Conversation with Heyon Han
Posted by Steve Maher on 22 Apr 22:35
Heyon Han (HH): Dear Arlene, Thank you for writing to me. Yes, I would be open and happy to make an interview with you. I would be also interested to know more about you, what do you usually deal with in your work, your interest, and your position in the Pixelache and so on.
Arlene Tucker (AT): So nice to hear that! Thanks for sending me your portfolio. Before I open it, for some reason I would like to first get to know you a bit. Oh my, thanks for asking me about me and my work. You are one of the first to ask me that during these Pixelache interviews and so, in a way, I’m taken aback by your interest and touched that you took the time to ask.
HH: Of course, Knowing what are your interest could encourage us to have a more interesting conversation. And this could help me understand your perspective on how to look at my work as well.
If you allow me to introduce briefly about myself. I was born and raised in Korea, came to Germany in 2012 and currently living in Berlin. I have been invited to Pixelache festival 2019, to show a video work of mine. I find that the conceptual premise of the Pixelache is asking very valid questions of our living with the technology. I am honored and excited to be part of it. And I’m glad about the opportunity to make this interview with you.
AT: I am happy that you could join us! “Knowing what's your interest could encourage us to have more interesting conversation” really hits it on the button for me. This IS what my work is largely about and perhaps how life keeps me going. I’m curious about everything and when I don’t understand something, I try to find different perspectives to make sense of it. Playfully investigating, translating, open up all kinds of possible ways to challenge and understand the meaning making process from all points of view is very important to me. Well, that’s one of the things that’s important to me.
What’s one thing that’s important to you at this moment in life?
HH: I very much agree with your desire for knowing the unknown parts. In a way that’s why I moved to Germany and I changed my medium from painting to wider range of materials. I was once deeply frustrated, I thought that I could never read all the books in the world!! (I was like 12 years old, not having my own pc yet) It’s somewhat funny to look back on it now but I was really shocked about it. I don't think we are yet free from this kind of fear but I know that we have much to do with the knowledge we already have.
AT: Do you mean the fear of not being able to discover, know, understand everything one would want to? Did you face your fear, in a way, by going to Germany?
HH: Yes, there is something primary about this sort of fear. It is sophisticated nature of us, caused by living in conflicting temporalities. I face the fear every moment in making my practice, asking myself how to navigate in this messy middle of making art. I wonder if I do this for 20 more years, would I find it easier? but I believe that we can all agree on the difficulty of decision making without knowing their end.
Coming to Germany was exciting though, because I needed to go somewhere new. I always had this urge to change myself, and to change my surroundings. Anyways, it took a proper procedure, preparation for the trip, going to airport, long wait before the flights, struggles with the language and the famous bureaucracy... all not that pleasant, in fact. But I'd be more freaked out if I found myself somehow somewhere in Germany without any of that process. I find the scariest scenario from well-known sentences of William Gibson -- "Future is already here."-- Imagine, situated with sudden awareness that you are already living in the future! Isn't that creepy?
The other half sentence goes -- "it's not just evenly distributed." Which is why Gibson is a great author, he opens it up for broader conversations. I understood this as a question, if we are really ready for the future, considering our ongoing problems, the uneven distribution with the economy when the capital earns easier access to the future. I think this fear expands especially today, feeling challenged everyday with new technology. We want no one to get left behind, do we?
I also remember the earliest days in my life, playing with toys and crayons, expanding the imagination into the reality by the use of those objects. It was an organic development put through recognition - deformation - reinvention - and you use them in a way that fulfils your need and the desire for more than what it is. I think it still stays with me as a biggest momentum that keeps me going. Doing something in a different way, having your own way to comprehend the world is to be accomplished both in living my life and making my practice.
As a way to explore the incomplete manual for our living, I guess.
AT: That’s a beautiful approach to life. When you said “incomplete manual”, I thought about what this could be and I thought about my family, my surroundings, all the judgements and advice people love to put on you. Everybody is trying to help you not make the mistakes they made.
What did you have in mind?
