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Jinyoung Kim

The immigrant experience: Creating new cultures from old  

Jinyoung Kim l Photo: Bogdan Stoica Jinyoung Kim l Photo: Bogdan Stoica

Jinyoung Kim's favourite work at the moment would make a lot of people cry.

It's a video she made recently that depicts her peeling an onion and then sewing the layers back together.

Almost everything is pale, washed of colour, and Kim's face is above the frame, so the viewer's eye is not distracted from the unhurried, methodical action of her hands. It's meditative, almost trance-inducing. (And blissfully odour-free.)

The MFA student is concentrating in photography and has only recently begun working in video, which she finds imparts the sense of the passage of time better than still photography. It's also a better medium for the repetitive, abstract gesture she's currently exploring, in which the gesture is more important than the result.  The onion-peeling project, for example, communicates the idea of loss and rejuvenation.

"I feel like I found what I was looking for, that I found the language," says Kim.

It's taken a while her to find this level of comfort. Born and raised in South Korea, she moved to Toronto with her family when she was 14. It wasn't an easy transition, for either her or her family.

She returned to Korea for the first time after receiving her bachelor's degree from OCAD University in 2008.  Feeling burned out and working six-day weeks at various non-arts jobs, Kim stopped taking photographs for the two years she spent there. She also learned during this time that while adapting to Canadian culture, she'd missed learning the nuanced gestures of Korean social interaction - and that made life a little awkward and confusing at times.

Stranger in a home land.

Creative revival

With a fresh appreciation for her adopted home and armed with a six-month residency at her alma mater, Kim returned to Toronto work on a portfolio that portrayed the shared experiences of immigrants. It's an exploration she continues at Concordia.

"I'm interested in how the process of immigration makes a person be aware of certain conditions of life," she says. "I'm interested in the intricacy, the details, the process of immigration and how layered it is."

Jinyoung Kim, Untitled, 2011. Click to enlarge. Jinyoung Kim, Untitled, 2011. Click to enlarge.

"As immigrants, we build a shared experience. I can't share the culture of, for example, Eastern Europeans or Arabs, but I can share their experiences of being an immigrant, and the need to communicate this feeling."

Kim's portraits often feature a lone person, usually out-of-doors. "The Canadian landscape is very charged. It's one of the first things I noticed about the country," she notes. In fact, she came to describe her work as being a "transcultural social landscape", indicating how different cultures combine in a new land to form a distinct, new kind of culture.

The photographer/videographer is headed back to South Korea this summer to work on her master's thesis, due in 2014. (The Roloff Benny Foundation Travel Grant from Concordia is helping with this project). It will be an extension of her project Fathers in Sanctuary, a photographic documentary of sorts she took of her father's first return to Korea a few years ago. It involves building a similar but different structure, one that reflects the location, in each Korea, Toronto and Montreal - the path the artist herself has taken.

"The main idea is connecting these three places through similar gestures. It speaks to the idea of starting in one place and immigrating and moving to new places. Each time, we bring something with us and create something different in the new place."

Hopefully, there will be few tears shed.

Story by Liz Crompton. Posted on April 30, 2013

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