What did Snow White desire?: Interview with Jung Jin
Jan 14, 2022
Jung Jin takes an interest in characters from fairy tales that everyone might have read in their childhood, and folktales including myths and fables. Rather than relying on a binary standard of good and evil to understand characters, the artist uses a concept of “desire” and focuses more on their behaviors and relations that they form with others. Jung believes that this is not only limited to fictional characters, as humans tend to behave in a way that they desire, eventually. Therefore, these fictional characters get along well with those who have harmonious desires with their own, and clash with others who don’t. Just like Aladdin whose desire was harmonized well with that of Genie’s, but Jafar’s desire was heading in the complete opposite direction.
The desire that Jung focuses on and the way she depicts it remind us of a theory from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Through the concept of “desiring-machines”, they saw desire not as a lack but as a force of creation and production. Jung, however, does not present desire as it is. Instead, she recombines multiple scenes or attaches seemingly unrelated scenes to a single screen. It is subtle and implicit. That is why it is hard to immediately understand the context of desire from her paintings. The characters from fairy tales in her works lure viewers with “familiarity” as they tend to unconsciously rely on it. This familiarity easily brings her works closer to viewers, but at the same time her works also give totally “unexpectant experiences” to the audiences, thereby allowing them to read hidden messages in her paintings as if they were solving puzzles by discovering secret hints.
On the last day of Voyager, we met Jung at New Spring Project, Seoul. She told eazel about desires centering around her works presented in the exhibition and shared her thoughts on painting which has a reputation for its highest authority in art history. It is also still beloved by many as one of the most familiar art media. On top of that, in a time when people are used to consuming short video contents that are no more than one, three or ten minutes, she told us the status of paintings as a genre that requires slow appreciation and its changing roles. In the interview, Jung spoke about how we sense and read the world as well as how she wants to bring those senses on her and share them with her audiences. As an artist who often imagines a vacuumed world where suddenly all senses disappear at the same time (as if putting on AirPods Pro with a noise cancellation mode) while walking down the street filled with all kinds of different noises each desire creates, Jung carries those paradoxical senses on the speedy diagonal lines and breathe life into lifeless scenes.
eazel: Let’s talk about two works from Voyager installed at the window in the exhibition space. Night with a Momentary Pause (2020) and The Night Recognizing a Sign (2020) were attached back-to-back and hung in front of the large window, thereby expanding line effects that are connected to the works to the window. Is there any special intention behind the installation? Also, we want to know the relations between the two works.
Jung: These two are from nine works that were presented at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul. The installation was titled Double Side In and Out (2021), and I picked them considering overall structural harmonization such as the unique installation space—inside and outside of the window, colors and movements of lines and so forth. There isn’t necessarily an intentional connection between the two narratives. When walking down the street we often encounter huge billboards covering whole buildings. But oftentimes, there is a moment when we feel like the buildings or structures disappear in the background, and only one large image is left. My contemplation of how to realize this experience onto paintings in our day-to-day life and how paintings could be expanded in daily lives has led me to this installation work. I have been thinking about installation utilizing spaces since last year, however it is a large-scale work requiring professional technicians such as computer programming and sheet design, so it is a challenging project to realize. But in this exhibition, with the great support from ONE AND J. +1, the installation of Double Side In and Out was smooth sailing.
eazel: Your works are based on painting, but it also seems like you are giving a lot of thoughts on using media and expansion of genres; we think that Double Side In and Out is an extension of this. Could you share your thoughts on the meaning that “paintings” carry in contemporary art?
Jung: Every painter is occasionally struck with a thought that they are behind the changing trends. More artworks are done with various media, and they are not limited to a single genre these days. Not only visual art, but mass media for the public also focus more on creating intense visual effects as well. So, as a painter, I've naturally got to think more of an attitude of appreciating paintings. Paintings should be appreciated over a generous amount of time, but unfortunately, this kind of attitude is disappearing somehow. When we think about it, no genre allows more autonomy to audiences as paintings do. In the case of films or video art, for example, viewers have no choice but to follow everything from story lines to a tempo of narrative development that producers have preset. However, audiences of paintings can choose their own ways and the length of time of seeing the artwork. Of course, it is true that paintings contain contemplation of artists, and the canvas represents them, but when artworks come out of studios and are presented to the audience, the ball is in the audience’s court, and I believe this own course of making a decision to appreciate artworks speaks volume about why visual arts exist in our lives.
eazel: Paper is a major medium in your paintings. Even though the material is paper, they sometimes feel like canvas paintings. Could you tell us why you have chosen paper? What does a paper, as a medium, mean to you?
