Yellow shredded silk flowers whirl in the wind. Some remnants leave neon yellow traces on the dusty grounds and greyish waters of the Hong Kong harbor. The softness of the yellow textile visually and mentally collides with the industrial nature of the area. It is a beautiful, sensitive performance that at the same time inherits a strong feeling of loss. This is the memory I have from my last encounter with the work of Gyun Hur. It was her aesthetic, clandestine farewell to Hong Kong. Now a New York resident, Gyun Hur’s work embodies the constant potentiality of rupture and violence in one’s body, land, and history, and acknowledges the presence of trauma and loss that runs through a family, homeland, or a place where one resides. In her work she constantly asks herself what it means for an individual or a community to be held together by memories, yearnings, and rituals that are ephemeral and fragile.
My body and spirit know when I belong somewhere.
Gyun, you were born in South Korea and moved to Georgia in the United States at the age of 13. We met when you were working in Hong Kong. Now you reside in Brooklyn, New York. What means home for you?
Home is where I belong. My body and spirit know when I belong somewhere. It is where I do not have any exterior forces to be anything else but myself. Whether your residing place or ‘home’ changes by your will or not, such abrupt uprooting of your existence and attachment to homeland and its scent, nuances, ways, and everything around it can yield a deep yearning for connection and a sense of belonging. My personal meaning of diaspora has shifted as I have lived in the American South, South Korea, Hong Kong, and now New York City.
I have been able to experience and examine the degrees of cultural and emotional consequences of imperialism and diasporic narratives that have constituted most of my understanding of the world. My work then becomes an agency to unravel the weight of history that has formed me. That personal work of unraveling as an artist happens in my studio where I feel most at home than anywhere else.
The experience of immigrating often comes along with excitement but also with trauma and loss. How exactly does this experience fuel your practice as an artist?
What fuels my practice as an artist is this idea of impossibility to accomplish full understanding and reconciliation of both personal and collective experience of trauma and loss. My experience as an immigrant daughter has heightened already existing sensibilities on vulnerability and resilience through physical rupture and migrations within multiple geopolitical landscapes that I have lived. I grew up in South Korea as a child in 80s, about three decades after Korean War. My parents born during the years of Korean war, were post-war children who overcame an extremely fragile and tumultuous time as a split nation was collectively healing and rebuilding its politics, economics, cultures, and public consciousness as a split nation. And I was born during the time when there was a sense of optimism about future.
What I remember about my childhood was exactly that mixture of romantic optimism accompanied by 1988 Seoul Olympics sentiments and this undeniable presence of trauma that adults around me carried through their lives.
Then we left everything behind us to move to the American South in 1996. Growing up in suburb of Georgia, I spent many hours at my parents’ dry cleaners where they worked. My constant interaction with the laborious process of washing and fixing clothes has undeniably influenced the way I understand labor, its politics, and production. It also framed and colored my understanding of where my family and I ‘fit’ into this larger societal structure according to its socio-economic classification. I have come to understand labor in an incredibly personal and poetic way. Labor is a diffuser between idea and production, a mediator between the past and the future, and a forgiving agency of unforgiving nature of time.
In most of your installations you use shredded silk flowers, lately often especially yellow flowers. Why?
I was reading a book Yellow: Race In America Beyond Black and White written by Frank H. Wu when I decided to primarily use yellow silk flowers. My former professor gave me this book during my graduate school years. I skimmed through the text then, and I am now processing the text with deeper criticality and emotions. As I meditate and evaluate on my own personhood as an Asian-American female having grown up in the American South, I realize my personal, nuanced experience in a bigger context of racial politics in America lacks a robust reference and articulation. Hence, it has been my intentional effort to read texts like Frank Wu’s Yellow and Leslie Bow’s Partly Colored to better understand my identity and positionality in this current socio-political landscape so that I can continue carving out my own visual and conceptual articulation. Silk flowers as my material have largely symbolized the idea of land and body that have gone through loss and trauma.
The specificity of color ‘yellow’ is subversively suggesting my meditation on my body, as a yellow woman, if I may label it so.
You are an interdisciplinary artist, an educator and writer. When you trace back the lineage of your personal and artistic career, who influenced you the most?
The idea of lineage has been my recent reckoning. I always have loved thinking and learning about people who sought after the beauty, invisible, and spiritual. When I first learned about watercolor and Western paintings as a child, I poured my heart learning every painter in Western art history books. I especially loved the paintings of Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Caravaggio, and Georgia O’Keefe. Then eventually I was introduced to artists like Kara Walker, Kimsooja, Robert Smithson, Sol LeWitt, Anne Truitt, Wolfgang Laib, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Adrian Piper, Ann Hamilton and so many more who taught me an expression of boundless. I love all of these heroes and heroines in art history. Discovering texts by James Baldwin and Theresa Ha Kyoung Cha was quite revolutionary. I have come to acknowledge the presence of unknown and forgotten ancestors, artists, writers, and teachers whom I have yet to discover.
I have a lot of work to find this new kind of lineage that I did not know it existed, giving light and visibility to the unknown source of knowledge and inspiration.
Currently your part of the NARS foundation international artist residency. What is next?
I will be here with New York Artist Residency and Studios (NARS) Foundation program until the end of June 2019, and will be preparing for a few exhibitions for 2020 in New York.
Header Photo: A BLANKET OF REQUIEM, 2009 / Elizabeth’s Foundation for the Arts Studio, New York, NY
30 minutes performance with Juri Onuki
More about Gyun Hur
Photo credits: The artist
Author: Inga Nelli