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Today is not just another day: Interview with Sunkyung Ji

Eazel Magazine

Jan 21, 2022

Sunkyung Ji, 2. Pleasure (l), 16. Joy (m), Curiosity (r), ​​​all 2019, in Voyager at Newspring Project, Seoul
Acrylic spray on paper, paper collage
each 70 x 50 cm (27.6 x 19.7 in.)
Courtesy of the artist (Image courtesy of ONE AND J. +1, Seoul)


2. Pleasure (2019) by Sunkyung Ji is divided into two major sections. The upper side of her work in paper is colored with light purple, whereas the lower side is filled with red. The unstable figure painted with darker purple than the background is centered, and the shining lemon-colored outline is suffused like a halo behind saints in religious paintings. The red below is more vivid than the color in the upper side and a light-yellow-colored arc crosses the center of the red plane smoothly. This is how Ji expressed and colored 'pleasure'.


Each piece in the Emotion Drawing series (2019 - ) is titled with names of emotions but does not express universal or specific momentary emotions. In other words, 2. Pleasure does not represent “joy” that every humankind has, nor does it directly deliver the joyous feelings that include the present moment that the work is displayed in the exhibition, or the past, while producing the work. As Ji once said that she tried to visualize “numerous layers between emotions”, the Emotion Drawing series deals with complicated emotions that could not distinctively be categorized. Rather these emotions in the series could deepen or even fade over time and sometimes change into other emotions.


In Voyager, a group exhibition held at New Spring Project, Seoul, in November 2021, showed Ji‘s interest in intangible things that fill the inside of human beings. Where as BONUS LIFE, her other exhibition held in All Time Space in Seogyo-dong, Seoul showed every day’s layers that sprout and stimulate these intangibles, centeres around the artowkrs from the Emotion Drawings series. Referring to The Last, a poem by Yi Sang that starts its first sentence that reads “An apple has dropped. The Earth felt excruciating pain as it broke down. The Last.” She talked about a status afterward where no single spirit could arise after sensing stimulus with a whole body (“not a single spirit could not sprout”).


The artist who carefully looks into the inside through external stimuli that fill every moment of our lives has suggested that we, who are “alive” and living today, should consciously sense stimuli in life from surroundings that consist of “our” present. Even though we do not feel the excruciating pain of breaking down when a single apple drops, the least we can do is to look around and find out where this apple has dropped from.   



Installation view of Voyager at Newspring Project, Seoul
Image courtesy of ONE AND J. +1, Seoul


eazel: You went to Germany to study after receiving a B.A in Environmental Sculpture in Korea. What brought you to Germany, and how do experiences in Germany affect your current artwork? 


Ji: After my undergraduate study, I started to question myself whether sculpture that is based on a detailed plan of characteristics in materials and shapes is the best visual language for me since I’ve been inclined to spontaneous, intuitive, and theory-oriented works. I also wanted to have new experiences in a new place and to find my future direction of my works, so I decided to go to Germany where expressionism and philosophy prevail. One of the most interesting things I saw in Germany is that this society is fundamentally interested in and supports diversity. I even felt this when I was studying at school. Students in Germany have no fear and they are willing to choose new subjects and materials for their works. Since I was used to working on given themes, it was strange and even shocking to express various meanings derived from my daily lives through diverse materials. Classes that I took were freer and we had robust peer discussions and critics. At first, it was boring and tough to discuss works for as long as 6~8 hours, but I got used to sharing the working process and exchanging feedback. Eventually, I have learned that the whole process is an engine to develop my work inwardly and outwardly.


eazel: We want to know more about the “emergence of paper” in your works. Since 2019, you have been using paper as one of the main materials. Could you tell us more about when you started to use it, how it fits well with your works? 


Ji: Centering around installation, my class (Braunschweig University of Art (HBK), Germany) had a wide range of works spanning sculpture, 3D, photos, videos, performance and so forth. Even though my class had a broad range of works, I came to think and feared that my practice might be limited to standards (contents) as years went by. As I started to doubt art as an academic discipline, I began to go back to basics and spent more time on thinking about “what I actually like”. I have realized once again that I like combining colors, toying with, and creating something continuously. I concluded that I want to think out of the “box” and more freely do what I like and that naturally brought me to “flatness”. I tried many things and failed many times. While doing so, I have taken an interest in a concept of “layer” and while I was finding the fastest and most intuitive way to express layers, I have landed on papers. Paper, as a material, is good to quickly capture images that are associated with languages. I believe characteristics of paper that could be simplified and transformed by folding, bending, curving and so on go well with my abstraction works. I do not have a specific preference on papers, but I often use paper that is matt and light. In the past, I had used colored paper as it is, but now I often layer another color on top of  already colored paper.


eazel: What made you start the Emotion Drawing series? Along with three distinct emotions of joy, sadness, and desire that Baruch Spinoza (1623-1675) had defined, you have added additional 45 emotions to your series. Are these 45 based on personal experiences or universal emotions? 


