Briefly describe the work you do.
I combine traditional Korean techniques and mediums with contemporary Western themes to tackle issues of race, migration, anti-oppression, consumption and mindfulness.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you
as an artist.
I was born in the States, but spent my formative years in Korea, which shaped my idea of multiple cultural and sociopolitical identities, and concepts of home. In Korea, there is an appreciation of the organic material that is intimately tied to everything, which inevitably surfaces in my work. At the same time, I’ve been grounded in the States for the past two decades and that adjustment manifests in my themes throughout.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Because I incorporate my artwork with every aspect of my life, my activist work, my political work, my social and familial influences, so too has my workspace become integrated into everything I do.
I have a studio off of my apartment but end up using my entire apartment for different moments of the production of my art. In a way my time in my studio is a practice in versatility of location; I have different “stations” in areas of my home where I do specific tasks.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Even though I often use language and text in my work, I find that the underlying intention of the piece translates universally across languages and cultures. With art I can push boundaries and issues are often received with more inhibition in other contexts. I can address issues of racism, commercialism and oppression in a less formal way than I do with my workshops. It adds more dimensionality to modes of communication and relatability.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work changes pretty radically every few years, mostly because of new techniques, experimentation with different mediums and inspirations. The message, however, remains the same; it is about social justice, and transforming our current structures through creative thought.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I’m inspired by movements, historic and cultural. I’m inspired by traditions of my Korean culture, as well as how tradition clashes or meshes with contemporary culture. I don’t usually specify individuals when I’m asked this question, one, because there are so many, and two, because as with my style of work, the people and pieces that influence me ebb and flow, from person to person.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Along with being an artist, I already have an occupation of traveling around the world giving trainings on anti-oppression, meaning I talk to people about racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, heterosexism and more. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now and it is profoundly tied to my creative work.
Born in the States, raised in Korea and based out of Brooklyn, NY, YK uses traditional Korean artistic techniques paired with experimental contemporary methods. She often works in wood, combining its inherent grit with often jarring human elements. She uses text and imagery that are reminiscent of propaganda, to make commentary on its proximity to Western advertising, specifically tackling issues of identity, race, the division of land, migration, mindfulness and conspicuous consumption.
In addition to being a visual artist, she gives trainings and talks around the country on anti-oppression and mindfulness, and recently gave a TED Talk entitled, “How Having Nothing is Having Everything” talking about her project called 365 Release, where she gave away one thing a day every day for a year to practice letting go and change.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.