Studio Visit: Jiha Moon on the Spontaneous Mark

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Jiha Moon
Jiha Moon’s studio at the Goat Farm Arts Center. Photo by Rachel Reese.

Today we proudly introduce Studio Visit, a new column connecting working artists and their sites of production to a wider audience through critically engaged conversations.

Georgia Museum of Art

Our first installment visits Jiha Moon at the Goat Farm Arts Center, where she is settling into her new studio and preparing for several large exhibitions this year.

Rachel Reese: How long have you been at this studio, and what do you think of the Goat Farm community and location?

Jiha Moon: I’ve been working here at the Goat Farm about three months now, and I really like my studio. It’s really large—larger than any studio I’ve ever had. So I can work really easily on large-scale pieces. I don’t have to move things around to accommodate the work.

The Goat Farm is an interesting place! [Laughs] I am learning a lot about it so far, but it is great to work alongside a new group of creative people.

RR: How has moving into this newly renovated, almost white cube-like space shifted your studio practice and evolved the work that leaves the studio? Or is that irrelevant to your practice?

JM: I guess I’m really thinking about how to use time to my advantage ever since I moved here. Elements of time are key in my work. I get really spontaneous and work on mark-making for long periods. There is so much less distraction here than in my previous home studio. Here I am afforded the space to make very large spontaneous and free marks, which I can do very quickly. I literally can shift the work and change directions, and it feels fresh and new. I couldn’t do that previously. This space has allowed me to work in the moment.

Jiha Moon
Photo by Rachel Reese.

RR: I can see that physical shift happening. Here there is so much space—you have a large work on the floor and are clearly moving it around and working on your knees.

I’m interested in learning more about your process—do you work intuitively or [is it] more formulaic, and is there a specific layering that occurs? I guess I want to know if you have an idea of the outcome when you start the work or if it evolves naturally?

JM: It’s kind of both. In the beginning, I do let things happen. I’m thinking about the subject of my work all the time. Not only when I’m here working, but all day long. Even when I go to the grocery store, I’m thinking about my process [laughs]. But when I physically work, I do like to allow things to happen and forget about my heavy subject matter. If I over-think things, I lose the freedom in making, and rather I want my subjects to reveal themselves almost secretly. So, the more I work in this way, the less I feel restrained. I do think about basic things like the size of paper and color shifts that will happen in advance. I actually start to develop the imagery in the middle of the process, so that is when I really try to scrutinize and control my process—what do I need to develop more and what do I need to abandon?

RR: And are the images that appear—subjects that are in this constant cycle of surfacing and disappearing—preconceived or spontaneous? There are several little tchotchkes here at the studio, so I wonder if you are working directly from these or mentally tucking them away for a future date?

JM: I collect things without even knowing it sometimes, even from grocery stores, junk stores, or toy stores I visit with my son. And when I’m looking at the computer, I save images of things that grab my attention to a special folder on my desktop. So first I’m trying to process why I habitually do this; I think I have a desire to collect and for it to represent my life and thinking process. Collecting shows my desire of an object, and how it relates to my memory, and I believe it becomes a part of me. I would even say my drive to collect has come from the consumerist American culture I’ve learned since living here! But it’s not like I’m shopping all the time. Some things I collect do not cost money—images I cut from a magazine and save, or a little rock I found here at the Goat Farm that reminded me of a Chinese scholar’s rock, for example. Collecting is my habit, desire, and anxiety all at the same time!

Photo by Rachel Reese.

RR: So what attracts you to an object?

JM: I’m drawn to things that represent my mixed identity. I recently bought a Korean flag that had “Made in the USA” on its label. Or, fruit stickers—a peach from Atlanta, Georgia.

RR: So they’re informed by a sense of conflict with place or identity?

JM: Yeah. I guess they have a sarcastic irony in them. Something that is supposed to be one thing but in fact is something else entirely, like when you have a wrong first impression of someone. The element of miscommunication as part of communication happens all the time in our daily lives. I’ve found it gives people comfort to understand me as Korean—because of my name—even though my life is so much more complex than that simple representation. In effect it’s misleading. A lot of elements in my work are iconographic, but allow themselves many different readings. This is something I actually really love about America!

RR: And you are looking through a humorous lens—

JM: I think the element of humor is so important but also the underdog to me.

