As it pertains to my art
Part 1: Blue Bell
Right now I am in New Jersey. About to turn 40 and contemplating my successes and failures thus far.
As a son of immigrants, we were consistently left to our lonesome. Because of this, my worst fear had always been to die alone. That is the reason I married relatively young, had kids relatively young and configured my life around the nuclear family.
My early foray into art was selling counterfeit dinosaur drawings to kids at school. I say they were counterfeit because I had either traced them or had my mother draw them. I obviously took the credit for them and don’t feel remorse for the 10 cents per picture I earned. Despite my lack of willingness to actually put pencil to paper, I had won ART STUDENT of the month the first year I arrived in the United States.
Growing up, the basement was a symbol of all that was possible. That’s where I spent the better half of my youth, practicing the drums, making music, playing with video taping techniques, making homemade music videos. It was my first studio. A space where I am obligated to create something. I would videotape myself playing the drums, pretending I was auditioning for Metallica and other times I would be dancing to 90s Kpop, dance moves I would memorize by watching concert videos rented from the neighborhood Korean video shop.
Saehan video, Suburban video, west coast video, blockbuster video, moooovies all made up the moving image experience of my childhood. I’m not sure how I would have survived suburban life without the infinite source of video consumption these stores provided.
I was and always will be a visual person. My mother took me to a camera shop in Chestnut Hill and bought me a Canon Rebel. I took it everywhere and shot constantly. A friend of my dad who happened to be a wedding photographer told me I needed better equipment if I was going to ever take “real” photos, but I questioned how “real” his wedding portraits were. It’s with this chip I took photography classes in high school. My teacher kicked me out of class when I printed a photograph of my brother on top of my 84 BMW with a bb gun to his head. For me, it was about boredom, being stuck in suburbia but my teacher would not understand. I slammed the door on my way out, telling her to FUCK HERSELF as I left.
During TV Lab Class, a friend showed me “A Clockwork Orange.” It was the milk bar scene where I was kind of taken back, it was something I had never seen up to that point. I had never heard of Stanley Kubrick and this one scene, the composition of the shot, the camera movement, exploded my interest in filmmaking.
I applied to 3 schools I knew I would get into that had a film program. With my gpa being 2.7, my options weren’t so great. Pratt Institute was the school I was most interested in. It was in Brooklyn and that was all that mattered. I didn’t know it was an art school and was dumbfounded when they asked me for a portfolio. Like most of my brilliant works up until that point, I had taken a portrait my mother drew of me and submitted that as my “self-portrait” along with a few videos and computer graphic images I had made during school. It was a half-assed attempt into art school but I think Pratt at that point was accepting anyone they could find to fill up their Film/Video program.
Part 2: New York City
I vividly remember arriving at the Pantas dormitory in Brooklyn. I wore black slacks and a white button down. Apparently, my image of how an artist should dress was similar to how someone would dress for Sunday church service. I had wanted to reinvent myself. In high school I was a bit reserved. In New York, I was trying to figure out who and what an artist should be, but for the most part, I was trying to enjoy myself.
A video artist Julia Hayward, who I had my first two years at Pratt was a fan of whatever I made. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would be a big influencer of how I would develop. She showed us a lot of videos. If I had taken myself a little more seriously early on, it would have been helpful in my maturation but I didn’t. I had the nihilist belief that everything was meaningless.
At this point it was my pursuit to be a filmmaker. I didn’t know what a video artist was, the studio life didn’t interest me, nor did artists lives. It was always a love of cinema and story telling that lured me to create but it was a constant contradiction for me.
After graduating, I didn’t have the luxury of time. I would need to get a job. My parents were going through financial troubles and if I didn’t want to move back to Philadelphia, I would need to get a job. I interviewed at Banana Republic, Lionsgate, a generic dubbing house and Chinagraph. Much like the way I stumbled upon Pratt, I got the job as an apprentice editor at Chinagraph, after a sweaty jog across 19th street. I told them my perfect environment was in an editing studio.
