Thursday, October 04, 2007

Art Space Talk: Minkyung Lee

We are pleased to announce that Minkyung Lee is one of the four winners of the NY, NY, Competition. She and the three other artists were chosen from a group of 50 finalists. The team would like to thank the jurors-- Jessica Morgan (Tate Modern), James Rondeau (Art Institute of Chicago), and Steven Zevitas (New American Paintings). We would also like to thank everyone who participated in the competition.

The work of Minkyung Lee must be viewed within the context of the complex relationship between identity and place. Minkyung focuses on her situation in relation to her surroundings and to the circumstances that are attributable to the spaces she encounters. Place-- which can be used as a both noun and verb, is about the situation, a process of involvement, and intuitive experience that Minkyung moves from one place to next.

Her photographs could theoretically be a kind of documentation that reveals segments of reality without interpretation. However, still sharing this attitude, her approach is to find a balance between the two extremes by uniting a authenticity with anonymity. In these places, she consciously removes the personal criteria of her social and cultural status, she becomes a nomad who does not leave traces. Minkyung took pictures of actual places that she had lived or passed by and made miniatures of those places. Her images are miniatures of those places.

The Temporal Moment- Foreign Home series, Digital Print

Brian Sherwin: Minkyung, you are one of the finalists of the NY, NY, Competition. How does it feel to know that the jurors-- Jessica Morgan (Tate Modern), James Rondeau (Art Institute of Chicago), and Steven Zevitas (New American Paintings) selected you as a winner? Where were you at when you found out? Also, why did you decide to enter the NY, NY, Competition in the first place? Did you feel lucky upon entering, so to speak?

Minkyung Lee: When Brian Skiba called me Wednesday morning, a holiday in Korea, I was on my way to observe Roni Horn’s show in Seoul. It was a mundane morning. Honestly, I felt as if I were in a dream when I got the call. Also, I couldn’t believe that the jurors, very big names in art world, really selected me. A mundane day turned into an unforgettable moment.

Three weeks ago one of my friends talked about MyArtSpace and mentioned the NY, NY, Competition. I was skeptical about the competition, because I applied to competitions thousands of times when I was a graduate student, and never had been selected for anything. At that time my friend told me, "It would be great if we became artists of 40 people in finals." I was persuaded after that. However, I never expected to be one of the four winners. This is a great surprise!

BS: Minkyung, you are an art instructor at Yeungnam University in Deagu, Korea. I understand that you earned you MFA degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Can you explain the difference between how art is instructed in Korea compared to the US... or is there a difference? Are there different viewpoints in Korea about art compared to what you found in the States? Also, would you mind telling us about the department you work in?

ML: I must first tell you that this is my own opinion. In Korea the art education system and curriculum are similar to those in United States. Before undergraduate school, Korean students are trained in basic drawing and painting intensively for a couple of years and that makes a difference. Upon becoming college students they have well-trained hands, but they are often slow to learn how to express their ideas with those skillful hands. In the United States it is different-- when I taught a basic drawing class, at the University of North Carolina, it seemed that most of students knew what they wanted to express even though they had some technical problems. Still at graduate school, one of most important things is the ability to talk about art works. In Korea, maybe it is due to a cultural difference, but graduate students are careful when speaking about the concepts in their artwork.

I teach a basic printmaking class in the Painting Department. The Painting Department is very much like studio art-- including basic photography, basic printmaking, drawing, painting, video, and installation. When teaching the technical course of printmaking I find that one-on-one discussions with students is the most important process in the class.

Hallway, 49 x 67 inches, Digital Print

BS: Why did you decide to travel in order to study art?

ML: I was born and raised in Daegu, a quiet and calm city. It was a good place to live. Because I lived in the same place with the same people for 23 years, I felt living was some kind of habit. I believed art was about the ideas of artists ideas and the story that came from their experience. To me, art is the way to understand oneself, people, and their issues through my experience. I felt limited experience restricted my expression in visual language so I decided to travel. It was good to travel in order to study art. Studying art in various places is the fun way to travel.

BS: Minkyung, before attending Cranbrook you worked as a printmaker and with a camera. After your studies you continued to work with traditional printmaking and with a camera... but you now utilize computers and other methods of artistic creation as well. How did your studies at Cranbrook influence this growth?

ML: I applied to many graduate schools in the United States. During that time I got a lot of reaction about how I was a poorly skilled printmaker and I was not even an amateur photographer. After spending a year at the University of North Carolina, I was accepted to Cranbrook.

During my first day in Michigan I went to the studios in my department and found out there was a big clean room next to the studios. For two years, in that clean room, 14 colleagues and I shared each other’s ideas and critiqued our works freely. In the Print Media Department, we did not care whether works were drawings, paintings, wall papers, fabric sculptures, videos, photos, digitally manipulated prints, or installations. We just talked about the work... what it was about, how it was interpreted. Two processes existed-- working and talking. Critiques allowed me to find out clear and accurate methods visually and conceptually,
Opened Door, 33 x 63 inches, Digital Print

BS: Minkyung, you took part in the Summer Residency program at the School of Visual Art, New York in 2005. How did that experience influence your visual language? What did you study while you were there? Also, who were your mentors at that time?

