Los Angeles, Aug. 2009 - Planning A Year
“See you next year,” is a common phrase people use when they believe the next time they will see a person is in the following year. People tend to make little “plans” without really realizing that they’re committing to a yearlong promise. Artist Sojung Kwok’s “Planning a Year” project does exactly that: she planned 365 actions a year ago, and is proceeding to do those actions now. This two-year project is still in the works and is documented by photos, videos, and daily emails on http://planningayear.com/ everyday. ArtSlant writer, Julienne Lin, carried on an email conversation with Sojung Kwon while Kwon was preparing for her first solo exhibition in Seoul. The following are excerpts from that conversation.
Sojung Kwon,"Rolling a Ball" (Mirror), 2009, Mirrored plexi glass, 280 x 170 cm; Courtesy of the artist
Julienne Lin: What made you decide to take on this time-based project?
Sojung Kwon: I've always wanted to do a large-scale project in an abstract way. You asked me this question for an interview, and funnily, I got the idea for this project when someone was interviewing me last time. The last question from that interview was, 'How do you see yourself in 10 years?' and I answered that 'I’m not sure. Let’s meet again in 10 years.' At the moment, that question interested me in knowing that could be my answer, a promise to do appointed things, at least in a year, even if it's fragment.
JL: How did you come up with the actions you planned to do? I noticed some of the actions are everyday, like eating chocolate, while others are more adventurous, like walking with a cat.
SK: At the stage of planning everyday for 1 year (from Mar. 1, 2008 to Feb. 28, 2009), it was important that planning for the year after was planned on that day. I made no restrictions or plan for the plan. I just wrote down every plan that flashed across my mind.
The plan could be related or unrelated with an action. Something could take a moment, like I blink for a couple of hours or could take all day, something that I’d like to do or what I was already doing but wanted to do again in a year. Or it could be something I must to do in my lifetime, or something that I don't want to do but happens once in a year. It may look very private, or anyone may feel sympathy.
JL: Did another artist do something similar to inspire you? Your project reminds me a lot of the work that artists did during the Happenings period from the 1960s where situations were considered art.
SK: Well, I love the smell of that era. When I open a black and white film just taken out from the refrigerator, there’s a very nice and cold smell. For me, works from the ‘50s – ‘70s, the Happenings period is like that smell. Before executing a project with an idea, I look over whether any similar works were already done before or not, and mostly it is work from the ‘50s - ‘70s. This time, I've studied works of Tehching Hsieh, On Kowara, Vito Acconci, Yoko Ono and the great artists from the period. I tried to take out the peculiar seriousness from the ‘50s and put more of my own character into my work in comparison to theirs. It is like a colorful work over their black and white drawings.
JL: What are you trying to tell or show people with this project? For example, what is your ultimate goal that you are trying to achieve?
SK: Honestly I’m not sure what I will achieve from this project. I am just enjoying the process of making my own stages, rules, and sticking to it. I don't design the results that I could get beforehand because I know that the exact results would never come out. There are always variations I’ve not thought of, and that’s the most important component that makes the work complete. Even though I foresee and plan my future, my success or failure at predicting this makes the whole project. Desired results or not, I will find meaning (in the project). Please ask me the same question next year. Haha..
JL: How do you feel when people respond negatively to your emails?
SK: Even though I staged and expected the responses, unavoidably sometimes I get a bit depressed by negative ones for about a day. However, whether it’s a nice response or not, I get excited that people have responded. These responses become important components to make this project characteristic and different. I’ve got a couple of my favorite ones; the e-mail I received on April 19th, after I had been sending out daily email for about 50 days, is still the best one. I planned to reply to the person a year later and I did.
Subject: F.U. CRAP - TAKE ME OFF YOUR STOOPID LIST A-HOLE
WHAT KIND OF CRAP IS THIS? NO ONE CARES OR WANTS SPAM IN THEIR E-MAIL BOX JACK-ASS. PLEASE DON'T TELL ME THIS IS ART.
Subject: I appreciated your participation. Thank you.
You do not know me, but I am Sojung Kwon, the person who has been sending you mails everyday since March 1st 2008, and I am responding to your reply on April 19th, 2008.
I was not sure if you were seriously mad (if you were, I apologize) or you just wanted to yell at an anonymous person. I liked you said “STOOPID” instead of “stupid”, and I especially appreciated that you mentioned, “ Don’t tell me this is art”. I haven’t used the term “art” for this project, and so far nobody has but you. It is as if right before the moment I say, “Don’t think of an elephant”, you think of an elephant first.
JL: How would you explain to someone who doesn’t understand your work that documenting actions is an art?
SK: Well, I would not. There are two people drawing lines. One person draws a line without thinking from here to there. The other person thinks about drawing a line for 10 hours and then draws exactly the same shape, length, and direction of the line the first person drew. Those lines look the very same, but I believe those are very different lines. Both drawings could be art. What I do is makes the difference between the two, and I don't try proving it’s art.
There was a time when I was struggling with the question myself: how can I define my work as art? That huge question cut my thoughts off for a while. Then I had really good meetings with instructors at my grad school, and one of my instructors said, “If I believe it’s art, and if there is only one more person to agree with me, it is art”. I think, study and create anything I like; to those people who want explanation, I would say the same thing that my instructor said to me.
JL: Do you sometimes get tired of doing an action, such as sitting in an uncomfortable position reading a book? (June 12th, 2009). What gives you the willpower to keep going?
SK: Sometimes. Those plans were designed for the day a year earlier and, back then, I never knew what was going to happen. Doing an action gets tough, especially when I get sick or find myself in a totally different country than where I thought I would be a year before. For example, I had to change my travel plans to shoot guns in the U.S. (June 27th, 2009), because I couldn't find a place to shoot guns in Korea. The plans are plans I needed to follow, fail, or at least be aware of. Besides, once I started doing actions I planned, it’s rather hard not to follow.
Sojung Kwon, Pet Bag, 2007; Courtesy of the artist
JL: Please tell me about your upcoming exhibition in Seoul. What type of work are you exhibiting and what is the theme of your show?
SK: This is my first solo show in my home town, Seoul, in 5 years. It has been organized and supported by the Art Council Korea. I took this chance to show the work I created in the U.S. from the last 5 years including "Pet Bag", "Flying White Cube", "Rolling a Ball" and "Planning a Year" Project. I showed sculptures and installation works in the first floor and on the second floor I screened four video works. "Planning a Year" project is installed in the whole basement floor exhibiting documentations, everyday collections, and witness' confirmations from March to April.
Pet bag: I made a "pet" from a plastic bag I got at a market. I brought it everywhere and introduced it to all the people I met. Also I made pet bag kits to give people who want pets. The kit includes a plastic bag, a ribbon, and a green wire stick. Assembly instructions were included and were traded for a strand of hair.
Flying White Cube: A multidisciplinary artist, Bree Yenalavitch, was invited to participate in the 3rd show at the gallery "Flying White Cube", which will be placed in 3m height with a balloon. Yenalavitsh's selected works were needed to be a maximum size of 5 square cm and weigh less than10 grams. The audience will view this mini show with binoculars and also from the wireless spy camera, two TV monitors.
All my projects invite the audience to participate in familiar and social activities. I am very excited to see Korean audience's responses and what they think about. Wish me luck!
ArtSlant would like to thank Sojung Kwon for her assistance in making this interview possible.