Jay Sae Jung Oh experiments with the concept of the ordinary, inviting viewers to reassess what lies around them. Her designs and sculptural pieces are often wrapped up in natural materials taking up new forms. According to the artist, themes such as sustainability, the effort to juxtapose what is natural with what is industrially made through art and design are some of her constant preoccupations. Yatzer caught up with the artist to discuss her influences, humor and the use of contradicted materials.
You play with the idea of the ordinary and you incorporate it into your practice. Why are you so attracted to it?
People are always searching for something ‘new’ both in art and design. My process is focused on reconsidering what already exists. You can create something ‘new’ by viewing something ordinary from a different perspective. You don’t have to look far - it’s all around us.
Why it is so important to use natural materials? And is this some form of statement you are making?
My design process is rooted in working with natural and inspiring materials. The natural quality of the jute juxtaposed against the industrial, manufactured characteristic of plastic create a beautiful dialogue between the stark differences in each material’s fiber structure. More importantly, contrasting these two opposites highlights the critical social issue of sustainability.
Where did the inspiration to create the Jute Side table and the Savage Chair emerge?
The concept came from a desire to transform industrial, mass produced objects into new hand-based, high-value entities. The process started with collecting used, useless, and seemingly mundane objects. These discarded items represent an industrial society, and a conflict arises when they are then wrapped in the natural fibers of jute. This conflict is what constitutes the comment. It forces an audience to shift their perspective and engage with everyday objects through unexpected form and feeling. It’s about creating allure from waste.
We can see that you are attracted to the natural in your sculptural work. However we can see that there is a strong contrast between your design practice and your artistic one. On the one hand, you use natural materials in your design, whereas for your sculptural pieces you use industrial materials like plastic, bronze and steel…. Why is that? In other words are you interested in interpreting forms with contradicting materials and why?
It seems different, but really I work with the same concept across both practices. The majority of my sculptures are constructed from different kinds of industrial materials, while the shapes refer to natural elements. I reinterpret the various forms found in nature with these industrial materials. In separating natural shapes from nature itself and reconstructing these shapes from such stark contradicting materials, such as steel pipes for example, new forms are revealed as one is forced to see these shapes in new ways. Drastic contrast is always interesting.
Do you incorporate humor into your work?
It wasn’t my intention to incorporate humor into my work; still, I like to design something that can make people smile.
How are you influenced by Korean design and contemporary art?
When I lived in Korea I wasn’t designing, I was strictly practicing art. I was a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art, the program there allowed me to express my designs in an experimental, conceptual manner that was not constrained by any limitations. I wouldn’t say my work is influenced by Korean design or American design for that matter as both are concentrated in commercial design and my work is much more focused on what is natural and in humanity.
How difficult is to make art and also be a designer whose main purpose it to make things that function?
Every individual has an Achilles heel. It may be surprising that for me, the point of intersection between art and design is where I am usually challenged.