Korean born Hanna Kang and her inquisitive Bedlington Terrier, lives just around the corner from the bustling Wittenbergplatz. Her studio is alight with that yellow glow of Berlin summers, as she and Woojo welcome me inside.
Hanna is an artist, designer and founder of the vegan artisan soap brand, Soap Soop. She turns on a relaxing playlist, before we settle down for our interview. As a soothing melody of bird-song and falling water fills the air, our conversation turns toward the notions of balance, the curious ephemeral artistry of soap-making, and discovering new cultural perspectives.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO MAKING SOAP. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START SOAP SOOP?
I’ve had a passion for colourful and beautiful things since I was young. When I studied Art history at University, my passion for creating art grew. At the same time, I saw the museum archive full of great pieces just waiting there. I became more interested in creating art that was functional and transitory rather than permanent.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROCESS. DO YOU CONSIDER IT AN ARTISTIC PRACTISE?
I start by envisioning and sketching the soap I want to make. Thereafter, I weigh the ingredients according to the recipe, dissolve the oils, mix water, NaOH and the other ingredients. The colour and aroma is added in at the right temperature before being poured into a mould. The soap takes a day or two to dry before I cut it with a soap cutter. When the surface is dry enough, I stamp it and trim it.
During this process, there are areas that I can control and areas that I cannot control.
Even if I make soap from the same material, the results can be different depending on the temperature and humidity of the season and the hand technique of that day. I repeat this process, creating beauty that will disappear anyway. This ephemeral quality, gives it more meaning to me. It allows me to be more experimental and free.
I LOVE THE VIBRANT COLOURS YOU USE. IS THERE A KOREAN RITUAL OR CULTURAL PRACTISE THAT YOU BRING INTO YOUR SOAPS?
Thank you! I value harmony and balance in colour.
I try to express a wide range of beauty using all-natural ingredients only, so I’m interested in experimenting with various natural dyes and pigments from around the world. Korean culture values harmony and balance of colours from nature. If you look at Korean traditional architecture and clothes, you can find ‘Obangsaek’ which is five harmonious colours from nature. Even in everyday Korean food, such as ‘bibimbap’ or ‘gimbap’, we care about the natural match of the colours of different ingredients. It seems that my desire to use harmonious beauty in day-to-day life, comes from Korean culture, without even noticing.
OUR CURRENT THEME FOR YUN AT THE MOMENT IS BALANCE. WHAT DOES THE WORD MEAN TO YOU PERSONALLY?
Balance is a natural state that is not excessive, not lacking, and not forced on me. In my case, I think I came to understand more about balance after spending some time being lost, rather than striving for it. After understanding the extremes of how bad I can be and how good I can be (or how altruistic and how selfish), I could finally feel balanced about how I would live as myself.
HOW WOULD YOU BRING BALANCE INTO YOUR LIFE AND WORK?
This is a difficult and important theme. I’m usually close to a workaholic. My basic personality was like that. But then I also had to be, in order to set up a new life in another country. I also do enjoy working. However, too much is not good, so I try to balance it by arranging other things that are meaningful and interesting in my life. Slowing down my pace and increasing the amount of time I spend caring for myself was one of the reasons I adopted Woojoo. And it is working 🙂
WHEN DO YOU FEEL MOST LIKE YOURSELF? WHAT HELPS YOU REALIGN IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR BALANCE?
When I feel my question is resolved and that I am growing. I like that I can find questions everywhere. Now, I see myself as a constantly evolving being, and I believe that I will get better.
In the past, I was worried about being interested in so many things rather than focusing on one. But now I believe that all these interests make me grow more and build my unique personality. It’s kind of accepting myself for who I am. With this trust, when I feel I’m out of my balance, I just let myself take a break or treat myself with what I love. And then soon I get back on my track again.
HAVING LIVED IN BERLIN FOR SIX YEARS, WHAT’S THE MOST FASCINATING THING ABOUT THE CITY? SOMETHING YOU FIND UNIQUE TO BERLIN AND HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED ELSEWHERE.
I’ve heard various people from all over the world say that they feel at home in Berlin, and I’m one of them. Perhaps this place makes people have time to think about “who” they really are because any form of being is okay and accepted. With time, I’ve learned that real freedom is the responsibility to be myself and to respect that in others too.
HOW HAS LIVING IN BERLIN CHANGED YOUR OWN PERCEPTIONS OF KOREAN CULTURE?
The experience of leaving Korea helped me understand it from multiple perspectives. Previously, I was so focused on what I didn’t like about my culture. Now I see why the culture was able to grow the way it did and allowed me to discover a lot of good things that I had never seen before. Above all, living with English and learning German, made me fall in love with the beauty of the Korean language.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE WOOJOO’S STORY WITH US?
Woojoo (우주) means “the universe” in Korean. My little universe. When I considered myself living in Germany for a long time, I wanted to have a family. I heard about the issue of abandoned dogs in Korea and had the opportunity to adopt him. He flew 12 hours and is settling in well here. Berlin is a good place for dogs. I want him to be as happy as I am here.
I REALLY ENJOYED YOUR SOAP SOOP PLAYLIST. CAN WE SHARE IT WITH THE READERS?
Thank you! This playlist is about two hours that I listen to when I make soap. When the last song is over, I know that ‘oh! 2 hours have passed.’ I tried to collect peaceful, little mysterious, harmonious, curiously beautiful songs like being in the forest. You can find it on this link.