Hong Seon Jang is a sculpture and installation artist based in New York City. He has a BFA from Dan Kook University in South Korea and an MFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He’s exhibited all over the US including San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis and, of course, New York City. We visited him in Queens during his one year residency at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning.
I’m the artist-in-residence for the Jamaica Center for one year. They offered me a solo show in their gallery but I realized that the location is too far away from the city. Getting people to come for the opening would be very self-indulgent. Instead, I decided to invite four artists–Buhm Hong, Hyungsub Shin, Yusam Sung and Sun You–turning the gallery into a studio space. We work here and the community comes in and interacts with us. Luckily, at the end, we have a show at the Korean Cultural Service New York. The show will be the result of this project. The title is “In Making,” we’re just making things and interacting with people.
I only invited Korean artists because the program got funding from the Korean Cultural Service. Also, it was a very interesting experience to be on the subway and seeing the transition between Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens. It goes from white and diverse to very black. I thought it would be interesting to bring in some Korean culture.
There’s a specific schedule for working at this center. I come in Thursdays and Saturdays. Artists these days…in my opinion, an artist means you need to do studio practice and you have to take care of all the things. Let’s say, open calls, submissions, contacting other art people, emailing–it takes a lot of time. If I have to write something in English, it takes even longer. It’s business. I don’t want to break the fantasy of being an artist, but it is what it is. A long time ago, you just go to the studio, but nowadays, you have to expand your business and promote yourself, all by yourself.
I studied painting and photography, but now I’m doing sculptural work. It’s totally different work. I play with materials and explore. My studio in Manhattan has tons of boxes, full of materials, that I haven’t seen for years. Sometimes when I find something, I can execute it with a good idea but sometimes I put them away and never see it. For example, when I moved here, to do this project, I rediscovered new materials to play with. I found animal skulls I hadn’t seen in five years.
All the materials are cultural for me. Everything is new to me. I’m from South Korea and everything I find here isn’t my cultural reference. I’ve been here for 13 years. Sometimes I realize, ‘Oh, I’m speaking English.’ That’s freaking amazing because when I had to pass customs, they asked questions and I couldn’t understand so I kept repeating, ‘My name is Hong Seon Jang.’ Now I speak English, that’s pretty amazing. My favourite English word is ‘epistemology’ because it sounds like, ‘Piss me! It piss me!’
They don’t like my work in Korea. They have a specific style and I’m pretty Americanized. I’m like a bat, between bird and mammal. I’m hovering in-between. It’s confusing. During this project, we’ve discussed this a lot. We want to go back to Korea for an important project. We see a better future through communicating. We get the opportunity to share ideas and energy.
–Hong Seon Jang, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Vuk Dragojevic