Hannah Suh: Deconstructing Indentity
What inspires you to do art?
HS: I think a lot of the work I’ve been doing in my studio I'm drawing a lot on my experience of being Korean in America. How that is a part of fragmentation in someone I do a lot of collage work where I take pictures of myself and I’ll separate it and switch around the limbs. There was one work that I did like that and put it on a piece of fabric that had a similar pattern to traditional Korean clothes. I wanted to talk about how this causes a lot of feelings of isolation and that you might not have a space, this also holds me together and is a really cool part of my identity. Just exploring aspects of that, using art to find a place where I didn't feel like I had one before.
Did you grow up around other kids that were Korean American?
HS: Not a lot, I grew up in North Carolina in the suburbs, pretty white. I remember as a kid a lot of people would get a lot of presents for Christmas and do things for Easter and thanksgiving, but my family didn’t really do that because we didn’t have a lot of extended family near us. I even remember if I brought Korean food to lunch the other kids would make fun of me. I felt like I had to assimilate just to fit in.
Were you parents originally from Korea?
HS: Yeah they grew up in Korea and then moved here for school, I was born here.
How did they bring Korean culture into the household growing up?
HS: We all spoke Korean growing up and we went to a Korean Baptist church. I've stopped since. I went to Korean school to learn Korean so they introduced those spaces for me to find people to connect with. Even then some of those peers would think I wasn’t Korean enough for them. It was hard to find a place in the middle.
Do you gravitate towards a more Eastern or Western style of art?
HS: I think I gravitate towards Eastern more, but it's definitely Western influenced. A lot of purely visual aspects like patterns and colors I like to use things that would be associated with traditional Korean patterns.
Could you go into more about what traditional Korean Patterns are like?
HS: There’s a symbol I forget what it’s called, but it’s a swirl of blue, yellow and red and it represents three principles of a personality and if you are able to combine all three you are able to achieve internal peace. I use a lot of those primary colors and it has that connection and just a lot of pulling of references from my childhood. A lot of packaging designs of traditional Korean candy that I grew up eating and clothing I grew up seeing.
So I know that colors have a different connotation for different cultures. Is that something you had trouble translating?
HS: I don’t think too much. I think what the colors mean to me I don’t feel like I have to change that to fit the western perspective. I”m just letting that speak for itself.
So going back to your collages, when did you start collaging?
HS: I wanna say early senior year/ late junior year of high school, we just had to experiment with college. I felt a lot of satisfaction to efficiently cover a lot of space, but it still has so much texture and depth to it. Especially when you are layering it and you can take an image that makes a lot of sense, but when you deconstruct it how that changes the image. For my portfolio for AP studio I did a lot of photography for that and since then I’ve been using a lot of my photography for collages.
Do you manipulate it digitally or by hand, or does it fluctuate?
HS: Sometimes it's both. Sometimes if I have a traditional piece I wanna manipulate I’ll bring it into photoshop and print it out and then I’ll play with the orientation there. Sometimes I’ll be like, “Oh I want it here, but I want the color to change, “ I’ll print it and cut it out. If it’s really quick I’ll do it traditionally because that’s what makes the most sense to me.
When did you first start getting into art?
HS: I think I wanna say it as early as elementary school. I think we all grow up with it, we get an art kit for Christmas and start playing around with it.
You get a color by numbers when you’re four and it’s like, “whoa this is the best thing ever.”
HS: Yeah, it’s so satisfying. The validation you get from others and it’s like oh maybe this is something I wanna pursue.
With your art, do you hope to inspire other people to cross culture?
HS: Actually the piece I’m working on for my studio final I wanna talk about how food can be a really great medium for sharing culture and for opening that space for conversation. What I wanna do is have the table set, I was inspired by a Friendsgiving, for that we had different people bring in their own food. Then I thought what if I had a potluck dinner and everyone could bring in their own dish and hand write the recipes. I guess it could be a collage in that sense, all the food is existing on the same table.
It has a little bit of a performance art sense to it.