It was working at a post-production house that influenced my found footage-edit approach to my videos. I was editing all day anyway, so I also worked on my videos. Even at this point, I was still trying to make conventional narratives. Even with this found footage approach, my main goal was to tell stories. I would make videos, and put them online. There were only a handful of websites since the internet was relatively new then, in terms of how people consumed it. I hardly checked my email, we didn’t have social media, the news was still read on papers and magazines, there were no streaming services, music was played off of CDs, the internet was just a portal for porn and celebrity gossip. It was through a video art portal, (videoart.net or perpetualartmachine.com) that I started to receive calls to show my work. I consistently tried to create works with narratives and wanted to show in traditional theaters but most of the places that wanted to show my videos were galleries and art shows. I made videos, uploaded them online, got contacted, maybe do a show and start all over. It was never for money, I never got paid, but it satisfied just enough of my ego to make me want to make more videos. I was interviewed by an NYU student for his class project and at a certain point, I had to turn down shows. I was starting to feel like I could soon become famous.
I was going to show myself how serious I was and in 2006, I quit the job I worked so hard to get. With no savings and a 1200 rental apartment, I was going to be a full-time artist.
I quit my job so I can write my first screenplay and see where it takes me. I made money by selling odd things at the flea market, things that I cherry picked at my parents thrift shop down in Norristown, Pennsylvania. I wrote as soon as I got up. Went to the east village, hung around Kims Video, watched a film and wrote some more. My day started at 7 or 8am and ended at 12 midnight. It was probably the longest stretch of time I could possible give myself, and during this time, I had churned out 3 feature length scripts, hundreds of short writings, poems, songs, stories, rap lyrics, free-writing, thousands of notes and misc scribbles.
The first screenplay was called “Destruction of a Human Mind.” I visualized it in the style of a 50’s educational video. Devon was the main character, who is struggling to investigate the murder of his wife, only to discover that the events that he thought had happened, was created in his mind; unraveling a series of schizophrenic sequences and as a whole, deals with mental health.”
The second script was titled “Human all too Human,” named after the Nietzche book of the same title. Its premise is based off of a Korean folk tale where the protagonist revisits his father’s hometown after his death. Dealing with his own past and the passing of his father, the town becomes a source for discovery and ultimately, his death.
The third screenplay, with its now forgotten title was a road-trip-esque story, where the main character travels from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to find his mother who had been abducted by extraterrestrials. Only that she wasn’t.
I had started on a fourth screenplay called “452 days of masturbation” but had only finished the treatment.
All my writings led to absolutely nothing. The scripts sit on my laptop unfulfilled but my random writings served as practice for maybe later works. I absorbed an incredible amount of videos and burnt myself out on avant garde cinema. During 2006, I did manage to have several shows abroad and surprisingly had a retrospective show at Centro per l'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, Italy.
Marriage and a need to prove to my mother-in-law that I could be a providing husband, I went back to full-time work, the same company that I left. It’s hard going back to where you started, and I don’t recommend anyone with ambition doing it. This includes moving back to your home-town, getting back together with an ex-girlfriend, and in my case, going back to your former employer. It didn’t take that long for me to leave the second time around. Hyeju (my wife) and I just had our first child, and I made it my duty to be a stay-at-home dad. We told ourselves this would be temporary until we figured out our next move.
Even while watching my son, its an artist’s nature to constantly create. Its a cycle or loop you can’t get out of. With my friend, we shot “A Beautiful Struggle.” I think the feeling was, we were in New York for about 9 years at that point. We had enough and both of us came from smaller towns. We wanted that escape and the film expressed that need to get away. I shot that film with a mini DV cam, using a baby stroller as a dolly and my son was in the stroller for better half of shooting that film. In the spirit of Dogma 95, the film was shot with only natural light and no other equipment other than a camera.
The frustrations of living in New York City had led me to move out. The living space, difficulty of commute, the population density, I needed a change. We had plans to move out to San Francisco, but I later realized that they were only my plans and mine alone. We moved down to Philadelphia and considered it a one year hiatus from real life before heading off to our next destination.
Part 3: Philadelphia
For a period of 4 months before we moved into our East Falls apartment, we stayed with my parents and my brother’s family. How we all fit in that house amazes me but we tried to make it work no matter how bad the idea was. The basement of this house is what I called the “Dungeon.” It would be my studio for the four months. In the “Dungeon,” I made two of my most important works up until that point. “Divine Nature of Mother” and also “Death by a 1000 Frames.” “Divine Nature” was well received, showed at Scope Basel, and “Death by a 1000 Frames” was shown in multiple shows as well. “Death by a 1000 Frames” was the first piece that fulfilled a concept, and where I created it with the intention of showing it in a gallery setting. It didn’t have a start or an end. It was a constant loop and the visuals would be secondary to the concept I had imagined for it. I’m not sure how I was able to create two of my favorite works in that same span of time but maybe the “Dungeon” provided the right environment.
