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[Interview] Soon Yul Kang | Repetition & Meditation

Soon Yul Kang’s endlessly repetitive works, which draw the audience is not just through their delicate nature but also through their emotional depth. Her practice of rewriting single words like "love", "mother", or "human" is well known as a meditative process. However, Soon Yul's work hasn't always been about repetition. There's a much richer story behind it, encompassing the reasons she began, the process itself, and what she wants to communicate through it. In this interview, we delve into the inspirations, techniques, and messages behind Soon Yul Kang's unique art.

Everything begins from Mum

The word "Umma", meaning "mum" in Korean, appears repetitively throughout Soon Yul's artwork. This word, often written in a continuous loop, encircles entire canvases or forms a spherical shape. For Soon Yul, the "Umma" series began when her mother fell ill. It was a time of profound emotional pain and the realisation of mortality's true sting. This experience became the catalyst for her spiritual journey. As the word itself implies love, longing, and emotions close to the heart, it naturally lent itself to the circular pattern. The act of repeatedly writing and burning hundreds of letters became a ritual for Soon Yul, a way to process her pain, overcome grief, and ultimately, reconnect with her love for her mother. From her early work, Soon Yul Kang draws inspiration from her memories with mum. When a child is sick, a Korean mother often soothes them by repeatedly rubbing their tummy and saying,

"Mum's hands are healing hands."

Kang embodies this comforting act in her art. She burns the letters of this phrase, using the ashes to draw circles repeatedly, symbolising the act of rubbing and soothing a baby. This process not only captures the physical act but also conveys a deeper sense of care and healing inherent in maternal gestures. This act echoes the comforting touch of a mother's hand and symbolises the healing power of love and ritual.


Over the years, Soon Yul has explored a diverse range of materials in her artwork. Experimenting with new materials and mixing them into her work has always been a crucial aspect of Soon Yul Kang's artistic journey. This exploration serves as an important signpost for the evolution of her new artworks, allowing her to continually innovate and expand the boundaries of her creative expression. For example, her artistic exploration began with tapestry, but since 2001, she has continuously discovered new mediums.

Currently Hanji, the traditional Korean paper, is the prominent feature in her works, whiles photography and woven tapestry also played a significant role in her earlier artistic journey. Hanji particularly captured her attention in 2012, following the passing of her father. Witnessing the Korean tradition of wrapping the deceased in Hanji sparked a renewed interest in Korean traditional materials and cultural elements. However, Hanji's significance extended beyond its material properties. The very act of using Hanji became a way for Soon Yul to connect with her father's memory, also a reconnecting with her heritage, Korea. It was the time when she began to apply ‘Korean’ resources on her work, including handwriting process. Beyond its traditional use in Korean funerary practices, Soon Yul discovered the remarkable strength of Hanji, a material historically employed for both floors and windows.

Process is a Meditative Activity

The intricate and time-consuming nature of Soon Yul's process makes it difficult to produce a large volume of work simultaneously. Each piece requires meticulous attention, involving the repeated collaging of words, meticulously writing them down, and carefully adhering them to the canvas.  Despite the repetitive nature of these actions, Soon Yul finds the process deeply meditative. Through this dedication, she achieves a remarkable sense of simplicity in the final artwork.

The finished pieces appear clear and uncluttered, a stark contrast to the meditative and meticulous process behind their creation. Her colour palette is deliberately restricted to black and white, further emphasising the minimalist aesthetic. There are slight hints of red and blue representing yin and yang. Undoubtedly captivating, these works hold viewers' attention, causing them to linger and contemplate. Soon Yul's intention is not to create confusion, but rather to evoke a sense of healing and peace in those who experience her art. 

"The repetitive use of circular shapes offers some viewers a sense of comfort, even if they don't decipher the written words."

For the past years, it has been a pleasure collaborating with Soon Yul Kang on multiple exhibitions for 4482. Soon Yul’s work has collectively moved our hearts, particularly as Koreans living abroad and missing our homeland. On a personal level, her art resonates deeply with our understanding of healing and meditation. Her pieces not only evoke a sense of nostalgia and connection but also offer a profound sense of tranquillity and introspection, embodying the delicate balance between emotional depth and artistic craftsmanship.

Written by Dr GeeSun Hahn

현, 4482 SASAPARI Curator

Fourth Chamber Projects Director

University of Leicester, Museum Studies, UK

Photo © Soon Yul Kang


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