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Korea Exhibition Showcases 218 Remarkable Urns in Contemporary Art

Korea's Rapidly Growing Cremation Rate Inspires this GICB 2017 Exhibition

November 22, 2017

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Korea Exhibition Showcases 218 Remarkable Urns in Contemporary Art

Every two years the Korea Ceramic Foundation holds a themed art biennale and this year’s exhibition was titled Narrative, Ode to Life featuring cremation urns from around the world . The show is the 9th Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale (GICB) which handpicked artists for the exhibition taking place in Seoul, South Korea, to interpret the “urn” commemorating a specific cause, person, or idea.

This is not an accidental thematic choice for South Korea, a country with a rapidly increasing cremation rate reaching 81.6% in 2016. The show aimed to explore this trend, and the newly popularized rituals that have come with it, through art.

During a press briefing, the Korea Ceramic Foundation organizer stated that the biennale will take a special look at the taboo subject of death and the changed funeral culture where cremation is increasingly replacing burial.

“We asked ceramic artists to make a cremation urn to be used in their own death or that of a loved one. Some people rejected the idea, but many readily accepted it and created a wide and interesting variety of urns,” said Woo Kwan-ho, the biennale’s artistic director.

Korea’s Death Care space is facing similar considerations as the United States as the cremation rate increases. How do we continue to create valuable experiences when dealing with death? What are the developing needs of families? How are the general wellness values of our culture changing?

Woo Kwan-ho explains how these questions relate to GICB 2017:

“We will display 120 urns made by Korean artists and 98 by foreign artists. As one of the important social narratives have changed from well-being to well-aging and to well-dying, it is our fresh effort to change the negative perception towards death and shed light on how connected ceramics are to death.”

The work in the exhibition is stunningly diverse reinforcing the trends we have witnessed in the U.S. – a desire to make each memorialization hyper-personal to the deceased. Each of the 218 artists’ designs stems from a variety of created concepts including “Soul with Sadness” (Panki Kim), “Someone in the Future” (Tetsuya Ishiyama), Deceased Elder Brother ( Takashi Nakamura), and even “Myself” (Dairong Lee).

The technical limitations of the exhibition were that the piece had to be made primarily of ceramic and be a maximum of 22cm x 22cm x 22cm, but these limitations still resulted in a huge variety of surfaces, styles, aesthetics.

The GICB 2017 biennale ran in Seoul, South Korea, from April 22nd – May 28th, 2017 and due to its success has now traveled to the European Ceramic Work Center Gallery in Oisterwijk, Netherlands, and will be on view through February 4th, 2018.

You can see a handful of the selected urns below.