Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Over the weekend, I had been talking to my sister while looking at the NYT coverage of Wimbledon. I was surprised to see an article referring to a woman bleeding (actually, kind of shocked, given how much men freak out about it - and a man, Christopher Clarey, had written it):
Jankovic, a 24-year-old extrovert whose matches are routinely eventful, had problems of her own on this sunny, relatively humid day. After saving four set points and winning the first set, she complained of feeling faint and was treated on court by the medical staff.

“I felt really dizzy, and I thought that I was just going to end up in the hospital,” she said.

Jankovic, who said the problem might have been linked to the fact she was menstruating, said she considered retiring from the match. She began crying as she had her blood pressure checked on court. But she ultimately decided to continue and said she experienced no other extreme symptoms except sluggishness (and the disappointment of defeat).

“It’s not easy being a woman sometimes,” Jankovic said. “All these things happen, and what can I do? I tried my best.”
I told my sister, and she wanted to see it, but the article had already been changed by the time I sent her the link. We talked about The Frailty Myth (which she wasn't a fan of) and the story about a woman who won the Boston Marathon but had gotten her period during, which had run down her legs the entire time. But the media apparently made no reference at all to it.

The crunch

Phoebe pointed out this display on the way to lunch - I visited her new space since she's moved her office south of the river to shift gears w/Andante. Her curator was there, and she called a photog friend over who had gone to my alma mater in Chicago in the 90s. Phoebe was talking about how as she gets older, her ideas and passion to execute them has ramped up, but her physical self can't keep up w/that energy. We had a good talk about being a female artist, about the labor (she calls it deep-blue collar work), and how we are super good at some things but then total idiots in other regards (in ways that other people can't even fathom).

Then I headed over to my Korean tutor's school to say goodbye. It was so nice to sit down and tell her about my latest exploits and get some good advice from her. She really was the anchor for me during my research year, and the best teacher ever. I can tell how the fruits of her labor, and mine, will take years to unfold. Which is nice; that kind of delayed gratification is the best.

I then rode 3 subway lines to get to a huge downtown bookstore where I browsed for gifts, supplies, and finally found a non-shrink-wrapped version of this gorgeous book on Korean art (scroll down for pic of cover and author Kang Woo Bang). He has done AMAZING research on this whole idea of how "gi" (chi, spirit, etc.) was depicted throughout Korean history in its artwork - paintings, ceramics, metalwork, architecture, religious objects, etc. - through specific iconography that many historians overlooked. If it wasn't so HUGE, I would have bought it. After that delicious sit-down-w/a-book time, I found a bench and did some weaving.

A couple hours later, I met Bo Kyung so that she could finally introduce me to Professor Kim at Koomin University who has been leading a project supported by the Ministry of Culture to visit all the remaining hanji mills, get a sense of what is being produced, making standards, and hopefully opening a place in Seoul that is accessible for the lay person to come and experience making it while learning about its history and such. It was SO GREAT to meet, b/c he's right on about what needs to be done, and has the energy and resources to do it. I'll end up helping w/English things and possibly coming back to help out if the facility really happens. I think that anyone who really has a sense of what the state of hanji is now knows exactly what needs to be done to keep it alive in a sustainable way. So it's just a matter of getting the team assembled.

We had more amazing raw fish, though I couldn't believe I was having 회 two days in a row, after having it once last week as well. Ben didn't help when he said maybe I'm feeling super out of it lately b/c of high mercury levels. But I'm actually almost too tired to worry!

Monday, June 29, 2009

The last full week

And it's packed. Today was phone calls, shipping another 10 kilos home, a faboo massage, doing my formal goodbyes in the Fulbright office, quickie lemon sorbet w/Esther, dinner w/Julie and her parents (more raw, still-moving octopus! and other marine life), walking around Hongdae totally cranky from humidity, bumping into an artist whose opening I will attend on Wed, an ice/ice cream/red bean/etc. dessert, and a nightly walk w/Kelsey.

This makes me SO EXCITED for a shower, even though I will simply start to sweat as soon as I get out of it. This is the week where I have 2-3 scheduled appts and a zillion extras each day, plus a two-day trip down south. The weekend will be all family since I was stupid enough to leave my weaving trimmers at my aunt's home in the burbs, so I have to GO TO CHURCH on Sunday to pick them up. I suppose it bookends my year in Korea well: my very first and last Sundays I go to church (tho never on any other Sunday). I wonder if it would be rude to weave in the pews...

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I think this is the best MJ article thus far.

Tricky times

AGH. Today was the big family gathering in the burbs to commemorate my grandmother's death anniversary, 17 years ago. Four little ones, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses. I was the useless female family member since I'm no good at knowing when and how to help as a dutiful apron-clad bearer of food, cooker of food, setting of places, wiping of tables, clearing of dishes, washing of pots, replenishing of plates, and so on. I did cut some fruit, though. I did some weaving and undoing and re-weaving and undoing again; my aunts are very good at these things and kept advising me on it and that was a little stressful, but helpful. One aunt was in town from the US, which was a surprise to me, so I got the shake down: when am I leaving, how long have I been here, have I accomplished all of my goals, what's next, when am I getting married? Good times, as always.

The unpleasant part is that now I have to add a few more farewells into my schedule. Very unwillingly. I have to change the date of my final group dinner, which is okay since I haven't actually invited anyone yet. And I have to visit a teacher that I don't want to see b/c she wants me to make a piece for her so she can claim it as her own, keep it, photograph it, and put it into shows as her work. I had planned on NOT doing that. But my aunt insists on saying goodbye b/c it's the respectful thing to do. This also means I have to get the hanji back from another family friend and just give it back to the teacher, and say I never got the piece made. All quite unpleasant even if I had abundant time. Especially unfun now that I have so little of it left here and I'd rather not lose hours to such tasks.

