"Language interests me as a core structure of the self. Language carries the cultural identity and social behaviour, such as how to say hello will be one of the first things to learn to know the other culture."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I am from Seoul, South Korea. I studied Fine Arts at Korea University in Seoul and after I finished Goldsmiths MFA programme here in London 2 years ago. I grew up in quite a conservative background in Korea so coming to the UK was, and still is, an impact on myself and also my practice. I didn’t realise going to a different environment will bring such a change in many ways. Coming to the UK was an opportunity for myself to see my background with a distance and more critically and so far, I am happy that I made this decision. I am not idealising European education or life in the UK, but living here made me question what the identity is and its subsidiary elements.
Considering also my previous education on art was mostly practising skills on painting and now that has been changed to video, sound, writing and preformative elements. I had to paint sometimes 12 hours a day from when I was 12 to 18 years old. This experience made me think somehow painting is something that is located in the past and full of mannerism—I could use the idea of painting in my work but have been unable to present a painting. With the use of more dematerialised medium, I feel more free to play around and often an unexpected outcome happens with it. Unlike painting, I have less skill on these other materials that I am working now and feels like this often unblocks certain impossibility or barriers of art making. However, my background in painting and growing up in Korea is a significant element in my art practice.
Your work focuses on language and culture, could you talk about this and your thoughts behind it?
Language interests me as a core structure of the self. Language carries the cultural identity and social behaviour, such as how to say hello will be one of the first things to learn to know the other culture. As a non-native English speaker, sometimes I need to think in Korean and transfer my thoughts into English, or often think in English and its context depends on which language I am thinking will be varied. I think differently based on what language I am speaking. My recent solo show in Berlin was dealing this problem especially with the sound in the space. The text that I am reading in the sound started with the idea that I didn’t know how to call the elder Korean male friend of mine. In Korea, directly calling elders’ name is not allowed and I was certainly struggling to have a conversation with him without not knowing what to call him. What I wanted to deliver in this work is the clash between a desire of something and an incapability to do so. In the text says, I want to call you but I don’t know what to call you.
Here, also there is my desire and its confusion. I found this confusion of desire a very neoliberal condition but also coming strongly from Korean culture. Obsessive stereotypes and ethics—it is an environment that you can easily follow the rule of the society with not knowing what to desire or your desire is, what you really desire. While preparing for the show this confused desire for the Other and how it functions in the realm of language was my biggest interest. I wanted to also see how the transformation happens from one language to the other. My mirror pieces on the wall are written in Korea describing certain desires can be said in a heterosexual relationship (the male in the relationship is always the older). The hand-written text on the mirror becomes an image, or pictogram that reflects the viewer. The titles of the work were the translation from Korean to English and the misunderstanding happens in this process. I would say, every translation is somehow transliteration.
Could you talk about your piece "Balls and Balloons", what were some of the challenges of making it?
I made this work when I was doing a residency in Athens. When I went there I had a different idea of work in my mind but being there really made me stop focusing on what I was thinking before, or my usual interest. Two major observations in Athens were the juggler boy on the street who was juggling almost every day in front of my flat and the guys walking around the street selling cartoon character balloons. I thought they are the images of the symptom of labour and dreamlike capitalism mixed together. I decided to go to talk to the juggler rather than only seeing him from a distance and listening stories of him from people. With the balloon seller, I spent 50 Euros to buy all the balloons and I walked around the city instead of him. It was like I gave him a day off and I did his job instead, but not getting paid but paying to be a balloon seller. Those two were documented each as a video work and presented with the text on the wall and sound which is a translation of English into Greek.
To make this installation, the conversation with the juggler was the most challenging part. I have been seeing him around so I had my own version/imagination of him, such as what he might say, and also I was afraid of rejection from him to speak to me. However, the conversation was somehow magical; I asked him if I can buy his juggling balls and he seemed confused about this suggestion. Throughout the conversation, we ended up going to buy new balls for an exchange; so, he gave me his old balls and I gave him new balls that I bought for 3 Euros. I felt emotional and the feeling was complicated. Our encounter of meeting each other in Athens happened by both of us coming from different places for different reasons.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
Since I graduated from Goldsmiths I didn’t have a studio and I thought I can spend my money on getting equipment instead of spending money to get a studio. It will be definitely nice to have a studio and I really miss sharing a space with other artists and having an occasional chat. But instead of having a studio that I can only go two days a week, I decided to be more self-organised to meet my fellow artists and use my home as a studio. I would need to have a studio if I make sizable objects or need an environment can be messy, but work that I am making is mostly on the desk or with the equipment that I have. I made a sketch for my mirror work in my ex-boyfriend’s bathroom because he has a good shower with a big mirror. For making the actual object, I paid laser cut company to make it. But I do wonder, my practice will change differently if I have a studio space. To make living I work in a café as a barista since I graduated and sometimes ideas come while I am work. Seeing people living and talking, being busy. I am always curious about what other people are thinking or behaving and how they became who they are now.
How do you go about naming your work?
Most of my ideas comes when I am daydreaming or travelling somewhere, even when I am extremely bored. In those moments, I make memos and think again another time when the moment of excitement to have a new idea is gone. I write ideas, words and sentences on post-it notes and put it on the wall and see which one will feels like it can be somehow represented me or my work. When it comes to the title, I try to choose simple titles that do not givie too much information about my work or tending to sound clever. Often titles can limit the interpretation of the work. The title can drag enough curiosity to make people to get interested in, but not too puzzled or simple.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Recently I went to Glasgow International and saw much art quite intensely. Work that I keep thinking about is Mark Leckey’s installation called ‘Nobodaddy’ at Tramway. I like the idea of the biblical figure, Job, enlarged with many holes in his body, it is a sculpture but also Leckey’s voice has been played from it, and there is a video projection that mirrors the sculpture. The voice was occupying the whole space, and it is like a sound of god, but the sound from no body. I enjoyed the comparison between Job as a suffering figure but it resembles the Rodin’s Thinker but Job’s thought is playing out loud so we can hear what he is thinking. The sense of transformation from the voice of an artist into this figure telling a broken narrative, constant reflection of outer self and inner self. Broken reality comes and goes… Another work I engaged was by Hardeep Pandhal at Kelvin Hall. There was a wall with many TV screens attached showing the student protest in 2010 for the tuition fee raise. I like the conflicts between people on the same side against the student fee rise but also the minor politics inside of the group. This complexity to have a political correctness or singular aim for something better. I guess both shows I find interesting as they engage with their background and cultural identity, not only self-reflective way but with the humour, space and non-liner narrative.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Currently I am planning to shoot a short film about a story on painting, political and cultural identity. These mixtures can sound a bit arbitrary, but I am trying to link my personal background that I mentioned earlier as a painter but now working on more dematerialised medium. In this film, I am trying to make an English film as a Korean, and personally this idea excites me. Still I am a foreigner that cannot understand English culture fully but in this film, I am trying to combine the Korean conservatism into English culture. Such as English politeness and its ridiculous side of it—you never entirely express what you think and there is always a bypass for it. However, in Korea, certain directness is often seen rude but also I found this is a good way to talk about our difference, uncomfortable feelings and varied viewpoints from each other. I am not saying this way is better or worse, but attempting to deliver these varied elements as a scripted story. I like the tension between these elements and painting as a main subject that narrates the story. The brief story-line is three middle age women debating over the ownership of the painting that is not famous and has no economic value. It is not really about the painting anymore or perhaps actually the painting has its own value. I am hoping to film in June and looking forward to something different than usual practice. Apart from this, I will be taking a part of Art Night event on self-defencing and group show in Brussels.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 30/5/18