Perceiving in Detail: Jayoung Yoon

July 27, 2018 by

Moving into Jayoung Yoon’s world means slowing down. If your mind’s eye or actual eye is tracking her imagery too fast, the effect is impressionistic—you’ll get an image—but it’s the construction of that image from extremely fine detail that is her true artisty. And it’s the focus on perception and consciousness that is her subject matter, regardless of what the image is.

Yoon is trying to think through some heady stuff—patterns in nature, how our minds and memory work, even the essence of being itself—in at least six different mediums. Luckily, thinking via artmaking is in her blood.

“My mother is a Korean traditional dancer. One aunt is a Korean traditional embroidery artist, another is a ceramic artist, and another is a poet. Also, my uncle, though not a professional artist, was very good at drawing and painting. So, I grew up seeing oil and watercolor paintings, ceramics, textile and performance art.”

This multimodality in her childhood environment explains Yoon’s fluid movement between printmaking, performance, sculpture and video. Many artists work across mediums but few move the same objects and ideas as calmly and smoothly among them as Yoon does.

The medium Yoon seems most deeply committed to is her own hair.

Every two years, Yoon shaves her head completely and then uses the hair within her printmaking practice and to construct sculptures, which she then uses in video and performance works (see link to video at end.)

Yoon ties single strands of hair into knots, one by one, to create these forms.

“It’s a very time consuming and labor intensive practice, but I enjoy the meditative aspects of hair weaving, and I hope looking at it the sculptures or watching the videos is also meditative for the viewer.”

“Hair weaving” is Yoon’s way of processing pain and suffering that is also in her blood—and which strongly colored the first 26 years of her life, spent in Seoul, South Korea.

“Being Korean means carrying a lot of painful memories: we have memories of Japan’s 35 years of occupation. Also the Korean War, and the division into two countries. And then South Korea being ruled by a very oppressive regime for decades. I’m in the last generation to experience those things directly. I grew up watching documentaries about the thousands of civilians who were killed and tortured between 1960-1980, and when I was young there was a still-active democratic movement. I remember I often had to run back home because the Korean military used toxic tear gas against student protests.”

Creating delicate, intricately wrought things is Yoon’s way of managing what she and her family experienced.

“I started to form my own way of processing the suffering. Through my art I try to cleanse the memories. I really lose time while I am making art and then I feel peace”

Hair was less prominent in the work that Yoon created at Women’s Studio Workshop, where she found herself very drawn to other organic material in her surroundings. Yoon was inspired by what she calls the “strong physicality” of natural materials (like seed pods, feathers and spider webs) that are also very ephemeral. This balance between presence and absence is a starting point for many of her investigations.

“When you have a material that is even finer than hair, you can’t make sculpture out of it, so how can you capture it?”

Her series Sensory Memory speaks directly to the impression these delicate materials made on her by embedding impressions of them below equally delicate etching work. In Sensory Memory 7, for example, a reticulated etching of the venal system of a pair of human lungs overlays a lighter-colored impression of butterfly seed pods, and the effect is electric: breath becomes present in these lungs. When the same treatment is applied to a hand in Sensory Memory 5, the impact is different—here the seedpods produce a sense of “aura”. In both cases, the delicate fibers that Yoon is trying to give space to result in a sense of life fluttering around the infrastructure of matter.

Yoon did bring some hair into her work at Women’s Studio Workshop. She created several collagraphs that she enhanced by responding to shapes produced from found natural objects with shapes sewn in hair.

And Yoon also produced a series of photopolymer prints of her hair sculptures, Emptiness of Form, which offer impossible 2D perspectives on the 3D pieces, extending her interest in the way that memory and perception shape and are shaped by the experience of space and time—their interdependence, and the impossibility of knowing anything wholly as a result of it.

The pleasure of working at Women’s Studio Workshop for Yoon was being able to spread out and think about her processes and ideas expansively. She normally works on prints in a busy shared space, so she has very limited workspace and time slots.

“I really felt free to experiment with all different techniques, even at the same time. That was very special to me, having that time and space to explore.”

Yoon also enjoyed perusing the Women’s Studio Workshop archive, and was especially inspired by 2009 book resident, Barbara Beisinghoff. So much so that it’s pushed her to investigate papermaking as a medium for future projects.

She is also (slowly) working on a large, ongoing project called The Vessel, a wearable body suit, woven of hair, currently about five feet tall, but the goal is for it to be 30 feet tall.

“So five feet for the body suit and then 25 feet of kind of a funnel shape extending out from the head, and then I want to make a durational video performance in nature while I am wearing this hair sculpture.”

If you encountered Yoon performing in her 30-foot hair suit in nature, it’s hard to imagine doing anything but freezing in place like a deer. It is just this reaction—momentary, but complete presence for even the most ephemeral of bits of existence—that all of Yoon’s work demands.

Video from Jayoung Yoon’s Form and Emptiness Series

Jayoung Yoon is a New York-based artist born in Korea and is known for interdisciplinary artworks using human hair as a medium. She received her M.F.A. degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, 2009. Before that, she graduated the Post-baccalaureate certificate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, 2007. She received her B.F.A. from the Painting and Visual Communication Design Department at Hongik University in Seoul, Korea.

Her solo shows include exhibits at Theo Ganz Studio, NY, 2016, Here Art Center, NY, 2013, Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, DE, 2011 and the Museum of New Art, MI, 2009. She was awarded the BRIC Media Arts fellowship, 2014, Franklin Furnace Grant Fund, 2010 and Artist Residencies by Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing space, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and Sculpture Space. Most Recently, she was awarded the Vermont Studio Center Fellowships, 2015 and The Artist in the Marketplace program at Bronx Museum, 2016.