KAB Dialogue


InterviewOctober 18, 2015 UP

Seeking New Horizons of Expression — from Kyoto to New York

Hyon Gyon(visual artist)

  • Interview, text, and images:Aya Aoshima (interviewed in March, 2015)

Hyon Gyon, a visual artist born in South Korea, came to Kyoto as a foreign student and studied at the Graduate School of Kyoto City University of Arts (KCUA). Upon completing her PhD at KCUA in 2011 Hyon Gyon worked as an artist with her studio based in Kyoto. In the spring of 2014 she moved to New York and has since been exhibiting her works and widening her appeal at various locations and events as part of the New York Art scene. In March 2015 Hyon Gyon took part in Volta NY, one of New York’s major art fairs, and responsible for introducing and promoting work by young artists. She also took part in Shin Gallery's group exhibition VENI, VIDE, VICI, and later held an open studio as part of her residency at PIONEER WORKS where she is currently located. 3 years on from her previous interview with Kyoto Art Box, I visited Hyon Gyon at her studio at PIONEER WORKS in Brooklyn, NYC, to ask her about what motivated her move from Kyoto to New York, and what changes have taken place in her artistic expression and life as an artist at the new stage in her career.



―Why did you decide to move your practice from Kyoto to New York? Could you talk about what motivated the decision?

I had a vague urge to come to New York. Before arriving here I hadn't been abroad, except for Japan. I had the impression that New York was the center for contemporary art, and also had an ambition to be challenged once more in a new place. At that time I felt that I was in a stalemate on several fronts, and thought that some changes were necessary, both as an individual and as an artist. It was the same when I first came to Japan, I didn't have any concrete plans or objectives - I just followed my intuition as usual.

―When you first came to New York, did you have any acquaintances or contacts?

Before I fully moved to New York, I did once visit Shin Gallery, who had invited me to come over. I was given the unexpected chance to have an exhibition there at that time, and decided to stay in New York for two months to create new works. The time I spent there creating made me feel that living and working in New York was really worthwhile. So, I had almost no personal contacts there, but not absolutely zero.


SHIN Gallery located in Lower Manhattan

―How did you get acquainted with Shin Gallery?

A few years ago I had the chance to exhibit in Korea whilst living in Japan. It was only a small show for a short period, and there weren’t many visitors, however one visitor posted pictures of my works on their blog. Having found the images online, the owner of Shin Gallery became interested in my paintings, and called me to say that he thought my works were very exciting and that the gallery would like to invite me to exhibit at their space in New York; this was the start. At that time the gallery had just opened, and I wasn’t sure if they knew much about contemporary art and artists. After only a single phone call, I wasn’t confident that their offer was reliable, but that was my first experience of interest from a gallery. So, a gallerist in New York had found art works by an unknown artist working in Japan on a Korean blog - I thought this was an interesting coincidence. Contacts can start from websites and Social networks, and this had never happened to me before. Before that, I had paid little attention to social media, but now I think these communication methods are important. Nobody knows what will happen where or when.

―How about your creative environment in New York and your residency program?

The rent in New York City is surprisingly expensive, so that I can't personally afford to rent a studio. At first I couldn't create because of a lack of space, and found that really depressing. I was trying to create in one way or another in the basement of the gallery. Then I applied for the ISCP residency (The International Studio & Curatorial Program), and was given the chance to start creating there. ISCP offers an excellent creative environment with personal, secure studio spaces. Simply shutting the door of the studio formed a perfect private space; being shy with people, I found it difficult to communicate with others in my environment. Of course, this was just my personal character; the residency itself was very international. ISCP is an excellent place - the organization offers services such as arranging meeting with curators, and artists visit from all over the world. Not being able to speak English fluently, I couldn't make the most of these advantages. But others seemed to have made friends at parties and events, which I couldn't. Every day I just came to the studio to create and then returned home, and during those days I spent a lot of time by myself. One good thing was that many people came and gave their feedbacks or their impressions of my works when I held an open studio.

―Then you moved to another residency at PIONNER WORKS?

Yes, the gallery applied for the residency program at PIONNER WORKS on my behalf. It’s really difficult to get, which I only found out later. It has a lower numbers of studios so competition is very high. It is a wonderful place, a refurbished brick building with studios, exhibition spaces and offices. The studios are very open so that anyone can come in to see what's going on at any time. They’re individual studios without any doors, and separated only by partition boards. Although I was a bit uncomfortable at first, this set-up encouraged me to meet people more easily. I think it's an excellent residency with very wide spaces. The program periods are 3 months for the shortest term, and 6 months for the longest. Many artists come from various countries such as the USA, France, Brazil, Israel, and others. Currently, I'm the only Asian artist in residence. It is a busy, active and dynamic place with events held every week, although it’s a bit inconvenient to access because it’s located quite far from town.

