JINNIE:Among your works, I am most drawn to the installation at SINDOH Art Space combining Manifesto for Flower Drawing with the Collective Sensibility, 2013. Is there your personal story or significant meaning behind using flowers? According to your manifesto, number 10 indicates that your flower drawings are not made to sell for profit. Please share your reason behind it.
YOUNG IN: The flower to me is a kind of ‘problem point’. Because I see flowers as what stay on the edge between desire and possession. They resist complete possession because they die before long. For instance we know the story of 17th Century Dutch flower painting, where flowers were too expensive to possess even for the wealthy people, thus by painting them it was possible to extend their life permanently. Thus, when I draw flowers, I question what the artist desires to achieve through making art and what is desired from the work by the audience. It seems impossible that these two forces of desire should ever completely coincide. In this sense this lack of achievement mimics the impossible desire to permanently possess flowers. So the flower drawings address the impossibility of defining the purpose of art making itself. This idea is reinforced by me returning to this theme of conducting flower drawings repetitively throughout my working life as an artist.
In a slightly different way, we all know that flower paintings or drawings attract buyers. Thus when I deliberately comment that I do not make a profit from the flower drawings, I can deny the historically constructed agreement about what constitutes taste or value in art. Flowers here become an excuse for refusing the capital order associated with peoples’ taste and at the same time an excuse for me to enjoy the pure process of art making for as long as possible. Perhaps this enjoyment in turn contrasts the impermanence associated with the flowers and the futility of capital investments.
When I look at your works, I am very much impressed by the consistent elements found in your works; such as architectural space, line, color and more recently light. Your visual vocabularies embracing these elements create a transition from drawing to installation, seeing to experiencing. Can you explain more about this shift? How do you approach space within your work?
JINNIE:I have been interested in the triad of spatial relationships between the viewer and the work, between the work and the architecture, and between the works themselves within the white cube gallery space. Putting myself in the viewer’s position, I became consciously aware of these spatial relationships and how they influenced my perception and experience of the work. Blue Borders (2003) is a pivotal work – the two-dimensional pictorial space leaped into real space, inviting viewers into a new space created by my work. Since then I have been focused on the integration of the space to the point of blurring the lines between art and architecture. In Rivers (2014) a more overt yet deeper intervention takes place. It is a sculpture that interacts with the space both at physical and contextual levels.
YOUNG IN: You have a strong poetic sensibility that somehow transforms real life space into the fictional or even theatrical. In your work (Space in Space (2006), Shadow of Line (2006), In Passing (2007)), interestingly, images/patterns constructed with geometric elements remind me of a more biological procedure as they multiply and expand. Do you have personal experience/memory of any real spaces of such qualities? Do you think your perception of space is somewhat different from others?
JINNIE:I see things in patterns and colors. It is an intuitive process for me. As a child, I would sit at a corner of a room surrounded by piles of beautiful textiles brought to me by my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, both silk merchants to Japan and China by trade. For hours I would sit cutting countless shapes out of these exquisite silk fabrics. This experience – both visual and tactile – survived throughout the years. It has been reflected in my work as well.
In addition, I tend to visualize my surroundings at every level: from the bird’s eye view to the worm’s eye view. In my undergraduate years I was a biology major, and my favorite subject was dissection. The process of analyzing and observing the specimen from its outer layer, skin to the bone, and down to the cells in detail fostered my curiosity of discovering new worlds underneath the macro/microscopes. This background has helped me to deal with different layers involved in my work with great precision and subtlety.
YOUNG IN: In your recent installation Wave, light becomes one of the major elements. Could you talk more about the use of light and interaction between your work and spaces, especially, “in-between spaces” such as atriums?
JINNIE: Wave speaks to the impermanence of time interwoven with the past, present, and future. Light creates intangible, ephemeral shadow drawings in the atrium of the building – a passage, an in-between space that connects from the outside to the inside directing the flow of movement. My attraction to transit spaces stems from my peripatetic background, crossing borders of different cultures and languages. In this strange spatiotemporal zone where time and space is unaccounted for, and time travels both backwards and forwards, I explore the ever-evolving landscape of my mind.
Let’s talk about your new works, Burning Love and Let Us Dance that you are presenting at Plateau. As indicated in the title, Burning Love emphasizes the empowerment of teenage girls. With a click of button, their burning fervour ignited the candlelight vigil. Like a brush fire, their passionate desire led the massive march, sweeping across the streets of towering masculine power, marking the momentous moment in Korean history. Can you further explain your intention behind this piece? You have immortalized the subject by making it into an art object and brought it into the museum space where it can be re-contextualized. Can you elaborate your thoughts on it in relation to the other piece, Let Us Dance ?
YOUNG IN: This image of anti-US beef candle demonstration was not shown in mainstream media in May 2008 in Korea, but spread quickly on the Internet. My recent interest is with historical moments in time that has not been sufficiently explored. Through sewing, I try to transfer the collectively formed emotion onto the surface of the work, conveying the image from the virtual image of the Internet to the permanent image of the stitched surface. I also enlarge the image up to the point where details are unrecognised and thus a transformation of the image begins to occur.
As you said, this piece could be seen as the immortalisation of the subject or, more precisely, the immortalisation of the feeling behind the subject and even of the collective feeling behind that event itself. By the subject I am referring to an emerging collective subjectivity. Through the candle demonstration of 2008 young girls revealed themselves to be active political subjects, not passive ones as in the past. This was something in which inspired me to make Let Us Dance in parallel to Burning Love. The two pieces are strongly connected to each other, focusing on a significant historical event and the emotional associations it has had for people. As you said, like a brush fire, the passion of the people and, in particular, the school girls, swept through that day, supporting the hope for a fairer politics, a more ethical society and greater safeguarding of the safety and wellbeing of the people.
