Q + A with New York based artist Heeseop Yoon

Since her mom bought her a coloring book and pencils at a young age, Heeseop Yoon has always aspired to be an artist. Although she has had technical training, Heeseop also spent time after college trying out different processes and materials, such as pigments. Never one to shy away from challenges, she finally settled on black masking tape. PATTERN recently had the chance to chat with Heeseop about her unique process, challenging oneself, and discovering one’s niche.

Allie Coppedge: When did you decide to become an artist? Any defining moment you can recall?

Heeseop Yoon: I have a really vivid memory, at four or five, of my mom buying me a box of crayons and sketch book. She opened the first page and drew a person. I was so amazed and thought ‘oh, I can draw a person too’. I enjoyed playing around with those [crayons]. From then on, I never really questioned it. It was very organic. I always wanted to become an artist, and my parents were oddly okay with it. I never had to think about if it was what I wanted to do. I had already embedded it in my head.

AC: What’s the inspiration behind your latest art installation at Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA)?

HY: In my drawing, I’m interested in representing claustrophobic spaces and piles of defunct objects in that space. Wherever I travel to I try to seek out spaces – like warehouses, basements, junk shops, etc. – where everything is jumbled and filled with piles of random stuff. In the beginning, it began as more of a formal interest. I was fascinated by piles of stuff. I wanted to make a drawing about perception and mark making rather than narratives of objects themselves.

But the more I worked with these, I started to realize that these spaces are hidden within our lives. We have so much stuff that we forget about or keep stored away, so we find new spaces for ourselves and the things we own. So now, I’m interested in those lost spaces — the things that are now abandoned by people and waiting to be reused or rediscovered again. This makes the piece also about exploration and ownership. In a way, I’m giving people a chance to reconsider or rethink what we left behind- our memories and histories.

AC: Do you draw inspiration from travel?

HY: Yes, I love traveling. Wherever I go, I try to find a space filled with a lot of trash and abandoned items. There’s always somewhere that looks like a disaster; however, it’s filled with a lot of items that are still functional. For example, this project at iMOCA is from five different places. I take random photos [of the places] and put them together. Then I construct a view from that. My project is a combination of multiple spaces. This piece was constructed by things I found in a secondhand store in Germany, my dad’s basement in Korea, a junk shop in Maine, and a couple of other places. It gives it multiple perspectives and views.

AC: What does the process of creating installations look like for you?

HY: When I have a project like this, the first thing I usually do is visit the site. I go to the place that I’m supposed to make the piece for and spend a little time in the space. I look out for the areas that I want to explore with my work in the space. I usually go for the areas with architectural character. I was not able to come see this space [iMOCA] in person, so I had a Skype meeting with Mike, the director of exhibitions. He was able to show me around the space with his phone. I received the dimensions and floor plan and decided to use both the walls and columns as a canvas. In this space in particular, these columns have such a big presence that I wanted to take advantage of having these in here. Even if it doesn’t take up the entire wall, I want to make a piece that uses the entire space. It isn’t just about the walls.

Once I have an idea of how the entire piece will sit in the space, I choose images from the photos I took. I always work from the photos first, then construct a view and draw freehand. After I put lines of tape on the surface, I don’t take off or get rid of any lines. If I want to change the line, I add more on top of it. That’s why you see some unrecognizable areas that have a bunch of black lines. That means I went over that area a lot. In my work, it adds more chaos, not necessarily clarity.

Most of my installations are room scale and my studio isn’t even a third of what this space [motioning to room] is. I typically work section by section in my studio, finishing about 80 percent in my studio in advance and finishing the rest when I’m on site installing. I add additional drawings on the wall, ceiling, and floor. The piece is made with quarter inch black masking tape on sheets of mylar, each sheet being 2 feet x 4 feet. They each get a number, and then I make a map that shows which number goes where. So installing the whole piece is like putting together a really big puzzle. I normally don’t get to see the entire piece together until I finish installing on site.

AC: How long does it usually take you [to create an installation] from concept to the finished product?

HY: In my studio, the main drawing part takes about a month and a half. Installation takes around four days.

AC: You mentioned that when you make mistakes in your art you don’t change them.