Photo4_1 IMG_4913

PIONEER WORKS' Studio and Gallery

―You also took part in Residency Unlimited around the same time as your residency at PIONNER WORKS. Can you tell us about that residence program?

Residency Unlimited is also an artist-in-residence organization, but doesn't provide production spaces. Instead it introduces curators, galleries and residency facilities, along with the necessary information and networks for artists to promote themselves. In New York, introductions and contacts through art scene networks are essential for artists from abroad. Residency Unlimited functions as my representative so that I can devote myself to creation at PIONEER WORKS, which is luxurious situation. Although both residencies will come to an end this June, they have introduced me another project and helped plan an exhibition. This connection and network will also continue in the future.

―During my visit to your studio at PIONNER WORKS many people were also visiting, looking round and asking questions about your work. Without walls or doors between the studios and the corridor, visitors walking through the corridor can see the inside of the studio. I think this is a good arrangement. By the way, how do the public in New York react to your work? Did you meet any visitors who left an impression on you?

Obviously people in New York express their thoughts, impressions and their preferences in art. They have their own clear opinions and always react in different ways. I think this is very good for me. I met various people; there were two collectors who left a lasting impression. They are not serious collectors but just normal people who enjoy art works with their families at home. They visit many exhibitions and art fairs with their families, to let their children experience art works and exchange opinions with each others; they enjoyed my work in this way and I was happy with that; I think I’m getting to meet interesting people. But I’m not good at talking with people involved in the art business, such as curators, art critics and so on. I feel frustrated at not being able to promote myself when the residency introduces them. Right now my most important challenge is to try and communicate my works through my own words. This is a tough challenge for me because not only do I have to use a foreign language, English, but communication itself is difficult anyway. In Japan, it took a really long time for me to become able to explain my own works in Japanese. In addition to the time it takes to master a local language, I think it requires more time to become able to explain your work in your own words. As I see it, art is created by a collaboration of the brain, hands, and emotions; for me feelings often run ahead, the hands try to catch up, and the brain follows far behind.

―In March 2015 you had several successive shows of your work at different places in New York: Volta NY, a Group exhibition, and an Open Studio at PIONNER WORKS. Before this, did you have any chance to show your works in New York?

Now I have successive chances of exhibiting my works, but I didn't have any chance to show my paintings for about one year after my arrival in New York. During 8 years in Japan, I also didn't have that many chances to exhibit. Being in New York only one year, I still I haven’t had the chance to exhibit my work at public spaces such as a museums, only at exhibitions at galleries. So far I’ve had a few opportunities to sell a small numbers of my paintings at galleries and auctions. I need to search by myself to find other chances for exhibitions. I think that now is the right time to promote myself, and by participating in several residences, I am trying to show my works in public as much as I can.

―Seeing your works in the Volta Show and the group exhibition at the gallery this time, I felt that your work has become increasingly abstract. Do you feel there have been any changes in the way you create works or express yourself?

Yes, I think that the work is influenced by the environment after all. Time flows quite differently in Kyoto and New York. Here in New York everything passes in an instant. I can only stay in a residency for 3-6 months. It’s difficult to find stable and quiet circumstance due to having to frequently move, and the presence of others. In Kyoto I created more detailed works that took much more time to paint. I was greatly attracted to the beauty and techniques of Japanese arts and crafts, which I wanted to learn. The calm and peaceful atmosphere in Kyoto made the style of my works, I believe. Somehow here in New York I can’t find that same peace and time; as soon as I unpack my luggage I have to pack it again. Fearing that I could only create one or two pieces by the end of my residence period if I worked the way I used to in Kyoto, I chose a more improvisational approach, and concentrated my feelings in to each moment of my limited time with the canvas. Seeking a new type of work led me to use a semi-abstract form of expression. Using my hands instead of brushes adds a physical aspect during painting, so that traces of the body’s movements become important. Now it is a time for me to change. I am looking for a new style of painting, and trying to accept it with an open heart, to try and skillfully mix my current style with my past one. At my core, however, nothing has changed. I am in the middle of accepting the change with pleasure.


Works created during the stay at Gallery Studio

―Did you find any actual differences between Kyoto and New York in terms of creation and daily life?