HS: Yeah, also the experience of slowly eating the food and smelling it, those associate. Giving a lot of attention to it and what those origins mean, rather than rushing and writing it off as what you thought it was.
I think it’s like when you go to try Thai food, people might not think about it this way but you are experiencing a different culture in a way.
HS: Yeah, re-experiencing what you thought it was.
Do you think the mindfulness and the intention of making it art makes it different from just having a potluck dinner with your friends?
HS: Yeah I think so. There’s something to say about spending a lot of time thinking about experience rather than just treating it as eating just to be eating. You are eating for an experience.
There was this artist that had a gallery space and the visitors would get curry and rice and the act of eating with other people in the art space made it art. Have you thought about the room, does the setting matter?
HS: I think it just exists on the table, I mean we all have to present in the same studio space.
But if you had to take it out of the educational setting?
HS: In an ideal world it would be really cool to have it in someone’s kitchen at home. With food there is such an association with domesticity and a home space. I think then that setting would give a more well- rounded experience.
In a way it is like each person is a collage together of their cultures.
HS: Yeah the table is like the fabric before it is like the plane where they can all exist together.
Where do you want to take this, you have kinda introduced performance art, do you want to go more in that direction or go back to something more physical?
HS: I would love to explore and get deeper in performance art and what that means. I had to do a lot of research about Fluxists and futurist artists and learning about their process and having really ephemeral art and it being just about the moment was really interesting.
What specifically about that appeals to you?
HS: It’s paying attention to the little actions that we do in our daily life. Just really realizing the little things we take for granted and when they’re gone we are not really gonna get them back. I think appreciating how that is coming and going, even though it does feel like it’s repeating on routine just being grateful.
So turning ordinary moments into something into art. Besides food do you have any idea of what other moments you would want to turn into art.
HS: I think outside of food I’m really interested in nostalgia and people’s past and how that plays into it. MAybe drawing from my childhood experiences and recreating that for other people and having them perceive that as I do.
Do you have a certain medium that you would want to go into more for the memories?
HS: Probably photography, I feel like that is a medium I am always coming back to.
When did you start doing photography?
HS: Not too long ago, like a year ago. I had to take a class for this art camp I did and I got my first DSLR camera and I’ve been trying to get the most out of that.
What about photography appeals to you so much?
HS: I think it is the instant gratification of having a photo and rather than creating representations of what I see I can work with the actual thing and change that.
Do you think it would have the same effect if you photograph a performance piece?
HS: I don’t think so. When I’m using fabric or patterns I don’t just want to print them, I’d rather have the actual thing. I think there is such a materiality to the fabric and with the performance it deals so much with the space. It’s like with sculpture, you can’t really photograph a sculpture, it doesn’t do it justice.
So just keeping everything in its own lane a little bit. With social media and the easy access to photographs, do you think that there’s still a reason to go to museums and see what space the art piece takes up?
HS: Oh yeah definitely. I understand that not everybody is going to get the opportunity to go to New York and see all these amazing galleries and museums and that’s something you get to work with. But I feel like seeing it on your phone definitely doesn’t do it justice; you have to present in space. It is so much more than the visual, it is what you hear and what you smell and what you are feeling from the room.
So like going to the museum is an art form in itself.
HS: Definitely .
So how has New York specifically shaped how you interact with art and create it?
HS: There was this one piece I did, and the prompt was to create an installation that was inspired by our experience in New York and this is my first time living in such a big city. It was interesting to see such extreme wealth and poverty in such close spaces and what that means. I did this sculptural piece that was representative of maybe a homeless person or someone else we like to marginalize and push to the corners. They would be a city under these big corporate buildings and it is almost like they were being overtaken by this big landscape that would almost become part of it. I had this sculpture kinda melting into the wall and dispersing into it. Then I had it surrounded by these tall cones, like spikes. It was referencing how even in urban planning people are making human spikes to deter the homeless from sleeping under these buildings and underpasses. I think that brought a lot of perspective and how people like to push other people into these corners and we are all just people, where we can’t see them but we all still exist.
