Exploring Cultural and Anthropological Significance with Jinhee Park’s Hanji Tables

Published by Art-Vibes on May 31, 2023

In conjunction with the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, IN’EI Gallery presents “Bearable Lightness of Being: Hanji Tables” by Jinhee Park, curated by Jin Baek, a professor at the Department of Architecture and Engineering at Seoul National University. This exhibition, running from May 17th to June 24th, marks the gallery’s first foray into the world of design. It’s a unique opportunity to explore Korean lifestyle and culture as interpreted by Jinhee Park – an architect with degrees from Seoul and Harvard, the recipient of the American Architecture Gold Prize, and a prominent figure at the Korean Pavilion of the 2016 Biennale Architettura.

The exhibition, conceived to create new connections between East Asia and Europe through the works of artists and architects from diverse backgrounds, delves into table design as a means to convey the culture intertwined with Korean tradition.

In Korea, the traditional family lifestyle involves consuming meals in personal rooms. Food is transferred to various locations using a table known as the “soban.” Historically, women worked in the kitchen and dined separately, while men enjoyed their meals on this unique low table.

To maintain the separation of genders in accordance with the Confucian ideology of the Joseon Dynasty, the dining room was detached from the rest of the house, with a separate table provided for each diner. The soban can, therefore, be viewed as a symbol of Korean patriarchal culture.

Jinhee Park’s Hanji Soban tables, available in various heights and dimensions for this exhibition, feature an upper surface supported by four slender legs. This design serves as a metaphor for the historical relationship between men and women, aiming to blend the uniqueness of Korean tradition with entirely contemporary values and forms.

In contrast to Western and Chinese cultures, which typically use raised seating or other structures requiring larger communal spaces, the Korean lifestyle revolves around sitting on the floor to enjoy the traditional ondol underfloor heating system. This has led to lower ceilings and smaller rooms in Korean homes. Consequently, Koreans have favored compact, low, and simple furniture to create a sense of spacious yet balanced living. Today, the soban has evolved into a portable piece of furniture, lightweight for easy transport and versatile for various uses.

In Jinhee Park’s creations, another element linking to the past is the use of Hanji paper and Korean lacquer, creating a unique aesthetic that varies in transparency depending on the lighting. This is a return to an ancient technique that immerses the viewer in the architect’s poetic vision.

Hanji paper, made from mulberry tree bark and often called “living paper,” appears delicate but is remarkably durable. It has special properties such as tear resistance, light and air permeability, and moisture control, making it suitable for clothing, shoes, lights, speakers, houses, and even robots.

Jinhee Park draws inspiration from these two foundational elements of Korean design history and synthesizes them to bring out their full potential.

The exhibition, distinctive in IN’EI’s approach and crucial to curator Jin Baek’s vision, introduces a dreamlike aspect to the project. An enormous mirror beneath the tables accentuates the technical folding characteristics of the table legs, and a video featuring countless butterflies seems to invade the space. Symbolically, this journey looks outward, suggesting expansion on an environmental scale.

Exhibition Information:

Title: Jinhee Park – Bearable Lightness of Being: Hanji Tables, curated by Jin Baek.
Dates: May 17 – June 24, 2023.
Location: IN’EI Gallery, San Polo, Riva del Vin, 1100, Venice.