Jiha Moon's "Mighty Heart"
Jiha Moon, Mighty Heart, 2011, 22×28 inches, ink, acrylic, stickers, doily on hanji, mounted on canvas, courtesy of the Artist and Saltworks Gallery, Atlanta

RR: Can you talk about the unpacking that happens in your work? The element of time that you mentioned a bit prior is multi-layered—from a literal and physical process of time, to a grander historical timescale. I think of the greater historical timeline you are working within due to some cultural and art historical references.

JM: I try to combine those two extremes on the same page. The first layer is quick and fresh. And I try to connect my first layer of mark-making to my last layer of mark-making. And sometimes I go back and cancel marks; the repetition of process happens over and over again almost daily. When I see there is no way to push forward anymore, I stop the work. So there is a freshness but also millions of tiny marks that dictate the shape all on the same page. It depends on people’s experience, too. Some choose to see my spontaneous marks, and some happen to see the small ornate details. I want them both to be there.

So back to the humor factor—humor is really important. I’m almost joking but really, really seriously. I wouldn’t spend countless hours making my work if it was a joke, but there are hidden jokes, and it’s also in the way I approach the process. I don’t want my labor to overwhelm people; I want them to talk about image. I always try to control that balance.

Jiha Moon's "Mystery Sonatas"
Jiha Moon, Mystery Sonatas, 2013, 30 x 30 inches, ink and acrylic on hanji, mounted on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Saltworks, Atlanta.

RR: So you want to control the way someone reads the work? Either through literal entry/exit points or just by controlling the way we interpret symbols? Or are you simply putting them out there and handing them over for interpretation?

JM: I throw out a lot of information [laughs]. For example, in my series of multiple fan works, one fan painting contains one main story. But when I juxtapose several fans together, the narrative starts to break down, so I consider how these new elements—form and color—work to create a new composition. And then I start to see a bigger picture and make a hierarchy; I can’t really hang on to just one thing. The element of one fan becomes important in the context of all the other elements in the painting. New problems arise, and I let them happen. There is a constant push and pull that makes the composition that much more complex. The multiple fan paintings are supposed to be bombastic and make you feel overwhelmed. For example, it’s like watching a news story develop on CNN: you start by watching a local report in your language, and then developing stories start to pop up around the world, all being shown on the same screen at the same time, and in ten different languages.

RR: Can you talk about your material decisions?

JM: I use ink and acrylic and collage on Korean hanji (mulberry) paper. My main medium is paper.

RR: Where do you source the hanji paper?

JM: I source it from all over Korea every time I return home. Mostly I’m buying from my hometown in Daegu and in Seoul. I have a couple of favorite places. I buy a wide variety—from the very thin to very thick, and from the cheapest to most expensive—and they all serve distinct purposes for me. Using hanji makes me feel unique [laughs]. Here I am conflicting myself, saying that identity is complex and not a quick read, all while asserting my Korean-ness through material choice! I like to specify its Korean name of “hanji” as opposed to simply saying “mulberry paper.” Hanji is unique in the way the fiber is laid. And I think this specificity of material is a quick way to provide authenticity and ownership for my work. And fact that it is all hand-made, both the paper and my mark-making reinforce each other in this way.

RR: Can you talk about color palette? You are attracted to bright colors.

JM: Colors are a way to code for me. I do not want to reject color; color is the given element that painters can easily manipulate. Every part of my work has significant identity, so I try to use a limitless amount of color combinations in order to present the most representations of culture and identity, or even mix them up purposely. There is a freedom in changing the color of a familiar object, creating this familiar yet foreign quality to viewers. I like to use that a lot.

Jiha Moon
Photo by Rachel Reese.

RR: So this in effect slows viewers down—

JM: Yes, and I like that. I’ve talked about this uncanny feeling in an artist talk before. I am reminded of young Asian kids wearing blue contact lenses. When I asked them why they wear them, they said it’s the desire for having something they don’t have—that’s the beauty or attraction.

RR: What do you have coming up?

JM: I’m in a group exhibition at Agnes Scott’s Dalton Gallery titled showing, thinking which opens on February 8. I’m working on the wall installation now. It’s a site-specific large fan painting that also looks like a movie screen. My solo exhibition at MOCA GA opens in September, which is for the Working Artist Project grant. There will be large-scale works, but I’m also taking the opportunity to exhibit some new ceramic works, which I am really excited about. I have a solo exhibition at Couture Gallery in Stockholm next month, and then my solo at the Weatherspoon Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, in spring 2014 as well as several group shows this year.