I recently came across Sunbin Lim’s work online, and reached out to him to learn more about his evolution as an artist. Sunbin is originally from South Korea but now works in Germany. Sunbin has had a number of very interesting experiences around the world, and through those experiences has worked with various media. I’ve loved perusing his work on his website, which contains samples of his work continuously from 2012 to 2021. Austere, multi-element pieces from 2012-14 that speak of engineering and industrialization have given way in more recent years to very tactile, gooey, fluid work oftentimes referencing domestic furniture.
JTW: It looks like you originally studied stage design in Korea, but then switched to ceramics. What attracted you to ceramics?
SL: Yes, I studied stage design and ceramics in South Korea. At first, I was more interested in stage design than ceramics. I didn’t want to just make a bowl, but when I was a freshman in univ, I mainly learned the basic technique of making a bowl. So I lost interest in ceramics and started to focus on stage design. After finishing my first year of university and serving in the army, I was able to experience ceramic sculpture and I’m starting to get a lot of interest in it and as I began to concentrate on ceramic sculpture, my interest returned from stage design to ceramics.
JTW: You worked as an assistant to Brazilian sculptor Jorge dos Anijos. He works primarily in metal. What did you learn from that experience?
SL: My experience in Brazil was a very special time for me. I was able to indirectly experience life as a successful artist from him and it became a valuable asset to me. I made a work in Brazil using metal and paper, not clay. I experienced something new and realized a lot while making a work using new materials there. I realized then that even the same type of work can look different if the materials are different and it was an opportunity to think a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of clay as a material.
Jorge also influenced me a lot at the time. He explained the beauty that I could feel in the imperfections and it influenced my current work a lot.
JTW: You moved from Korea to Germany in 2011 where you currently live. What prompted that move? And how are the two settings (Korea vs Germany) similar and/or different in terms of artistic culture – specifically in terms of ceramics?
SL: I had good ceramic skills when I was in Korea, but I always had difficulty in creating. I looked for a professor who could teach me well, but I couldn’t find one in South Korea. I got to know professor Jochen Brandt of IKKG (Institute for Ceramic and Glass Art, University of Applied Science Koblenz) in Germany at the recommendation of my Korean professor Suku Park and came to Germany in 2011 to study in IKKG and I think it was the best choice for me.
I think German ceramic sculpture is much ahead of Korea. The German professors who coached me had an open mind and taught me the creative process I needed in great detail and easily. When you studied in South Korea, there was no professor who could teach me the creative process so easily and in detail. I don’t think there are any professors with that ability in South Korea right now. I think there are many professors in South Korea who can teach good ceramic techniques. However, Korean professors are very lacking in creativity. Perhaps because of that, in South Korea, there seems to be a better evaluation of ceramic works with excellent technical completeness than creative ceramic works. However, unlike South Korea, Germany evaluates creative and original work better even if the work lacks completeness. I personally appreciate creative work even if it lacks perfection.
JTW: Will you tell me about your creative process? Do you plan things out in advance or work more spontaneously?
SL: Before I start my work, I collect data and sketch slowly. And I start my work by referring to the sketches, but it doesn’t make the same work as a sketch.The process of reproducing sketches into works equally hinders my creativity, because new ideas always come up in the process of working. When a new idea comes up, it changes the work.
JTW: Your work since 2018 shows an interest in furniture. Can you tell me more about that?
SL: I saw a big piece of furniture in my dream while sleeping and it felt like a sculpture to me, not furniture. After I woke up, I sketched what I saw in my dream and later made it into a work. That is the beginning of my furniture series. Perhaps one day the furniture that I saw interesting influenced me. So I think I would have had such a dream.
JTW: Generally, where do you find inspiration for your work? Has that changed over time?
SL: Inspiration for the work comes from my surroundings. I still get a lot of inspiration when I take a walk and travel. Living in Europe, I see many interesting things. Inspiration in everyday life is endless. Inspiration changes over time. Sometimes things that were interesting in the past are not interesting at all now. But there are things that were interesting in the past and things that are still interesting now.
JTW: You mention an interest in imperfection – imperfect structures and imperfect beauty. How has that influenced your art?
SL: I have been interested in broken or old buildings since I was young. In my hometown (Cheolwon), there are many buildings that were destroyed during the Korean War. I was very interested in the buildings at the time, but I didn’t know exactly what was interesting to me at the time. I slowly realized later that I was interested in broken buildings, or in imperfections that were broken and destroyed, such as Roman ruins. I was able to find interesting elements through them, these are open structures, internal spaces, surface textures.
I have been working hard on this. I can also feel imperfect beauty through them. These elements are an important basis of my work. Since then, I have been paying attention to the beauty that I can feel from the imperfections, and it still has a lot of influence on my work today. I am currently working upon the above-mentioned elements and reinterpreting interesting objects in my own artistic language.