When we moved to East Falls I had somewhat tried to fit into the Philadelphia art scene. I went to gallery shows, played my videos installations in small music venues and tried to develop creative relationships but eventually I took a leave from making any new works to focus on my newly opened store Goldmine Unlimited. I treated the shop as an art project. Putting on gallery shows, making promos and videos for the shop. But in hindsight, it seems all a little too amateurish. The store closed within a year, I had my second child and Hyeju quit her job. After a month of nursing our newborn, Hyeju fell into depression. She slept all day, was lethargic, emotionless and I didn’t know what to do. We hasted our move to Korea and left Philadelphia.
Part 4: Seoul
In Seoul, I was just about to turn 30. I had 2 kids, no job, Hyeju had depression and we were crammed into a small studio on top of my mother in law’s place. After months contacting old friends I had gotten a call from a producer asking me to come back to work in New York for a few months. I didn’t have other options at that point. I flew out to New York. It was painful, leaving my sick wife and family behind but we needed the money.
Back in New York, I couch surfed my way through the 3 months. I stayed with a childhood friend in Yonkers. I stayed with my cousin and his girlfriend on the upperwest near the Time Warner building but mostly I stayed with my friend Ryan, in Sunnyside Queens. I lived off of 2 for 5 sandwiches from Burger King and slept on his couch. During the day I worked and afterwards, we would make videos for the music he was making. I had a Hi8 camera that I thought was in working condition, only to later find out that it was defective, making the videos distorted, which we happily used as an in-camera effect. The result was the RAT music videos, a compilation of crushed images, on top of lo-fi recordings that worked so well together.
After three months of working I needed to be back home.
Back in Seoul, we had moved out of my mother in law’s top floor studio into a 3rd floor walkup, above a bar. We were only able to afford it with the help of my mother in law and we happily called it home. Hyeju’s depression had gone away. I had some savings from the work I did back in New York but most of it was spent on inventory for our new business. Hyeju thought that our vintage business would translate well in South Korea. I was just happy to see her motivated. So again, we had become entrepreneurs. The business was agonizingly slow in the beginning. We primarily sold to friends and family. We were ecstatic for our first online sale, a $20 ball jar. We had to borrow money to pay for gas bills and I would have to take the occasional freelance jobs editing to support ourselves while trying to get this business off the ground. It was a struggle. 2 kids, a new country, frustrated by the language, the customs, the financial situation, but as artists, we find ways to create. During this time, I made “We are all dead or soon will be.” Maybe I was telling myself that it’ll be okay, once we are dead. It was a hard time. We fought a lot and I probably thought about death a lot as well.
I met a friend, Jin. He was going through his own set of problems but we connected through soju and karaoke. I think he was attracted by my Americanism and my positivity. I feel this is a trait a lot of pessimist cling to, which makes me a magnet for self-doubters. We went on to make “A New Void.” He was the actor, going through depression, wanting to escape. This is a concept in most of my video work. Escaping the reality of loneliness. I asked Hyeju to pay for my equipment rental and gave her producer credits. My friend Ryan made the music and it was coming together of depressive minds. We all need to escape. We all wanted new realities and the realization of all this is that none of us see each other any more. We occasionally talk. But I haven’t heard from Jin in a long time. He came to visit me in the U.S in 2018 but I had to send him home after being overwhelmed with him staying with us.
The two years in Seoul was difficult. It was a cultural shock living abroad for the first time as well as being financially unwell. Our kids were both very young and both Hyeju and I had built up tensions that needed to be resolved before we could move on with our lives. We tried scaring each other with divorce requests and often placed blame on each other but eventually, we needed to work together. We decided to move to Gimpo and during this time, our business situation started to improve. We moved our business to an arts district in Paju.
Part 5: Paju
Heyri Art Village is a concept village comprised of artists and entrepreneurs that have creative backgrounds. Although that’s how it was originally conceptualized, currently its filled with cafes and fashion shops. It’s a tourist attraction, for people that want to get away for the weekend. The spot that we had our shop was sort of secluded from the main area. It had less foot traffic, quieter and the rent was cheaper. Our business did substantially better here. In the winter, the days were short and the nights long. Trying to figure out a creative balance, I took up sewing, but eventually started to paint. I turned the back of our store into my personal studio space.