HY: People normally draw line by line. When they make a mistake, they erase it and redo the line. But I feel as though there is no such thing as making mistakes when you’re drawing. It’s all a part of the process. When you draw a line, that’s the way you looked at it at that moment. It’s the changing of perception. The way you look at an area is already different from looking at it five minutes ago. My earlier art education in Korea was very much about learning craftsmanship and perfection. There was a very clear line between this looks right and this does not. Ever since I graduated school from there, I learned I don’t want to try so hard to make this one perfect thing. I don’t want to be afraid of making mistakes. I just want to keep adding lines upon lines. It’s very liberating. I don’t have to get so scared in front of perfect white paper or walls. Process is very important to me.

I don’t want to be afraid of making mistakes. I just want to keep adding lines upon lines. It’s very liberating. I don’t have to get so scared in front of perfect white paper or walls.

AC: What are some themes you demonstrate to your audience?

HY: I want to make drawings that are more about perception, mark making, and the experience of line rather than representation of particular objects. I want to make the act of seeing and drawing more active. That’s why I choose to draw with masking tape. My entire project started with this idea of making drawings with materials that are challenging to draw with. As I said earlier, my education was all about making perfect pieces of art. I was trained to be an artist through repetition. At a certain point, the act of drawing became so tedious that I didn’t really have to think about the process of mark making. I could easily draw something without even looking at the object. So I wanted to find a way that I could slow down the process of looking and drawing. Making a drawing with materials like tape limits freedom. That way I can pay more attention to the process rather than concentrating on making a perfect object.

For a lot of people, when they look at art, it’s representational. They know what they’re looking at before they even look at the work. I wanted to make the experience of looking more challenging so that viewers spend more time in front of the work. You don’t realize what you’re looking at at first. Once you spend more time with it, you start to see little clues here and there of what you’re looking at. The discovering process is very important to me because that’s the moment when people actually look at what’s in front of them in a very active way.

AC: What made you think of using masking tape as your medium?

HY: As I mentioned earlier, I was looking for materials that weren’t traditional. I tried pigments and many other materials but chose masking tape because I like the line quality of it. It’s a ready-made line, but looks very expressive and has a lot of emotional elements once you make a drawing with it. I like that juxtaposition between the ready-made line and the very expressive line.

AC: You have degrees from Chung-ang University and City College of New York. A lot of artists choose not to go to school. How did you benefit from getting a formal education as an artist?

HY: Training to be an artist definitely has had an effect on my work. Because I was trained to be that kind of [perfect] artist, I feel like that brought me here. It made me think about what it means to be perfect and make realistic drawings. The traditional concept of making art provides me with the opportunity to think about what I’m doing now. I questioned things that I can do really well. It was fun at the beginning to be able to draw really well according to others’ opinions. Because I had that kind of skill, I have no problem getting out of my comfort zone. At the beginning of my work, I get worried about making weird looking work or drawings that don’t make sense. But the more that I work on it, the more it relaxes me and frees me from worrying about being judged by other people.

AC: What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do?

HY: In these installations, it’s the starting point and the ending point. At the starting point, I could keep adding lines forever; it’s really hard to decide when to end. It’s hard to find a place to stop myself. I try not to get too comfortable with the way I work and the material. Once I get too comfortable with everything, it becomes easy for the process to become habitual.

AC: What advice do you have for artist’s trying to find their unique edge?

HY: Push yourself with one thing for as long as you can. You may find a process or materials you like to use, but it’s important to spend enough time with one thing until you feel like you’ve had enough. Only then do you move onto the next. Try to see if that one thing worked out for you. If so, figure out what you liked or disliked about the process or materials. Find out how you can combine those two. For me, the first drawing I made [with tape] was of a lightbulb, but I really enjoyed it and wanted to make something else. At first, I made the drawing directly on the wall, but it took me forever to install the work. I wanted to find a way to save time and save some of the work, but with the same material. I tried out a variety of ways to achieve that and finally came up with mylar. From project to project, there’s always one thing that I discover and add to the next.

AC: What do you hope viewers take away from your art installation?

HY: I want viewers to feel like they used enough of their visual abilities. The impression that they not only saw something, but tried to find something as well. They don’t have to see what I draw. Whatever they discover from their experience is really valid.

AC: What’s next for you, after this exhibit?

HY: I have an installation in September at the De Moines Art Center.

Check out more of Heeseop’s work on her website. Or check out the completed exhibit at the CityWay Gallery curated by iMOCA.

The Alexander, CityWay
216 E South St
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Photography by Esther Boston.