Interview with Yoon Ji Seon

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Featured photo :
Yoon Ji Seon photographed by Andrea Blanch

RAG FACE #16021-2  103x94cm sewing on photo, 2016,
copyright Yoon Ji Seon

RAG FACE #16021-1  103x94cm  sewing on photo, 2016,
copyright Yoon Ji Seon

Ji Seon is a Korean artist who trained at the Faculty of Fine Arts in University of Daejeon.

Ji Seon’s works merge fibers, threads and photography with the use of a subject that is repeated but never the same.

In fact, in the “Rag Face” series, to which the artist has been dedicating since 2006, Ji Seon realizes, with a combination of photography and machine stitching, a lot of self-portraits that are always different from each other because with the use of the threads, it deforms his own photographed image on distorted expressions that move between the grotesque and the humorous.

The Rag Face series has been exhibited in many Art Galleries and Museums in Korea. Ji Seon also exhibited at Yossi Milo Gallery and Bric House in New York.

This is the link at her website:   https://www.yoonjiseon.com/

RAG FACE #18004-1 2018 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph, 166x100cm
Copyright Yoon Ji Seon

RAG FACE #18004-2 2018 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph, 166x100cm 
 Copyright Yoon Ji Seon

1) Ji Seon, in your biography I read that at the University you specialized in painting. Can you tell us how and why did you go from painting to photography and finally to textiles?

My college years (when I was majoring in painting) was not a very good time for me because I did not know what to draw and I did not know how to draw even if I had something I really wanted to draw. One day, by chance, I found a pork bone from food I was eating. The shape of the bone was unique and wonderful, so I put it in my pocket, which became the material of the artwork for my first solo exhibition in 1999. Also, it reminds me of my parents’ saying, “I will buy you a toy if there is a horn grown on rabbit’s head.” whenever I nagged my parents to buy me toys. These kinds of incidents gave me an idea to make holes on pork bones and planted my hairs.

There are many Korean proverbs related to body parts. For example, ‘a horn of the rabbit, a hair of the turtle’ which means there is something that doesn’t exist or cannot exist.  ‘Engraving on bones’ which means keeping someone’s love or hatred in a deep heart as if engraving them into bones. These proverbs became the materials of my work and I got interested in visualizing the metaphor expressed in words into my work. Moreover, it became important to me that these old sayings are being realized literally despite of their real meanings. Look at the modern medical technology! Not only it can make horned rabbits and hairy turtles, but also it can engrave letters on people’s bones!

My first solo exhibition began with ‘a chicken foot’ decorated with nail polish and trinkets like a human’s hand, ‘animals’ bones’ that imitated jewels and my hairs planted on and ‘a photography of man’s legs. Since painting technique and materials have a long history, there are diverse artwork already exist. Among them, it was difficult for me to find my own way to express myself by drawing. Therefore, it was like freedom to me to use objets or medium that are not paints.

Among various medium that I was using, thread has a special meaning to me. My mother overcame her stress from four children, a patriarchal husband, and tremendous chores by knitting. Threads from my father’s sweater became my sister’s skirt, and later, it became my vest. The thread changed its shape every year as the owner changed. I grew up feeling like the thread was an umbilical cord connecting my family. So, it seems that I use threads when I want to talk a story about a relationship. In conclusion, it is difficult to tell which one came first or later, because the flow of my work is not sequential, it is mixed with painting, photography and fabric.

RAG FACE #17001-1 2017 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph Approximately 58x53cm 
copyright Yoon Ji Seon

RAG FACE #17001-2 2017 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph Approximately 58x53cm   
copyright Yoon Ji Seon

2) Your famous series “Rag Face”, consists of many portraits / self-portraits. Why you use this theme of portraits that are then transformed into a series of masks? why you disguise your face? Or: why you change ( modify) your face in your works?

To reconstruct a face is to hide the original face. However, I have a doubt if it is always true. My self-portrait is not very important. I use my self-portrait because I have no reason to use others. The face is my face, but it also represents the face of others. I work with ‘face’ for many reasons, but what I am currently paying attention to is ‘the face in photography’ and ‘the face in reality’. The face in reality has many different facial expressions, however, the face in photography is unnaturally, awkwardly frozen. This well polished face has become more dramatic due to so-called ‘selfie’. The face in my work is not a pretty face. I can only see my unfamiliar face after I take a photography. While I photograph myself, I find a lot of unfamiliar faces of mine which even I didn’t realize them before. It is impossible to look at myself in the mirror when unfocused or looking at another place.

If you see self-portrait paintings, a person in the painting usually looks straight ahead. From photography, I can get self-portraits which I don’t look just straight. Facial expressions from photography can be close to our realistic faces, but people feel unfamiliar with their real faces. It is because it is a face from eyes of others (cameras), not from ourselves. It is a process of finding the third person’s ego from the first person. I take pictures of my facial expressions, and then I sew on it as if the sewing makes those facial expressions. I mix up the timeline, so it makes you feel uncertain what comes the first – photography or sewing.  I think I wanted to express the relationship among myself, time and others. So, the audience can see my work all differently, and in the end, I hope people can find their own eyes to see and feel my work.

RAG FACE #15013-1     48.5x73cm  sewing on photo  2015,
copyright Yoon Ji Seon

RAG FACE #15013-2     48.5x73cm  sewing on photo  2015,
copyright Yoon Ji Seon

3) You started the “Rag Face” series in 2006, creating lot of different works. What are the most important technical and conceptual differences between the first rag faces of 2006 and the most recent ones?

