Nancy Princenthal (Independent Critic, Art in America, NY)
The shaping pressures of the cultural environment are the motivation for Hyun Jung Kim's work, which use the Braille alphabet for the blind to explore several varities of language both visual and verbal, and the illuminating difficulties of translating among them.
Dan Bischoff (Art Critic for the Star-Ledger)
The self-consciousness is ultimately a critique of values, a measure of what we claim we treasure, in art and everything else. Hyun Jung Kim's jewelry is sometimes similar - you just know she doesn't really find pop trophies as valuable as a Liz Taylor diamond. She just present them the same way.
(Art History, Curator at Keum San Gallery, Seoul)
Liquid Body & Liquid Identity
Hyun Jung Kim’s work involves the ontological question, “Who am I?”. She casts her body itself and carves her body outlines on the stones. And with water she fills these resulted spaces-negative spaces where the body had occupied while cast and negative spaces of the same size of her body made out of carving. I would like to read her work considering the fact that she is attracted to her body image, that she focuses on negative space rather than positive space, and that she fills this negative space with liquid, water.
Lacan explains how the child comes to construct identity and subjectivity through his famous concept, the ‘mirror stage’. Occurring sometime between the age of 6 and 18months, the mirror stage involves the child’s self- identification through his double: his reflected image in the mirror. At first, the child recognizes himself as a separate object by means of his mirror image. But then, he becomes to realize that it is not real object but a mirrored image of himself. This is how self- identification happens and how identity comes to be established. At this stage, there should be something to be excluded from the self- conscious ‘I’ in order for identity to be constructed. That is, to see oneself as a unitary subject involves a form of visual repression. What is blanked out is everything that would disturb the illusion of the ‘I’ as controlling and autonomous. So, the body- image and identity is the result of a dialectical interplay between the subject and the Other/ the Mother which occurs during early autonomy.
Thus, in Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’, there is always a kind of shadow- the unconscious- which threatens to destabilize the subject’s sense of control and autonomy. About this, Irigaray contends that woman is the Other/ the Mother who acts as the silver at the back of the mirror, flattening reality out and firming it into sharply delineated individualities. Patriarchal culture flattens reality out into a single clear ‘truth’ through placing woman at the back of the mirror and not allowing her her own subjectivity at all. Here, Irigaray proposes a new type of a mirror- a speculum, that is, a curved mirror that represents a rounded reality in ways that make points and blur. This curved mirror does not allow fixity but praises fluidity. This is why this speculum does not fear Otherness as Lacan’s mirror represses and excludes it in order to establish autonomy and identity. Rather it consider this fluid and ambiguous boundary between the self/body and otherness as providing a glorious opening on to a new form of identity-construction.
Hyun Jung Kim is very attached to her cast body image, as Lacan’s child is attracted to his image in the mirror. But, she is more interested in the negative space left by her real body in cast. In the sense, Hyun Jung Kim has something in common with Irigaray who focuses on the back of the mirror rather than mirror itself. Kim’s attempt to search and establish her identity through this negative space should be understood in terms with Irigaray’s endeavor for identity which is fluid and wide open on to changes by means of a curved mirror, rather than with so limited self- identification of Lacan’s child. Displaying her own body’s negative space so frankly and so brave, the artist urges the viewer to realize the illusion about controlling, unitary,and autonomous self/identity and to put the back of the mirror into serious consideration. Her boldness refuses such a fragile identity in the controlled and refined world. Thus, facing up to reality, she no longer clings to the illusion, but recognizes fluid and ambiguous relationship between self and otherness and so accepts with all her hearts indefinite possibility of changes of identity in such relationship. Hyun Jung Kim intensifies her effort by employing water to fill negative space. It comes so naturally goes down as time goes by, highlights the illusion about permanent and absolute identity. By filling it up again, Hyun Jung Kim realizes that identity is not only constructed in relation with others and the world but also subject to change.
Hyun Jung Kim is right in the middle of searching for and establishing her artistic identity just like the child in Lacan’s mirror stage. Since this is only beginning, she has a lot more to go. Nevertheless, there is a great hope for her, since she is looking at the back of the mirror not the mirror itself; since she chose a speculum, a curved mirror which represents crooked and rounded reality as it is, instead of a mirror flattening out and distorting reality; and since with recognition of possibility of identity, she welcomes otherness and not-self for figuring out her identity and thus is able to see the world differently instead of swimming with the current.
(Vice President, Curator at Woman’s National Democratic Club)
Hyun Jung Kim brings us a unique exhibition expressing her work in Blind in Art: Love, Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech, and Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind using the dots and code series of Braille. These panels of Martin Luther King’s speech are done in precious objects, pearls, gold leaf and thread dipped in wine to symbolize King’s sacrifice. Other panels are also done in pearls and gold leaf. Her work includes gold crowns. During the opening viewers will be encouraged to wear the crowns, one of which has I have a Dream in Braille on it. The artist has made the crown not just for Martin Luther King but for all of us, as a crown to denote equal rights and freedom which did not come easily but with the sacrifice of many.
