Goldfinch is pleased to present “by flame by fog,” a solo exhibition by Hyun Jung Jun in Gallery 2. The exhibition is on view from Saturday, June 5th through Saturday, July 17th.
Hyun Jung Jun’s work takes many forms, from temporary installations to candles to cakes, and the work often begins and ends as something changed or erased altogether. In the artist’s words, Jun’s creations “take up more time than they do space.” They are often made to disappear. Although Jun’s practice engages familiar, domestic processes (her kitchen serves as a studio space, where she dips candles and experiments with cooking materials) her work seems to exist in a fantastical space where what is absent, shrouded, or entirely imagined is as real as anything else.
Jun’s candles, on view in the exhibition, are both playful and slightly monstrous; they range from vibrant winged creatures to more abstractly natural forms like knobby trees or stalactites, suggestive of the way dreams, memories, and experience can meld into something slightly misshapen but worthy of our attention. Sensual and temporary, Jun’s candles will melt; her cakes will be devoured; and the seedlings grown in eggshells inside the gallery will soon outgrow their containments. The painted wall on view in the exhibition, awash with a vivid landscape, will eventually vanish, like mist. In an associative way, Jun’s work gives us just enough, without crowding our senses, like a night walk illuminated by candlelight. Vibrant, introspective, and subtly unsettling—but beautifully so—the works in “by flame by fog” invite us to dream ourselves into other worlds, or more sensual versions of the ones we’ve come to know.
Installation photos by Ryan Edmund.
Hyun Jung Jun (b. 1989) is a Korean artist whose installations are measures and meditations which take up more time than they do space. Working with commonplace commodities such as candles, bread, wooden structures, sewn and painted wearables, Jun’s work borrows from familiar, domestic language to describe and search the ornate identities of our individuality and culture. Jun received her BFA at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University. Her recent exhibitions include LVL3, the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, No Place Gallery, Hans Gallery, The Drawing Room at Arts Club of Chicago, Good Naked, EXPO CHGO, and Everybody. Her work has recently been featured in the New York Times and Newcity Magazine. Jun is one of Newcity’s breakout artists for 2021 (Chicago).
Artist’s Q&A: Hyun Jun Jung and Assistant Director Elizabeth Lalley
Elizabeth Lalley: Candles are a fairly new element in your practice. What drew you to the medium of wax, and the process of dipping candles? Could you describe the technical process a bit, particularly in terms of the decisions you make to create such varied forms? How much of it is guided by the wax’s behavior? How much control do you have, or even want?
Hyun Jung Jun: Candles are culturally tied to celebrations, contemplative and religious spaces, reference life and death, or the passage of time. I like using candles as a physical representation of passage of time, even as a small metaphor- a kind of guiding light in the dark.
Beeswax itself is a malleable material that comes from nature. It’s a soft body that can change its form, much like a shapeshifter. It is a kind of flesh that gives way to flame and melts away.
I make a form through many subtle layers of repetitive dips and shaping. It’s a warm and quiet process that draws you in. The body of the candle is easily manipulated when it is warm, and as I am building up texture and shape, I sometimes add remnants of old wax, clumps, and shavings, dipping the entire form into a hot pot of liquid wax in between alterations. Slowly, the candle becomes thicker, more complex, and more strange. Sometimes I cut down leftover wax to make wings, spikes, eyes, and other ornament. The candle tends to slowly take on its own character, no two really end up the same. I don’t use molds or pre determined forms because I like that the candle slowly finds its own way. I’m not interested in multiples or really looking to manufacture a product, it’s a kind of divining process that reveals its own nature.
EL: Recently, when we were talking about your candles and your ideas surrounding them, you mentioned the idea of shape-shifting, of attempting to appear like something alive. This idea helped articulate something for me that I’d sensed before—that despite their vibrant colors and playful qualities, there’s something a little eerie about them (the candles). Can you say a little bit about this idea of metamorphosis, of things trying to appear alive or attempting to camouflage themselves, in relation to your work?
HJJ: There is a kind of idea that as time passes, our environments shape us. In many ways, we transform and blend in to our surroundings, we take on the likeness of our environment. This relates to the metamorphosis of creatures who change in seasons of their life and become entirely different beings, their limbs becoming wings, their bodies covered in new dots, swirls, and colors that distract, attract, or camouflage.
I have always felt a closeness with things that adapt to their environment as a natural mechanism. Being a Korean, I feel like a bit of an outsider at times, and these cultural conversations of how we hide or blend in with our environment have a certain utility in my work.
EL: Your practice materializes in so many different forms. You make paintings and create imagery; you bake and decorate cakes; you make candles and custom shelves for them. Sometimes you grow plants inside the gallery. How do you make these decisions, about what form something should take? Are you guided by the materials or is it instead some feeling/idea you want to capture that guides you to a particular form?
HJJ: A lot of my work comes from a practical place. Many of my works are rooted in domestic spaces and I use my relationship with art to engage with others in simple ways that aren’t abstracted by “art.” Cakes are a way to engage with others in a social and loving way, while candles are documents of time and celebrate the dark and bright edges of life. I think much of my work is an extension of the life I live. It took me some time, years, to be comfortable with my work existing in a hybrid space between “art” and practicality. But I tend to look for ways that art can challenge this idea of “belonging” systemically – ways that we can step outside of the genres, hierarchies, and systems we live within – the ones we have built ourselves or that society has placed us in.
EL: So much of your work is impermanent—made to be eaten, or burned up, or erased. Particularly when it comes to your candles, which are so sculptural, with so much presence, I’m curious about your own attitude towards this element of the work—the fact that these objects will eventually melt away, as candles do? Have you always been comfortable working in this way, where the need to “let go” is built into the essence of the thing you’re creating? What does that look like for you?
HJJ: So many things in life are impermanent. A sunset, a memory, a passing storm – these things carry weight because they are temporary and impactful. I think much of art is too focused on permanence, archivability, a lasting impact. But we are living creatures who eventually pass away. Instead of investing in the maintenance and labor it takes to prolong objects and moments, what would happen if we simply let them pass?
EL: You often reference your interest in dreams and in different forms of fantasy (stories, games, movies, etc.) and I’m curious to know a little bit more about how these interests wind themselves into the work you make. How, specifically, does dreaming factor into your making practice? Are you a vivid dreamer, and do remember your dreams? Do you analyze them?
HJJ: I got interested in dreams at an early age mainly because I could always recall them vividly, especially the ones that seemed impossible in conscious life. I learned how to lucid dream and became very interested in a world that existed beyond my own. These discoveries led me to question the line between my reality and the one in my dreams.
There is something about the power of the unknown, a place of infinite potential and curiosity or beauty. A dreamscape is a liminal place where thoughts, hopes, fears and wonder collide and fantasies take shape and challenge the standards of what we know.
As for stories, there are naturally moments from films and books that usually draw me in. One example would be the recurring theme of “unattainable” love, especially more present in Asian tv and movies. In an animated film I watched years ago, the main character accidentally discovers a way into a different time (and space) and finds someone they love. Because they are limited in the time they can spend in that alternate world, they must decide between returning to their reality or remaining with the person they love. These elements of longing, desire, and frustration/friction with our own reality find a way into my work (and are oddly enough related to dreamscapes).
I imagine my candles long to be alive, or at least believe they are, dreaming of another world beyond their surroundings. What perspectives exist beyond our own – these ideas enchant and ensnare us.