But at least I get to see my cousins one more time next weekend. And I suppose I can chalk it all up to abundance.

Friday, June 26, 2009

No rice for weeks

I've been so all over the place lately that I haven't turned on my rice cooker since I can't remember when. Plus, the hot weather kills my appetite. This is a slide from Erin's Fulbright Forum tonight on relations b/t North Korea and China [answers: 1. 1950-, 2. nothing, 3. no]. I know people are worried, but I'm fine and if anything were to happen here (highly unlikely) it would be instant death, so no worries. But all parties involved seem highly uninterested in war. A ton of my hard copy research is on a boat, my electronic files are backed up on my server, and life continues as usual. Some people say, "be safe! be careful!" but there is nothing to do in that regard. Tonight when I got out of the cab after helping the AIEA group of university administrators get back to their digs, the driver scolded me: ride back home! It's a long walk! What if a man sees you?? These are the real concerns of everyday life here as a woman (actually, it's quite safe here, more so than any other major city I've visited. Even though some serial killer of women lived in this neighborhood).

This is the last forum I'll attend; it was a treat to see Katherine again, and also the AIEA group. We all ended up going shopping afterwards, which was hilarious. Katherine gave the taxi driver instructions before seeing us all off, and he eventually asked if I was Korean and that my Korean was good and why wasn't I married? If I get asked this question on my last day here, that will be the neverending question of my entire stay, from day 1 to day 382. Good times.

I met Chunhwa this morning at the World Cup Stadium; I was badly sleep deprived so I said NO to the hike up the mountain that is actually an enormous pile of trash. After walking the park area and sitting by the artificial lake/pond, we went into the Home Plus (a mega mart of sorts) to eat Korean junk food for breakfast. On our way out, we were highly distracted by the huge sales and walked out in a completely new outfit (Chunhwa) with 9 new pieces of clothing (me). I also got a call from my weaving teacher: the lacquered pieces don't look good, so he wants them to get more coats next week, and postponed our farewell dinner to next Friday. Which meant I was able to go home, do laundry, nap, and attend the forum. The tricky thing will be actually making it back to Seoul next Friday after taking a 2-day trip out of town...nothing ever goes as planned here. Ever. Usually it turns out fine, but never as expected.

My newly-promoted bf (captain!) walked me through the rest of my stay, so I've stuck to the list and lots done. The remaining 12 days will involve individual farewells, a final group dinner, classes, meetings, and even tiny pockets of time for me to make art. His advice was to start packing NOW so I get a better sense of truly how much I have...I was reluctant to admit it, but it's a good idea. He totally gets the situation, having been a Fulbrighter years ago and having had longer stints in Korea. I think this means that I need to stop buying new clothes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The farewell sea

I had made a third cup that failed miserably, and after my sister and Kelsey made those scrunched-up faces while viewing it, I ripped out the top and turned it into whatever this is. I know, it looks weird. But it was the best I could do considering how much cord I had left in this color/size and how much time/patience/thumb power remains.

I went to my dyeing teacher today intending to say goodbye, but he instead took me back to Djin Suk Kim's gorgeous exhibit, and said, "you'll visit again, right?" I didn't have the heart to say no. I'll either stop by once to say goodbye or call. It's too late to lie and say I'm leaving earlier, but I have to stop all the time sucks. I had texted Hyunmi to meet me so I could say goodbye to her, and she got it. She gets everything - she looked at my website and had spot-on feedback about my artwork. I really like the way she experiences and processes the world.

We went to Changdeokgung, one of the Seoul palaces. I had wanted to go for a long time but never got around to it. I had only really wanted to visit the "secret garden" behind it but we didn't do that today. It was a TOTAL scorcher and we went right after high noon, so I was totally wilted and barely shuffling along under my parasol, but I'm still glad we went. The park part is quite lovely and extensive.

[Flowers outside a past prez's compound.] Afterwards, I made it home to shower and collapse into a heap of more weaving. I also updated my sample books and pushed around more pieces of future work that have been haunting me. When I told Hyunmi about how my hands feel crazy and restless when not weaving, even though they are tired and in pain, my dyeing teacher said, "you know what that means: you're an addict." AAAGH! I'm one of those people who don't do well with storing things; I like to use up every last bit of material and then move onto something new. Knowing I have more cords means I feel like I have to use them all at once.

After cooling down, I got to meet Katherine for faboo shabu-shabu (which is SO close to my home. If only I had known sooner...). We got to do a farewell call to Frank, who flies back home tomorrow. B/c of our crazy schedules, I don't think I'll see Katherine again until we're both back on the east coast, which is sad. But I'm crazy thankful that she was part of my life here in Korea; she's been a total rock, a solid confidante, and like the wise old guru on top of the mountain, only she comes to you! And she's way more fun (and actually tells you things instead of hitting you over the head and giving you riddles before sending you back down the mountain).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Plans change constantly

After spending about six hours with my friend and her 9-mo son yesterday, I had to cancel my dinner date b/c having a baby stare at me while drooling was too much for me. Even though I spent much of the afternoon on my back in the living room that had been converted into a ginormous playpen, baby time wiped me out. But I imagine that spending lots of time with creatures that I don't understand would always be exhausting. Today has been a supreme loose-end day, but I got a lot of important ones tied up and then made it to calligraphy class on time. I had a hard time concentrating (likely b/c I was dehydrated and hadn't eaten lunch) but learned the rest of the Korean characters, including four that were originally created but later removed (those two at the end of the sheet above are two dropped ones). I practiced lots of circles and dots, which are super hard. I felt like my teacher was likely horrified by my work but he said nary a word.

We went out again for a delicious dinner and tea, where I felt slightly rude b/c I was still weaving. Earlier today I skyped w/my sister and showed her the piece I am working on now, and she was like, "you're getting so much better! Your weave is a lot tighter!" So that felt good. As cranky as I was about making that ginormous lamp, I realize now that it is really good that I did, b/c I had SO much surface area to weave, which meant tons of practice. That was the piece where I finally understood most of the mechanics of weaving. If I had done the piece I had wanted to instead of the lamp, I never would have learned this well. So, I guess teacher does always know best.