ML: That summer for the Residency at SVA was memorable due to the expensive dorm room and meeting Cindy Sherman. After the flight from Michigan to New York, I was squeezed into a tiny room crowded with a bed and a desk and spent my first night in New York. Honestly, I was not excited about being in the art Mecca. I was frustrated with the pressure to make good works.

After a couple of days in NY there were visiting artists’ studios planned by SVA. One of the artists was Cindy Sherman. As a person, she looked shy, but as an artist she was passionate. What I was impressed about was the fact that she didn’t have a fancy studio in Manhattan like most big artists. She instead worked in the attic of her house. It gave me an idea that a person was able to decide the use of a space... from there the space would determine a person’s role. After returning to my dorm room I started taking photos of my cleaned and occupied room. That was beginning of the miniature series I have worked with so far.

Judy Linn, a very thoughtful and experienced teacher, and Peter Garfield, a passionate man full of new ideas, were my mentors at that time. They always listened to my concepts with curiosity. They let me learn-- good mentors are good listeners.

BS: Minkyung, you have stated that your work has always been about the question of who we are and how we live. You have went on to say that your work is not just from the situation of being a Korean in America-- instead you focus your interest to know true identities beyond the concept of time, culture, society, country, and situation. Can you go into further detail about this philosophy?

ML: Basically my concept starts from the belief that all human beings live in temporal lives while they desire something more and something eternal. Also, I believe the desire would be the motive force for displacement. Some of my works are the images of dorm rooms, some are interiors of middle class home, and others are images of one bed room apartments. Most images are from my place and from Korean friends living in America that shows American style interior. Like me, they also moved from their home-town or country to a foreign place. Because of my limited choice for the images, there is a possibility that my works reflect the issues of social class, status, culture, certain country and situation. Essentially, the idea is about their displacement in foreign places. The images questions why they have to leave their home, what they are longing for, and what they want to search for in their present dwelling.
The Space for Everyone- Foreign Home series, 104 x 43 inches, Digital Print

BS: Tell us about your artistic process. How does your work get from point A to Point C, so to speak? I understand that you observe your work as a form of documentation-- can you go into further detail about that?

ML: First, I choose a place and take photos of component parts of the place, such as the ceiling, wall, carpet, floor, windows, furniture, and everything in the room. Then through the computer, I reduced the sizes and try to make it close to actual impression of the place. It is like an architect making a small model for his future planned building in a different order and it is the process of preserving the common moment of the room. I might not be able to bring everything to my miniature completely, but the purpose is reappearance of the place.

BS: Minkyung, you have stated the following, "These days I have worked with the notion that people including me who lives in post (maybe post-post) modernism era are all nomads and exiles."... can you go into further detail about that statement and how it is of importance to your work?

ML: In this era, it is believed there is no absolute truth or unchangeable concept. In the theory of knowledge from Buddhism or modern philosophy from western society, the essence might be the changeable personal experience. For example, the monitor I have been watching is not a monitor but something I have known that is a monitor. In this absence of absoluteness, the lives that people have can be temporal and instant. Like the lost orphan, people would desire to search for essential truth.

As temporal beings in limited time, the human being’s searching could be endless and lonely like a nomad, who carries every personal belongings and a small tent instead of a stable home. In this notion, nomads and exiles that I have mentioned are not political and social terms but the definition in the mental and spiritual part.

BS: Minkyung, tell us more about your Room series. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts behind this series?

ML: A room is a restricted space with limited time in my definition. Also, when a room is an empty space, it reflects perfect anonymity. Then while it is occupied, it conveys the owner’s identity. The room can be the life itself, or the person’s identity.
Father's Room, 42.5 x 35, Digital Print

BS: What kind of equipment do you use in your work?

ML: My equipment is not fancy. My cameras are Nikon 801 and 70s and a Nikon Coolscan 5000 film scanner. Sometimes I use a Cannon IXUS for fun. I make small drawings of the places before I actually take photos.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Also, do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

ML: These days I have worked on the ‘Foreign Home’ project. Some of my friends moved out from their home countries or states and live in new places. I interviewed them about why they left and asked them to take some photos of their home. I have been working with the images they have sent. The group show for young artists is opening in October 9th in Deagu. I have two solo shows starts December 13rd and January 23rd, 2008.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the art world?

ML: For now that is all. I am more than happy to have this precious opportunity to talk about my works. Thank you.
Thank you reading my interview with Minkyung Lee. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Matt said...

Way to go Mink!!!

A huge hi-five from Cullen and me. We miss you,

Matt Shlian

Anonymous said...

Hey Min, Great to see your work getting recognized! Keep in touch. Peter Garfield