Sundo Yoon

Aluminum

Seoul, South Korea

Interview

info@sundoyoon.com

@sundoyoon

Sundo Yoon uses aluminum as a canvas to etch in reflections of life and the world around him. Through repetition and an almost meditative practice, he is able to manipulate the material to depict the processes and changes that take shape from the tools applied to them. Taking inspiration from textures in art, design, and the various irregular shapes that naturally take shape in the natural and digital world, he expresses these images and forms through his designs.

Tell us a bit about your background and what got you into designing furniture.

I was initially really drawn to metal out of all of the materials. I wanted to create something that could reflect and show the changes and process of manipulating the metal surfaces through the use of tools to create new expressions. I create works based not only on the characteristics of the material I use, but also on the form of the furniture itself, and I believe that what I can do best is express my thoughts through my work.

We see you use different kinds of metals for your materials in both your Cure and Deviate series, and you are often manipulating the surfaces in different ways. What draws you to working with metals?

In the Deviate series, I was interested in the process of changing thin sheet metal through repetitive motions, and in the Cure series, I was interested in what could be expressed through methods beyond more general methods of manipulating metal. What I find interesting about these two series is that there are elements that make the pieces unique that you wouldn’t be able to see without using tools to change the surface in simple ways.

In addition to your designs, you occasionally post paintings as well. What is your relationship with more traditional or fine art, and does it influence your approach to design?

When I first designed the Cure series, I was more influenced by things I had seen in paintings than by design itself, so I often tried to express my ideas as two-dimensional work as well. Although there are design elements in my work, I wanted to show more pictorial elements, and this is because I was greatly influenced by Dansaekhwa (monochrome paintings) in Korea. I felt inspiration from the way they arrange expressive elements, spirituality, and repetition in their works, so I wanted to include these elements in my work as well.

Is all of your work handmade, or do you work with different people in the process of creating your pieces?

In my initial work, I thought I would have to create everything on my own, but now I work together with several experts to create my pieces. In order to show everything I want to express, I sometimes have to rely on machine power or seek advice from experts about the assembly process. I will often to go Euljiro and find the different experts and artisans there for advice. We will discuss various facets of my designs and determine what is possible and what we have to do to achieve the outcome I had imagined. Since I studied furniture design, but not furniture making, these experts helped me bring my designs to life. For example, I want to use welding when putting together some of my pieces, so I have been working with a welder to learn the skills I need to do this. By gaining new skills in this way, I can improve my own designs and the way I build my pieces.

Could you take us through the process of designing and creating the Cure series? What did the process look like and what kinds of methods did you use when creating it? 

The atypical shape of the Cure series takes inspiration from natural and artificial images, along with the monochromatic paintings I mentioned earlier. I mainly used natural images of large mountain ranges and small patterns of stones and tree bark, and artificial images of broken pieces of concrete or even map topography when designing the shape and patterns in the pieces. I digitize all the irregular lines seen in the images, modify them into lines that can be used in my work, and structure them in a way to put them onto the materials I work with. In this process, I consider which parts should be used in each section and look at how they connect to previous works before proceeding.

Afterward, I will create a mock-up to check the actual size and then use an electric grinder to draw vertical and horizontal patterns on the pieces of metal that were cut using laser cutters. These pieces of metal are then joined through welding to complete the piece.

We know the Cure series was a new material for you since you used brass in the Deviate series before it. Why did you choose this material, and how was working with it different? Did you have to learn any new skills or experiment to understand it better before coming up with designs?

After completing my undergraduate degree, my work environment changed and I was unable to continue working with brass. At the time, I also felt the limitations of brass as a material and looked for other materials to work with.

For the Cure series, I chose the tool (electric grinder) before choosing the material. I wanted to use a grinder to manipulate different materials, and the material that could be utilized well in new ways with such a tool was aluminum. This is because I found that aluminum, a light and relatively soft metal, could be freely used with a grinder. At first, I had to learn how to use a grinder, and it was a process of experimenting with what kinds of patterns I could make using it. I experimented with various expressions, such as carving out small parts as if making dots or carving as if drawing a line.

Could you also take us through the process of designing and creating the Deviate series?

Unlike the Cure series, where I started with the shape before producing it, I started with brass plates of random shapes. I repeatedly struck a thin sheet with a hammer to make it bendable. The surface of the brass plate was dyed black with chemicals and then made to resemble a sphere using metal rivets.

We notice that this series consisted of various pendant lights. What drew you to creating lights, and how is your approach to creating lights different from your approach to other kinds of pieces?

I didn’t intend to create lighting initially. I initially wanted to make a chair or a table because at the time, that was what I thought of when I thought of furniture. I really liked the patterns I could make with the thin sheets of brass, but they weren’t sturdy enough structurally for something like a chair or table. That was when I saw images of Tom Dixon and the various lights he had made. I was really inspired by his work and decided to create a light to show the patterns I found attractive in the brass. My aim with the brass was to create a sphere, so I wrapped and layered it in ways to create that shape. 

When considering the functionality of furniture, each kind has its own function. Just as a chair has the function of allowing you to sit on it, lighting has the function of using light to illuminate. I think the difference is that you need to consider how to utilize the light of the lighting, which is something that I had to experiment with and explore when creating this piece.

What did you learn from this first collection?

Because it was my first work, the entire process, starting from how to use the materials, was a process and a learning experience. The most difficult challenge was creating multiple shapes with just one feature and considering the connectivity between all the pieces. However, I feel that it was an important time because I learned a lot through this process and was able to think about both my current work and the next series.

Do you have other influences outside of design and art?

When I was planning the Cure series, I thought more deeply about myself than anything else, but recently I’ve been influenced a lot from the outside. I sometimes get inspiration for my next work from conversations with friends and colleagues. I try to receive positive influence from the world, from small elements such as the art of creating a piece to the larger philosophy I wish to incorporate into my work.