With just two weeks left, I'm in a mix of denial and panic; I've booked myself solid and realize that w/the exception of calligraphy, I should probably end all of my lessons this week, and give myself next week to travel and do solo things that will nourish me, things that I've wanted to do forever - visiting the national museum again, touring the secret garden in the best palace in the city, browsing and buying things for myself that catch my eye.

All this while simultaneously booking myself already for my return to NY: I have dates already for the first two days after my arrival. Foolish, brutal, unrealistic? Tonight, Jeong-In reminded me that it's too easy to become a workaholic, and that it's best not to get into bad habits of abusing and overstretching my body while I am young enough to handle it, b/c it will totally break down when I pass the threshold. I know this in my head, but again, tonight my hands are wildly restless.

Monday, June 22, 2009


[I had leftover cords, restless hands, and procrastination on the mind - so I made this tiny something. TINY, I say. Fits into my palm.] Yesterday I met five artists for dinner; Hyejin + four men involved in book arts and printmaking. It went on longer than I expected and the men also talked a LOT more than I've known men to talk, but it was a good time. They totally brought out the raw live octopus out for appetizers and I refused. I mostly eat everything, but draw the line when the meal is still moving. It was nice, though, to talk to Jung Ho about how even though many Korean traditions have been lost, there is still a very distinctive way that Koreans continue to make work, that blood is fierce like that. So that was a departure from the usual moans and groans I hear about losing important pieces of Korean heritage.

[I can't remember what I dyed this base sheet with, except that it was clearly done w/an iron mordant.] Today I get to do "fun" meetings - I'll see a childhood friend and her baby boy at lunchtime, and then a newer friend in the evening. I was fretting about not having made artwork that has very definite deadlines (by the time I leave Korea), but Jung Ho also reminded me that artists wouldn't be artists if they weren't always working intensely at the last minute - that we're used to this pressure and capable of delivering under it. Reminds me of how Ben told me that it's okay to take time for fun b/c likely I'd just be procrastinating - no need to pretend that I'd be using that time to really work.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I lived to tell the lacquer story

I didn't react to the lacquer! Granted, I thought I would pass out from the turpentine that it was mixed with. But no skin reactions. I had been so freaked out in anticipation, worried that I had to eat a raw egg yolk and massage it into my skin (a folk prevention method), and had dressed to cover myself head to toe in case of reaction, that I wore myself out. But hooray! The tea cups, chamber pot, and lamp are all in their finishing stages.

My weaving teacher brought his pieces as well, so it was interesting to see how the lacquer took on pieces that had no finish, that had rice glue finish, and that had rice glue finish that had set for a long time (about a year). The colors were all different. I didn't do a great job but thankfully my teachers will take care of the remaining coats so that I don't have to make more trips out to the papermill.

We decided to use persimmon dye for the lamp, so my hanji teacher took a utility knife and cut through the hanji covering the platform we were sitting on to reveal a trap door to a basement where he stored the dye he got from Japan. Totally like a secret lair. It was amazing stuff b/c the color took right away (usu persimmon dye looks like white liquid, and the color doesn't appear until days in direct sunlight) AND it didn't stink to high heaven (usu it smells like vinegar gone bad).

We kind of cheated when doing the persimmon dye by pouring it in and rolling the lamps around rather than brushing since the pieces were so big. Then we hung them to drip dry in the sun. In the meantime, we looked around at the new construction on site, projects in progress, and some documents that my hanji teacher bought for research that were hundreds of years old. The most amazing being the thick paper that was dyed a brilliant red - it had to have been natural dye, but you can't even get that color nowadays.

My weaving teacher tricked me into eating green plums off of two different trees. SO SOUR. The whole place was green, things growing everywhere. Then we went out for a nice solid dinner of gelatin on bones and I got more history lessons. My hanji teacher then bought us tofu and acorn snacks. My weaving teacher and I got stuck in awful traffic (Sunday night - everyone returning home from a weekend out of Seoul), but we set a date for final delivery of the finished pieces and my farewell party w/my weaving teacher, his wife, my hanji teacher, and his two kids. I can't believe this particular chapter is ending so soon!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Before the next trek

Thatched roofs in the old village. They used to replace the straw every year in the past since it would rot. Hanji that covered doors and windows were also always replaced each year (b/c of normal wear and tear, like children poking holes w/their fingers). The New Village Movement in the 1970s called for the demolition of homes like this to make way for western-style housing - this nearly destroyed the hanji industry b/c suddenly there was no need for paper flooring, wallpaper, ceiling paper, window paper, door paper, etc.

The guardian tree.

Kenya (left, w/courtesy-of-Fulbright umbrella) and Myung-ja writing prayers.

The door to a famous home in the village. We are on the inside.


For all the crankiness of getting up early and having a rainy, rainy day all day, today's trip to Andong was faboo.

It is always SO nice to get out of Seoul, and the rain only made the green things greener. We hiked a bunch more than expected but that reminded me of hiking the volcanic mounds in Jeju, so it was nice. Plus the company was amazing! I rode from Seoul to Andong with this year's American International Education Administrators grantees. Five were selected from US universities to travel and learn about aspects of Korean culture and education for two weeks. I'm totally jealous of their itinerary but was glad to get to tag along for part of the trip.

[Bird's eye view of the traditional village that we visited - it's situated in an ideal location in terms of geomancy, tucked into the bend of a river. It was so well protected by mountains that it was untouched by the Japanese.] My job was to translate for the group when we visited Andong Hanji, the biggest papermill (handmade paper) in Korea. Though I had taken such bad pictures when I had made my site visit there last winter, I didn't take any more today since I was so wrapped up translating. It was actually a very good gauge of how freaking amazing my Korean tutor is, considering that I came to Korea w/o much confidence in my language skills, and now can do on-the-spot gigs (albeit not perfectly) and have both parties be happy w/the results.