HH: We live in-between things that we have created and things that we did not create but still co-exist with us. I would like to take the example of machines and animals. They are so close to us we almost take for granted living together. However, not many of us know how to communicate with them in a right way. So many machines break because of mis-usage. We barely understand how this technology works unless you are a technician or if you have studied the subject. In a very first-hand experience, machines are still black boxes for us in many cases.
It’s always the communication problem. I think manual is a cultural equipment invented from the awareness that our communication to the world is incomplete. Perhaps our way of living, meaning to deal with the life and knowing ourselves are not any different from this issue. Our effort to translate preverbal intelligence and love is at stake especially considering AI technology today. I have curiosity and concern with this open question, believing that our relationship to surrounding is what makes who we are.
HH: I like how you said, people "love" to put those advice on you. I appreciate much of this kind of communal teaching. It may be invisible but affect us as a strong force shaping our behaviour.
AT: Love in the sense that it comes from a good place, but also it can be frustrating because it can feel crowding. Depending on the kind of person you are, sometimes you just need time to figure things out on your own. I am the youngest of 4 so I have a very close relationship with this kind of love. Also, I often ask myself if I am doing this because I want to or am I doing it because I think it’s what’s expected of me. Sometimes it’s tricky really being honest with yourself because social constructs run deep!
HH: Love can become a tool to enforce you the social constructions. I can easily think of an example in Korea. It’s sadly quite common to find it in a family gathering, your most loved members would point out specific parts of your appearance and strongly recommend to you to get plastic surgery. It comes from a good place because they care about you and your future. It is a superficial social reflection but I find it significantly violent and physical with its consequences.
AT: Exactly! I come from Taiwan and so can relate to what you said. Nobody in my family has ever specifically put that pressure on me, but this national idea of what one’s ideal weight and appearance should look like is quite strong. It’s changing over time as I am changing, but as a little girl, it was the worst! It’s embedded in the way people talk, make jokes, look at you. Or is it all in my head?! When I was younger it made me feel so bad as I was a tomboy and “bigger boned” than the average girl. My father is American so in some ways when we went back to the States I didn’t feel “bigger” there, but then other social standards confronted me. In the end, you just have to do what you want to do and build your own identity. Maybe this is why J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye hits all of us teenagers so hard in a real way. At least for me it did!
HH: I am also quite tall for Asian girl. Believe me, I understand. It is not just how people see you, but I actually have had difficulty to find my size when I went shopping in Korea. There was a time a few years ago where everybody wore only 44 or 55, (that’s like XS or S) not any bigger. I felt so awkward about myself, but as in your case, here in Germany I feel totally ok to be as I am with my size. But then there is this stereotype and expectation that goes along with being Asian. It is normal to be different!! It actually freaks me out a little bit, to see people in the same size and height, gathered in a group…
I didn't really notice before you asked, if I consider my community as an incomplete manual for the living, but it can be for sure now to think about it. I would like to include this paragraph written at the preface of Lucy Suchman's book 'Plans and Situated Actions: The problem of human-machine communication'. I was introduced to this text by my professor during the study at the AdBK in Nuremberg. I always go back to think about this text, it encourages me to learn how other people made their way and believe that I can be a part of them one day.
Thomas Gladwin (1964) has written a brilliant article contrasting the method by which the Trukese navigate the open sea, with that by which Europeans navigate. He points out that the European navigator begins with a plan-a course-which he has charted according to certain universal principles, and he carries out hIS voyage by relating his every move to that plan. His effort throughout his voyage is directed to remaining 'on course.' If unexpected events occur, he must first alter the plan, then respond accordingly. The Trukese navigator begins with an objective rather than a plan. He sets off toward the objective and responds to conditions as they arise in an ad hoc fashion. He utilizes information provided by the wind, the waves, the tide and current, the fauna, the stars, the clouds, the sound of the water on the side of the boat, and he steers accordingly. His effort is directed to doing whatever is necessary to reach the objective. If asked, he can point to his objective at any moment, but he cannot describe his course (Gerald Berreman 1966).
