Jain Kwak, Brooklyn Artist.
I have followed up with Jain Kwak, an arts administrator, curator, and an artist in New York City after our previous Interview
Please introduce yourself.
Hello, I’m Jain Kwak. I am an artist, arts administrator, and a curator and lately I have been teaching art as well.
Prayer Request (Adhesive)
How long have you lived in New York?
I came to NYC to start an MFA program at Pratt Institute in 2010. I’ve been here for about 8 years, and I went to college in Alabama before moving to NYC. It’s been almost 16 years since I’ve been in the States.
I still remember the installation works you’ve made with the theme of uncertainty of memory. What kind of artworks are you working on lately?
Tummy (pseudo motherhood)
The uncertainty of memory or the distorting, fickle nature of memory is something that I am still interested in. But compared to when I was a grad student, I have significantly less time to focus on art making. On top of that I am using my studio apartment as a working space which prevents me from making such big scale installation works as you remember.
I had been making watercolor works in between the conceptual and more installation-heavy works during my grad school years. I made those watercolors for the pure pleasure of creating and coloring. I have always enjoyed those works, but they were a little far away from the kind of work I was making then—I wanted my work to not give out any handmade aspect. Everything was laser cut back then. However, after I got a job an tried to find a type of work I could produce steadily I came back to the small scale watercolors.
I only pursued very cerebral, conceptual work in grad school. But after I graduated, I started going to work regularly and having some challenges in life, I came to realize that the small watercolors that seemed to come out of nowhere also carried their own weight and needed to be valued. I now think that there must be a small and unconscious part of me that wants to create these.
Arts administration, curating and your art making are different subdivisions though they’re all in the art industry. Are any of those aspects conflict in you?
I started working in the arts administrative field as an accident. Curating started like that, too. And I am thankful that I got to learn about the other side of the story I would have never known if it was not for this job. Every artist inevitably forms a relationship with a curator or an arts administrator. But how an artwork or an exhibition is viewed by an artist, curator and arts administrator is drastically different. As a curator you have to think about the budget, the architectural characteristics of the exhibition space, the process after the deinstallation, or the minor limitations the venue might have—how many nails can be put on a wall? All of those things would have been complete unknown as an artist. And you also get to apply for a lot of exhibition, awards, and residencies as an artist. I got to experience both sides of being an applicant and the recipient of the applications, and now I know the importance of following the guideline. And I try to talk about the importance of following guideline whenever I meet with artist friends. It is such a waste if they miss the opportunities even with good work just because they didn’t follow the direction.
Teaching art is such a rewarding experience. Most of my students register the art history class without any knowledge or interest in art in general. But through time they’d develop interest in art, going to museums and galleries on their own, and they’d continue to register and start participating in discussions. Witnessing that is really amazing and that makes me study harder.
Is there a particular field you’d like to settle down among everything you’re doing? What is your goal?
I had an opportunity to interview Byron Kim, as part of a digital archive the foundation was building. He’s such an important artist and his name’s found in art history books, I referenced his work a lot and I looked up to him as an artist. I was very touched by his personality and the point of view during the interview. He said if he was given two options of, first, being an artist who would be found from art history books from centuries to come, second, being a good family man and a good friend to the people around him, he would choose the second option in a heart beat. His art and his life seemed to be in sync.
I have met numerous artists through my job. There were some disappointing ones based on their attitude toward others or work ethic despite the “brand name” they carry or their good reputation. Although being a good artist is not about how good their personalities are,
I do believe that the artwork reflects the artist very clearly. If I were to make a 5 year plan or a 10 year plan, I would like to be a better person than I am now. I want to fulfill my personal happiness, and would hope that reflects to my work