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In Conversation: Kenny Yong-soo Son

Above all, object designer–maker Kenny Yong-soo Son’s work centres around two imperative things: exploring his material of choice – metal – and creating objects that will bring value and meaning to the user’s life.

Anonymous Sculptures is an exhibition of new work presented as part of Craft Contemporary, paying homage to the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. For Kenny, the Becher’s photographic documentation of civic structures, in particular water towers, informed his series of hollowware pieces that function as vases but take their cues from the shape, form, and textures of these stoic constructions.

Kenny’s precise application of his craft and preference for geometric forms lends itself to the subject matter, while the cold machine aesthetic of his inspiration is transmuted by the maker’s hand into something of warmth and immediate beauty.

This is an exquisite showcase of contemporary design, and it’s not the first time Kenny has wowed us with his metalwork. In 2019, The Teapot Project an exhibition of 30 handmade teapots designed and crafted by Hendrik Forster and Kenny – was one of the highlights of our exhibition calendar.

Fast-forward to 2020, and it brings us great joy to be taking part in Craft Contemporary. In the words of the Craft Victoria team, ‘the arts provide a respite in trying times’ so we’re proud to create a sense of enjoyment for the wider community, and to support and celebrate the arts through this wonderful event.

'Anonymous Sculptures' is an exhibition of new work by object designer–maker Kenny Yong-soo Son presented as part of Craft Contemporary.

What was your favourite part of formulating your Craft Contemporary project?

An exciting element was the putting together of different forms, shapes and colours towards the last few steps in creating each work. You never really know what it is going to end up looking like until the very last moment. The form and design can be foreseen with the modelling process, however the texture and colour for the patination can sometimes be quite different and unpredictable from what you expect. This makes or breaks the hard work you have put in fabricating the work. When the combinations work, it’s a fantastic feeling.

Kenny can't go past metal - it's by far his most favourite material to work with, saying: "As I have come to understand the materiality and characteristics of metal, it has been my material of choice."
Each metal has its own characteristics. They all react in a slightly different manner as they have their own laws and rules. It's something you have to understand (well) and be patient with, often with no shortcuts.”
— Kenny Yong-soo Son
As he delves further into his exploration of metal, he learns more and feels further drawn to it as a material.

What is your favourite material to work with?

It has to be metal. Non-ferrous (brass, nickel, silver or copper) and precious (silver). They are materials that I know best.

Unlike certain materials, each and every metal has its own characteristics. They all react in a slightly different manner as each has its own laws and rules. Metal is something you have to understand (well) and be patient with, often with no shortcuts. As I have come to understand the materiality and characteristics of metal, it has since been my primary material of choice.

This series is inspired by the work of German conceptual artists and photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, best known for their series of photographic images of industrial buildings and structures, often organised in grids. Image via Tate.
These hollowware pieces function as vases but take their cues from the shape, form, and textures of the stoic constructions photographed by the Bechers.
The first stages of the design process involves modelling, seen here in paper, where Kenny plays with form and gets an idea of proportion and scale.

What is an influence that has inspired and changed the original trajectory of your creative practice?

The everyday surroundings and objects that I encounter often act as an inspiration to my creations. Since early adulthood, I have come to notice and appreciate how my daily rituals and actions relate to the objects I interact with.

I have come to understand the potential joy and value that these objects bring the user. If the object produces enough aesthetic, emotional and functional value, it has an added element of longevity and meaning for the user or the surrounding space.

This idea of creating things that the user can interact with – and in turn hopefully provide enough value and meaning for its longevity – has shaped my practice.

This idea of creating things that the user can interact with - and in turn hopefully provide enough value and meaning for its longevity - has shaped my practice.”
— Kenny Yong-soo Son
The last few steps in creating a work are the most exciting for Kenny. It's when the texture and colour for the patination reveal themselves.
The patination and finished colour can be quite unexpected. It can make or break a piece so when it works, it's incredibly satisfying.
For Kenny, the key to creating work with longevity and meaning boils down to three things: functionality, aesthetics and emotional value, and this idea has shaped his practice.

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