Ye Weon Mary Kim is a dear friend, a very dear friend. I met her two years ago when we both began our journey in graduate school. Mary is generous and kind, which emanates in her work. She draws in the viewer with her playful and vibrant marks. Just as the landscape becomes her canvas, she too leaves a deep impression on those she touches with her infectious grace. I asked her to participate in an interview because her work always provides me solace. She marks the landscape with flamboyant designs, offering us youthful energy in disparate and isolated spaces.
Mary was born in Seoul, South Korea. She grew up in the Dominican Republic and is currently living and working in New Haven, Connecticut. Her work visually communicates the forgotten corners of the world and the denizens that influence the landscape.
Tell us about your latest project.
“Emotionally Yours (from this moment on)” is a photographic series made while I was pursuing my MFA in Photography at Yale. The images are made in various parts of the world I have witnessed and observed. Emotionally Yours is a feeling, a specific one, of caring and selfless sacrifice. I want my photographs to function the way that kindness does.
What was your biggest influence for your series, “Emotionally Yours”?
The biggest influence for this series came from an image I found online. It was a scanned handwritten letter in the shape of a heart. I don’t recall exactly how I found it. The letter started with “Emotionally Yours, from this moment on.” The rest was too small and pixelated to read. I kept going back to that expression and wanted to explore what it means to give oneself to another person. I started to question: what does it mean to write down one’s emotions for someone? How does that translate? How does it manifest? I was interested in the many aspects of love and its association with vulnerability. But mostly I was influenced by the love that was shown to me by those closest to me.
You have a lot of shots of landscapes, what are their significances?
Landscape is always emotional for me; it is always changing, morphing. I think photography does a great job of capturing a moment that would’ve slipped away. The fragility and resilience of nature has always been a source of inspiration for me. In undergrad I studied photography with Joel Sternfeld. He shaped the way I view the world as a young adult as well as my love for landscapes and its relationship to photography. It wasn’t that he just taught about the history of photography but about how to actively be engaged with one’s subject matter, with one’s love. I learned how to love the world I live in.
What draws you to your subject? How do you define the focus of your images?
My practice has always been about finding grace in the landscape, in the forgotten corners of the world I exist in. The desire to understand the world around me and to generate kindness through that understanding is key to the way that I approach my work. I moved to New Haven in the summer of 2014 and started work at the Yale University Art Gallery as a graduate Wurtele Gallery Teacher. I can positively pinpoint this moment as the spark. Everyday children from all over New Haven and Connecticut would visit and we would have a conversation about the art in the museum. I relied on their observations, experiences and perspective, and we collectively built our own history interwoven by our own personal lenses.
What do you mean by “forgotten corners of the world”?
By this I mean the mundane, the dirt on the side of the road. The candy wrapper on the sidewalk, handprints or grease stains on a window. My earlier body of work set in Yonkers, New York is all about the forgotten corners.
I notice that in a lot of your images you photograph people and places that are close to you. I was wondering what role intimacy play in your images?
Intimacy plays a key role in the images I have created. In the end the work was created with the desire to generate kindness, a gift to the world. The hope is that the work speaks on an individual level in the realm of the personal, in the realm of love.
Can you expand a bit here? Why the people and the land? What connection do you have beyond having lived in these spaces.
For me the land reflects human consciousness in the current world we live in. We morph the land for our own benefit. Some create vegetable gardens on the side of the road with string and plastic tubes and some create skyscrapers and super highways.
Where do you find inspiration?
Last fall I spent a lot of my time on the side of Highway 91 in New Haven. It was being used to keep the asphalt and other types of rocks for construction. At a certain point they had planted grass on the side of a hill that connected to Highway 91 across from the Ikea in New Haven. I fell in love with that spot. I am also influenced by other artists. I’ve been thinking a lot about Gabriel Orozco’s work. There are a lot of elements that I draw upon that are close to his line of thought. The world I am in is also my studio.
You explore a lot about mobility and landscape in your work. How has your personal mobility shaped how you make work?
I often picture myself as a spider surrounded by the vastness of time and space. Each image is connected to the other creating a web, disparate yet in conversation. I am constantly weaving piece by piece, connecting worlds. I was born in South Korea and grew up in the Dominican Republic until the age of 15. Before Yale I worked in a Korean Importing company located in Hunts Point in the Bronx, New York where I was translator. It was at this time that I realized I was a human bridge where cultures and foods from all over the world converged momentarily and dispersed into other worlds and realities. This moment of convergence is what I am after in my practice. The moment where photography, sculpture, digital manipulations, landscapes, still lifes, street scenes, alterations in the landscape all collide into each other creating a world of their own. The photographs in this selection were taken in New Haven, South Korea, Yonkers and in many overlooked corners of the world we are part of.
What are some challenges you have had to overcome?
Oof! Where to begin. I’m not sure if I can start to unpack all the challenges and failures I have come across while simultaneously creating new work and being critiqued every five weeks. I would say the challenge of making work in grad school is the balance of being true to the work and my voice while listening and morphing with the critiques.
What is the goal of your art? What is next for you? Where do you see your work going?
I have this strange feeling that Emotionally Yours will never be finished. I think it is the nature of the images or the current state that I am in. I am infinitely challenged by the mind of those that come into contact with me on a daily basis. The lessons that I have learned have been crucial in the creation of my current body of work. I am directly using the language of kindness and interested in the act of giving without wanting anything in return. It is a concept that has been around for a very long time, but a concept needs to become tempered practice. I am trying to show the love that is ever giving and ever patient. My work is a connector between the realistic depiction of the world that surrounds us and a moment of hope and fantastical visions. I plan to create gifts that keep giving and generating this energy of kindness and generosity.
I cannot see too far into the future but all I can say now is that I am Emotionally Yours.