Ji-Sook Lee, a Korean ceramist, newly appropriates an old Chaekkado (Scholar's accoutrements)1 by using acrylic paint on terracotta. A pile of sorted books and Obangsaek2, using the traditional five colors in Korea, draw our attention to stuff easily found around us, rather than the old item. Chaekkado is the landscape of the male study room. Scholars of the Joseon dynasty boasted books and precious items collected for their richness and the perspective gained from them.
In addition, they eased the desire for reading by lightening the mood in literary circles, a pastime considered as highly as studying. The study is full of male desire and taste, as well creating an illusion, based on the period’s original thinking that society needed men at that time. Ji-Sook Lee’s Chaekkado does not have the connotative signifiers that are often seen in old paintings, but instead the political ideology of the Joseon dynasty, and the scholars’ ardor for study. She has chosen to express the small joys of daily life and a preference for the commonplace in a female’s life.
The works do not display any gender problems such as the burden of doing the bulk of housework chores and child care, or women's social and economic disadvantages in the workplace.
New space is opened again using an old method
The attraction of old Chaekkado is the symbolic world of various items, profound and mysterious structures, and the eccentric cohabitation of heterogeneous items. They are an independent, harmonic, delicate and tarnished color which is the unique flavor of the Chaekkado scene. Chaekkado was the most popular image3 among Minhwa4 in the Joseon dynasty; a popular theme of a loyal painters’ test because not only did it expose the King’s will that studying and reading were considered important, but was also a way to have their abilities judged. Therefore, they observed and represented various items around books since the late 18th Century under the rule of King Jungjo (1752-1800).
But the space depicted by Ji-Sook Lee spreads out under an open structure, like a still-life from the Western tradition of painting, rather than the bookshelf of an old Chaekkado or the extensive and enclosed sections of the grid of a Curio cabinet and case5 from the Ch'ien-lung era (1736-1795) of the Ch'ing Dynasty. Various items are formed in low layers and are easily considered the taste of women, and the ability to see any traces or connections signifying the Chaekkado are weak.
Ji-Sook Lee says that reading books is her favorite primary pastime and secondary to that, sharing books and reading with others brings her pleasure and enlightenment. In her ceramics and paintings she tends towards subject matter that is familiar such as cosmetics, a bowl filled with fruit and nuts, a flower vase holding peony or gypsofila, a tin case of tea leaves, a dressing mirror inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and books that she is reading or has read. All of this she has recreated without shadow and gravity, instead floating in the world made by using different perspectives and multiple-view points. The materials and expression in her images are different from traditional folk paintings (Minhwa) but their composition still has a familiarity.
Korean contemporary artists often appropriate Chaekkado with the aim to create the illusion or imitation on the two-dimensional plane of canvas as many painters have succeeded in doing in the history of Western painting. However, it is possible to experience an ambiguous response which is not either two or three-dimensional when the absence of a distinction between reality and representation vanishes. Ji-Sook Lee’s use of terracotta in low-relief, including the pitch of shape and shadow, can be considered a new approach to combat the fundamental problems associated with illusion in modern plastic arts. Ultimately, her works are the exploration of a cross sectional area between arts and crafts.