[The cliff we were on while viewing the village from afar.] I got to then go along for lunch, a tour of the village, and a visit to a Confucian study center before getting a ride w/an Andong native and expert on the traditional village, who dropped me off on the side of the road only to realize that I was meeting someone that she knew! I had tea at Younghee's home and then we had to have a hasty dinner b/c I didn't want to miss the last bus home. I had hung out w/her at her home last winter, but so much has happened since then. She told me amazing stories, esp about how her mom used a paper chamber pot when traveling to get married! And why paper is ideal for those purposes.

[Prayers tied around a 600+-year-old tree that guards the village. It was very satisfying to take a china marker to thin, waxy paper and write my prayer in Korean and tie it onto the sopping ropes.] It's late, and I have to travel in less than 12 hours to another papermill to lacquer my chamber pot and its other woven friends. But today was a great way to get the bigger picture of my year and all the possibilities for the future.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Coming down

Now that I'm done w/my tantrum, I'm tied up again on the floor w/spun cords all over the place, my hands sore from weaving. Ben reminded me that I am sending and attracting the wrong kind of energy by being so negative about all the things that are coming my way. I had said that I KNEW that my schedule next week was too good to be true, and that I was right, b/c I got a call this morning throwing it all into disarray. I travel to Andong tomorrow to translate for a group of US university administrators who will visit the papermill there. Afterwards, I was going to sightsee and meet a friend's friend. I had hoped to spend the night w/her and take my time getting back to Seoul, to get a moment away from the hustle and to enjoy the quiet. But now I have to rush back so that I can go to my teacher's mill on Sunday to start lacquering. Which means a Sunday trip, a Monday trip, and a possible Friday trip. Knives into all of my hopeful plans.

I think my general paranoia lately comes from being scared to articulate the things that I desire for fear that they will be taken away from me; that old scarcity mentality. I realize now that I'm using these faraway wars to cover up the fact that I want to be with someone that I care about. B/c somehow I think that love isn't allowed, or isn't enough. Then I stare at my own piece on the wall that says, "there is enough space for you," and I see another piece that traveled thru post to Jacklyn, and I remind myself to breathe before I dive back into the hand work.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heavy loads

My schedule for next week is falling into place nicely as of now. It will be packed, but with good things, like meeting a childhood friend, lacquering my woven pieces, meeting with artists to talk about hanji and collaboration, calligraphy, seeing lots of my family all at once. My fear is that everything will fall out of place, since things scheduled a week in advance in Korea (for me) tend to all get rescheduled last minute. But for now I'm going to pretend like ONE week here will come together the way I want it to.

Today was my day off from interacting with the world, and I got a monster nap in the afternoon that helped a lot. But I got frustrating news from the bf: his deployment has been changed from leaving in Dec for Afghanistan to leaving in Jan for Iraq. In the grand scheme of how all of this war is still not part of my reality, it shouldn't bother me that much. But I spent a good deal of the afternoon feeling sick about it. Mostly, I am bewildered by my situation. I know it sounds horribly ignorant, but do left-wing artists ever get involved with military officers? What is going ON, that suddenly major portions of my life are being dictated by the US Dept of Defense?!

To avoid thinking about this, which for the most part is fruitless worry, I remembered a fun convo we had last night at a mosquito-ridden cafe: we talked about hands, and how you can know a person by looking at their hands. I was saying that since I was so used to getting violin calluses from a young age, I wasn't worried about getting blisters and calluses from weaving and having my skin peeling all the time. Jeong-In showed us her hands and how her right middle and ring fingers don't touch anymore b/c she writes/draws so much; so much of her life has been spent with an implement in between those two digits. Our calligraphy teacher talked about the way that his hands act when he has to do a lot of brush work. Finally, the husband of another classmate showed us his golf calluses.

That said, my hands are telling me that it's time to finish weaving.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sliding home

I had my first calligraphy class today! Last night I came home and had a mild panic attack b/c I realized I only have three weeks left. This made me even more grateful to visit Jeong-In today in her studio. It's chock full of goodies - she collects fantastic work and has tons of art books (she showed me a few delicious ones today and I was smitten by this print that she had framed). It's so active: you walk in, and you know she is constantly working. There's that buzz of thinking, and making, and accumulating and feeding off of inspiration all around her. I love that kind of artist: super smart and informed, always finding things to look and learn from, able to clearly explain her own work, fun and generous, and a good host. We exchanged books (we had meant to do this since LAST summer and are only getting around to it now) and caught up. It's always special to see someone who has seen you through the whole journey - I had met her in my first few weeks here. Her spirit is solid and healthy and good to be around. We had yu-um Chinese food for lunch and I got to watch her make more "dung" balls - she peels her dried-up acrylic paint from her palette and rolls it into balls that she puts into containers based on color. She has the most green ones b/c she's a children's book illustrator, and there are lots of images of outdoor scenery in those books in Korea. I liked that.

We picked up her calligraphy teacher, who lives close to her studio, and drove back to Seoul for class with two other women. It's super chill and fun - they were joking about using coffee and sugar to grind ink on the inkstone. It was SO GOOD to do this today. I had met this teacher last fall and I had always remembered what he said about the relationship between calligraphy and hanji. I'm re-reading the end of the post that I wrote when I first met him, and find it hilarious that I felt like I had run out of time in October. Over half a year later, I've finally picked up the brush. It's pretty amazing, everything else that I get to learn in the process, since it's related to Korean. In a way, it's better that I do it now even though I'll be lucky if I get one more class in before I go, b/c I have the language and hanji training under my belt so I can fully appreciate standing and drawing straight lines over and over. I made a mistake while being too absorbed in Jeong-In's advice about what to say to get help in particular situations (if you are being attacked by a person, you have to yell "fire" rather than "help!" since no one will come out of a building for that in case they get hurt, too, but they WILL run out of the building to save themselves. If you can't get the vending machine to work, you have to call the company and say, "coins keep pouring out of the machine!" rather than, "it ate my money." They'll send someone RIGHT AWAY).

