We’ve had many people in the Creative Spotlight; artists, photographers, journalists, models and actors, but no one like this. Yong Joo Kim is a Jewelry designer and Metalsmither who has had formal training from Sook Myung Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. She holds a MFA from Rhode Island School of Design and has been crafting art ever since out of nontraditional materials. People who want to make a statement or who are artistic in nature might be her best customers. I sit down with Yong Joo Kim to discuss a variety of topics I can’t even begin to summarize here. See below to read one of the most personal and information interviews we’ve featured…
I usually don’t get too personal with interviews, but I must say…you are a fascinating person. After reading some of your stories, I was curious to see if after your ‘process of exploration,’ you are still in the phase of ﬁnding out about yourself, your work, and your surroundings?
Yong Joo: Yes. I think I am still in the phase of ﬁnding about my self. My journey into a new process of working has fundamentally changed my perspectives in life. The journey has only begun.
Is Rhode Island a good place for a creative? Being so close to New York, you never felt the need to be closer to a much larger art community?
Yong: I ﬁnished my graduate study in Providence, RI in 2009. At that time, I barely knew about Providence. I’ve only had two years to explore this place. It’s too short of a time to say whether Rhode lsland is a good place or not for a creative. But being a graduate student at RISD has allowed me to reinvent myself, to explore as much as I’d like. It has been a wonderful motivation to push and challenge myself. Before I moved to Providence, I had lived in NYC for 6 months. Even though it was a short period of time, I greatly enjoyed NYC. But I felt that there were too much distractions for me. Although it’s great having a large art community. I need a city that can help me focus on my work. : ) Since Providence is 3 hours away from New York, I can visit NYC whenever I have shows. This has been an advantage of being in Providence.
Do you have an obsessive/excessive pursuit of beauty within your jewelry/art?
Yong Joo: When I work on my project, I am not thinking that I want to make something beautiful. I am enjoying my explorative process. The process comes quite naturally for me, yet every action I take is highly intentional. But when I’m done, the outcome tends to embody a sense of aesthetic that I resonate with. I feel lucky that other people ﬁnd it beautiful, as well.
Do you believe that having an outsider perspective, having grown up in Korea, given you any advantages in acquiring an unique perspective approaching towards art?
Yong Joo: I think having an outsider perspective from Korea isn’t an advantage per se. I think what matter is that you put yourself in a place of deep contrast. Since I had experiences living in both Providence and Seoul, I was able to compare and understand what the difference is. This was an important key to reﬂecting on my life and my art work.
I think our life is like a train travel. As soon as we are born, we are put on a train which is headed somewhere unknown. However, if we want to see what kind of train we are on before we get to the ﬁnal destination, we need to get off the train at a rest stop for a moment. Then and only then will we be able to gain a perspective on what train we are on, where we have passed by, and where we may be headed to. In other words, it helps us become aware of our past and the present. Also the awareness of the past and the present works like a compass that allows us to guess where we may be headed in life, even though the future may be vague and uncertain. Changing my environment and culture has given me a moment to take a break, to get off at a rest stop. It has been a great opportunity to reﬂect on my history and life by stepping out of my familiar environment. I’ve been traveling so fast with the train, and never had a chance to really think about how I was living my life.
What makes forging objects made from precious metals such an arduous and difﬁcult task?
Yong Joo: When I was a junior in college, I had to create a fruit made of copper using my forging skills. I chose a pear. The ﬁnal object’s size was about 20-25 cm tall and wide. At that time, I was challenged by the sheer physical weight of the forging hammer. Also, repeating the hammering action for over ten thousand times to make the shape of the pear “perfect” was a truly tiring process. Not only that, I spent a long time ﬁling and sanding the copper, which made the task extra arduous. The physical challenge may have made the task arduous, but it wasn’t what made the task unenjoyable. I did not enjoy this process, because I saw it as something I had to do to get a good grade. I didn’t do it because I wanted to. I knew that my work was judged based solely on craftsmanship, and so I judged and valued my work based on how closely my production matched the design. A well-crafted pear meant nothing to me.
Is it more important for you to cater to an audience that has a niche interest in your work, or an audience whose traditional notions towards innovative art; limited, and thus wish to inspire them to take a new approach to how they see things?
