Hair and cookie crumbs in a vacuum cleaner, dust on the window frame and dead insect bodies we hate. Tacky things which should have been thrown away are reborn as wonderful works of art. Tiny people in the land of pigmies made of clay and dust are as small as a nail, but they have so many stories, diverse expressions, and actions. Audience members sometimes lie down on the ground to see this miniature land which can also be seen more easily with a magnifying glass. While movies and music stimulate the audience and convey the creators’ impressions and intentions directly, those impressions and intentions are well hidden in each piece of art forcing the audience to get closer to the artwork. So it is difficult to understand art. But here is one artist who stimulates our curiosity and makes us lie down in front of his art. He is Ham-Jin, Kyungwon University Environmental Sculpture 98. He arouses the audience’s curiosity through his distinctive specialty in making works as small as nails and naturally leads viewers to observe his art with interest. Let’s listen to the stories of Ham, Jin who started as a child playing with clay alone at his home, later going through a fierce competition, then making his debut at a solo show before graduating from college, and finally gaining worldwide fame as an artist making the land of pigmies.
1. We wonder about your school days.
I thought about myself in college. Not about art, but about what I like, what I hate, what makes me get praised. I remember when I was a child, I made small pieces of artwork while playing alone and I tried it again. But I was at odds with professors over this matter so I transferred to Kyungwon University. Although I failed the transference exam 4 times, I finally succeeded in being admitted to Kyungwon University. Kyungwon was different from other schools which required me to mimic other works of art, like a reproduction. Kyungwon wanted me to do free-modeling without a theme like in the current entrance examination. After entering Kyungwon, I bothered my professors, showing them the work I had made so far. At that time, Lee, Myeongseon professor connected me with a curator and helped me to have an exhibition. I was the first student whose art were shown in an exhibition with existing artists. I exhibited my work with other artists when I was a junior in college and received an award at Salvia. Ever since then I have kept on creating my artwork.
2. Do you have a particular reason to make small works of art?
Since childhood I’ve liked doing work completed by my hand like Gundam, Figure, and assembly of cars. First, it is comfortable for me. When making a big piece, we can’t ignore gravity so we must draw blueprints and consider several things such as base, position, and balance. These processes were burdensome to me and I hated them. I thought artwork should be easy to do because it’ll be my career for my entire life and I don’t want to get exhausted by it. Also, I think limited things are good. Ordinary people might think limit means restricted, but I feel the energy is condensed and I feel very free in the limit as if it were a ‘microcosm’. And this working suits my aptitude and I think it resembles me a lot. No matter how loudly I talk, I can’t be heard and it looks like I have no influence, but you can find many stories if you look inside. It is less spectacular than big works of art, but when people see smaller art pieces, they look at them more attentively and concentrate on what is inside and which story is contained there. This is why I sculpt.
3. What do you do to get inspiration for making your unique works? Or do you have something special you do for inspiration?
I think the source of working doesn’t matter much. What is important is to study myself and the work I have done so far. For example I might think, “I’ve tried something like this before, so it’d be better to try it another way”, instead of thinking, “I want to work while seeing flowers of the field.” I don’t think about I finishing my work. I try to go on thinking and polishing to create something new. I like impromptu and playful work. So once I make a work, I refine it by analyzing ceaselessly to leave only the common idea that I want.
4. What kind of things should we be cautious about when making tiny art objects, and what are some examples of what you’ve experienced so far.
I always need tweezers, a needle, and glue because my tiny art work is frail. I try to make them more solid, but when it hampers making what I want, I exclude it without any hesitation. Once I showed my works at Korean Exhibition Hall, Venice Biennale. I displayed my works on the balustrade of an open air terrace. I made one piece of work on the first day and another piece the next day. However, when four pieces were completed, I found the first piece left with only its fixed leg and all of the other parts missing. The next day, the second piece was also left with only its leg. Later I found out that this terrace was a pathway for ants. I saw ants breaking my work because they were obstructing them. That’s why my works were covered with glass in the exhibition photographs. I exhibited my work in the hallway and inside the wall of the exhibition hall at Kwangju Biennale. Then the audience couldn’t see them and just passed them by, and a cleaning lady threw them away by mistake. So I brought them back and displayed them again.
5. People watch movies, plays, and musicals easily, but they find it difficult to understand an art exhibition. Do you have any advice for them?
They can just start from the beginning. It doesn’t mean that they should see art of a low standard. They need to see works of art that are easy to appreciate. There are also difficult and esoteric movies, plays and musicals. Art has a wide range and there are many works of art that can be to understood easily. I think my work is easily comprehensible. I recommend YBA artists and the work of Sosamaya-Yaoi, Kohei-Nawa. Their work conveys visual impressions directly, so people can enjoy them very easily. Especially, a deer covered with beads, a work of Kohei-Nawa is visually beautiful because of its glittering beads. You can feel the artistic meaning through the refraction of lamplight through the beads.
6. You have made many pieces of art completed so far. Please tell us about the top 3 pieces that you feel the most attached to.
The first is ‘Joys and Sorrows(愛玩)Series’ which is called ‘love series’ in foreign countries. It was the first series at the PKM, which I belong to. I made them for my wife. I felt I was a fly and my wife was a boy. I told a love story of a fly and a boy in the series.
The second is ‘Dust people’. These works contain the story of dust people at the crack between the wall and floor. Since they are displayed on the floor, the audience should observe them while crawling on the floor. I made this series, thinking, ‘What if small people live with me, how would they live?’ These works represent hard realities. I got most of the material for ‘Dust people’ from my vacuum cleaner. I made them with cracker crumbles, dead insects, dust, hairs and other things from the vacuum cleaner.
The third is called, ‘Black Sculpt Series’. I have been making this series since my second PKM solo show three years ago. I’ve displayed them until recently. My past work had stories and were colorful, but many stories are removed in these series. Works with and without stories are all mixed up a lot. I was stressed so I had a period when I couldn’t create anything. I had my long hair cut and lost interest in what I was doing. So I tried to change. If the past work was representational, my work is now moving toward an abstraction stage. So it is not easy to understand my work from these days just by looking at them briefly. They need to be observed closely.
7. What is your unique attraction as an artist?
I often hear that I am interesting as a person. I also hear I resemble my work. I think my attraction as an artist is just doing my thing. In this rapidly changing world, many artists use their heads to survive. But I think we need more artists like me who just create anything that they want persistently. I have never thought of my work as something socially or artistically great. I create instinctively. I tell my stories through my work, but some of them are similar to those of other people, which can make people feel empathy for them. I want to share that as much as possible.
The work of senior Ham, Jin, despite being as small as nails, has eyes, nose and mouths that are delicately sculpted. Even the expressions and actions of each work are distinctly different. He became a world renowned artist at a young age with the work created by his own personality, but he is not conceited. He really loves his art and enjoys his job. Unlike artists who use their head to fit into the world, he understood who he was and he relentlessly studied, analyzed, and made an effort in his own world. He owes what he is today to his ceaseless efforts. I saw only the pictures of his works, but he and his artwork were stimulating enough to spur my curiosity. His small but highly elaborate and perfectly completed work expresses his stories easily, so even people who are new to art appreciation can admire and enjoy them. I hope you challenge the works of art that are interesting and easily comprehensible rather than movies, plays, or musicals you’ve seen so far. The experience you’ll get from it will certainly widen your cultural insight.
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