Afterwards, we went out for another yummy meal (we laughed about the illusion here: all the fish is on rocks) and then coffee. This is their Wed routine for them: class, dinner, and coffee with friends. It was great to be included today, and a super change from my usual Wed routine (weaving class). Plus, it was all in a neighboring hood, so getting home was quick. We had LONG and extensive discussions about my future, how to deal w/hanji issues, the sad history of Korean culture being thrown away by Koreans, reasons that Korea is not highly regarded by the rest of the world, racism, immigration, living abroad, how to get people outside of Korea more aware of the deep and valuable aspects of its culture, keeping the links vibrant between traditional and contemporary life, why big Korean companies like LG, Samsung, and Hyundai play down the fact that they are Korean, good and bad aspects of life here, etc.

All this to say, thank goodness that I get a breather tomorrow: I can sleep in! And I'm dying to make some work (actually, I also just have to; the deadlines are close).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

There's always more

[For this alone, visit Sono Factory.] I have a little bit of time before Kelsey gets home and we go for our nighttime walk. Today I was supposed to see the book show w/Esther, pick up my books and go to another show south of the river. It ended up being just the first half, extended all day. I got to the gallery and saw Young-jin, who is doing his doctoral work in printmaking and was very active in getting this exhibit together (and deinstalled today). Esther and her friend stopped by, and then Young-jin took me to a fantastic, tiny sushi place for late lunch before going back and wrapping up all the books. Hyejin stopped by and we boxed up all the books returning to Chicago. It was nice to have a chill afternoon before that, reading the books that I had only seen pictures of from my old grad program, and staying cool on a hot day in a lovely gallery/cafe space.

After taking the show down and getting it all back to Young-jin's studio (where I happily drew at a work station while missing having a studio and time to doodle), we went out for drinks and expounded on hanji and book arts and what Korean artists can do to make better books.

This leads me to the "more" part about why I do what I do: it's fun. And I love it. I don't think I made that clear last time. I grew up hearing often that I was selfish. And maybe I am; maybe I am very greedy. But I love meeting people, I love learning, I love meeting new art and revisiting old friends in the form of art, I love the community that I continue to develop wherever I go, I love traveling for my work, I love pushing myself, I love working with my hands and my head, I love being in constant conversation.

I feel alternately like I'm beating the path and uncovering it. This explains why I feel tired and excited / freaked out so often (there are so many unexpected things that crawl out from under). I have devoted my life to self-awareness and find my current path to be the best way to figure things out about myself and how I fit into the world and how that affects me. I need to get better at understanding how I affect it. I remember being 18 and dating a boy who was also an eldest child who said, your little sister probably looks up to you a lot more than you think. Until then, I had felt no sense of responsibility for being any kind of role model to her. The older we get, the more people think that she is the older sister. I have no easy explanation for this (that doesn't make me look like a bratty fool).

I also think that I am OCD about following whatever dreams I have because I was raised by a family that sacrificed so many of theirs. Yesterday, my parents' friend introduced me to her client by saying that I come from the "elite" in terms of my family lineage/status. I find that highly stressful, like I have to live up to something that I could never possibly live up to, or understand. My great grandfather was a doctor who barely made a living b/c he treated people too poor to pay him. This caused my grandmother to not let my father go into medicine for fear that he would be poor (this backfired BIG time). My grandfather was the head of the first stock company here but was forced out very early b/c he was the brother-in-law of Kim Dae-Jung (the prevailing theory being that you quash everyone w/any relationship to rising leaders to keep them from gaining power). He was brilliant, highly educated, fluent in several languages; he built a darkroom in the basement, designed his own house based on his foreign travel, and was always learning more via all forms of media available to him at the time. But he couldn't work. My strongest visceral memory of him is the residue of his hand (likely since we had so little actual contact with him): once when he was visiting us in NY, he wrote a letter on our tea table made of cherry wood without anything under the piece of paper. Those characters are still etched into the surface of the table.

My mother wanted to be an artist but her family was too poor to send her to school, so she ended up being a nurse. When we were young, she used to draw portraits of us but soon refused entirely, saying she never wanted to draw again - it was too painful a reminder of what she couldn't have. Or, of what was taken away from her. It reminds me of how my grandmother refused to see me here, now, b/c it would be too painful to say goodbye. Many people say their parents immigrated for a better life, and for a better life for their children. I am unsure about that in my case since my parents went separately, with no intention of meeting or creating a family, but this year made me grateful for the fact of their immigration, not the reason. That fact means that I do what I do because I can: I grew up in a culture that condones doing what you want to do (this can have a wide range of repercussions, of course).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Push and pull

[My teacher did two, I did one. You can guess which.] After recuperating on Saturday, I took the plunge on Sunday and visited my cousin and her daughter and son. I am always reminded of why I don't do that often. It's too much of an energy drain - they are wild, and go from screaming about me being there to ignoring me to crying when I leave. It was a nice family day, though. I did homework for the 5-yo (HW is expected to be done by mothers, not the children) - this involved a lot of drawing medical implements and cutting them out and gluing them to posterboard, helped assemble his stegosaurus, went to the market for noodles, stopped for dessert and ended up coming home w/another child, dropping those two girls off at the natural history museum, and then helping prepare plums for pickling. After a nap, it was time to feed everyone dinner, and then somehow get back home in time to take a mild walk w/Kelsey.

