JOO-HYUNG PARK’s unique works bring up conversations about “the one and only,” but the artist doesn’t limit herself to just one medium. She started out with metal craft but soon found wood to be right material to express herself. This was around the time she returned to Korea in 2012 after studying at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Royal College of Arts (RCA), and before her 2014 Moments, Pleasure II series known for the bold integration of wood and metal.
Upon the contemporary jewelry exhibition Contemplastic at Gallery Baum in 2015, JOO-HYUNG PARK said that she had “sought to produce accessories perfected through architectural precision based on meticulous measurements and planning,” but that she had found “an alternate possibility as an artist in the accidental beauty created in the process of melting down the time-consumed, perfectly finished objects and reconstructing them.” Something happened at that moment for her to start embracing experimental attempts, for until then, she had been content living inside strict guidelines. Maybe the change began at her very first studio, a small renovated warehouse space where she produced a self-portrait for the first time at her own will. Maybe it began with the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Jeweler series, in which a ring replaces with her faces in a series of her childhood pictures, or with the quirky cutlery works Moment, Pleasure I and Merging.
The topics of “moment” and “pleasure” brought up by the artist through her works, incorporating discontinued and rusty cutlery found in antique shops or at vintage markets, are interesting in that sense. Like the old saying, “A coalmine has to be dug out for the spoon to meet the mouth,” PARK’s works demonstrate moments of different cutlery at work before bringing the food into the mouth, highlighting the essential purpose of each piece of cutlery frozen in the moment of its utilization. The works are perfected when a user’s hand holds them, when the tool frozen in a moment serves as another tool. Even for someone who associates cutlery with survival, the tedium of working relentlessly to put food on the table, PARK’s cutlery evokes a shining memory hidden deep inside. She herself has experienced changes through the course of her storytelling—she came to leave some room for interpretation. She has now become lenient enough to say that it’s okay if the audience understands her intentions differently. She tries to refrain from imbuing her works with overreaching significance and tries to hear what people have to say as they approach her work with pure curiosity. She says that these could be moments when something new comes into play. The artist believes that inspiration isn’t far away—after all, all of her creations were born from her two hands, which she was born with. Looking at her rings, of which over an eighth is made up of negative space, one realizes that the beauty of emptiness evident in PARK’s works come from the presence of the much needed negative spaces.
What was the first work you did purely out of joy?
I enjoy repetitive labor such as knitting—knitting a simple color-block scarf with no intricate design. Among my works, there’s a self-portrait I made at my Buam-dong studio. It’s a collage made out of ripped-out magazine pieces, and it was the first work I did purely out of my own will, so I included it in my portfolio.
Your other self-portrait series, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Jeweler, is also interesting.
It was my graduate school project from 2012, a project exploring the theme of “tools.” I decided to use my hands, which are my most prominent tools, and to use materials that are meaningful to me. The idea was to make a ring for myself and make a hole in something using the ring. When I decided to put holes in my family pictures, filled with memories, I couldn’t void out anything else but my face. But I didn’t mind because what’s important is the happy memory, not my face.
You defined yourself as “an artist who uses hands as tools for communication” and you’ve gone through a lot of training in various metal techniques. Why did you decide to collect and recycle old and discontinued cutlery?
People who aren’t craftsmen don’t often have access to the tools used in metal craft. I didn’t think those tools would be interesting enough to talk about. I thought about which tools people could related to, apart from their hands, and I found cutlery. I wanted to give the old cutlery new functions as tools so that they can be used to create new memories.
Steinbeisser in Amsterdam opened an online shopping mall called Jouw to exhibit and sell experimental cutlery made by artists. Their cutlery introduces new methodologies for eating and stimulates the imagination. Many of your works are on sale as well. Steinbeisser, established in 2009, offers “experimental gastronomy” through collaborations with famous chefs and artists. All their dishes and drinks are vegetarian, and they use experimental tableware and utensils made by artists and designers. Their goal is to service a unique experience integrating high-end recipes and conceptual design works to present a fundamentally different way of enjoying food. I joined the project in 2012 through a collaboration work I did with a friend of mine from the RCA. I have to send them 55 new wooden spoons by August. I’m curious to see people’s reaction to the new works.
You hand-carve whole logs of wood. Are all your works made this way?
Yes. I’ve tried gluing wood pieces together but I didn’t like how the grain didn’t match up. I ended up covering those works up with lacquer. I plan to keep carving out whole logs as long as I have access to them. My favorite wood is bubinga, an African tree. It’s reddish in color and hard in quality. I mostly work with walnut, moabi, and red pine. Softer wood is easier to carve, but I don’t prefer them because they’re lighter in weight. They’re also lighter in color, which means that, unless you paint them with color first, they’ll just yield the boring varnish color in the end. Also, carving is no fun when it’s too easy.
The personal sauna, used as a lacquer cabinet, maintains up to 90 percent humidity, allowing for the lacquer to dry in just one day. The time it takes to dry lacquer varies dramatically depending on the season.
Why do you use lacquer? Do you have your own unique lacquer blend or formula?
I like the toned-down color after lacquering. Nowadays, I’m making color chips to keep digitized records of each color. I used to paint my pieces however I wanted, but then I couldn’t reproduce the colors later on. It would take more time and effort to completely quantify the formulas by chips because results vary depending on the humidity level and the speed of desiccation.
TEXT NAM-MI CHANG (Contents Director of magazine ARTMINE)
VOD Video Team of magazine ARTMINE
PHOTOGRAPHY JOO-YEON LEE
IMAGES OF THE ART WORKS © PARK JOO HYUNG – ARTMINING, SEOUL, 2018
PHOTO © ARTMINING – magazine ARTMINE / JOO-YEON LEE