Interview with Hyunsuk Kim
Conducted by Lauran Bonilla*
Hyunsuk Kim's work explores identity — identity of the artist, identity
of the work itself, identity of the past and present, and identity of numerous
selves. The following is an edited version of an interview conducted between
the artists and Smarts Gallery Writer Lauran Bonilla on October 17, 2005, in
preparation for the Cognitive Being show.
Lauren Bonilla: I have read what you have written about your art. You
speak of it in a metaphysical manner. Can you describe the relationship you
have to your work?
Hyunsuk Kim: My work is a separate entity from myself, and
I respect it as such. Once it is done, it exists independently and can grow
and develop in people’s mind. I feel that I must give my work a chance
to be seen by as many people as possible. I never think of my work as a product.
It is possible that I am the product of the work that I am creating. For example,
my animations are independent of me, but we depend on each other. Without the
work I can’t call myself an artist. The work shapes me, makes me who I
LB: In general, what kind of an artist would you consider yourself?
HK: I never ask myself what kind of artist I am. I think
that everyone in the world is an artist because I really believe that in order
to exist we have to create ourselves every day, every second. Making art is
merely an extension of that self creation that I do everyday.
LB: We spoke earlier of your sense of misplacement, how does it affect
HK: Displacement, misplacement. I feel that I often misplace
thoughts to other thoughts that don’t quite fit together. I create new
relationships between thoughts, which some people find interesting.
LB: Can you give me an example?
HK: Well, walking in the street one day I saw buildings,
and then my brain thought that the windows were singing opera to me. This became
an image that I used in ManHang of a building that has windows which are really
mouths singing. Such ideas are not always unique, but people don’t always
realize they think or feel the same about those misplaced thoughts. We have
them within, deeper thoughts that we don’t always listen to.
LB: You mentioned that you studied philosophy in Seoul, what philosophy
influences you today?
HK: Buddhist thought. It explains how the universe is correlated.
There is no such thing as substance, and because of this, we are all related
to each other. There is emptiness or vacancy within the self. There is no such
thing as identity either. Buddhism influenced twentieth century philosophy in
general, even psychology. Today, and as I grow older, I think about this stuff
more. I became a witness to the emptiness and vacancies that Buddhism talks
about through personal experience.
LB: Was this when you arrived in New York?
HK: No, I was actually more vulnerable to it in Korea, where
I often felt like an outsider. There, people are not supposed to take their
own path, they are supposed to continue the traditional path that has been set
and kept for so long. I was always thinking about being different, and I thought
that was what makes me different from others. My weakness was in reality their
weakness as well, my non-conformity and their inability to accept it.
LB: Tell me about Dia-Monologue.
HK: It is me talking to myself about me. There isn’t
a storyline, though there is a flow. Basically it is what I was thinking while
I was at SVA. At one point I was depressed and desperate because I didn’t
know what I was doing. So this comes from that experience. At that time I hoped
that there was a separate me inside that would come out to help me. I knew no
one else would. The other main component is that I’m wearing a mask. The
image of my face is printed on the paper, so I wear a mask of my face on top
of my face.
LB: How did you develop this project?
HK: I came up with the idea when I was a freshman, and thought
it could be developed. As time went by I realized everyone is wearing a mask,
and that I wear one too. I started wondering what was beneath this mask. Is
there an actual face to me? Or is there something different. I started realizing
the function of the mask may be to consider what my own true feelings are. Sometimes
it is also a medium to express myself more, because it covers me, I can express
myself more freely.
LB: Besides what we have already spoken about, what else motivates
HK: The mystery of death. In the process of getting older
I think that death becomes more of a motivation than life. Dying is a process
of living in this world. We die a little everyday. Slowly. At some point we
have to go through the threshold of actually being and staying dead. The mystery
of knowing when I am going to die, and the emptiness of it, motivates me because
I want to know more about it, it’s a genuine curiosity. Not as a preparation
for death, but rather an interest in it. Partly, it is easier to think of that
than it is to think of how to live. Because I am alive death can be anything.
These thoughts are an integral part of who I am. A lot of times these thoughts
are the first thoughts that come into my mind when I wake up; it’s like
I am addicted to these thoughts. Basically, the idea for all of my work comes
from the tension between these thoughts of life and death. I often think of
the repetition of death, people have families, there are births and deaths,
the cycle is constant. My work is to be one with that cycle, not to break with
*Lauran Bonilla is currently in the Ph.D. Program for Art History at The
Graduate Center of City University of New York. She received her B.A from Barnard
College of Columbia University in Art History and Visual Arts. She has worked
at several museums and art institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art
(New York), the Museum of Costa Rican Art (Costa Rica), the Museum of Contemporary
Art & Design (Costa Rica), Christie's (New York), and The Drawing Center