From March 16th to April 22nd, for a month-long period, Jukhee Kwon's solo exhibition, <Liberated>, was held at October Gallery in London. In this exhibition, the artist explored the internal core that can be fully expressed through the deconstruction of books and visually depicted it through a creative discovery process.
We usually think of books as a source of inspiration through their content rather than as materials for artistic creation. However, book artist Jukhee Kwon sees books not only as a mere source of inspiration but also as materials to express her own thoughts. Her artworks utilize the everyday material of books, allowing them to naturally fold in the direction she desires, overwhelming the space, transforming our thoughts, and healing our hearts. Lately, she has been presenting innovative works that experiment with various material beyond traditional mediums like canvas or paper.
Jukhee Kwon, the artist, moved to London in 2010 to start her master’s program in Book Art, where her interest in books as ‘materials’ grew. The artist, who recalls experiencing great joy in drawing with coloured pencils on white paper since childhood, has since been exploring all possibilities of tearing, folding, twisting and manipulating paper instead of simply drawing on it. To Jukhee Kwon, paper is not just paper but a material for creating books. Consequently, her meticulously torn paper artworks attract people’s attention with their intricacy and meticulousness, conveying strength and resilience beyond the fragility of paper, transcending the material limitations.
Kwon’s work is entirely done by hand, closely intertwined with her daily like, as books are always around us.
“I tend to work while traveling here and there. I work on the prepared pieces, fiddling with them, during transportation or in-between trips.”
The artist sometimes works on multiple projects simultaneously and continues working on them, making it difficult to determine the exact working time for each piece. Furthermore, there are times when she continues working on artworks even after the exhibition is over. Kwon finds the greatest appeal in the materials that allows for this continuity of work. Despite being variable and fluid materials, the aspect that the artist pays the most attention to is their “artificiality”.
“Paper changes over time, so when my hand become too familiar with the work and it starts to feel artificial, I know it’s time to finish the piece.”
While it is difficult to precisely define the feeling of artificiality, Jukhee Kwon mentions that she feels like have having a “conversation” while working. As she strives to convey the stories of various books, she experiences a moment when she transitions from naturalness to something more intentional. By repeating the actions of twisting, cutting, and folding paper, the artist naturally progresses into creating larger works. This process releases endorphins for the artist. Although we may not directly perceive it, there have been significant changes in the raw materials during the process of making books. For example, recent books incorporate more artificial elements into the paper itself, creating a noticeable difference as a material.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from nature. I live in a former monastery near Rome, Italy, which is about a 30-minute distance. The place I live in is environmentally friendly, and even before that, I used to bring in a lot of natural elements like flower petals, leaves, and more to my inspiration.”
Kwon states that books with worn covers, torn pages, or faded colours each have their own unique stories developed over time. She often experiences books approaching her, and sometimes she waits for the books to come to her. This process of approach and waiting is also related to the artist’s daily life. Teaching yoga two to three times a week, Kwon frequently talks about “meditation” in previous interviews. Through teaching yoga, she learns to convey something to others, and the changes in breathing during yoga practice are similar to the creative process in her artwork.
According to Jukhee Kwon, the most important and enduring aspect that allows her to continue her book art practice is the honesty and sincere heart that books convey to her. Each book carries its unique story, and the artist continues to convey that story through her work, much like writing lyrics. While some artworks may remain buried within the books, there are also works that confidently emerge beyond the realm of books. For example, in <Meditation>, dozens of butterflies flowed out of the book. These instances where the books naturally flow or overflow like a waterfall are cases where the books call upon the artist rather than the artist extracting their stories. Although books may have limitations in form and existence, just as our memories and emotions continue to resonate when we read a book, the artist conveys enduring memories and immaterial narratives through her artworks.
When asked about the influence of language within the creative process, Jukhee Kwon expressed a preference for books that stimulate imagination rather than being easily understandable. The language within books serves as a medium that connects the artist and the book, acting as a link between them. She mentioned a preference for languages from other countries that may sometimes take time to comprehend, rather than Korean. Kwon’s book work shows different stories, according to Kwon, there hasn’t been a significant change in the intended stories or expressive methods from the beginning of her artistic journey. While conveying the story is important to the artist, she feels truly revived when personal thoughts from viewers, who observe her artworks, come back to her. This process forms a cycle of interaction between the artist and the audience.
‘I will continue working until I die, and the work I most wanted to do is to attempt something incredibly large that even surprise myself. For example, building a house out of books, making everything from the doors to the desks and chairs out of books… That’s what I aspire to do.”
Written by GeeSun Hahn
Photo © October Gallery