A coffee roaster friend worked next to our shop and every morning the scent of his coffee beans seeped into our store. He had these picture frames that I took from him. I turned the 10 frames into paintings. I failed miserably in my foundation studies at Pratt, but I liked getting wet paint over my hands and the speed and motion I was able to create with my physical body. These 10 paintings became the foundation, starting point of my mixed media studio practice.
At the same friend’s coffee shop, I arranged an exhibition of my paintings and called it “HOPELESS ROMANTIC.” I priced each work at 100,000 won which is the equivalent of 90 usd. I invited some people from the neighborhood and the paintings sold out. None of it really good, and the buyers were all friends showing support, but it was enough of a boost that would let me know that I could call myself a working artist.
The next show was at a friend’s gallery. It was a failure in terms of turnout and only selling one piece of work, but it gave me the practice of filling up a space, unifying a theme and creating a body of work that I felt strongly towards. This show, “Idol Worship” included multiple paintings, but also my “cigarette cross” and a couple of video works that seemed to work well with the other 2 and 3 dimensional pieces.
Part 6: New Jersey
In the middle of 2016, we moved back to the United States, to a town next to Princeton, New Jersey. It was strategically picked for its location. An hour from New York and an hour from Philadelphia. It also had a good public education program for our kids. Like our shop in Paju, South Korea; the warehouse we rented for our business was used partially as my private studio. I packed furniture during the day and when the work was done, I would go into my corner and paint. I developed my technique, my use of mediums, and experimented with concept and scale. The “When We Were Young” show was the first to arise out of the works I did in that studio. In hindsight, it was a bad show. I loved the pace I worked, the emotion I poured into the works and the result of the paintings but the arrangement, the curation and the coming together of the show was not what I wanted. Nothing sold, no one saw it, but I did revisit my childhood. Since coming back home after a long stint overseas, it was something I needed to do.
I’m always uncertain about my work ethic. I constantly feel guilty about not spending enough time in the studio doing my work but my output has always been achieved with my pace and aggressiveness. A lot of my works were underdeveloped, but the ones that I was able to graduate further, despite the long time frame it took to get there, it eventually gets there. And I’m pretty certain of it.
Two years later our lease was up and we needed to downsize after starting construction on a building in South Korea. My apartment became my studio and during this time, I gave myself the storage closet of my veranda, locked myself in it for 2 hours each morning and used the restrictions of the space, of my movements and this disability created works that I would call “Morning Studies.” These were works based on shapes, colors and symbols. I eventually wanted to turn these into collages of oversized works but I have yet been able to move into a proper studio to develop these studies into what I had envisioned.
The confinement of a home studio encouraged the use of mundane objects,(sneakers, cardboard) normal situations (plastic bags filled with air hanging from the ceiling) and the subtle intricacies of what should or shouldn’t be considered art. I freely built up my use of symbols and experimented with concepts that needed to be realized.
With our business, we held quarterly shows which we called Open Markets. We based the model off of Art Basel and sold our vintage furniture for 4 days, four times throughout the year. Each show had a concept, but whether that concept was thoughtfully executed is debatable. I would incorporate my need to conceptualize through these Open Markets. “I Love You Too Much” was an installation for an Open Market show at the end of 2019. It was a 4 channel video installation, that was shot during our trip to Europe earlier that year. It played with transparencies, colors and utilized a bit of lo tech animation.
During this same time, I had began talks to work with Gallery Yoho in Seoul, to do an exhibition in 2020 that would become “Odi et Amo” or “I Love / I Hate.” The thing I appreciate most about my work with Gallery Yoho was that it allowed me to materialize, all the concepts and work-in-progress mock ups I had done for the past 2-3 years. They took the time to consider every idea I babbled and along with my curator, put together the show during what would be the biggest Pandemic since the 1918 Influenza. The preparation took 6 months where I picked at my complexes, guilts and fears. By the end of the show, I was emotionally burned out, ready to move onto a happier emotion.
Where do I go from here is a question I often consider. What emotions do I need to deal with, what feelings do I need to extract? What am I capable of accomplishing and what do I feel excited about. These thoughts leave me tired most of the days but its only with these pressures, that I’m satisfied at all.
I’m packing up, getting ready to move into a new studio in April. I see myself in New Jersey, until my kids graduate to college. Then I’d probably spend half my time in Paju and half my time in the states somewhere. I’ve always considered California to be my final destination, but upstate New York has also been a default mid-life stop.
I guess we'll see.
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