Web Gallery: Young-Nim Yoon


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I believe that Truth does not exist with only one aspect. Reality consists of positivity and negativity, light and dark, life and death. Through my work, I try to grasp these illusory moments so that a more complete picture of reality is possible.

Traces of Light, 2002

My paintings are bright. However, I always think about the darkness behind the brightness. My obsession with brightness in the paintings ironically came from my fear of darkness. For this reason, getting effects from light is an important aspect of my work. I often use a single color while making different direction strokes with my brush. The different direction brush strokes imbue the color with a mostly positive energy; the shadowy moments of negativity only appear when one shifts one’s point of view. Because of this method, my paintings are very subtle, and challenge the viewer’s eyes.

I use cadmium yellow light as a dominant color in this series. I feel that this yellow does more than just provide color and tone – it creates light. My work appears, at first glance, to be uniform cadmium yellow. Yet, as one surveys the canvas, one can see that reflection and shadow are part of the work. I want to get the luminosity from the inside of the paintings while capturing the coexisting darkness.

A bold and wide brush stroke gives my paintings their main structure. This contrasts with the subtle color palette. My brush stroke depicts the invisible but massive energy, both positive and negative, that flows around us.

Swivel, 2004

In my interactive installation, “Swivel,” I explore our ambivalence toward life and death. This is in contrast to my painting, in which I have always avoided direct expression of the darkness of life. However, in “Swivel,” I accept the idea that light and dark coexist in our everyday lives. According to Vietnamese philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh: if one has excellent gardener’s eyes, and saint’s eyes, one can see the trash through the roses, and one can see the roses through the trash. Each cannot exist without the other. The relationship between life and death is like the trash and the roses.

In “Swivel,” I have two videos that are about life and death. One video shows a school of red carp swimming in a pond accompanied by the sound of flowing water. The other video is a funeral ceremony for dead fish, which is accompanied by a low, heavy, humming sound. Choosing carp as my video subject has a special meaning for me because it relates to my family’s ancient myth. For more than one thousand years, the people of Yoon have believed that they are descendants of the carp.

In the space between two projection screens that face each other, I put two swiveling stools for viewers to sit on. When no one is sitting on the stools, the two screens are out of focus and there is no sound. If one or two chairs are activated, the two videos’ images immediately come into focus and sound is heard. Whichever stool the viewer sits in, the video and audio are opposite. When a viewer sits on the stool facing the live fish video, the viewer hears the sound of the funeral video coming from behind. By swiveling the stools, the two projected images mix and intersect with each other and the volume goes up and down. The two stools imply two different points of view, and act as mediators for life and death’s coexistence.


The idea of simultaneous opposites is one that will continue in my future work. I am also interested in combining drawing or painterly elements with new media for creating multi-sensory environments. I’ll end here with a famous story by the Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi, entitled Butterfly Dream:

One day at about sunset, Zhuangzi dozed off and dreamed that he turned into a butterfly. He flapped his wings and sure enough he was a butterfly. What a joyful feeling as he fluttered about; he completely forgot that he was Zhuangzi. Soon though, he realized that proud butterfly was really Zhuangzi who dreamed he was a butterfly, or was it a butterfly who dreamed he was Zhuangzi? Maybe Zhuangzi was the butterfly, and maybe the butterfly was Zhungzi!