Sarah flew back to the US today and spent last night with me, which meant that I got less than five hours of sleep. This was brutal, esp since I had to juggle getting ready for class and talking to Ben and saying goodbye all at once (and then meeting her once more at the post office b/c she left something at my place). I was so tired on my way to class and practiced in my head the speech I wanted to give to my teacher about not weaving anymore stuff b/c I am overwhelmed and need to wrap up. But he started teaching me a rectangular shape today, so I couldn't. I've wanted to learn this for months. The good news is that the plan for the next week or so is to go back to the papermill and lacquer the pieces we've finished. Hopefully after that I can be done w/lessons.

I went afterwards to see my parents' friends for amazing dumplings and cold buckwheat noodles. The mom will back my patterned hanji and make a garment even though I kept telling her not to. While waiting for her to finish a pair of pants, I sat and wove more with plum juice on my right, while her client my left kept inspecting my work and exclaiming things like, "your hand work is amazing! No one does things like this anymore! Does your groom know that you do this? B/c he would make you throw it out if he did!" I was too tired to fight about particulars so I just said, yes, he knows, it's fine. I gave up on having pretty hands a LONG time ago.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

After Frank: Why I do what I do

[The teacup is done and I understand most of its flaws. N.B.: I started this post 3 weeks ago and never finished it, so it may feel clunky and weird.] I loved Frank's post and wanted to do the same but haven't been able to get my mind in gear. It's still not, but I also realize it might never be, so I will give it a stab while I wait for my hair to dry before sleeping on it.

First, what am I doing here in Korea? Before I arrived here, I either truly believed or deceived myself into believing that what I was going to do here had nothing to do with the rest of my life, that it was just a step over to an adjacent path, and that once I got back to the US, I'd hop back to the path I was on (which was about being an artist and figuring out how to survive as one). It was wishful thinking, since I knew that I was taking a BIG leap, and that I was terrified.

The easy answer is this: I am here to learn as much as I can about hanji.

My initial plan was to focus on how to make it directly by hand, with the biggest focus being on the actual sheet formation technique, since this a key part of Korean papermaking that differentiates it from Japanese papermaking (the two are similar in most other regards). I love that the elegance of the Korean technique and how it couples sheets to make a perfect whole. It is more time consuming than most other sheet formation methods, requires more precision and a flowing rhythm, and rarely does anyone at the end of the assembly line understand the process. My artistic process is similar, so I feel a particular affinity to this method.

However, I found very quickly that it would be difficult for me to find the right teacher, or anyone who would teach me without massive and unpleasant strings attached. So I branched out into other aspects that were part of my initial proposal, but hazy at the time. It became a way of making a nest for what I would eventually lay inside: the experience making hanji. The components of the nest were varied and numerous. A woman recently contacted me about "learning about papermaking" and I found this inquiry too vague, so I asked, "What exactly do you want to learn? History, the hanji market, making hanji, traditional aspects, contemporary aspects, applications (use in products, daily life, art, conservation, etc.), the state of active papermills and masters, ways of preserving? This is a sampling of ideas..." [this, along with a barrage of other questions, must have scared her away b/c she never responded.] Yesterday when I met with Esther and Carla, I found myself running at the mouth on a zillion different tangents related to hanji and realized, "damn, have I learned a lot this year!"

My subsequent goal is to take this knowledge and go back to the US (and the English-speaking world) to start a facility similar to the one that Tim Barrett pioneered at the University of Iowa. I want to create a site that specializes in the production of hanji from the ground up and in teaching people about hanji so that it gains attention outside of Korea. Here, I wanted to meet the people involved in hanji production, scholarship, marketing, and related art forms, to nurture a community that cares about the survival of high-quality hanji and to bring them to venues outside of Korea to teach and share information to a wider audience. I wanted to connect with everyone who cares about hanji enough to work hard to keep it alive in a vibrant way. Not in the imitation made-in-China way (though they're getting better and better at doing it in China. However, I don't think they are using the deckle-less, double-sheet formation method. Actually, not many Korean papermills do, either).

I want to do this work outside of Korea is because 1. I am American and forsee spending the greater portion of my life in the US and 2. Koreans often don't notice that certain precious traditions are disappearing until these traditions go abroad and are noticed by foreigners. Once that happens, these traditions then are recognized and re-embraced in Korea. This was the case for hanji dolls made by Kim Young-Hee, who went unnoticed in Korea, went to Germany and became quite popular, and now sells work at high prices in Korea.

If someone else takes my goal and runs off with it, I imagine I'd be pissed off at first, but then relieved. It's a big responsibility, and I'm truly amazed at how much difference a year of concerted effort makes. While preparing my Fulbright application, I contacted as many of the movers and shakers in the papermaking world as I could find to seek those with a specialty in hanji. I came up empty. The one woman who had done extensive research in Korea at two different papermills in the 90s was no longer working in the field. This made my work both easy and hard - I had no one to compete with, but no one to consult with. Now I suddenly find that I am a native English speaker with a strong grasp of the Korean language, who has a solid understanding of the hanji world today. I don't know any others. This is scary.

And this is where aspects of responsibility freak me out. Strangers have started to email me after doing online searches on hanji, asking for help and resources, all similar questions that I posed in the early stages of my research years ago. But unlike other art forms, it's harder to point people in the right direction. There isn't really any one place you can go to get what you need, and certainly very few outlets for those who don't speak Korean. Unfortunately, there's also plenty of misinformation out there since the translations into English are often inaccurate. In cities that pride themselves on their hanji tradition, like Jeonju and Wonju, it's easier to find places to visit and learn more, but not in Seoul. There are a couple of people here who have amassed large private collections of hanji-related objects, in hopes of opening hanji museums, but neither have opened yet (one will be in Jeju, the large island south of the peninsula, and the other may go to France).

