Isabelle Leemann, Michel Lee and Kim Sooyoun are some of the brilliant minds working to making the Korean collections accessible to a wider audience. Although our Korean collections consist of ca 500 objects which are digitized and available to the public, the information available on these objects has not been robust – until now. We interviewed Isabelle, Michel and Sooyoun on the Korean Database project: its goals, the process and what has most surprised them while working on this project.
Hi Isabelle, Michel and Sooyoun! Tell us about yourselves.
My name is Isabelle Leemann. I am originally from Switzerland but spent around eight years living in East Asia. I am a Korean Studies and East Asian Art graduate now working full-time for the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities’ Korea Database Project.
My name is Michel Lee, a curator at the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden. I work with Chinese and Korean collections, as well as the Sven Hedin collection. I grew up in America but have spent time living in various countries.
My name is Kim Sooyoun. I have moved to Stockholm, Sweden from Seoul, South Korea almost two years ago and recently joined the Korea Database Project at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. I studied History in Korea and then Museum and Artefact Studies in the UK.
Give us some background to the Korea Database Project.
We were originally applying for funding to work with the Korean collections at the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden. However, due to the long historical relationship of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities with Korea, they wanted to fund work with the collections specifically associated with the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities.
What does the process look like?
To goal is to have up-to-date information and high-quality photographs of the entire Korean collection. All of the Korean objects at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities will be re-catalogued and re-photographed, some objects also with 3-D photography. The new images will be high resolution (publication quality). There will also be a digital presentation of the information in a more user-friendly format.
What’s something that you’ve learned in the process? Something that surprised you about one or more objectst ?
Michel: When working with the objects, one really gets a sense that most of these things were made to be used. You start to gain an appreciation for the design and realise why certain forms were reproduced. Much of it was practical to facilitate handling, eating from or drinking from.
Isabelle: Finding finger marks and other traces left by the potter’s hands on the surface of the objects humanizes the people that made them and connected me with the history of the objects. If only these objects could talk!
Sooyoun: We have rediscovered some of the paintings by researching who the painter was and what was written alongside. It is fascinating how hidden stories of each object can be studied and highlighted. I must say that the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities has a great collection of Korean paintings from the Joseon Dynasty.
Which is your favorite object you’ve studied?
I really enjoy the large Joseon period egg-shaped storage jar. The lack of decoration compliments the numerous production imperfections, and the flaws become decorative in themselves. The fact that it was a utilitarian object also makes me think of people that would have used it.
There are many objects I would like to mention, but one of the objects I particularly like is the Goryeo dynasty bottle with a beautiful bluish-green glaze and incised decoration. From the glaze, shape and the subtle color, to the absence of lavish decoration, this object for me embodies the qualities that I appreciate so much about Korean celadon wares.
I am quite fond of a series of six paintings of immortals. I can see the painter’s effort to give each immortal distinctive personality by differentiating facial expression and body language. It is also interesting that you can almost see the painter’s working style through the brushstrokes.
That’s it for now!
Thank you so much Isabelle, Michel and Sooyoun! We look forward to seeing the results of the Korean Database Project in the beginning of next year.
The Korean Database project is funded by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Photo above: Isabelle Leemann and Michel Lee with some of the objects being digitized in the Korea Database Project. Photo: Johan Jeppsson, The National Museums of World Culture, Sweden, CC-BY.