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E-MOMM - The Development of Contemporary Tableware in Korea
A Collaborative Project to Develop a Tableware Brand Appropriate for the Korean Life Style and Diet, including an exhibition organized by the Ewha Ceramics Research Institute at Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea.

The Objective of Organizing the Emomm Exhibition

The past twenty years has seen a considerable change in the ceramic tendency within the contemporary ceramic movement of Korea. Although the Korean tradition and custom is deeply rooted in the Korean mentality, most people today have been influenced by the abundance of imported utility wares found in our current ceramic market. In general, most Korean people possess at least one type of traditional ceramic ware – be it a celadon, buncheong, onggi jar, white ware. Yet despite such phenomenon, more and more people are turning their eyes towards purchasing imported ceramics in the likes of Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Rosenthal or Royal Copenhagen. The last ten years has seen an increase in preference towards such imported ceramics.

The basis of the Korean culture is still dominated largely by Confucian philosophy, which began in the Joseon Period (late 14th century – early 20th century). Even today many of the rites that we practice daily descend from Confucianism and neo-Confucian mentality. Therefore our customs root back to the past and much of it has been preserved in our current life style. The Korean people rely more on the Lunar Calendar and many of our major national holidays coincide with the 12 Solar Systems of this calendar.

When we examine the life style of the Korean people today, it is evident that many of the ceramic wares appear to be inappropriate for our inherent habits. This applies to both imported ceramic wares and those that are made nationally by our own companies. Until now there has not been a production line that best accommodate our custom and daily diet.

Consequently, the professors of the Ewha College of Art and Design, renowned national designers and ceramic artists have gathered together at the Ewha Womans University’s Ceramics Research Institute to design a contemporary tableware that is most apt for our customs with reference to the modern transitions in life style. Furthermore, the initiative commemorates the 46th anniversary of the Ewha Ceramics Research Institute, the pioneer of contemporary ceramics movement in Korea and also the leader of ceramics as an academic subject in universities.

With the leading specialists in design and crafts, the Ewha Ceramics Research Institute has planed an exhibition on ceramic tableware. It is an attempt to redefine the contemporary Korean table setting with the different ceramic wares designed by the Ewha Ceramics Research Institute as a glimpse into the contemporary tendency and preference.

The exhibition has been titled E-MOMM after Ewha Womans University's E and MOMM meaning spirit and embracement. From ancient times, the Koreans believed that the spirit has been vesseled by our physical body. Therefore to accommodate both the importance of Ewha Womans University and the spirit of craftsmanship, the exhibition has been titled E-MOMM. This title is also used as the Brand Identity for the ceramic wares on display in the exhibition. The brand name integrates the current social tendency simultaneously as representing the Korean mentality in crafts.

Like a mother preparing a hearty meal for her family, the maternal spirit and mentality has been vesseled in all of the objects on display for the E-MOMM exhibition.

The Role of the Ewha Ceramics Research Institute

The Ewha Ceramics Research Institute was the first to be established within an academic environment along with its ceramic art department. It was founded in 1958 and this year marks its 46th anniversary. It began as an organization researching on methods to modernize traditional wares of Korea. Its founder, Hwang, Jong Gu came from a long line of ceramic tradition and he is looked upon as the father of contemporary Korean ceramics. His achievements are highly praised as he attempted to start the contemporary ceramics movement during a period when any cultural preservation was bleak in Korea. He pushed to develop the existing traditional wares a step further for modern appeal.

Today the director of the Ewha Ceramics Research Institute, Kang Suk Young, is an artist who is referred to as the pioneer of the slip-casting movement in Korean contemporary ceramics. With specialists such as Professor Kang, Ewha continues to be in the forefront of introducing new ideas and creative expressions in contemporary Korean Ceramics.

Professor Kang hopes that the Emomm exhibition will contribute to the development of current contemporary ceramics while influencing Korea’s tableware.

The Concept behind the Emomm Exhibition

Emomm is a collaborative initiation to redefine the existing tableware of Korea. The subject for the exhibition is based on Korea’s 12 main Solar Seasons. Our national holidays are connected to these Solar Seasons and they usually announce seasonal changes in the weather. In general, many of the Korean custom, is closely tied to these 12 main seasons and they are usually about paying respect to ancestors, evil spirits, maintaining an opulent life, good health and fortune. Furthermore, special dishes and foods are eaten on national occasions, which are often celebrated with formal rites. For instance a year begins by celebrating the Lunar New Year’s Day and on this day we eat a soup dish with rice cakes in addition to specially made desserts. Each dish is served on a particular type of ceramic ware as they have different significance, color and taste. These aspects of the Korean diet and food serving, has been taken into consideration in the designs for the Emomm Exhibition.

Spring is welcomed by serving different herbal dishes as they act as medicines to preserve the health so that the body is able to prepare itself for the hot season to come. Even the herbs and vegetables have different significances. Some are said to heal the body and some for boosting certain organs.

In Korea it is important to pay respect to the deceased ancestors as they protect the family descendents from evil spirits while bringing good fortune. Subsequently, respect is paid by laying a table filled with delicious food, on specific ceramic wares for the spirit to return and enjoy some of their favorite dishes.
The Korean way of life is closely related to such rites and practices. Therefore it is necessary to design ceramic wares that can serve the rites properly.

The Significance of the Emomm Exhibition for the Development of Korean Contemporary Ceramics

Korea possesses a remarkable ceramic history and culture that is more than 5 000 years old. It is renowned for its own celadon, buncheong and white wares. Yet despite the nation's rich historical inheritance, most of its people are unaware of its cultural value. There is a lack of national support given to the preservation and the development of contemporary ceramics. The Japanese Colonization severed Korea's ceramic tradition leaving the nation in loss of its own identity. This was further aggravated by the intervention of foreign troops and the Korean War. Therefore, it is not until the 1980's that Korea began to raise the standard of its overall lifestyle and to begin concentrating on the preservation of its culture. The 1980's saw a sudden acceleration in Korea's economy but this continued to affect the Korean culture as it underwent many radical transitions. Consequently, the advancement from Korea's fundamental ceramic wares has been considerably difficult. Until now there has not been a contemporary substitute that is able to best represent Korea’s rich tradition simultaneously as possessing a universal appeal that can contribute to Korea's ceramic development.

Today, the social tendency is to integrate cultures. It is an era where styles are crossing over and where cultures are being shared to understand one another. In art, there have already been attempts to move away from existing principles and genres. Instead of following any one concept, art is crossing boundaries taking on a more interdisciplinary form. The same phenomenon is making a mark in culture and economy in search of a brand that can accommodate the contemporary trend.

The Emomm exhibition is an initiative to create a variation of ceramic tableware that relate to tradition simultaneously as making an advancement by fulfilling the requirements of modern life. Furthermore it hopes to contribute to the development of contemporary Korean ceramics.

The EMOMM exhibition will be on view at the EWHA Art Center, EWHA Woman's University, 11-1 Daehyun-Dong, Soedaemun-Gu, Seoul, from the 9th of May 2005.

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