Hyun Jung is an internationally known artist who received two MFA’s, at Seoul National University and Montclair State University where she won the prestigious “Dean’s Artist/Scholar Graduate Award” of the College of Arts. Since then, Hyun Jung has been teaching at MSU for the last 9 years. She has exhibited in many group shows including at YoungEun Contemporary Art Museum, Korea, and her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum Turnov, Czech Republic. Kim works in various medium including metal and was invited to the celebrated 19th Jewelry Art Symposium where she worked with renowned international artists.
Kathryn McKay (Art Jouralist, Elan Magazine, DC)
Pearls of Wisdom
Love is love. Everywhere. In any language. That’s the theme of Hyun Jung Kim’s most famous art—that is on display at the United Nations and hung in homes all around the world.
For this sculptor who works out of the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, love for each other and ourselves is essential.
With pearls, string, and canvas, Hyun creates sculptural pictures that invite the viewer to look—and look again. It’s only when you’re close to the canvas that you can see the message.
Most of her square panels contain the same essential word—LOVE—in three languages. They may be in English, Farsi and Braille; or English, Russian and Braille; or Korean, Japanese, and Braille, for example. Sometimes, the LOVE panels are hung alone. Other times, between two and 20 of the panels may be displayed together, so multiple languages inform the viewer’s experience.
But no matter which spoken languages Hyun paints on the canvas, she always incorporates Braille.
In Hyun’s art, each dot in Braille is represented by a pearl. She chose pearls because of their symbolism as precious, and because in nature, a pearl starts as an irritation in an oyster before growing into something luminescent and beautiful.
“When you think about love, it’s not always easy to love one another,” she says. “The process of love can be similar to a pearl. Sometimes, it starts small.”
Unlike Braille, which is only comprised of only raised dots, Hyun’s art features the lines between the dots. She connects the pearls with thread, which is intentionally visible. She dyes each silk thread with red wine, which creates a pink-colored string. She choose to use wine as a dye because, she says, “Traditionally, wine is known for sacrifice and life.”
Hyun is frequently asked, "Why Braille?” She isn’t blind and she doesn’t have any family members who are visually impaired, but Hyun knows about a different kind of blindness.
“As an immigrant to this country, I experienced some cultural blindness. My native language is Korean, not English, and although I studied English, it was not easy,” she explains. “There are so many immigrants who experience the same thing—just as you might experience when you go on trip to a foreign country.”
Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Hyun moved to the New York City area to earn a second master’s degree in art. Her intention was to return to Seoul to teach art, but love intervened. And it was her husband’s career that brought her to the Washington area about four years ago.
At this time she became more exposed to political matters and American history. But Hyun had never heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. until she heard her son memorizing lines from the famous “I have a dream” speech. She was so moved by King’s words that she read more of King’s writings and began incorporating his words into her art.
Although most of Hyun’s panels focus on words, some panels show maps. Each pearl is carefully considered. Her map of Korea incorporates pearls of the same color reflecting one homogenous nation without a border between North and South. Her map of the United States shows pearls of many shades, reflecting the diversity of skin tones here.
Hyun refers to her this body of work that incorporates the pearls as “Blind in Art,” but there’s more to this series. She also creates crowns.
Her fascination with crowns began in childhood. There were times when she says she felt small and wasn’t always proud of herself, so she’d put on a paper crown and pretend to be a king or princess.
One of her crown’s says, “I have a dream.” But even though Hyun uses King’s words, she says, the crown isn’t for him—It’s for “us.”
For the past few years, Hyun has invited people to try on her crowns and take photos for a project she calls “Contemporary King.”
As she explains, “Life can be tough. Sometimes we forget about our value. We can become depressed, for example. My crowns can be a tool to remind people of their preciousness.”
But Hyun has a silly side. “I don’t like to always be serious,” she says. “Contemporary King is also a fun interactive project.”
Nearly 1,000 people have accepted Hyun’s invitation to wear one of her crowns and share their photo on Instagram: #ContemporaryKing. Many of them have taken turns trying on crowns in her studio on the first floor of the Torpedo Factory, where she even placed a red carpet to add to the royal experience. “I’m pretty happy about ContemporaryKing,” she admits with a smile.
Hyun’s Blind in Art series also includes silver casts of her feet that say in Braille, “I am standing on beauty.” And she created casts of her fingers, embossed with words in Braille such as glamourous, dangerous, luxury, sexy and precious.
She is, of course, all that and more. And her art reminds us that we are, too.