Yong Joo: I think both audiences are important. What is important is that my work can spark wonder, discovery, tension, joy, and play in those that interact with it. I believe that moments of surprise can give us the motivation to wake up the next morning in search for more surprises. I hope I can reach out to and communicate with as many audiences as possible.
Do you ever unwind and watch Asian ﬁlms? Have any favorites?
Yong Joo: I have a memorable movie that I watched last year titled “Air Doll: Kûki ningyô (original title)”. Nozomi said in the movie, “It seems like life is constructed in a way that no one can fulﬁll it alone.” This ﬁlm made me think of the idea that everyone is empty at their core. Also, this ﬁlm questions the idea of what it means to be human. What it means to be special, and what it means to be substituted. I think we are all very special and unique. However, we can’t be special to everyone. This seems to be our unavoidable fate. So I found the comparison between us and an air doll appropriate.
Could you explain your crafting process?
Yong Joo: For the past two years, my process has been to push the limitation of one material (Velcro) to create hundreds of complex forms. During this time, I noticed that this kind of exploratory process takes on a form similar to that of the evolutionary process found in nature. More specifically, there is a process called artificial selection, which describes intentional breeding for certain traits, or a combination of traits, by human. Within my working process, I use my judgment, aesthetic bias, and imagination to continuously choose and select specific traits of my chosen material to be further developed and accentuated. This becomes the foundational principle behind how new form develops in my work. The artificial selection is generally much faster than natural selection, and it has been fascinating to realize that even in a climate of such limited resources, infinite possibilities can be brought to fruition through this process. In this process I use simple craft methods such as cutting, twisting, bending, rolling, gathering, attaching, detaching, assembling, and accumulating. How I use these simple actions in the context of the search develops and informs the structure of the form I am making.
Would you recommend a creative to go to a formal college to further their career in this day & age?
Yong Joo: That’s a difﬁcult question. The advantage of a formal college is that we could study in depth our chosen ﬁeld. In order to do that, it requires that we need to have a motivation, passion and interest in that chosen ﬁeld.
However, the problem is that our students often enter school without knowing what they are interested in or what they want to do. I didn’t go to undergraduate school in the U.S so it is hard to comment on the education in the U.S. However, from my experience in Korea, competition was a major theme that stayed with me while I was a student. Me and my friends suffered a great deal of stress due to the competitive and rigorous college prep environment in order to enter to prestigious university. Because the majority of my peers believed that scoring high were the only way to gain recognition in society, my peers decided to choose their major based on standardized test scores and they didn’t know what they are really interested in. I saw many colleague and friends who felt lost because they were not interested in their major. These days, the majority of college students try so hard to attain qualiﬁcations in order to get a successful job before they graduate.
I believe that each individual life is unique and creative. However under the current education system where the middle and high school has been standardized, each individual often becomes uniformized. It is more important to ask yourself and ﬁnd out your true passion about what you are interested in, what you want to do with your life, and what you want to study,instead of wondering whether or not to go to college. When I came to study abroad at RISD, I had an opportunity to observe the freshman year students. I felt that a lot of them had great passion for their dream and had entered school with a lot of preparation. It was quite impressive. I think passion is a source of power that helps you overcome a lot of difﬁcult tasks and workloads. Without it I think it would be very difﬁcult to make it all the way through art school without becoming jaded or loosing interest.
Lastly, any advice for those looking to push boundaries in their own art?
Yong Joo: I remember a paragraph from a book called “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
[callout]For art students, losing the destination for the work goes by another name: Graduation. Ask any student: For how many before them was the Graduate Show the Terminal Show? When “The Critique” is the only validated destination for work made during the ﬁrst half-decade of an artist’s productive life, small wonder that attrition rates spiral when that path stops. If ninety- eight percent of our medical students were no longer practicing medicine ﬁve years after graduation, there would be a Senate investigation, yet that proportion of art majors are routinely consigned to an early professional death. Not many people continue making art when -abruptly -their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged. Could you?[/callout]
We need to maintain a ﬁrm belief and faith in ourselves in order not to give up our passion. When we keep doing what we love, I believe that is itself the very act of pushing the boundaries.
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