AT: That closing sentence really says it all for me. That’s my dream, my ideal me, the way I’d like to approach life, adventure, and challenges. The one where I know what I want and what I need, but am open to all forms of transportation and paths of finding my way “there”. It’s all about the process. And that it’s indescribable because it was so full of surprises and untranslatable details!
I had to look up who the Trukese people were as I’ve never heard of this before. “The Chuukese, previously spelled Trukese, are an Austronesian-speaking ethnic group indigenous to the island of Chuuk and its surrounding islands and atolls. They constitute almost 49% of the population of the Federated States of Micronesia, making them by far the largest ethnic group in the country.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuukese_people
Do you feel like at this time in your life, you have a strong desire, dream, or hope? What is it?
HH: I just moved to Berlin and am situated moving between flats constantly. The housing market here is crazy. I don’t know for how long I can keep on moving every two months. It is also the first time that I don’t have a studio, but somehow have to manage my workflow. While it stimulates my brain to be flexible and gives me chances to practice the priorities, there is somehow this feeling that my life hasn’t really started yet. It’s like on constant delay. Which is very dangerous! So this is the strongest thing going on currently in my mind- to take some level of resistance and power through everyday living in a way that is fulfilling. You have to take the value from the reality, otherwise the reality takes the value from you!
AT: Just yesterday I was thinking why is it so hard for people to be vulnerable? Thank you for being so honest and pushing me to do the same. You’ve got a lot of things going on in your life right now, but it seems like you’re channeling that energy for good and making it work for you. It’s so easy to start wallowing in frustration which can then grow into anger.
I hope to know where I want to live. I know what I want in my life, but finding a place to lay my head has always been a struggle for me. When you talk about delay, I know exactly what you mean.
I am waiting at the bus stop to go to work. As I left the house I had the feeling to check my mailbox. In there, was a letter, in a way, determining if I should stay in Helsinki or not. I think I know the answer but i cannot say it outloud. I am not strong enough yet to hear my voice voice my dream. Not here. Not yet.
If we one day meet in person, I can tell you then.
HH: About what you said, Not here. Not yet is exactly what we may think of the future. A sense of delay. It seems that you are resisting the future that may arrive by the letter. What do you think the reason is?
AT: It is about three weeks later from that last morning. Reading my words after such a period, I feel like that was somebody else. I had to read it a couple of times to really know what I meant and then to know what your comment meant.
You are right. I was resisting the future. I needed time to process the receival of the letter and then time to comprehend the meaning behind the words. Finally, two weeks later, I have it filled out and am soon ready to mail. If I’m honest with myself, finding the right balance of letting this excitement reach the air will take a few days. I don’t want to be pushed and I don’t feel like I should be rushed.
We have been roaming here and there. Do you feel that any of these things we have been talking about are a part of your work or art practise? How do they relate or how do they not relate?
HH: My search leads to research, and the sculptural result in the end. But they are not necessarily to be understood linear. That’s why I asked you if you already have seen my work. So you know what I am doing with my hands, and what I talk and think. If they are compelling narrative or not is left to the viewers.
AT: Yes, I looked at your portfolio after you reminded me to do so. Because the portfolio’s format is a pattern of text and image it did create a narrative for me. Your text is well written and clear. That’s a good thing because there’s an idea the viewer can follow, but then you insert a lot of questions which are very engaging and create a relationship with the sculpture. It’s your sculptures that are totally abstract and ambiguous. Your articulate texts juxtaposed to your open for interpretation sculptures make a compelling combination. I can imagine that when in the space, it’s a different story.
HH: I tried to answer the questions including what is important for me to navigate myself in making art. I don’t want my work to look abstract so I try to make it clear as possible for me and the viewer. My interest can be described in composition of a triangle -- Rapid problem solving technology - Uneven access for the future - Material process eating itself -- Our relation to capitalism and autocannibalism have been big keywords in my practice recent years.
AT: Thank you, Heyon for taking the time to talk with me. When we first started writing there was snow on the ground, now the birds are chirping. The world continues even when capitalism is on the prowl.
For more information about Heyon Han's work please check out her site.