As I mentioned it earlier, the issue of ‘looking straight ahead’ is important to me. Facial expressions in my early work were like profile photography. I took a picture of myself looking straight to the camera Lenz and the result was a nervous look on my face. And then I awkwardly sewed on that photography as if I doodled on my face. This was the beginning of the Rag face.

At the beginning, my portrait looked like changing to another person or wearing masks as the original photography was being destroyed by sewing. Nowadays I sew on photography with more variety of facial expressions. And I make people think uncertain if the facial expression on the photography comes first or if the act of sewing makes the facial expressions.

I also tried to maintain the square frames in my early work, however, I am currently working on the boundary between the plane and the three-dimensional structure as more I sew, the more distorted and irregular artwork is being created.

4) Ji Seon, on your biography you say: ” 
“Many artists say that they are hoping for communicating with people through their work. So I am often asked if I am the same…(omissis)…
To be exact, I am not the person who wants to communicate with the audience. I want understanding and support.”

Can you explain what you mean?

I am a bit worried that how these Korean words will be translated into another languages.

Simply say,
“Communication” is between the two sides, and I think that “Understanding (or Misunderstanding)” is one-sided.

“Communication” seems to be a precious result which made by thinking of others priority to myself. Talking straight my situation without thinking of others is far different from considering the other’s first before I talk.

Not all, but if you take it to an extreme way,

the Artist is a person who just throw his/her questions to the world rather than considering certain others. The person who creates after consideration of certain others would be the Designer, not the Artist. So, the work of the artist is ambiguous, and it is possible to be understood by different viewpoints of each audience. On the other hand, the works of designers will be taken by people who were considered by the designer after thorough analysis of their use, preference and taste. And these works (designers’ items) have intuitive persuasiveness and consensus.

From this point of view, as an artist, I strongly feel that the desire to communicate with the audience seems to take away my and their freedom.

I work on things from my own perspective. Others can see me from their own point of view. What I wanted to say is – Let’s enjoy our freedom!

(“Jiseon is not the artist who wants to communicate with the audience, she is the artist who wants to talk straight and creates her artwork without thinking of others how they would think about it. She wants understanding and support from the others, not communication. Jiseon doesn’t want people to consider the meaning of her work in her ways, she wants people enjoy and feel what they feel about her work. she doesn’t want to give them any instruction how they see or feel the artwork. She wants them to enjoy their freedom to see the artwork in their own ways”)

RAG FACE #18001-1 2018 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph, Approximately 198×200 cm, copyright Yoon Ji Seon

RAG FACE #18001-2 2018 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph, Approximately  198×20 cm, copyright Yoon Ji Seon

5) How does the Korean culture influence your art?

When I was younger, it was very simple and clear to say “YES” to this question, however, now it is a difficult question.

First, I do not know what Korean culture really is. Because some of my experience might be Korean culture in general, but they also might happen because of my special circumstance. I am not sure if certain things are only in Korean culture or not, because I don’t know about every culture in the world.

For example, it is often reported in the news that a keen competition is a social issue in Korea. But, I don’t think I experience the competition in my daily life since the only competition I have is to fight for a seat in a crowded bus.

There are many people who say the hierarchy culture of the organized society is one of Korean cultures. When I think about it, I am a person who is out of this hierarchy culture. My school years were my only time to be a member of the organized society. At that time, I did many whimsical things as I had a difficulty understanding the culture of the organization. So, I was misunderstood by people and had a hard time. In art colleges, the hierarchy culture and gender crimination are usually less than the general Korean societies, I am not so sure if I am qualified to talk about this issue though.

Many Korean societies don’t like having questions, so I haven’t been welcomed by many places since I am a person with many questions. It is certain that my work has been an exit that I can freely ask many questions to.

I am very interested in visualizing words into my work. I think Korean language has many attractive words that I can play with, therefore, these Korean words become good materials for my work.

6) What are the artists you are inspired by?

I am inspired by many artists. I am mainly interested in musicians, dancers and novelists. Of course, artwork of visual artists is very interesting, but it doesn’t affect my work. I am often affected and impressed by their attitude toward their work, not from their artwork.

RAG FACE #17015-1 2017 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph, Approximately, 52x39cm copyright Yoon Ji Seon  

RAG FACE #17015-2 2017 Sewing on Fabric and Photograph Approximately, 52x39cm copyright Yoon Ji Seon

7) Do you define yourself as a textile artist or do you feel more like a photography artist?

I am not building any boundary. I introduce myself as a visual artist.

8) Do you think you will continue to experiment and use threads and textiles in your future works?

I think so. I have worked a lot with threads apart from Rag face series. There was a work made by sewing a chicken skin and a pig skin, and there were also clothes made from papers. There is a series of hand knitted gloves (each glove’s fingertips are connected) that I worked with my mother.

In fact, the thread is an interesting material that has a special meaning to me and a lot of potential.

In Korean language, painting is “회화[hoe-hwa]”. The first letter ‘회[hoe]’ is compound of ‘thread’ and ‘get together’. As a literal translation, a ball of thread is a painting. Playing with words is one of main materials of my artwork, my work with threads can be literally translated to ‘painting’.

Threads and fibers are inevitable for me to use, so I think I will keep using them in various ways in the future.

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