After having spent such an intense year here on this project, I find myself recoil when people express a passing interest in hanji. I recognize that this is not a helpful reflex, but it's a natural one to have developed after investing this year into the health and well-being of hanji. There have to be various levels of resources and info available to sustain hanji production: the surface level for tourists and hobbyists, a deeper level for those who want a better understanding of certain aspects of hanji to do their own work, and the most in-depth for those who wish to devote a great deal of their time and energy to learning about hanji (in the capacity of apprentice who becomes a papermaking master, or teacher who perpetuates the form through students, to give two examples).

The hard thing for me is that the picture is getting bigger and bigger as I spend more time grappling with the present issues. The effort has to be concerted, coordinated, and done by a community of people. I have had a ton of ideas for how to bolster the craft, but they all require involvement by a range of people: the ordinary citizen, the government official, the tool maker, the designer, the marketer, the businessperson, the historian, the urban planner, the ecologist, the skilled laborer, the translator, the family of the papermaker, etc. There is no way I could even begin to propose these ideas without a team. Luckily, the government is sponsoring a project to help sustain hanji, but this funding is only secure for a year.

At this point, I want to walk away from the whole mess. Days before I left for the papermill in January to train, I warred with myself, thinking, "Why the hell did I agree to do this? I don't need to learn how to make hanji. In fact, I don't ever need to make paper again." I always do this before embarking on hard, life-changing adventures. But I always go, and the roads open up. Many people I've met have said that I must be on the right path, because I've gotten the help that I've needed. I hear a lot of "it was meant to be" in terms of my destiny with hanji. I probably relate to hanji's situation because of my life experience: being part of the Korean diaspora, knowing what it is like to be disregarded and misunderstood, and feeling like I had no advocate. But knowing somewhere that I had something to offer, that I was someone of worth, that investing in me was a good idea. I anthropomorphize things a lot, so I feel a kinship with hanji and everything that makes it what it is. The final sheet of paper is beautiful and perfect, but the real story is everything that leads up to that finished product, and everything that comes afterwards.

In that regard, I want to make this work tangible; a book, a film? The art will take years. A friend reminded me to stay present and not worry about how this research will integrate into my artwork, since it just will (whether I like it or not). About a year before I started my hanji research in the US, I had started seedlings of a language project in my artwork. I still have not wrestled with it, but keep gathering things for it. In the heat of thinking about it, I told a friend that I was terrified by it because I felt like it would become my life's work, and I didn't feel ready to start my life's work. Hilariously, I think I fell into a different hole while backing away from this project, and that was the hole of the possibility of my life's work with hanji.

In the course of my research, I've been unsatisfied with my art life. I came here identifying as an artist who got a funded year via a proposal to research hanji. I wanted the art part to be dominant and the hanji part to feed it like a tributary to a river. But nothing ever turns out neatly, and I spent a lot of time questioning what I intended to do with my artwork, since I had to spend so much time explaining what I did as an artist that made sense to people outside of the art world. I doubt I was convincing. Because I routinely lose faith and wonder what is going on in the art world that presents itself to the general public (and have been happy to get some respite from it this year), and then wonder why I want to have anything to do with it. Maybe I do, but only because I think I should.

[I had read an article on artists and mental illness, which I definitely took issue with, but thought a lot about this comment (mostly just the part I italicized):

An artist's tools are emotional faculties without the support of rational argument; this makes him vulnerable to attacks and rejection. This explains the more stable minds of scientists: they function in a rational way, which provides them with emotional strength because of their reliance upon rational argument. An original artist has much more difficulty to justify (also to himself) what he is doing, and much of the struggle to get there where he needs to be is a traumatic trajectory in which his normal human condition suffers from the unique position in which he has been forced by the interaction between individual and environment.]

The tricky part comes here: I want to make art to the very end of my life, and everything else is a means to this activity. But is that enough? I once met a woman who ran the artist residency program in Omaha at Bemis, which is a fantastic place. A few of us artists were talking to her about why she did this work (she's no longer there), and she said it was important to support artists because they were essential to making people think by exposing them to new ideas. Hopefully, these audience members would then learn, understand, and grow tolerance for new ideas. The final result on a large scale would be world peace. She laughed at the end, acknowledging how pie-in-the-sky this idea was, yet still held it as what drove her. I was surprised, because she articulated how I used to think about being an artist. I had drifted from it later, partly because I realized that I didn't believe that world peace was possible.

But thinking in such a BIG way can make a person crazy. It certainly makes me crazy, whether considering my future in art or in hanji advocacy. I have to remind myself that the important thing is what I do daily, in my community. That is the real responsibility. In the end, the "why I do this" comes down to the cliched phrase: this is my path. I've tried to run away from it and pretend it doesn't exist, or hope that there was a mistake and I can get another card dealt to me, but that's all just stalling. Like tonight's workout with Kelsey, parts of the path really suck. You cramp up, you feel like you can't go any further, you want to say fuck it and go home, you get bitten by monster mosquitoes, you feel like a fool. But you do it. And then you get to go home. And you can even shower if you want to.

Friday, June 12, 2009

That metallic smell

[The cherry tree at my dyeing teacher's studio. I got sick eating them, likely b/c they are coated in Seoul pollution. But I'd do it again, if the tree was in the countryside.] Yesterday I did an exercise routine that an army lieutenant devised and dictated to me, along w/a big scary to do list that I managed to finish by noon. Then I mailed art, had tea w/Narae and got two copies of her new book, napped and talked to Beau on the phone, and then took a bus in massive traffic south of the river to see my Korean tutor and her assistant to get my language exam scores. Now we know I'm strongest in listening, then writing, and weak in reading, vocab, and grammar. Nothing we didn't already know. After running more errands, I met Hae-seon for a faboo Indian dinner and went to her new pad to hang, listen to K-pop, and drink cava.

