When Selves Collide: In Conversation with Jinyoung Kim – Andrea Zeffiro

As a concept or theme, ‘self’ is sometimes taken at face value. One may try to infer meaning about an artist through their work, as though it can stand in for the individual. The more subtle and nuanced explorations of self are perhaps the most captivating. These moments reveal not only intimacies of the artist but also provoke self-reflection in the viewer. It’s this kind of mediation that unfastens meaning beyond the confines of any one self.

Cover photographer Jinyoung Kim’s work encompasses such an intercession. NMP spoke briefly with Kim about recent video and photography works, A Conversation and The Objects, and Onion and Objects on the Rooftop. These works are deeply personal and self-reflective, and yet through symbolic and metaphoric cues, Kim invites us to fuse our liminal self-identities with her own.

Andrea Zeffiro: A Conversation and The Objects are two of your more recent projects that hinge on explorations of self-identity. Before we delve further into this theme, can you speak about the works in general?

Jinyoung Kim: I produced The Objects while I was working on a solo exhibition called Genealogy of Stationary Objects in 2014. I shot the whole project at my grandparents’ place in South Korea, a place to which I attribute a lot of personal longing and meaning, probably a lot more [meaning] than if had I stayed in South Korea.

When working on this project, I had questions as to why we are so attached to the place we come from, perhaps more to the idea than the geographical location itself. It was also interesting to me how their house felt like the past, even though I was right there in the present, living and breathing with the house. I started feeling uneasy about seeing it only through my memory, and I think the project reflects the uneasiness of being a visitor to your own roots.

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In a way, I wanted to be portrayed as alien in that video; a stranger or an anonymous visitor who is unrelated to the objects she is handling, like a professional mover. There is a tension and mystery that the presence of this strange performer brings. I edited the video so that the performer is always caught in the middle of building something, moving an object from one place to another, repetitively and in loops. The effort is being exaggerated, and the labour feels more intense because the action does not stop over the duration of the video.

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The way she works feels absurd and aimless, and I identified myself with that absurdity, because working on the project seemed purposeless and dysfunctional in pragmatic terms, but I felt it was important to do. Also that repetitiveness paired with domestic objects evokes the habitual labour one does in daily life, which helps to build a sense of continuity and foundation that brings things into the present. I think the whole premise of the work was an effort to align the past to the present.

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A Conversation, similar to The Objects, is premised around an absurd task: reconstructing an onion by stitching it back together. It is a pointless task, but then the dialogue between the couple takes the audience to a profound set of questions about the passing of time and aging.

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I liked how the task allowed this conversation to happen, aside from the meaning that I was trying to imply with that action. When this happened, it opened up the moment to the past and the future, and that brought another layer to the work, rather than being seen as a documentation of the process. There is something cinematic about that piece that I took as an inspiration for my future projects that are in progress.

AZ: A Conversation and The Objects are both video works, and each has a companion photo series: Onion and Objects on the Rooftop, respectively. What is the relationship between the videos and photo series? How are the projects related?

JK:  I want to treat each of them as independently as possible. I’d like to believe that they function on their own without relying on their siblings all the time. The photographs function like monuments in this project. Each frame marks the resolution of a process. There is something final about the photographs, whereas The Objects is a lot more fluid and performative. I also think that having that mysterious performer in the project provides a point of view or a reference, like the voice of a narrator. I guess, with both The Objects and A Conversation, I thought of process itself as a potential stage for me to work with. I am not necessarily interested in showing the process, but in using it as a springboard to come out with something else in the end. Like a story to tell or a character to relate to.

AZ: What struck me about the video series is that both document a process. A Conversation centres on the process of peeling and reconstructing an onion, and The Objects depicts the process of (re)positioning objects on a rooftop. Why document these processes?

JK: I think most artists, when they are in production, try to generate as much material as they can. It is the case for me too, shooting and documenting everything in the process, so that I would have enough materials to play around with.

In these projects, the narrative of the process, the premise of how the work “becomes” counts as deciding aspects for what meanings it can generate. Since I started working this way, in which I would design and “perform” the task in order to come out with a result, I realized that what happens during the process is as interesting as the resulting artwork that is often finalized and static.

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I always feel trapped when I think about my work being so final like that, so I wanted to include something that feels progressive and fluid in the work. One way to open it up for me was to think about how I can choreograph my process with a creative direction. It is like giving a story or a plot to the process, directing the “behind the scenes” so the process also has its own art work that has a strong intentionality.

AZ: You’ve described the projects as having been conceived of as a metaphor for self-identity. From our discussion thus far, I get the sense that your exploration of self-identity hinges on the tension between your memories of yourself in the past and your sense of self in the present.

JK: Until now, the sense of fracture and dissonance that I feel about the past and the present have been a drive for my projects. I think through making work, I get a chance to redefine and articulate where I stand within that time. It has been about questioning the connection and disconnection between my present self as an artist, and my past self that only exists in memory, faded and powerless.

 

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I have this fantasy of a doppelganger, or a surrogate self living out there in Korea who is not an artist. She has perfect continuity in her life: familiarity with her surroundings and strong ties to her friends from her sophomore years and her extended family. She knows and abides the social values of Korean culture, shares their political and cultural ideals and way of life. I guess defining myself in reference to that doppelganger is a habit that I have developed over the years since I moved to Canada.

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This is not to say that I feel like I’m missing out on that life or that I wish I could be her. It is simply to say that I am aware of her existence in my mind, as a symbol of difference. It might be absurd to think that my projects are attempts to eliminate the distance to that parallel world that exists in my mind, but while I was moving around the objects on the rooftop of my grandparents’ house, I truly wished that my investing time into that action and objects would bridge a gap – fill the marks of absence that we left behind in that house.

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Jinyoung Kim is a visual artist based in Montreal. She holds a BFA from OCAD University in Toronto and an MFA from Concordia University. She has exhibited her work in Toronto and Montreal and recently showed at Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, at Lilian Rodriguez and at Espace Cercle Carré. Kim was shortlisted for the 2014 Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Award in Contemporary Art and has received the Roloff Benny Foundation Fellowship in Photography.

Andrea Zeffiro is a co-curator for NMP. For more see: andreazeffiro.com