Jung: Unlike canvas, paper that I use frequently fits well for expressing the sense of “permeation”. Canvas, of course, can express that, too, but not as freely and naturally as paper does. Also, tension that can be found from cut edge of paper and formativeness of cut-out figures are one of other reasons that I use paper in my works. Stories become more broadened and enriched than delivered through canvas. I do often get asked the question around my usage of paper as a medium, but it was only natural decision to make in order to make it possible to express what is intended. It is just like finding the right brush to express right brushstrokes and tone of colors.
eazel: Your audiences naturally recall familiar narratives such as Disney’s animation, Greek mythology, Aesop's Fables, and folk tales while encountering your works for the first time. However, if we intently look into them, your works are not a mere representation of the existing stories. Rather, they are more about cutting stories, attaching them together with seemingly unrelated stories, thereby creating new narratives. And maybe that is why the audiences who expect familiar characters or stories for your works unknowingly feel “uncomfortable” from looking at them. Is it intended?
Jung: While working on them, I was thinking it is inevitable that audiences feel uncomfortable, and I believe that the sense of discomfort could drive them to continuously search for images and appreciate the works. Narratives in my works are closer to implicit poems than novels. There are meanings hidden between vocabularies in implicit poems, and likewise, my paintings have important hidden elements in each layer of connected images. It could feel like a bit of work for the audience to predict these elements, but they can re-organize those at their own pace. A house that is often shown in my paintings is a prime example. Just the existence of this house in my paintings naturally leads audiences to imagine their own stories that are centered around the house. From the house that was designed to bring on Déjà vu, each viewer can start to create their own stories.
eazel: This question is a follow-up from the previous one. Although your paintings are based on familiar images and narratives, they bring tensions out of nowhere. Not only a scene of dark night, but a pastoral scene of broad daylight has that tension, and we believe one of the factors that create the unease is the lines with different directions and various levels of density that fills the works. What is the meaning and role of these lines?
Jung: I sometimes imagine the vacuumed status where every different noise that filled a city disappears, and it was very strange since it was unknown in the world that everything was filled already. So, I started to use the line effects in my works to visualize senses that fill people’s lives such as hearing and touch. Shapes of the lines fit the situation and surroundings, but sometimes they exist independently and have their own plasticity as they are.
eazel: We have read a review on the 2019 OCI Museum of Art Residency, Seoul, titled 'Adventurous Journey on the Boundaries: Review on Jung Jin's practice’ by a curator, Jeongyoon Choi, who wrote that “your work is about desire which is an engine of life, as well as conflict and struggle between desires”. Your works feature various characters. Are these characters the subjects of "life" that represent our lives now with "a desire, an engine of life"? We want to hear more about the characters and their meanings.
Jung: Whenever I see passionate people, I wonder what drives them. I believe "desire" is the comprehensive concept that can explain these energies that make them live, so I have been contemplating on how to visualize the desire with a rapid pace. While doing so, I found that lines are one of the solutions. I have imagined people’s relations over desire as two forces who desire the same thing, and I thought the relationships among characters in fairy tales are the perfect implicit representation of this. When we were little, we learned through reading stories how to recognize good and evil and were obviously told that we should live like good characters. However, I realized maybe the stories are not actually about good and evil but instead present the relations of two characters who just desire the same thing. That is why, rather than using these archetypes, I have placed these characters with a new angle centering around desire in my paintings, since I wanted to paint different stories hidden between stories we already know. This is also why I borrowed scenes from fairy tales that people barely remember. Those scenes create distances from familiar scenes and stories that come into the audience’s minds when thinking of certain fairy tales and at the same time it opens a possibility of reinterpretation of my paintings with different perspectives.
Jung Jin received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. from Seoul National University. She has held solo exhibitions What Happened? at Kumho Museum of Art (Seoul, 2020), Guard of the Clouds and Dromos at Artspace Loo (Seoul, 2018), Red in City at Gallery Dos (Seoul, 2015) and others. Participated in group exhibitions including Voyager at ONE AND J. +1 (Seoul, 2021), But please, go on at Suwon Museum of Art (Suwon, 2021), Young & Young Artist Project - Keep The Memory at Youngeun Museum of Art (Gyeonggi, 2021), 2020 CRE8TIVE Report at OCI Museum of Art (Seoul, 2020), and many more. Participated in the artist-in-residence program of Ujung Art Studio (Korea, 2014), OCI Museum of Art Residency (Korea, 2019), and Suwon Art Studio Pureunjidae Changjak Saemteo (Korea, 2020-2021). Work by the artist is held in museum collections in Korea, including Incheon Art Bank, Youngeun Museum of Art, and Ujung Art Center.
*This interview was part of the exhibition, Voyager at New Spring Project in Seoul from November 4-28, 2021, organized by ONE AND J. +1. This interview is one of the interviews with the three participating artists, and each will be published in an order during January 2022.