Si Jae Byun at Chan Hampe Galleries, Singapore
You have worked in a wide variety of mediums as an artist. Can you tell me a bit about your artistic background?
For my undergraduate work I majored in painting and minored in textile design. Then I received an MFA in new media/video from Kookmin University in Seoul, and a second MFA in Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. After graduating from Kookmin University, a professor from the Performing Arts department saw my installation works and suggested teaming up to develop set designs for several of her and other’s performance shows. Of course, my favourite medium has always been drawing.
I’ve always had a very multi disciplinary approach to projects and being able to really explore my ideas using different media, and the processes associated with each has had a significant influence on my practice.
Is that how you came to use silk paper as your painting canvas?
Exactly. Using my textile background and learning from my set design work, I was trying bring the three dimensional feel of set design to a two dimensional artwork, to create something that could include levels of transparency and create the illusion of depth.
I started by placing cotton thread between layers of fabric and would then sew that together, but it quickly became way too much fabric! I wanted a cleaner work. I thought about my experience with video and how in creating video works it is all about process and structure, creating a video frame by frame. That led to using the silk paper, it’s semi-transparent so the space in between the layers is visible, but there is no actual gap between the sheets of silk.
How does the layering speak to the conceptual aspect of the work?
My work has always been about stories, a visual representation of the story of my life. I’ve always felt a disconnect or gap present somewhere in my life. When I was growing up in South Korea, much of my parent’s family lived in North Korea so there was this inherent feeling of separation. There was also a strong Western influence in Korea when I was a child. This was all kind of confusing to me, so I wove these personal stories that made space for all the opposing items in order to make sense of it.
Even now this disconnect is present. My husband was born in Korea to Korean parents but he grew up in America, and on the inside he’s very American. I guess in many ways the layers speak to identity, the disparity that exists between our own outside and inside. This also speaks to my interest in Taoist philosophy and in particular, the concept of the root. How the most significant aspect of a person, or a place or experience, is often not immediately clear, but often requires some digging to understand.
You’ve also cited the physical and natural world as being part of what is being captured in these layers. How is that?
Perhaps even more than the idea of identity, I feel that the contrast between the natural and the manmade has influenced my perception of the world and my work. For example, I feel like I have always been surrounded by construction sites, in Korea, in the US, in Europe, and definitely in Singapore! The idea of there being a clear inside and outside delineated by these construction spaces, and the parallels between the structural aspects of the architecture and the structure found in nature is fascinating to me.
The layering allows me to suggest experiences of separation and difference, and simultaneously, the idea of hidden structures. In some way it mimics the experience I have tried to create in my previous installation work, except that instead of the viewer physically experiencing the partitioning first hand, with the paintings some imagination is required.
How do these ideas apply to the work from Multifarious?
I have a few different series of work included within this one show. Meeting & Mixing speaks to the idea of identity, and more specifically as it relates to Singapore’s extremely diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures co-exiting against this background of so much incredible architecture, structures often peppered with trees and shrubbery at twenty and thirty stories high, or green spaces enclosed in glass bubbles. The sheer quantity of manmade and nature-made elements mingled in so many ways makes for an amazingly layered experience for all involved.
To create each piece, I begin by drawing and painting on the canvas, then layer the sheets of silk, drawing and painting on each until I’ve found a balance of colour and line representing these organic and in-organic features. In total they create a kind of visual harmony that’s meant to be representative of this layered experience of local life.
I understand that the paintings in the Moon and Multifarious series actually respond to each other, is that correct?
Yes, in a way. The Moon series is pretty straight forward, representing the phases of the Earth’s moon each month, while the Multifarious pieces are meant to represent an imaginary abstract embryo. Multifarious series of works are diverse versions of my ideas and influenced from nature, human organs, and structure. The connection between the two series is the influence of the moon on the fertility cycle. So from the viewer’s perspective, it is as if you are looking through a telescope at the moon, and through a microscope at the embryo—macro and micro entities, inconspicuously connected.
This idea speaks to the unseen influences or aspects of life, and the concept of balance within these relationships, whether we consciously recognise these connections or not. Personally, I think these works in particular are a reflection of my own, turning inward since becoming a mother for the first time last year. Once again, the works are really me processing my personal story! —[O]