I think society likes to put people into categories and you being Korean American can see more than a lot of others that people can fluctuate in several categories. Do you think you would have the same perspective if you were still in North Carolina or is it something you really have to see and experience first hand in order to understand.
HS: In North Carolina, even if you go to the capital Raleigh it is nowhere near New York. In Raleigh there are a lot of corporate buildings, but here there’s that and so many people filling the space. You definitely have to be in it to realize it.
Does it matter where you are, especially in New York?
HS: I haven’t lived in a different borough or place before, but hearing my friends who live outside of the East Village describe New York is very different to how I would.
Would you want to take your art to a social justice theme?
HS: A lot of my work has social justice themes, especially focusing on wealth and race. I mean race in terms of experience and I feel like I gravitate towards other artists that talk about their ethnicity in America when they are not the majority. I think the first person that comes to mind is Kara Walker with her work with the shadows.
What are your thoughts about what is being produced at this time?
HS: Recently there has been a lot of movement to include people that have previously been part of marginalized communities. With the update of MoMA you see a lot more female artists and a lot more ethnicities and giving them a platform is great. There is a really big installation, it’s called Handles and it has dark triangles on one side and iridescent ones on the other side. It was by a Korean European artist and I had never seen work by a Korean artist in America at the scale and seeing it take up so much space and have so much importance felt empowering to me to know that someone with a similar background could so something like that.
It is definitely inspiring to see someone with a similar background and someone you can see yourself achieving something monumental because then it gives you confidence to do that as well.
HS: It is different than having to scavenge for the Asian art section and it is this tiny little thing, it is not nearly the same scale.
Even the way a drawing classroom is set up with the model in the middle and everyone drawing them is a very European way of teaching. Do you think that there should be a change in how it is taught or that it has worked for this long for a reason?
HS: Experiencing drawing classes definitely feels European, but I know a lot of Asian schools have adopted that way of teaching style. I think I would have also liked to see it encompass a more world view.
Do you think that placing as much importance as art historians do on the Renaissance in art history is poorly affected the way it is taught?
HS: I love art history, but there is something to see about how much classic Greek and Roman art is idolized and how that has an effect on today’s society. It is crazy to see even though it was long ago we are still dealing with the same ideals of men and women and how they seem to transcend history. For me that feels like an origin point for those toxic ideals.
What do you think is toxic about the ideals?
HS: Yeah, a lot of people have this misconception about these marble sculptures and that they were white and all really muscular. A lot of the sculptures from Ancient Greece were actually painted and since we are left with this pure white figure of a person we have an associate with that of purity, knowledge and intellect. I think the obsession with you and athletics stems from these seemingly monumental sculptures. It is something we are also trying to reach for and going back through history.
Yeah the colors were pretty bright and it would be interesting to see how people would have viewed it if the color held up. If it would still be pure because of the forms if the color would take away from that.
HS: I’m still really early on in my art journey and I love living in the city. I feel like I’ve been able to make so many connections with people that also understand art how I do in terms of similar views. Sometimes it feels stiff and academic, but there is a wide spread of how people view art. There is so much space to experience it too. I’m really excited to see where those opportunities would be.
What kind of opportunities would appeal to you?
HS: Maybe interning at a gallery space, if there is one I really resonate may be getting my art hung there. I also want to do more commercial stuff because I am here for graphic design so if I ever get the opportunity to do something for a friend like an album cover or a logo I would love to do that.
So does the business side of art also interest you and galleries?
HS: Yeah, I have a lot of interests in digital media and how we communicate through logos and advertisements. We see so many in a day, but we don’t really take the time to deconstruct them but I feel like there is a lot of meaning there.
Yeah there’s such a heavy saturation of imagery in our day to day.
HS: It also takes such knowledge of our subconscious and subconscious associations with shape and color that I think these companies are trying to utilize. Digging into that is really interesting.
It’s kinda what you were saying earlier about the primary colors and how the basics and fundamentals affect people.
HS: Yeah for sure, it all ties in together.
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