Briefly describe the work you do.
I work with text, video and performance, exploring the way in which different cultural and linguistic systems affect the performative actions of language. My experience of moving to the U.S. from Korea and learning English as an adult has shaped my artistic work. I am especially fascinated by the physical act of speaking. In my work I often translate spoken text into written text and vice versa, and explore the resulting disjunctures that uncover basic imperfections of language. I am interested in the elements that spoken words hold – accents, durations, emotions, hesitations, and mistakes – as well as how to present those elements in different written forms. I often use dubbing and subtitles, juxtaposing spoken and written texts to explore the notion of “perfect” speech, the relationship between sound and image, and the ownership of language.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. I moved to the United States to attend college and lived there for many years after graduation. The experience of learning English as a second language as an adult influenced me and my work tremendously because now I create art about language. My work deals with speaking, writing, and reading and translations between those actions. Learning to speak a new language made me especially interested in the physical act of speaking. I was very fortunate to live in NYC for many years – a city enriched by its art, theater, dance, and music as well as its artists and audiences with different cultural and language backgrounds.
NYC is also where I discovered my interest in moving images and performance.
I am now living in Korea once again, participating in the Kumho Art Studio program in Icheon. Living in Korea and speaking Korean on a daily basis again is a huge adjustment. It has been quite interesting to look at my two “homes” (the U.S. and Korea) with a new perspective and figure out where I am located between the two places.
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.”
My studio practice is largely the traditional idea of “being in the studio alone.” I think it is absolutely necessary to have private and protected time in the studio in order to brainstorm and develop ideas, digest information, and make mistakes. It is very easy to be isolated sometimes. I find artist residencies very helpful to balance that level of introspection. One gets to meet other artists outside one’s circle and learn about their work process. If one is fortunate enough, new friends are made who are supportive of each other’s work.
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?
I work better at night. I love the general quietness and the peace and darkness outside — these conditions help me focus. I have made my work in my home studio for a long time except for when I have had month-long studio spaces provided through various residency programs over the years. Fortunately, I have been granted a studio space for a year in a rural area outside Seoul. Having this studio separate from where I live in Seoul is a significant benefit that allows me to focus on my work and helps provide structure to the creative process. In such a space, I feel more inspired to achieve and meet deadlines for various projects.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Previously, I preferred short-term collaborations and projects but now I am more comfortable with long-term commitments. My work still deals with text and language. Written text in my work formerly took shape primarily as scripts for my videos and performances, but in my most recent work, it is more visually apparent.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or
even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Marguerite Duras, Cibo Matto and The Beatles.
My artist friends who have been making work in spite of continuous struggles and disappointments always inspire me.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
It would be still an artist.
Sujin Lee has exhibited internationally. Lee has been awarded residencies from Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, I-Park and Newark Museum and participated in the Artist in the Marketplace program at the Bronx Museum of Art and the Emerge program at Aljira. She was a 2012-2013 A.I.R. Gallery Fellow and is currently one of the 2014-2015 artists at Kumho Art Studio in Korea. Lee holds a BFA in Fine Art from Maryland Institute College of Art. She also has an MFA in Studio Art and an MA in Performance Studies, both from New York University.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.