Portrait of an Artist: Jeonguk Choi ’18 on digital art
April 6, 2018
Jeonguk Choi ’18 is a visual arts and computer science double major from South Korea, who primarily works with “time-based media.” His installation, “the gaps were filled with water that soon evaporated,” is currently on display in the Blue Gallery. “The project looks at a few pieces of who I am, re-enacts them from the perspective of water that fails to reach me, and attempts to become water that, again, struggles to penetrate,” wrote Choi in an email to the Orient.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mishal Kazmi: You’re a computer science and visual arts major. How do you combine the two?
Jeonguk Choi: Well, I think that those two go together in the sense that you take on a project. You do the research. You find the resources. You have a plan and you execute it. You make changes as the project begins to take shape, and the final product is always something that people either use or react to.
MK: How has your art education at Bowdoin influenced the artwork you produce?
JC: I guess I made some art before coming to Bowdoin because I was interested in designs, but that was mostly for the purpose of making a portfolio to apply to colleges for an art major. I wasn’t doing it for myself or actually studying it. So I wasn’t actively making art before I came to Bowdoin. And then I got here and took a drawing class second semester of my first year. I realized I liked creating stuff so I thought I would minor in it but ended up getting really involved with art. One major change that Bowdoin made for me was the medium I’m interested in. Before coming here, in my head, art was always about two-dimensional media: drawings, prints, painting and graphic art. I’m now more interested in time-based media such as video, sounds and installation.
MK: What would you say is your inspiration for the artwork you produce?
JC: I think that for everything I make, I start by looking at myself—looking into myself. I ask myself what I’ve been thinking, what I’ve gone through last week, last month, last year and through this, I often end up looking at the world in comparison to the people who are surrounding me in this space and time.
MK: Why do you create art?
JC: I always think I know but I end up not knowing.
MK: Does it make you happy? Does it feel good?
JC: There is definitely a sense of self-fulfillment, just in terms of the joy that comes from creating and seeing a finished product I made being put on display. But even though my art is based in this kind of self-expression, I still try to make it relevant. I make conscious attempts to make it have a meaning for other people as well and I think that is one of the reasons I make art—to initiate this relationship between me and other people through my work.
MK: Would you say that your identity influences your work? Like the fact that you’re so far away from home?
JC: Yeah, when I mention that it comes from within me, I think of these things in the context of my personal experiences in comparison to other people’s experiences. I often think of the surprises that come from the differences between me and the people here, and that is definitely always in the back of my mind whenever I make art. I feel like by putting my identity in the work, it becomes relevant in society, like it functions as a piece of me—who is a different person than you.
MK: Can you tell me a bit about the process of creating the artwork that you have on display in the Blue Room? What does it mean to you, and then what do you want other people to see in it?
JC: Whenever I make stuff, I consciously try to make it less accessible than, say, narrative videos, just because I want people to realize that wall between what I’m trying to say and what you will eventually get out of it. So that is a big part of the process. I gather all this footage—I shoot these things over extended periods of time, like some of this footage is from the summer, some are from last semester, some of those are from this semester. I just keep shooting, recording and gathering footage and when I’m in the process, I look at them and edit them by putting them next to each other. I look for two things, I guess. One is for formal similarities and disparities so that the video keeps evolving through these associations and dissociations. The second thing I think about when editing is whether the work I have is feeding a story rather than allowing viewers to realize the boundary. I think about those things and I keep going back to look at what I have and to change things up.
MK: So are you saying that there’s always going to be a difference between what you want your art to portray and what people will take away from it? Like there’s always room for interpretation?
JC: Exactly. I wouldn’t say room for interpretation—I would say it’s more like reading—it’s going to happen in any work. What I’m trying to achieve with this work is the realization that there is always going to be a distance between me, this work and you. Sometimes I look at it and I don’t know what to make of it because I feel like that distance applies to me too. But yeah, there are always going to be these gaps in the meaning and that is the point of the video.
MK: Are other pieces you produce similar?
JC: Rhythm-wise, yeah, very similar. Like cuts and then elongated shots of absurd things yeah.
MK: Is there one piece of work that you’re particularly proud of?
JC: One work? Honestly, not yet. I think of myself as a beginner.
MK: Are you going to continue producing art after graduation?
JC: I really am trying to push myself to do that. I don’t know if it’ll be video because I don’t have a camera myself—I always rent it from Media Commons. If I have access to a camera, I will be shooting but if I don’t, I don’t know what medium I would use.
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