for a residency that wasn’t necessarily focused on ceramics, but a place that fosters site specific work and diverse disciplines. Luckily, I found Numeroventi in Florence, Italy—the residency offered a nice balance between solitude and companionship. Engaging with fellow creatives that work in different medium like photography, furniture, jewelry and painting inspired me very much.

I was deeply enamored by the physical place of the residency; the studio was a few flights above where I slept (sun drenched during the day) and I would step out to take breaks at palazzos, churches, courtyards and cafes. Everything was all within walking distance, a very human scale city; this spatial proximity which led to fluidity between activities left a strong impression on me. When I work in Seoul or New York, the commute to the studio is quite long. There’s a strong compartmentalization of work space, resting space and cultural space which is the resultant of the scale and design of city and dwelling. It was refreshing to change up the time/space routine.

The most challenging experience of the residency was figuring out the production logistics in a very short amount of time. Because Numeroventi is not a ceramics studio, we quickly had find a place to buy clay and rent the kiln. I arrived in Italy not knowing what type of clay that I would be working with. Luckily, we found a beautiful local terra-cotta wine jar making factory in a nearby town called Impruneta, Italy. Clay takes days to fully dry to be fired so everything became very time-sensitive. I had think and act quickly with a small set of tools, which actually pushed me to trust my instinct and hand-eye a lot more than usual. At the end with all the help from Numeroventi, it all worked out great which I’m extremely grateful for

What projects are next?

I will be continuing on with a series that I started at Numeroventi called “Capa-Capo Vessel,” which means head in feminine and masculine Italian. My diverse interests like the the Renaissance painting of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, the Estrucan protomes and Korean ceremonial vessels in a form of boat started to merge in this type that has two heads. I will be showing this piece at Paris Design Week in September 2019.

I have a several other projects starting with different creatives; I’m currently working on a custom light fixture for an interior designer in Seoul and sculptural pieces for a jewelry designer in LA. Such different clienteles and project scopes offer me new design challenges, which I’m always excited to be taking on. They all add new vocabularies to my practice and I’m always grateful to collaborate and work on special commissions that have a genuine relevance to the space and the people.︎