KS_profile@2x

Interview MIKHA M.
Date NOV 2022

SAEAM KWON
      Human, and ceramist Saeam Kwon on intuition as a guiding tool – spiritually and physically, both in her practice but also in her life.

As ancient the practice of pottery is, an invisible energy still coexist to our present day – a dance or a silent dialogue if you will that happens in tandem between the ceramist and the work of art. Saeam finds steadiness and safety in that dialogue – providing her guidance to overcome the challenges of living abroad while discovering that following one’s intuition can lead you to better places.

Moving between Seoul and Berlin, today Saeam resides in Germany’s capital pursuing her ceramic practice and creating handmade stoneware that has life on their own. In this interview, Saeam shares her story of moving abroad and on becoming a ceramist naturally without planning it.

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Gangwon-do, South Korea © Aaron Choi

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Berlin © Markus Spiske

LFV: Where did you grow up and what was that context like?

S: I was born in Gangwon province, in South Korea. (Gangwon is generally where the people from the city called “county side”, as it’s surrounded by mountains and renowned for its agricultural produce). I lived there with my family until I graduated middle school at the age of 15, then I moved to another small town by myself to attend an alternative high school which I chose to go to, it was 5 hours by car from my hometown.

Back then, it was pretty rare to be separated from parents when you’re a minor or to even choose which high school you want to attend because South Korea is a very competitive society with a lot of social pressure and it all starts from a very young age. So with the support of my family, I’d say I had a very happy (and chaotic at the same time) teenage time there without any competition.

What made you choose Berlin as your second home?

S: Well, it happened very unexpectedly but smoothly at the same time. I was living and working in Paris and had a chance to visit Berlin just for 3 or 4 days. I had a very good impression of the city and I was like, “ok my next destination is gonna be Berlin” without even knowing how I can actually sustain my life. I just followed my intuition, and most of the time it leads me to the right place.

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© Saeam Kwon

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© Saeam Kwon

What were the challenges, and learnings that you have experienced while living in Berlin?

S: EVERYTHING was a struggle. I can’t even count how many times I felt close to miserable when I had to face “finding a flat, learning German, German bureaucracy, visa extension, surviving Covid time as Asian without being harassed by strangers at the U-Bahn, non-existing authentic Korean foods… etc etc” but look, here I am. After 5 years in Berlin, I feel like it raised me to a better and more mature person who is good at dealing with problems. Now I know how to take care of myself both physically and mentally, how to laugh about small things which I used to cry for, not hiding from the problems I was afraid of.

“LIVING AS A FOREIGNER IN BERLIN AND WORKING AS A CERAMIC ARTIST HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON, BOTH TAUGHT ME HOW NOT TO DWELL ON FAILURE”

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Saeam in the studio © Seungha LEE

How did that journey influence your practice as a ceramic artist but also as an individual?

S: In the beginning when I moved here, I thought that Berlin offered me nothing, so I needed to push myself to find a way to survive. So this is how I ended up working as a ceramist, very naturally. However, before moving to Berlin I’ve never thought or planned that I’d be a ceramic artist, even though I have many years of experience. (I started pottery in 2010 back in high school and majored in Ceramic art in University and kept working on the clay-related job so far) so I knew I can do something with it but somehow I couldn’t imagine living off it.

Maybe I was too afraid to give it a try. In the end, I found out that Berlin gave me the opportunity to try things that I’ve never felt secure to try. Living as a foreigner in Berlin and working as a ceramic artist have one thing in common, both taught me how not to dwell on failure, even though it is difficult to fail.

“I THINK THAT NATURALLY, ALL HANDCRAFTED WORKS HAVE A SPIRITUAL PRESENCE AS IT SHOWS THE MAKER’S AESTHETIC, EFFORT, AND DEVOTION.”

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Saeam in practice © Saeam Kwon

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Handmade dark stoneware cup © Saeam Kwon

It seems to me that through your practice, there’s a silent yet spiritual dialogue taking place between you and the piece you’re working on –how would you describe that exchange?

S: I always say describing work is not always relevant especially when the work is made for a visual and physical experience. I think that naturally, all handcrafted works have a spiritual presence as it shows the maker’s aesthetic, effort, and devotion. I value the whole process of working with materials closest to nature, creating beautiful shapes and textures, and finding use and utility in them while observing the deep interaction that takes place between people and those materials.

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Saeam in the studio © James H.

You describe your work as a “A journey to find SOMETHING” – would you say it’s also instrumental to finding home and deepening your sense of belonging?

S: Yes. This work gives me a sense of stability. I spent quite some time in Berlin, however, there are still many places or situations where I don’t necessarily feel secure. But as I carry on this work day after day, I feel a certain kind of security and belonging. Those feelings are clearly different from what home gives but there is a comfort that comes from what I do.

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Saeam in the studio © James H.

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© Saeam Kwon

Which song helps you to recall home?

S: 환란의 세대 (The Generation of Tribulation) by 이랑 (Lang Lee) I’ve hooked to this song and listened to it many times just before I left Seoul and it reminds me of the drunk time in Seoul with my friends, and also a cold and unfamiliar air of Berlin that I smelled when I got out Tegel airport. I guess my home is in between..

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Self-portrait © Saeam Kwon

What’s your personal advice for someone moving to Berlin? and your 3 favorite places in the city?

S: Be ready to take a roller coaster! In Berlin, unexpected things often happen. It could be in a fun way or totally the other way around. If I knew what I had to go through I would have hesitated to live in Berlin. It doesn't matter where your destination is, as long as you’re ready and mentally prepared to go through the process of settling the paper works!

My favorite space is Volkspark Friedrichshain. I live 3 min from the park! It’s lovely to have a short or long walk and to see all the cute dogs and color-changing leaves. I’d also recommend Eschenbräu (best beer in town), Hako ramen Boxi (best vegan ramen in town), König Galerie (in a chill afternoon...), and Kindl (for a beer, also nice in the afternoon).

In closing, can you tell us a mantra in Korean that sparks your aspirations?

S: I wish I have one but I don't think I do.

KS_profile@2x

Saeam Kwon is a ceramist, born and raised in South Korea currently residing in Berlin, Germany. Saeam is the owner and maker of an independent ceramic studio – where they create pieces that interact with people’s everyday lives, from a simple pot to a complex sculpture. They use gentle, natural colors that can be part of daily life rather than a statement of work. Saeam also works as a freelance pottery instructor.

Visit Saeam site to see her work and Instagram for ongoing activities.

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