Ji: 48 pieces from bring about(___) (2019) and 100 pieces from the Emotion Drawing series are the works about visualizing emotions and experiences from our daily lives which were effortlessly derived from Double-sided Drawing. (The Double-sided Drawing series started from a certain fact but resulted in different conclusions depending on the intervention of “coincidences”. It visualized unpredictable figures by double-sided contrasted images). On top of contemplating on how to visualize meanings that lay between emotions, my interest in layers helped me commit to this series. The work is also based on my personal experience of a long, tough, and confusing period of grief. When all emotions were changing and getting mixed up, such as the feeling of loss turning into guilt, and then transforming into anger, as well as resentment changing into despair, I had encountered an unexpected emotion and learned that these emotions could not be defined with a single word, nor could it be distinct from one another. Also, I had come to the realization that these feelings could be taught through a social context and emotions could be universal but at the same time individual. In other words, some emotions can be recognized in a new way when they are met with certain memories. ‘Part III: On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions’ from Ethics by Spinoza comforted me whenever I was confused about complex emotions. Definition on emotions set by the author helped me look into my emotions in a more objective way, and that is why I refer to this book for the series. As the series as a starting point, I am continuing to explore my own way of expressing undefinable affections, emotions, and feelings. 


eazel: Could you tell us more about your other exhibition that was showing at a similar time as Voyager, at All Time Space in Seogyo-dong, Seoul? Even though two exhibitions were held at around the same time, the curation and the presented works were different in nature; since Voyager was a group exhibition with two other artists whereas BONUS LIFE is a solo exhibition. Could you tell us more about what you wanted to focus on through each show?


Ji: Voyager, centering around the Emotion Drawing series, was more about works related issues that I tried to bring out from my internal world, while BONUS LIFE was more about looking at the surroundings and bringing in questions toward myself about issues that are created when our lifestyle and the environment meet.


Sunkyung Ji, Peach, Orange and Hole, 2021
Spray paint on paper, paper drawing, collage, fruit box, peach model
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist


eazel: It seems like you are inspired by lots of elements that consist of your surroundings and the environment itself. Your works use materials from our daily lives such as fruit boxes and model figures. Could you share how these day-to-day inspirations flourish in the process of making your work?? 


Ji: I actively embrace scenes and thoughts that I come across while working. The works in the solo exhibition were made from things that I encountered while following a trail of daily thoughts. An orange box in Orange, Peach and Hole (2021), for example, was from a greengrocer. I saw the box and I picked it up since it was associated with my circle drawing. A peach figure on the box was from a stationary store. I bought it for fun since it reminded me of the orange box from the other day. I try many things with objects that I bring into my studio like this and drawings. When the circle drawing that I had been working on is put in the box and with the peach figure on it, I realized I found the last piece of the puzzle to my contemplation on eternity. As such, I embrace coincidences while I work, and find relations between them and give them some kind of orders. I believe this is a process to better see my scattered thoughts and I deeply cherish this process.


eazel: The insect figures are placed throughout the exhibition spaces both in Voyager and BONUS LIFE. Could you tell us the meaning of them? In the text titled “A Letter from Shimhae” which you used as a preface for BONUS LIFE, you mentioned lavas and swarms of ants which strive to survive with their utmost efforts and wrote “…have you ever experienced when you see the shivering willpower (of the insects) toward life, and all of sudden it turns on you as fear…” which made a great impression on us. Although it was alternatively presented as insect figures, the placement of the insects spoke to us about relations between existence of humans and what surrounds us, as well as our lives. Could you tell us more about these insect figures?


Ji: Let me share a story related to the insect figures. One day, I was walking my dog and he was acting strange. I went closer to see what was happening, and I saw he was rubbing his face on a dead earthworm. It was creepy and I thought it was not healthy for him, so I was thinking about stopping him but I ended up just letting him do what he wanted as long as he didn't eat it. I searched why my dog was acting in that way when I came back home and found out dogs act that way as an expression of excitement when they encounter a new and strange scent. I have learned that dogs respond based on their senses and do not try to find meanings or evaluate them. I ordered insect figures right after I got back to my studio, and that’s how the figures wandered around the studio and became a part of my work. With a gesture of putting small insect figures, I wanted to lighten the heavy-hearted process that I went through while searching for explanation and interpretation to create meanings. Also, I was curious about how viewers would receive the gesture. It was a great pleasure to meet audiences and hear about their diverse interpretations about the objects. 


Sunkyung Ji, The Joy of Breathing, 2021 (detail)
Steel, paint on steel
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist


eazel: The relations between the title, BONUS LIFE, and these insect figures are very metaphoric. And it is also very interesting the way you connect the earth which felt excruciating pain when a single apple dropped in a poem The Last by Yi Sang, which depicts beings which sense life, with the utmost efforts as a reference. What is BONUS LIFE to you?


Ji: The last by Yi Sang as well as “Philosophy of Life” came to mind when I was preparing for BONUS LIFE. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) said we could finally understand the life through an ultimate convergence between understanding (Verstehen) and explanation (Ausdruck) and Georg Simmel (1858-1918) used an expression “Mehr Leben” which means “more-life” to explain how human beings live in definite life. While I was reading Yi Sang’s poem, The Last, I wanted to talk about a story after “the last”. I think a 'bonus life' represents a chance that we can get when we live life to the full, thinking that today is not just another day. Through the exhibition, I wanted to talk about an attitude toward life and ultimately present the world that could sense new effects. As I believed that an expression of “Bonus Life” could best explain this comprehensive concept, I chose to use it as a title. 



Sunkyung Ji received her B.A. in Environmental Sculpture from The University of Seoul in 2008. She studied in Germany and received Diploma and Meisterschüler from Braunschweig University of Art (HBK). She has held solo exhibitions at BONUS LIFE at alltimespace (Seoul, 2021), Cast at Cheongju Art Studio (Cheongju, 2021), Cut.Back at Gallery Irrgang (Berlin, 2019) and Dichte der Stille at Hallenbad - Kultur am Schachtweg (Wolfsburg, 2014). Participated in group exhibitions including Voyager at ONE AND J. +1 (Seoul, 2021), The Strange city, The Arrivals, The Narrative at Cheongju Art Studio (Cheongju, 2021), Offene Ateliers Wedding Höfe (Berlin, 2018), Thoughts are Things at Hilbertraum (Berlin, 2017), and many more. Participated in the artist-in-residence program of Cheongju Art Studio (Korea, 2021).


*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.