Ok Kim, a Seoul-based artist specializing in furniture, utilizes traditional natural lacquer, reinterpreting it in a modern way by using various colors and by creating unique textures. The Merge Series presented at SaloneSatellite 2018 is an artistic furniture inspired by the stone stacks often found on Korea’s mountain passes.When Ok Kim visited Tongdosa, a Buddhist temple located in Yang-san, Gyeongsangnam-do, the simple and tranquil scenery there with the mountain, where the Buddhist building was situated in, gave her a huge inspiration. “Since Buddhist temples have significant meaning to Korean people as a part of our history or cultural heritage, I wanted to focus more on the cultural overtones the scenic view delivers than its religious characteristic when working on my art pieces” stated Ok Kim.Usually, on the way up to temples in Korea, there are stacks of stone made by people. Along with pagodas in temples, they have served not only as religious and folk sculptures but also as places where people make a wish. Stone stacks, called ‘Makdoltap’ in Korean, are made by villagers, monks or Buddhist pilgrims. When they pile up each piece of stone with their wishes or prayers in mind, they pay extra careful attention not to break the balance and make the stacks collapse. They wish themselves good fortune doing such a spiritual action.

Inspired by this, she created ‘The Merge Series’. It consists of a table, stools, and side tables. The side tables are specially designed to be separated or stacked just like the stone stacks that she had seen at Tongdosa. Ok Kim engraved her wish to each piece of the Merge Series hoping ‘Anyone who possesses these items would be happy with good fortune’ and added some uniqueness to the side table with flexibility. Her top priority was the colors that she used. She wanted to reflect the scenery of the temple harmoniously standing in nature in her art crafts using the symbolic colors that represent four seasons in Korea.

I named this project ‘The Merge Series’ – Ok Kim says – because each piece, in different colors and forms, can literally be merged with others in wonderful harmony. With the metal frame, I used traditional natural lacquer called ‘Ott’. Blending each color pigment with so that I could get unique palettes. Layering after layering after layering. Then I moved on to sandpapering.”

Traditional natural lacquer has long been used in Asian countries, where it is collected from lacquer trees. Lacquer can be applied to various materials such as wood, metal, plastic and paper among many others. After several layers of lacquer, the surface becomes not only shiny but also durable and waterproof. The whole process – it takes 3-5 months – can be divided into 6 steps: metal forming, hardening at high temperature, making the surface uneven, color layering, sandpapering and polishing. The furniture is dried at a specific temperature and humidity.