Artist Interview: Jain Kwak

We were fortunate enough to interview Jain Kwak about her Governors Island Art Fair 2015 standout exhibit ‘Unwritten‘. Building on her great 2012 Governors Island show ‘Souvenir‘, ‘Unwritten‘ is one of our favorites at this year’s Governors Island Art Fair.



2015, Plexiglass

Unwritten (Governors Island)

Governors Island Art Fair, 2015

Unwritten Epic

2015, Plexiglass size variable

Can you tell us about your process in creating Unwritten?

So I start with the watercolor paintings first. I would write down something on my watercolor paper—diary, letter, messages, etc. Then I would paint the negative space around each letter, then erase the writing in it. I then scan that painting to make digital files of the painted negative space, then get the Plexiglas sheets to be lasercut according to the shapes from the digital files of watercolor paintings.

What made you decide to include something that was manufactured by a computer-guided laser in the same show as something as delicate and imprecise as watercolors?

Unwritten (Governors Island)

Governors Island Art Fair, 2015

I never was interested in showing the original watercolor paintings. Because,  just like you mentioned, they seemed and felt too delicate and emotional. The writings that initially got me started on this project were quite emotional and even painful. Making a series of artwork based on a not very happy incident or experience, to me, is cathartic, and gives me closure from that dark period of time. Furthermore, I did not want to be reminded of that time by the sensitivity and delicacy represented by watercolor.

Why Plexiglass?


2015, Plexiglass

Unwritten (Governors Island)

Governors Island Art Fair, 2015

Since watercolor paintings felt too personal, I wanted to create a distance from that work to present to the viewers. To me, Plexiglas was a medium cold enough to distant myself from the piece emotionally and shiny enough to create a reflection of a viewer on the surface.

Clearly you changed your mind about the watercolors since they’re now included in your Untitled show.

Unwritten (Blue)

2015, Watercolor on paper

Yes, now that some time has passed and I can see the original watercolors without relating them with a negative feeling, I do think it is important to show what I truly felt. And my thoughts on revealing personal and emotional aspects of artwork are also changed; now I think it is okay to expose my vulnerability. That’s why I’m displaying both versions now. And aesthetically, I think they show two very different expressions although they derived from one idea. I’m kind of enjoying that difference.

Why black Plexiglas?

Like I mentioned above, it felt cold yet inviting enough to somehow include viewers. I went for black pretty straightforwardly to express my emotional state. Black Plexiglas almost works like a mirror; another main reason why I chose that particular material.

Since you use black Plexiglas, are you hoping the viewer sees the piece or the negative space it creates?

I guess the work itself screams out what was once negative space. My original plan for that specific plexiglas series is to use the shadow of those sculptures and make it more of a work that a viewer should actually experience. But I quite liked the way the work turned out without having to use the light source to create a rather overwhelming or heavy looking shadow. And now, I don’t care too much about which physical part of the piece the viewers are interested in seeing, but more of conveying the nuance. I’ll be happy if the viewers can think, ‘Oh, this seems like some form of a writing. I guess there must have been something that was written. I’m wondering what it would have been.’ 

Tell us about ‘Everything in the Kitchen Sink’ why do you say its “ongoing”?

Everything in the Kitchen Sink

2012-Ongoing, Origami Paper

Because I continue to work on it and have plans to make other, bigger size installation using the origami cranes. I hope to develop the project further and make enough cranes to fill up a bath tub

Your previous work ‘Souvenir’ has an interesting juxtaposition between the mirror like surfaces that draw the viewer in and their almost disturbing shapes. ‘Unwritten’ seems more overtly dark. How did your art progress between Souvenir and Unwritten?


2012 – 2014 Plexiglas mirror Size variable

Diagnosis (Governors Island)

Governors Island Art Fair, 2013

Souvenir, which is a combination of four different projects all using Plexiglas, mainly mirror, I was more interested in the plastic (literally) nature of Plexiglas. Since I use a laser cutter to cut Plexiglas in various shapes, some distortion always occurs because of the heat created by the machine. I focused mainly on the Plexiglas as a distorted mirror, and how it does not reflect something correctly.

In ‘Unwritten’, Plexiglas was chosen as a tool to cover up some emotional and directly personal aspects of the series. The appearance of the work itself has gotten more personal in Unwritten (with indicated brush strokes or shapes) than from Souvenir, and if it seems darker—color wise and/or general atmosphere wise), it must be because it was made in my dark time.

Although choosing Plexiglas for Unwritten was a way to reveal myself less in the work, I have become less self-conscious about showing myself in the artwork in Unwritten. I realize that my work will reveal myself no matter how hard I try to distant myself from it, so I have become more comfortable showing and talking about my personal struggle through the artworks.

You have used Plexiglas for Unwritten, Souvenir, Trophies, and Somebody Else’s Nostalgia. Do you see yourself continuing to use the medium going forward?


2012 – ongoing Plexiglas mirror, digital c-print, mirror paper 4’x8’x12″

Trophies (detail)

Somebody Else’s Nostalgia

Plexiglas, shoelace, flashlight, 2012 *Artwork must be viewed with the flashlight provided then the light needs to be handed to the next viewer

If it’s the right material and medium to express certain ideas, sure. But for now, I want to try to use other materials as well. It’s funny how my interest toward art mediums kind of stay in the plastic world—what I am interested right now is PVC vinyl.

All of your works have an undercurrent of darkness, a good example being ‘Prayer Request’ while it has playful colors and its size and shape draw the viewers in, typically you only ask for prayer requests during difficult times. Can you talk about how the playfulness of your work intersects with its darkness?

Prayer Request

Elastic bandages from 99 cent stores all over NYC, 3″ x 25″ diameter, 2012

 It can be both ways: my work can be about a playfulness during difficult times, or it can be about a small portion of tragedy that’s always hiding somewhere even in the happiest times of our lives. For my work, I think I tend to make a piece when there is an emotional turmoil or hardship. It could be a defense mechanism to escape from a stressful situation. When I start working on a project using a traumatic or stressful memory as a source, I soon get tired of feeling miserable. It always helps me to have one funny moment to laugh about myself even when I’m feeling awful and making an artwork off of that. And I guess that also appears on my work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *