Web Gallery: Keun Young Park


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by Trong Nguyen

Trong G. Nguyen is an artist and curator based in New York. He has exhibited nationally and internationally in both solo and group exhibitions, including Sequences 2006 (Iceland), 9th Havana Biennial (Cuba), and Performa 05 (New York). Two years ago he established New General Catalog, an alternative exhibition space in Brooklyn. He has guest-curated shows at other galleries, including Kinz Tillou + Feigen, PH Gallery, Zabriskie Gallery, and others. Nguyen also serves on the Fashion in Film Festival advisory board and NYFA benefit committee, and has received grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Harvestworks, and Puffin Foundation. For more information, visit www.newgeneralcatalog.com

TN: Your new mosaic works on paper contend with strictly self-portraits. Why?

KYP: It is existential, and I have doubts about existence because I think that everything changes continuously - being generated or being destroyed. This is the main concept for my work. The process of deconstruction or recomposition of myself is only the starting point to explore this subject. I am especially interested in the "human being," and so my own image stands in for a "universal" human portrait.

TN: Your earlier resin sculptures were also self-portraits, in similarly austere poses and fragmented. Do you place any value or meaning in this physical fragmentation?

KYP: I intend to show the opposite sides of existence. For my work, fragmentation is a significant way to show presence and absence at the same time. In my sculptural work, I want to similarly show positive and negative form at the same time.

TN: Why tear the photographs to make your mosaics instead of cutting with a pair of scissors?

KYP: I think that tearing is more fit for being destroyed than cutting. And I want a rough edge by tearing. Those liberal edges make the image look agitated and "movable."

TN: Birds are also a common theme in your work. In "Flying Bird" (2006), one sees a small blue-feathered one collaged on wallpaper through a magnifying glass. What is the symbolic value of these creatures, which also happen to be an ominous black color in the new work?

KYP: In "Flying Bird", the bird looks like it might fly through the magnifying glass as it moves with the pendulum. The pendulum represents the continuous and passive movement of the creature until its time - that belongs to it - is over. Birds are substitutes for humans in my work. In the mosaic work, birds can also be an inner ego. And black implies that birds are themselves in another dimension.

TN: Black also implies death, and I suppose that relates to the passing of time as well. Where does mortality fit into all of this, or am I mistaken?

KYP: You are right. Another dimension means over the reality of life and it can be in the space where death and mortality reside. Death and mortality were the first departure of my work and the basis of my point of view. So I think that birds can also stand for temporality in my work.

TN: In earlier works like "Spaces" and "Here," you are working with installation work specific to architecture. What is architecture's relationship to the new mosaics?

KYP: Those installation works take different forms from other figurative work. That installation work is made by building the fragment of an architecture. The surface has brick patterns and is covered with glass. When a viewer stands in front of it, their reflection is mixed with the brick surface. These works speak about the ambiguity of reality. I am not sure how exactly these installations relate to the mosaic work but I think that they come from a conceptually similar place.

TN: Yes, but one can also say that people are "architectural" and structural. The torn sheets of paper themselves are "bricks", and making a mosaic is like laying down bricks for a building, no? Like the architectural works, part of the concept in the mosaics seems to be about destroying and building.

KYP: I think that it can be. Actually, I didn't intend it relating to the installation work. However, I know that I tend to build some figures or apply architectural imagery. In mosaic works and sculptures, the austere pose is also a means to draw out the image of the building and think of it as monumental. Buildings has an unchangeable image connection. I want a contrast between the building image and the destroyed or distorted image. But it is true. My mosaic work is the process of destroying and also recomposing.

TN: Your heads are seen "dispersing" in several mosaics, including "Step 3." What significance is there to this "scatterbrain" visual?

KYP: For me, the head is a special part of the body. The head stands for human intellect and spirit, which is the message in this depiction. Scatterbrain can mean unlimited mental movement.

TN: Have you ever worked with these in multiple colors, beyond a monochrome palette?

KYP: Not yet. But I am planning to experiment with multiple colors in the near future.

TN: Who are a few contemporary artists whose work you admire, and why?

KYP: I admire Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter. I think that Chuck Close’s dotting method of painting influenced my work. I like the ability of his work to show opposite sides at the same time, through both photo-realism and abstraction. I can see this also as deconstruction and building, and it inspired me. I also admire Richter's painting. I think that his work shows the ambiguity of reality, and influence which I carry over into my own ideas and work.

TN: Why paper mosaics instead of ceramic?

KYP: In my work, tearing the photographs is one of the most important processes. That action relates to destroying. So the beginning of this mosaic work, I considered only tearing photographs and recomposing them. I didn't consider the genre of the work. To be honest, I just realized that my work could be mosaic or collage when people who saw my work told me about that connection.

TN: The larger mosaics are done in two sheets of paper, which are neatly cut by machine, in opposition to the way you tear the photographs. The multiple support paper further creates a sense of fragmentation. Why not use just one larger sheet of paper?

KYP: I think that it doesn't matter if the image was composed of several pieces of paper because I intentionally divide images. But I also think that it can disturb a viewer and I perhaps need to consider this more seriously.

TN: The work overall has a very serene, peaceful quality. Is this your way of escaping from the hustle and bustle of New York City?

KYP: I was born and raised in Seoul, the big city of Korea. So I am familiar with the city life in New York. I am not sure whether city life influenced my work or not. My work just projects the peaceful status that I can get whenever I remind myself about death and mortality. For me, death is the scariest thing but, at the same time, I can find peace and calm through it.

TN: You moved here about a year and a half ago, how has being in New York City affected or changed your work?

KYP: I don't think that New York city affected my work a lot. Even though, the material and dimension of work changed, my main concept is still the same. However, some conditions in New York changed my attitude for work. First year, I rented a small studio in Manhattan, and in that space, I could not make a sculpture as I did in Korea. So I turned around to find another way to work. I did drawing and various experiments for one year. And at that time, I noticed more things in New York itself. I think that at that period, I could escape from the notion that I must be a sculptor and I could be more open to diversity.