SUKI SEOKYEONG-KANG in Hong Kong for the opening of her exhibition “Foot and Moon” at Pearl Lam Galleries Soho, Hong Kong, 2016. Photo by Lili Nishiyama for ArtAsiaPacific

The Distance Between: Conversation with Suki Seokyeong Kang

Seoul-based artist Suki Seokyeong Kang’s forms have a logic-defying stability. Often leaning into space or placed upon wheels, elements of the fragile and strong, the controlled and spontaneous meet in unanticipated harmony in her artworks that range from sculpture to video to painting. Her most recent exhibition, “Foot and Moon” at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, takes inspiration from the historical Korean mensural system Jeongganbo. While having been the subject of a number of shows in her home country and participated in group exhibitions in Paris and London—the latter being where she received her MA in painting at the Royal College of Art—“Foot and Moon” is Kang’s first solo show abroad. Having just arrived in Hong Kong for the opening, Kang had not yet had the chance to explore the city yet, but kindly walked ArtAsiaPacific through her exhibition, animatedly discussing the multifaceted concepts and processes behind her work.

Behind “Foot and Moon” is the ancient Korean term Jeongganbo. From what I understand this is a longstanding musical notation system. Could you tell me more about it?

Jeong is a Korean term also used in ancient Chinese literature. The character for Jeong (δΊ•) represents a well. Contained within the small squares of a grid, the composer puts in notations of movement, voice and time. This small note reminds me of the forming of a micro-society that makes its own territories, own voice, own movement. This stood out for me and I thought of the exhibition as a place where many individuals can come together. The concept is also prevalent in my work process. In painting, installing my work and creating visual balance, it becomes systematic—the whole thing, a big Jeong. I reacted to this particular space, putting in objects as if in that kind of grid. Jeong in its old traditional use is currently performed in a very restrained dance in traditional palaces of Korea. People can somehow be reminded of that kind of restraint or soft action as they intervene in the space, even if they have no knowledge of this old Korean theory.

Installation view of SUKI SEOKYEONG-KANG’s solo exhibition “Foot and Moon” at Pearl Lam Galleries Soho, Hong Kong, 2016. Courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

How did you come across these ancient sources, and what draws you to them?

I am often influenced by old poems and texts from which I can gain wisdom and then convey these ideas in some way in contemporary society. When I read these old texts, written in Chinese characters located inside of a grid, I wondered, “What is that grid?” It prompted me to look further and I found that they are musical squaresInterestingly, those squares together are called Jeongganbo­. It means, “piling up notes” if translated directly into English. I read these notes spatially rather than reading them as musical notation. 

Are you simply looking into the past with these sources or do you feel they resonate today?

Both. I look at traditional Korean literature, but also contemporary Korean poems and song lyrics. It’s mostly the thought and wisdom that influences me. The reason I like them is that they are very short, abstract and take a long time to translate and realize. I like that process. 

SUKI SEOKYEONG-KANGBlack Under Colored Moon, 2015, still from full high-definition color video with sound: 26 min. Courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

In your video Black Under Colored Moon (2015), two performers on stage slowly reposition your large grid structures, Jeong #02 (2014–16), in various positions. Can you tell me about the video’s creation?

I made an image-script for the performers. They are acting out the Jeongganbo in horizontal and vertical movements with the two Jeong structures in the video. Of course, you cannot see the script in the video but I’m balancing the speed, the viewing and the movement with which they play with these grids. The video is composed of four chapters and while the movements appear very abstract, they are acting out a narrative that I provided. The narrative is a love story, but it is a detoured way of talking about love—not a clear statement saying, “I love you,” but in moments: “I grab your hand” . . . “I hold your hand near the pond” . . . “I hold your hand in the temple.” The song in the video, called “The Dumpling Shop,” which is from the 1300s, used this Jeongganbo notation style. At that time, during the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392) in Korea, the dumpling was an expensive imported food. The story goes that a woman who was very high in society visited a dumpling shop and fell in love with the owner. This narrative, though, largely evaporated in the process of making Black Under Colored Moon

It seems like quite a methodical process. Have you made other performances like this?

I like to do research, gathering layers that can be communicated within the individual and then come out as it did in this minimal video. I did this kind of performance myself when I studied in London, and it required more active involvement. Now I am directing a one-man dance project. I’m curious as to how it is going to turn out.

What does the title of the exhibition “Foot and Moon” refer to?

The title refers to the long distance between the two [a foot and the moon] but also suggests that, step by step, we can make small footprints between them. Similarly, my creative process takes a lot of time; I’m threading and then making and constructing. That is part of the journey toward the moon. It can be very far or very close depending on one’s perspective.


SUKI SEOKYEONG-KANGMora 55 × 40— Untitled #02-1, #02-2, 2015, gouache and acrylic on mulberry paper mounted on canvas and wood frames, 55 x 40 x 4 cm each. Courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

Speaking of your creative process, what does it involve?

I begin by reading in my studio and without thinking I will do something quickly, like winding thread, or making a canvas. Everything happens at the same time. Within the process of these bodily movements—weaving thread, painting, piling up pieces and demolishing them—I can make my work. Most of the thread I use are remnants donated from a factory. The leftover colors are un-pretty so I have to mix the thread as if I am making a painting. I think the materiality of my works is kind of similar. The threading and small details bring friction and delicacy into my work in a hidden, subtle way. 

The idea of friction and balance have appeared in your previous works.

Yes, in my previous show “Grandmother Tower” [at Space Can Seoul in 2013] I piled as many newspapers as I could, while still maintaining a balanced structure—if I piled up two pieces more the newspaper would fall down so it reached a point of both friction and balance. With Grandmother Tower #03 (2011–13), the idea started from my grandmother. Before she passed away I noticed how she had become really skinny, leaning onto walls for support. She was a really beautiful woman, and I created this structure to pause this particular moment in her life. But like the narrative of the love story in Black Under Colored Moon, what started as an expression of my grandmother evaporated into a more neutral or objective piece in the process of its creation. Friction, imbalance and these structures leaning into space; it was born out of subjectivity and objectivity at the same time. 

What should newcomers to your works know about them?

My work takes a little more time to understand—it’s not an instant, “Oh this is it!” Perhaps they can discover a visual balance, and that balance can bring an individual harmony between mind and body.


SUKI SEOKYEONG-KANGGrandmother Tower #03, 2011–16, assembled units: painted steel, winding thread and magent, dimensions variable. Courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

Suki Seokyeong-Kang’s solo exhibition “Foot and Moon” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries Soho, Hong Kong, until May 27, 2016.