Dambi Kim (Seoul, Korea) + #plant

How did your relationship to plants begin?

First, I couldn't find anything I wanted to do in modern society, back in 2013/14. That was when I had just finished undergraduate school. I was looking for a job in a temple or somewhere in nature. I also ended up travelling around the world to see how people live. But most of the time I found myself exploring or walking around for no reason in nature. That's when I felt peaceful. I was also into electronic music, organizing parties and events. I was looking for something meaningful that I can do my whole life. I learned this ancient korean black zither, which was always played in tea ceremonies back in Asia during ancient times. I got really obsessed with the speed and the profound layers of music. I got into tea and was practicing traditional tea ceremonies. When I was travelling in Europe and elsewhere, I learned that there is more to it than just practicing a tea ceremony. Now I make my own blends of western and eastern herbs, and teach people how to do that. I just told you now in a few sentences, but it was such a long process, this realization didn't come in one day. It took years and years to come to this enlightenment.

Time plays a big role in your work. Time as in seasons including plant life cycles, like seed, bloom, harvest etc. But then you're also connecting ancient tradition with future vision, and then time decelerating during ceremony. Can you talk about time?

Time... it's a tough question. Laughs. In Asia we have this divine farmer called Shennong. He's the one who discovered the benefits of each plant we are still using today, although there might be variations up until now. He was the founder of the traditional seasonal cycle, and our traditions in Asia have evolved based on his calendar. All societies first started with agriculture. I'm trying to put my practice in tune with how our ancestors lived, but in a modern context. I was attracted to tea ceremonies because it is really about the process of preparing a cup of tea, but then it is not only about that, it can be applied to any sort of thing we are doing in daily life. I'm posing the question whether a person's life is process- oriented or focused on outcome. I think that's a lesson we can learn from a tea ceremony. I always tell them: "You are experiencing this tea or incense with me, but there is more than what you can see." Also there is a spiritual thing of course, we are going through this process together. Each human being is a creator in life, so how can we create procedures in life inspired by tea ceremonies? That was always the goal of my practice. For example, if you are a writer or painter, the procedure could be more appreciated than finishing an artwork. Each year, I try to live with the seasons. Every year I'm slowly improving. In modern society where profits are exaggerated, people are always trying to achieve more in short term. This is something we need to learn.

Did you you study with tea masters who taught you the ancient practices or did you read about it?

Most tea ceremony masters only follow choreographical movements, they are not really into this tradition. I work inbetween cooking and tea ceremony. Most of the time I just look up online what is the most contemporary way of following this tradition. I don't want to be solely focusing on the traditional part. We say that tradition can only be sustained when it's well integrated with modern patterns. So I try to always be inbetween tradition/modernity and analog/technology. That's always the baseline of my practice.

That leads to the next question which is about space, the idea of location. You are running a teahouse in Seoul, organizing local ceremonies and workshops in physical venues. You told me that you were thinking about how to create virtual experiences, looking into technologies and coding. Can you tell us about the thoughts that popped up for you in that context? Like, how can a sensual experience like a tea ceremony be translated into the virtual?

I think technology can be utilized as a tool to entertain people with my herbal recipes and maybe a bit of storytelling about how our ancestors lived, or how my potions are made. I think its the only way to educate modern kids. As a tea ceremony master, the status quo raised an existential question whether I can host an online tea ritual based on oriental philosophy. Is it still possible to realize a new normal tea ceremony without the invited guests in reality? I cannot deliver the sense of flavor and scent on current computational skills yet, but I could still give lessons about it.

You created a health bar about a year ago. It was like a futuristic aesthetic, with molecules and capsules, you were working out, wearing Nike clothes, you had this fitness, flow energy. I know you're climbing, doing gym and yoga as well. What role does moving your body play in your practice?

When I first started the traditional, very refined zen ceremonies, I was in a static mode. I was still a tea apprentice under a tea master, looking for my own serenity. Since I started working out I was able to see the whole world and what's going on around me on this planet. That also challenged me to perspectives in life. Having my own tranquility was not the only way, I learned how to observe and reconnect my being with other beings. I'm not saying that one is higher than the other, but while we're still training our own serenity, we also need to work for others beyond our own peace. It gave me more energy and more encouragement in finding solutions.

Yes, I just got this image that if you keep moving you stop attaching to one point, you're letting go of your focus. I never saw movement as relationship but it makes complete sense, as you're moving you're opening. It's non-attachment.


To communicate with hyperobjects and their individual timing and locationing, we need non-human, somatic, embodied, metaphorical language. How do you communicate with #plants?

That's something I learned through herbal tarot. In my readings I'm giving a person an advice card and try to relate their current situation with that plant. I'm looking into the benefits of that plant, how it was used in ancient times, and what we can learn from it. And that is not only connected to plants but animals too. It's a small lesson we can learn from other species. That we are all one being. Just like we can learn from a kid, or a grandmother, or someone our age. We all learn from each other.

Can you pick one plant you're working with right now and tell us about their teaching?

Today I was doing a herbal tarot reading and the card I picked was dandelion whose keyword is humility. Dandelion is a very common species in the world, we always take it for granted but there are so many things this plant gives to us. We are using the roots and eat the greens in springtime, and we can also eat the flower. I think this plant teaches us that even if we take something for granted it is still giving us something.

So you feel dandelion is teaching us about humility?

Yes, we need to be humble and modest about ourselves. And this teaching also goes with the zen buddhist teaching, why we are practicing meditation - the beginner's mind. And you know the seeds of dandelion, right? It's always loving and caring, floating around. Maybe it's also connected with love and care. I saw a post about old people living in a nursery, and what they want to tell the younger generations. They said to love themselves and to love others.