As far as materials are concerned, I don't use any new materials that are unique to America. I use the same paint colors that I used in Japan and regular fabric that I find here. Actually, obtaining and buying materials is problematic. Trying to find out what is sold where, poor service and expensive prices, these are problems I have to solve before I can start work. Getting on a train with 3 or 4 heavy cans of modeling paste, carrying a long wooden stick or a large panel, objects picked from the side of the road – I sometimes feel ashamed when people stare at me on the train. You have to be tough here. There are many things that I can't do by myself; I think I was lucky to have been helped by friends in Japan. Every time I remember Kyoto, I am overwhelmed with gratitude towards everyone who was around me, although I may not have said so at the time… - I think I should try to be a little more sociable here. During the residency I can get and share various sorts of information, which is very helpful. As for my daily life, I live in the same style anywhere, whether in Korea, Japan or New York. I need to change myself first. When I was in Japan I lacked self-confidence and was socially withdrawn. In this way there is no appreciable change to my lifestyle in New York. I continue the same rhythm of daily life here, working at the studio to create, coming home to eat and sleep – just the same as in Kyoto. I well understand that I can meet many more people and gain new experiences when I become more involved in social activities. It is my own problem not to dare to jump in there. Unless I seek out stimulus, even in New York there aren't big differences to the other parts of the world. For me New York may be a place that I can't come to like unless I try. Visiting here as a tourist differs greatly from living here. It may inspire me to work harder to communicate and meet people, and to create many new works. I will come to like New York to the extent to which I work hard, after all, it may be the same all over the world; this is what I realize now. I still feel like I just arrived, even after one year. There’s a lot I still have to discover, so I can't tell what the real differences are yet from Kyoto. I feel that New York is a very active and busy place, where something is always happening, moving, and changing - such as parties, events, openings and so on.


Open Studio at PIONEER WORKS

―I can imagine that it was not easy to move from South Korea to Japan, and then to the U.S. Not just changing where you live, but each time having to master a new language, create new relationships and find occasions to present your works by yourself. Where does your motivation come from?

Having left Japan it may seem that I decided very quickly to come here, but the fact is, my thoughts still lingered on life in Japan, thinking of various things and weeping. It's not easy to leave a place where you’ve stayed long. Sometimes I regretted it. But, being very selfish, I followed what felt most important for me at each moment – and this turned out to be a good decision. Sometimes I feel lonely and sad, but I have to bear it, since it was my choice after all. Maybe this is what gives me motivation, having the guts to take responsibility for my own decisions at any costs, although I am not sure if this leads to happiness or not. I intend to continue creating surprising new works. This has always been my motivation to live.

Hyongyon_Open Studio2


Hyon Gyon

Hyon Gyon is a visual artist who was born in South Korea, and who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from University in South Korea, she came to Japan as an international student and studied at Graduate School at Kyoto City University of Arts. After completing the MFA course, she continued her studies at KCUA and obtained her PhD in 2011. Following graduation she established her studio in Kyoto and participated in several solo and group exhibitions throughout Japan: “On a knife Edge- Hutatsuno mukougishi Exhibition” at Kyoto Art Center, (Kyoto, 2011), group exhibitions at Tokyo Contemporary Art Museum (Tokyo 2007 and 2010) etc.. Hyon Gyon has also exhibited her works internationally, at: “Phantoms of Asia”, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (U.S.A., 2012), and “Phantoms on Parade”, Shin Gallery, New York (U.S.A., 2013). From 2014 Hyon Gyon moved her studio to New York and participated in several residency programs including: Pioneer Works, and Residency Unlimited. Hyon Gyon has works in several permanent collections, including: Brooklyn Museum (New York), The High Museum of Arts, (Atlanta), the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation (Los Angeles), and Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art (Japan).
Website: http://www.shin-gallery.com/Artist/ArtistsView.aspx?ArtistCd=20

Aya Aoshima

Aya Aoshima is an art coordinator, translator / interpreter and researcher based in Kyoto, Japan. She studied Arts Management, and specialized in Music at Long Island University in New York. She completed her Master’s degree in Arts Administration at Shenandoah University, Virginia (U.S.) in 2007. After working at Kyoto Art Center as an art coordinator from 2008 – 2011, she currently works for Kyoto City University of Arts as an international coordinator, where she is responsible for exchange programs and various international art projects. Her specialist field is international cultural mobility, and coordinating interdisciplinary projects between contemporary arts and music. Currently she studies musicology at the Graduate School of Letters, Osaka University.

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