Artworks approach people in many ways. As such, visitors become one of the elements of the work beyond being only a viewer. In particular, installation art is a genre that considers the audience's participation to be important. The entire space forms a piece, and people who step into the space can fully experience it. One person tries to convey artistic value through various topics. SMT met Song Jihyung, an installation artist.
Before we start the interview, please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Song Jihyung, and I work in both Germany and Korea. I majored in painting at Sookmyung Women's University and completed a master's degree in pure art and a Meisterschüler (Master Student) at Düsseldorf National University in Germany. I have held individual and group exhibitions in Düsseldorf, Lübeck, Hanover, Seoul, and Hangzhou. From April to July this year, I also had a chance to meet Korean visitors at the Fortune Telling exhibition held at Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul. Including the Nordrhein Westfalen (NRW) Bank Price 2021 and the Vordemberge-Gildewart Stipendium, I will visit Germany for new works. In 2022, there will be an exhibition scheduled in Quillon, Germany. For the theme, I intend to deal with gift theory, reciprocity, and gift economy from an anthropological or sociological viewpoint. I am also experimenting with displacement by site-specific audience participatory installation work and performance through the methodology of sharing with visitors.
Why did you choose to work as an installation artist?
I think I naturally chose this job. When I was an undergraduate, I majored in Western painting, but I tried various media and methods of working, not limited to Western painting. I wanted to learn art more deeply after graduation, so I went to Germany. During my master's and Meisterschüler at Kunstakademie Academy Düsseldorf in Germany, I naturally encountered installation art. German art universities have an apprenticeship education system, so professors and their teaching methods have a great influence on students. Luckily, I met a professor who respected and supported all my ways of working. So, I have become more interested in installation art by thinking about 'how to communicate my work with the audience.' Now, I am trying many methods of expression such as performance and audience participation as well as installation art. Ultimately, the reason why I became an artist is that I've come quite far since I chose this path, and the reason why I keep walking along it is that I can feel the joy of knowing and immersion through my work.
Can you explain more about the field of installation art?
Installation art has been established as a genre in the art world since the 1970s in forms such as painting, video, sculpture, etc. Especially, it is an artistic expression that took on a very important role in contemporary art after 1989. Artists compose and change the space with various materials in indoor or outdoor spaces. In addition to physical materials such as objects, non-tangible ones such as smell and sound can also be used. Installation art is highly experiential because it goes into the space which visitors occupy.
You graduated from the Department of Painting. What was the most impressive or helpful class of your undergraduate life?
All my classes were precious and taught me lessons, but the class that influenced me the most was a major class taught by Hong Kyungah, who is currently working at Sookmyung Women's University Museum. The professor let students work without any restrictions on materials, media, methods, topics, etc. She also introduced famous artists and exhibitions every week, gave special lectures on writers and theorists, and encouraged discussion classes. When I took the class, I thought, 'I want to work abroad, too,' and 'I want to do a great job.' In other words, the class made me dream. Last year, Na Hyun, who gave a special lecture during the class and was nominated for the 2015 Artist of the Year, participated in the exhibition titled Discourse of the Present - Echoes of Strangers at Sookmyung Women's University Museum with me. I remember being moved by participating in such an exhibition.
How did studying abroad in Germany affect your art activities, and what has changed?
My experiences in Germany made me what I am today. If I hadn't studied abroad, I don't think I would have continued my career as an artist. Nine years ago, I decided to study abroad because I wanted to understand and study art rather than becoming an artist. However, I thought I should continue my career by exhibiting in Germany and getting to know my fellow artists and experiencing works of art. During thirteen years as a foreigner in Germany, I was able to constantly explore my identity. Also, I was lonely after experiencing discrimination such as racism, but I gained the strength to sympathize with the pain of those who were discriminated against. This series of experiences have built up and directly or indirectly influenced my current work.
You've also participated in the recent exhibition of Fortune Telling. Can you explain the exhibition's work, 'SaJu-Fortune Telling'?
'SaJu-Fortune Telling' started with my desire to go see a fortune teller when I had a hard time personally in Germany. This motif led to my interest and research into the behavior and culture of Koreans' fortune-telling. I interpreted that there is a Korean sentiment of recognition, comfort, and appeasement of imperfections in the culture of looking at one's fortune. I thought this emotion coincided with the subject matter that I have continuously shown in my previous works. That is why 'SaJu-Fortune Telling,' in which fortune-telling takes place, is created by referring to street fortune tellers' shops in Korea. The fortune-telling performance is meaningful in that it represents each person with the rare experience of an artist and a visitor making the work together. As each of the participants' life stories piled up, this work became new day by day. At the end of this exhibition, I thought the lives of the participants filled the 'SaJu-Fortune Telling', creating a different meaning from the first time.
You have shown many other works. Please tell us what the most memorable work is.
