“I like artworks that have sense of humour. In my daily life I am a very calm person though I am always seeking fun things for life. I do not express my feelings very well in real life. Art is a way to contain my playfulness.”
Interview by: Issey Scott
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I moved around quite often since I was a little boy. I was in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea when I entered an elementary school but left soon to go to Ottawa, Canada with my family. I spent three years there and then went to Seoul. Less than a year later, I moved again, back to Gyenggi-do. My first high school was in Geochang, South Korea, which was four hours distance from home that made me live in an accommodation, where ten students shared one room. However, after a year, I had to go to Geneva, Switzerland. I studied Mass Communication for my BA in Seoul, and then worked as a campaign planner and graphic designer in advertising companies for almost five years. Recently I lived in London for two years and graduated MA Sculpture programme at the Royal College of Art. At this moment, I am back in Seoul again! What a complicated story.
It is a dynamic history that it’s hard even for myself to remember all the years when it was and where I was in. However, I believe I was very fortunate to be able to live and study in such various environments. Sometimes it was challenging to adapt, but the good thing is that various experiences have kept me from being fixed in one particular culture. It always made me to see people’s behaviour curiously and not to simply take something as ‘normal’. Working in advertising firm had also driven me to doubt things. The world has an empathised truth and a hidden truth. That is what I learned through making advertisements. My background makes the world full of uncertainty on ways of seeing people and things happening around.
As your work is driven by an exploration of race, nationality and identity, and given that you have worked and practiced in many places around the world, have you noticed any changes in your art-making depending on your physical location?
Yes, the place where I am physically means a lot to me. Although I am always interested in identity issues, the power that pushes me to think about those issues is different depending on the place. When I worked in South Korea, I was interested in ways of seeing, in a more perceptual and geometric way. Questions like how the camera captures the world, how time is measured differently person by person are examples that I focused on in the past.
After I came to London, my practice was questioning and blurring boundaries such as culture, race and nationality that divide people into groups. Living in London for two years was a fantastic experience, however, it made me always nervous and sensitive. Being one of the majority and being a stranger is a totally different life. You always have to think before you behave when you are a stranger. You become naturally more observant as everything becomes unfamiliar. In South Korea, so many people look similar compared to people in London. Black hair, narrow range of height, predictable behaviours. I saw much more diverse human beings all around when I was in London. In South Korea, I never had to think about visa problems. I did not have to worry whether I can stay in the area or not. In London, I have to make myself a qualified person if I would like to stay longer. Such new anxiety led me to think about the reason why we cannot easily choose places we want to live in.
What do you feel are the benefits and boundaries of using humour to question ideas on belonging and identity?
I believe humour is a powerful tool for any kind of arts including films, music, performance, and more. I like artworks that have sense of humour. In my daily life I am a very calm person though I am always seeking fun things for life. I do not express my feelings very well in real life. Art is a way to contain my playfulness. The strongest benefit of humour in an artwork is that it relaxes the audience’s tension a little. It makes the audience easier to come a step closer to the artwork. I do have serious attitude of questioning ideas on belonging and identity however not dying to know the correct answer right away. I do not want to make the audience so serious and uncomfortable unless my work truly has that intent. The boundaries, of course, exist. When I am talking about belonging and identity, it is crucial not to make certain audience feel offensive. Not everyone would like my work but I still try to be very careful and make acceptable range of humour. Sometimes humour makes artworks weaker in terms of delivering messages. I think the range of humour should be determined by my position and attitude.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I usually stay at home in mornings and go to my studio and work there during afternoons and evenings. I share a studio with my colleague, also a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art. The studio is like a small square white space. There are many clothes companies in the same building. As my colleague is a painter, there are many paintings all over the studio and they always inspire me. At a corner I have some books and printouts that I want to remember and to get inspired by. I also have two lights so I can simply make the space to a mini photograph studio when needed. Many portraits including self-portrait photographs are necessary for my recent practice so I always have my camera and laptop prepared beside me. Editing photographs covers almost half of my time in the studio.
Searching and making my own work is the main thing, but meanwhile I also talk to my colleague continuously about each other’s work. We share thoughts and search other artists for reference once a week, and then have time for criticising works of ourselves. We also collaborate making new artworks that have something to do with the UK as we shared our time there.
How do you go about naming your work?
I usually post titles later, like when I really need them. Asking colleagues who have seen my work in progress from the beginning is another good option. Sometimes others can have better opinion than myself because they are not as excited as I am about the work. Calmness is advantageous to decide important things. My recent work INVASION was also titled by one of my colleagues. About a year passed since the series got the title and I am pretty satisfied about it. The word invasion is strong itself however has a possibility to be understood in many different directions. I like not too long, not too expressive, not too much information titles.
For individual works in this series, I title them with numbers, normally in the order I make them. So it goes like Invasion no.1, Invasion no.2, …. I would have a list, rather than writing them as a title, of the original images that I have borrowed. I had a few exhibitions showing this series and I noticed that people like to recognise what kind of images they are without being told.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
The most recent exhibition I went to was PARALLEL by Simon Morley at Hanmi Gallery, Seoul. I learned that the artist is from the UK who lives near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The painted parallel lines were the metaphor for the military demarcation line between South and North Korea. Although I did not know the artist well, it really felt strange to see a British artist who lives in South Korea showing artworks that are related to historical and political issues of Korea. Since I was imagining myself in British and western history for INVASION, Simon Morley’s works showed the opposite situation which I could not really imagine before. Even though I did not know him well, I felt we were connected. This kind of feeling is a gift you can get when going to exhibitions.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
My alternative selection of INVASION is showing at citizenM Tower of London at the moment. It will be there until late January I hope. At the same time there is a group show going on in Gimpo, South Korea. I will be having solo exhibitions continuously, one in Seoul on February and one in London after Easter. 2019 is going to be one of the busiest years in my life. I cannot wait to figure out how I would feel when I come back to London. Surrounded by other people, different streets, different buildings, different air changes my sights and thoughts, and I love that feeling like being overthrown.
All images are courtesy of the artist
Date of publication: 21/01/19