JINNIE:It seems to me that in Let Us Dance, you are trying to blur the boundary of art and social spaces/ “inside and outside” by using the popular idea of Flash Mob Dance to direct the teenage girls’ spontaneous dance performances at Plateau. Does the performance piece attempt to raise the level of consciousness within the institutional structure and the social hierarchy?
YOUNG IN: The boundary between art and social spaces has long been the focus of my interests. I often try to juxtapose the two contradictory systems of art and social spaces side by side, so that the boundary can seem to widen. This is slightly different to blurring the boundary, because the juxtaposition leads to an accidental outcome, whereas blurring the boundary carries a certain intention to combine the differences. When the teenage girls suddenly enter the museum, dance and leave without any official announcement or explanation, this may touch upon the issue of institutional structure. But more importantly it questions conventions regarding who has authority over art, since the completion of the artwork is in the hands of the teenage girls and their dance. The role of the artist is merely to offer the space and time for the girls to perform their dance. Thus the artist’s control over the artwork is minimal or, at least, reduced. I hope that this piece will draw attention to the fact that hierarchical authority in society or even the authority an artist has over his/her art often lacks this simple transparency and joyful power that these girls have.
To talk about the relationship between artist and art object, let’s go back to the ‘triad of spatial relationships’ that you mentioned earlier. In Rivers your role seems to find a convergence point between your work, space/architecture, the viewer and yourself. Yet, compared to your previous works, Rivers displays a more powerful presence that is physically challenging and psychologically inspiring. I am impressed by the fact that this piece dissolves a number of contradictory elements by creating an unusually elegant but simple structure – a soft shape formed by a strenuous force, implication of impermanence through a strong materiality, etc. Its unconventional way of employing space through temporality and materiality is interesting. Do you want to talk more about this?
JINNIE:Rivers brought intuition back into my studio practice. In the midst of model making, I was deeply immersed in creating countless waves through the sinuous gestures – the rhythmic flow of the arms and hands to perform an intimate dance with the paper strands. The inner strength lurking under malleability and elasticity of the material, the synthetic leather, metamorphoses into the colossal force through the installation performance. The time, physical and mental endeavors involved in this process are present in the sculpture. What is crucial is the intangible force and ephemeral energy resonating and flowing through each strand of Rivers, rather than its physical intervention of the architectural space. It is not about the form but the force of the sculpture. It is not about the contained energy but the fluid movement. It is no longer about the space but time. This reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci’s observation on rivers:
“In Rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”
In viewing from your recent works including Burning Love, Let Us Dance, Early Morning Prayer (2013), and This is Not Graffiti (2013) that you are attracted to the force and its exponentially multiplying energy behind the collective action associated with crowd or mob psychology. Can you share more of your interests in this powerful phenomenon in human behavior?
YOUNG IN: I have been interested in the potential, power and forces that develop from group subjectivity for a very long time. More recently, my interest has been directed more towards socio-political phenomena or the historical space and time embedded within collective memory. For instance, anarchical acts, collective action against oppressive power, collective consciousness based on religious belief etc. all represent certain coherent mind states beyond the possibility of explanation. But somehow, these states disclose the core identity of the particular society and context in which they occur, which is very intriguing to me. These collective states of mind can be both negative or positive, but affect is in itself a neutral force that can mobilise unexplored forces, which seems important.
It has been great to talk about our works, exchange ideas while preparing for the Spectrum-Spectrum exhibition, for the last question, I would like to ask about your next project. You said your next project is creating stage and costume designs for a contemporary opera. I think probably a more theatrical engagement between your work and the body of the performers will come about in many interesting ways. How does this relate to your previous works? Is theatricality considered to be important in your work and how?
JINNIE:I sincerely appreciate your invaluable time and thought provoking conversations. It has been a gratifying experience to get to your works in depth and your visionary mind.
Creating an opera space has long been a dream of mine. It is a culminating experience where multiple disciplines converge and collaborate in creating one night of performance. This opera, Cho Hee: Words and Beyond II, is based on the poems of Heo Nanseolheon (????), a 16th century female poet from the Joseon Dynasty. Lyrical, visual, contextual, and spatial are the poems, her world. I am intrigued to discover the architecture of her words in the visual language and its intimate relationship to the sound space.
There has always been a conscious awareness of the viewer as a participant, the accidental performer in my previous works. In Rivers, hidden from the viewers, the role of the performer has been given over to the artist and her installation team who perform the sequential dance in giving birth to the sculpture. The viewer becomes the observer, not the participant in Rivers. However in Cho Hee: Words and Beyond II, where there is a clear delineation between the performers and the audience, my focus is in the details of how the body, sound, and light move in sync like the way the wind stirs the leaves to dance and the rain causes ripples to form in the pond through a highly structured and choreographed platform.
In conjunction with the opera project, I am invited to have a solo show at the same concert hall, Muziekgebouw aant’ IJ. Inspired by Heo Nanseolheon’s life and poems, I will create an installation, Red Clouds, using the grand staircase connecting from the ground floor theater entrance to the second floor exhibition space. It is a landscape painting unfolding in real space – the spectator becomes the protagonist walking up the stairs of mountain contemplating in the recess of her mind.
(‘Jinnie Seo – Young In Hong’, In. Spectrum-Spectrum, Exhibition Catalogue 2014, PLATEAU, Seoul, p.84 -110)