Young In Hong
Sewing, a minor practice
I have been trying to find a way that the notion of ‘equality’ could be questioned, and most importantly practised through art making.
Free-hand machine sewing with the machine stopped producing in Asia, which has generally been a female labour in Korea, is the key means to make my work. This skill not only carries gender signification, but also an idea of class division because the occupation is for low waged labourers. I learned the skill at Dongdaemun market district, while I was working together with the sewers there for a few months. I didn’t set out to learn sewing skills intentionally. I got to be interested in, because there was a huge market district in central Seoul where you could bump into these sewing ladies, capable of making you a cushion in 5 mins in front of you.
The experience recently led me to question why art institutions in Korea teach Western style skills of drawing, painting and sculpting for such a long time while not delivering education of culture specific and valuable skills available just outside the university. The sewers who taught me how to sew on the machine offered me to learn a life-long art skill, so I owe them a lot.
The practice of equality for me is then this – normalisation of minor practice, breaking prescribed normative divisions of labour.
Normalisation of minor practice can often be practised through the reversal of roles.
To perform equality more directly
Since 2012, I got to work in collaboration with performing artists. In 2014 I developed a performance that took the structure and logistics of flashmob. Since then I began working with the voluntary public. At that moment, I realised that what I couldn’t achieve through my textile works for a long time was immediately resolved; as soon as the body of the voluntary public appears in the gallery, the authority of the artist and the artwork is interrogated by the willing participants who hold the authority of my work.
When the voluntary participants come and work with me, I invite them to take part without filtering based on their art experience, often ending up working with someone from no- art backgrounds. However the will and passion they bring with them, allow me to let something innovative and unexpected happen.
Photo-scores: Re-writing a history that was written by the authoritative regimes, males and ‘South’ Koreans (not Koreans).
Korea was one of the poorest countries until miraculous economic growth was achieved. But this growth did not lead to equality. Freedom of art has been undervalued and oppressed until the very recent achievement of democracy. When I participated in Gwangju Biennale in 2014, one of the paintings was removed from the exhibition as the figure the painter satirically depicted was the then president, Geun-hye Park. My generation, who received their education in the 80s and 90s struggle to switch our perception subconsciously embedded in both our body and mind. We learned the history written by the authoritative regimes, male perspectives and by the ‘South’ Koreans (not Koreans). We were taught that North Koreans are our counter-part, and do not belong to ‘us’ in any sense. Even though over 30,000 North Korean deportees are living in the South right now, our perception cannot switch until we entirely accept the other people as part of ‘us’.
Now that we have more basic democratic rights, the issue is still one of how to achieve equality.
As an artist, I would like to find my own way of delegitimising history. I don’t think this task should rely on historians or politicians. History should be something open to the public, a narrative that could be re-written differently according to different individuals. Even non-historians should be able to take part in the process, not because of some kind of patriotism, but because we are living in a world where I and others are required to maintain our divisions, unless we, as individuals wake up and alert ourselves not to live by these barriers. We are guided – even when we do not want to – to think that what is mine is strictly mine and what is yours is strictly yours and that gender, race and class borders should be clearer than ever as a safe means to protect ourselves from the threatening other.
Since last year, I began developing ‘photo-scores’; a type of music scores that I develop based on historical archival photos.
These scores for me become a way history can be re-visited and re-interpreted and a means for sharing these reinterpretations with other people who are willing to be part of a process of change.