I would like to talk about the Work Reciprocating, which was a new work this year. This work is a web-based work that contains gift and reciprocity, a sense of concern and interest as an artist about the methodology of artworks in the COVID-19 pandemic era. Reciprocating—the title—is inspired by a widely-known term in Marcel Mauss's The Gift. Participants perform the tasks suggested by me on the website. First, participants answer 16 questions which consist of what I felt was most important or most intense in my life for nine years in Germany. Then, they can see the digital talisman corresponding to the 16 questions. If they choose a digital talisman, the details appear on the next page. They should perform missions such as reading articles instead of paying for digital talisman purchases. After the mission, the talisman will be delivered to the participants' e-mail. This work contains the message that values such as 'meeting with myself', 'interaction with others', and 'reciprocity' come from exchanging, not buying or selling with money. In addition, in this work, the talismans are based on Korean culture and praying for good luck, potlatch,1) and exchanges between Maoris. Through all of this, participants can feel the idea of 'reciprocating.'
Where do you usually get your inspiration when planning a work?
I tend to try to keep my senses open to be inspired at any moment in my daily life. In addition, I try to walk as soon as I wake up in the morning, and at that time, I solve a lot of problems that haven't worked out well or when I have to take a step further. When I start developing my new work plan in earnest, I tend to make a lot of effort to find references. Most of the sources of reference are books and texts. I usually work on a project long-term over six months to a year, so at the beginning, I look for references and think for a long time about how to visualize them in a work.
Could you tell us what the most important part in your work is?
When I write my diary every morning, what I always keep in mind is "Let's make a constant effort to do good work." It's a cliche, but I think the artist should reinforce herself to be a seeker of truth. To do good work, the artist needs to know how to define "good work" herself. I think the artist needs to be able to define good work from various perspectives such as trends of art, contemporary art theory, and artist research. I also think it is necessary to have insight into how one's work will be interpreted in accordance with the times. In short, I think the artist needs to study and invest a certain amount of time every day to do good work. Also, what I think is important during the exhibition is "how to communicate with visitors." The artist communicates directly and indirectly with visitors in the exhibition hall, and it can be developed in various ways, such as thinking, staying, and conversing. I consider how to solve this entire process completely.
Could you tell us if you have ever had a hard time? Also, how did you overcome that moment?
2020 was hard when COVID-19 began. During this period, I had a hard time as an artist and in my personal life. Suddenly, there was a fear that I could not physically see my family, relatives, and friends in Korea. Also in Germany, racism against Asians was severe in the early days of COVID-19. It was a kind of fear that I had never experienced before. However, I thought I shouldn't stay still in the face of racism, so I expressed my voice through social media. In addition, I formed a group with colleagues called 'Yellow Monsters' to actively speak out about Asian racism and take part in artistic activities. Examples include putting up posters against Asian racism and providing psychological counseling related to racism for Asian students. Yellow Monsters Collective activities are still ongoing. I was afraid of speaking out in society, but through this, I learned a sense of solidarity and how to change the painful things into positive power.
On the other hand, when was the most rewarding moment?
Since I do a lot of participation performances, sometimes feedback comes directly. The participants send me e-mail or Instagram messages, and some people tell me how my work affected their lives. That's when I feel the greatest joy while working. I feel rewarded when I feel that the audience and I have communicated within my work. That's why I also do a lot of participation work.
Please tell us about your art philosophy or values.
I think artworks are the bowl that captures the artists' eyes towards the world. Like this, I think the artist should pay attention to the world and society. Also, the artists need to know how to express their story in their work. In addition, the artists should understand the spirit of the age like 'the immediate', 'contemporaneous' and 'cotemporal', as mentioned by the artist Terry Smith, and study how to express their narrative in it.
Lastly, please say a word to Sookmyungians.
First of all, I encourage Sookmyungians who are attending school during the COVID-19 period. I also understand how difficult and hopeless it is because I graduated in Germany during the COVID-19 period. However, I hope you don't forget that you are the protagonist who will open the curtain on the post-COVID era. You will also have to study and make a lot of effort to have the insight to take in a situation and the flow of the times. If you try day by day to make today better than yesterday, you will achieve whatever you want. Don't forget to try for your health. I will always cheer for you with my heart.
1) A past custom in North American Indian society that invites people to share food and gifts
- Sookmyung Women's Univ., (BA) Painting, Seoul, KR
- Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Diploma, Class. Prof. Gregor Schneider, Düsseldorf, DE
- Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Meisterschülerin, Prof. Gregor Schneider, Düsseldorf, DE
- Vordemberge Gildewart Stipendium, KIT Kunst im Tunnel, Düsseldorf, DE (Catalog)
- NRW.BANK. Kunstpreis 2021, Online, Düsseldorf, DE
PRIZES AND GRANTS
- Baker Tilly Artist Grant, 2019
Sang Lim Hyeji / Editor-in-Chief
Park Sung Iyoung / Reporter