I first met South Korean artist Eun Go in May 2016, when I visited her father, well-known poet Koh Jin Ha. The family lived in a charming hanok, traditional Korean house, in Wonju, named 不便居, which roughly translates as "an uncomfortable house". Eun Go's studio was in a separate section from the main living quarters, filled with half-finished wooden sculptures and sketches tacked on the wall above a simple table that served as her work station. Fascinated, I began asking her about her art practice. She flicked a switch to show me how one of the sculptures was wired to revolve. It was raining, the car taking me back to Toji Cultural Center, where Ko and I were residents at a writing residency, was waiting. But I was reluctant to leave Eun Go's whimsical world, with its tragic-looking figures spouting horns, and the strange expressions on the enigmatic carved wooden faces that have become a trademark of her work. We started an e-mail correspondence, out of which grew this interview. In October 2016, she held her first solo exhibition, in a South Korean gallery, titled "The User Guide for the Power of a Human Being".
- Clara Chow
- Clara Chow
When and how did you begin making artworks?
I was good at singing, and started to sing in church at the age of four, with a full voice and accurate intonation. My parents used to say that someday I would make a great singer. But my voice broke when I was eleven, so I had to find something else I was good at. My parents wanted me to learn the piano, but sitting in front of the piano was meaningless for me.
One day, my mother bought me some clay so I wouldn't get bored while they were away. When they came back, I had made an entire dinner table out of the clay: little spoons and chopsticks, rice in a bowl, grilled fish in a dish, kimchi, fried vegetables, etc. They thought it was my gift and suggested that I make them more often. Making figures and colouring seemed enjoyable to me. I started attending art academy when I was twelve. I think I knew the moment that I started doing art that talent wasn't enough; I tried so hard to be good because time flew by when I was into art.
What kind of materials do you use?
I use wood, mostly. If I fail to make a piece of art with wood, It could be something else, like a cutting board, wooden spoon or small art object. Besides, after I finish working, wood dust goes into the fireplace or floor-heating system in my house as kindling.
What is your working process like?
I sketch the sculpture's design from various angles, search for materials, check the centre of gravity and method of installation, and think about expression for surface and color. When every plan fits, I start working. I use thick board hardwood, draw a figure on it, use electric tools to cut a rough shape and hammer repeatedly, until the complete form appears to me.
The unexpected might happen - worms eating holes through part of a face, cracks, hands put in opposite direction by mistakes - so that I have to start over, change the whole plan due to difficulty of installation. The most important thing is preparing my mind to handle these crises and have strength.
Where did you receive your artist training?
I have studied sculpture in two places: obtaining a BA in Korea, and an MA in India. But what made me more mature is nature, people and society. These days, with lots of untruths all around, I wonder what kind of artist I need to be as a member of this society.
Who are the artists you admire?
Jingue Kwon (1922-1973) is a well-known sculptor in Korea, who I admire most. He made human figures, self-portraits and models. His work are sincere attempts to create a soulful human being. Whenever I observe his work, it's as though I hear a sound of bell, coming from deep in the ocean, reaching out in peace.
You work from a studio in your family home. What's it like to work in this environment?
It is literally an uncomfortable place to work, located in the suburbs. The entrance is small and low; I have to bend my head whenever I enter a door, so that picking up heavy stuff or material hurts my back. But refreshing air, greenery and trees make me relax when I am overwhelmed, stressed or exhausted by work. I can see the seasons changing, listen to the sound of birds, and get close to animals in town. That makes me appreciate small things.
I need to use noisy electric tools for my work, but I can use them any time, because of nice neighbors. They do not complain; are generous and understanding. Can't imagine a more perfect place to work in.
You've grown up with a philosophy of not wasting anything, and which informs your work?
My father used to say to me: "Common things are precious." Which includes the meaning of not wasting anything. His words became the root of my thought, and the reason I care for nature. I try to disturb nature as little as possible. It is probably why I use non-chemical materials to protect nature.
Sometimes, I ask myself if cutting down trees for my work is a selfish gesture, and against my theory of caring for nature. Even though I love touching wood, facing lifeless objects every day is hard. I guess these thoughts are something I need to work on in future.