[Helena got this for me down South a while back; it's half as high as my index finger and perfect.] Today I went to dyeing class but there were no new dyes, so I fooled around w/ones I had already done before, and did some weaving of my new tea cup. I tried to leave but my teacher told me to stay and go to an art exhibit up the road of an artist who had just visited during my class - in town from NYC. I told him I had to go home and nap and he insisted instead that I sleep in one of their extra rooms. I laid down but didn't get any sleep. Once his other artist student showed up, she gave me a book of poetry she wrote years ago, and we headed to the show. Which was GORGEOUS. The gallery itself was beautiful, and the work, labeled as eroticism, was wonderful. I can't explain right now from weariness, so just visit Djin Suk Kim's site. It's almost all work on paper, hanji, and absolutely smashing.

[Helena's Q&A] Then I met Esther and Carla for a meeting at the Fulbright building before heading to Helena's forum on how the US, Japan, and Korea creates war memories in the new generations. It was great, and I love the interdisciplinary nature of her research. I had to say goodbye to her and Frank tonight since I likely won't see them before we all leave, but am happy about the friendships that I've nurtured w/fellow Fulbrighters and the possibilities of crossing paths in the future. I got home feeling quite ill from overdoing it, but still went for a 2-hour workout w/Kelsey. We took it easy and it was nice at the end to just sit in grass and stretch and talk and do handstands.

I'm totally going to bed w/o showering.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The lamp is done! But we started a cup today and my teacher could tell I didn't want to do anything. Ug.

I then rushed over to the show, which actually looked gorgeous. The space is fantastic. But I was late since I was a little lost, with Stephanie and Sarah (up there, looking at my book) joining me in the being lost. Hyejin eventually came out to fetch us, and I realized once I arrived why she had called to see where I was: I had to give a speech. I didn't know this until I was called up to the mic (which I never actually turned on - for the better, since my improvisation skills in Korean are nowhere close to being as strong as mine in English). I didn't get to see the show b/c then we were shuttled off to another hood to see another show and then have dinner. This is typical Korean opening style: the openings last about 2 seconds, with speeches making it very obvious that you only go to be seen, the food is eaten in the blink of an eye, and then there is a huge meal that the artist pays for that tons of people attend.

I have been thankful to have Hyejin help me navigate since I've landed, and love how calm and collected she is, always. Meanwhile, here I come rushing into the gallery, late, sweaty, dressed unstylishly for rain (but it didn't rain), in a big bad hair day, barely able to hold my own in Korean mostly b/c I was so tired. Then again, it's always like that here. Everyone is really well put together and I am never.

Last night, Kelsey and I went for a run and pushups in the rain after 10pm, thru hills and despite the kids making out on the stage of an outdoor amphitheatre. She made me promise to change my diet and also work out w/her every night until I leave, but we're already skipping tonight. I met a printmaker/prof whose work I saw a while back in Korea, and also the son of a very famous hanji artist. So...I have a couple leads if I want to do some last-minute research. I'm suddenly deluged by all this work that could easily keep me on my computer forever, but I have to balance it with everything else going on. I feel like in the last month, I suddenly am being flooded by new people that I would love to hang out with more. Why does it always work out that way?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Deja vu

Today's massage was NO JOKE. Whoa. The practitioner was blind, and strong as hell. It reminded me of when I went for a shiatsu session in Chicago, which was so intense that I started running a fever on the ride home and then was sick for days b/c so many toxins were let loose (and b/c I was not used to that kind of bodywork). She pinpointed some eerie things and in general was horrified by the state of my body. I wonder if this is why I go so infrequently; b/c I hate the reminders of how hard I am on my body.

It was so depressing! She said, you only become an idiot by withstanding this kind of pain. It made me want to book a ticket home, or away to anywhere, since I can't see at all how I could possibly change my lifestyle in Seoul for my last month quickly and effectively enough to make a real difference. The message I got today was this: everything I am doing now is bad for me, and everything I am not doing now is good for me. Hm...this was more than enough to spur me to rush home, crawl into bed, and stay there for a good portion of the day. I did some work, read a little, took two naps, and listened to "Edelweiss" (likely in an attempt to reenter my 10-yo body and escape this one).

During my year here, I've become increasingly bad at including notices of my work in shows. I just remembered that this one is up in Spain until Monday. Time to do some pushups!


My friend Karin is a wetlands specialist who teaches in Utah and researches phragmites, an incredibly invasive plant that is choking wetlands across the country. I find invasive species fascinating albeit frightening, and am glad that people as hardworking and smart as Karin are on the task (in the video, you'll see the plants - I remember seas of them while riding the train from NY to NJ).

Monday, June 08, 2009

I finally figured out where it will be

I forgot to say: on Wednesday, an exchange show of books by book artists from Chicago and Seoul will open at 5pm, at Sono Factory. I don't even know what the show is called, but two of my books will be in it, and I will be there (with completed lamp in hand!!).

Turning tides

I'm much better after Sarah got me some mysterious drug at the pharmacy, which after just one dose, has brought me back into equilibrium. I love my friends! I was able to sleep through the night, sleep in, bind a few more books, talk to Ben (who is already a pro at talking me down), and then rush out to a four-hour judging of the 2009 Seoul Souvenir Contest, sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and administered by the Seoul Tourism Organization. It was much harder work than I had anticipated, but I met some great people, and learned a lot while sticking colored circles and stars under numbers.

At one point, Brenda stuck a yellow dot on my cardigan. After eating cookies the whole afternoon during the judging, I ran to Youngpoong Bookstore to buy the new Making Beautiful Book by Narae Kim (one of my contacts from way back in the first months of arriving in Korea last year). While checking out, the cashier said, "you have a sticker on you," and I said, "oh, I know." She was like, "oh, it's on purpose?" It reminded me of propriety here, and the lack of deviation from the norm. This is why Korea is a fantastic place to do public performances, and why it's a terrible place to do them. I tend always to want to stick out, and it was always easy back home b/c I already looked different. But here, I prefer to lay low. It's so much easier. And, maybe, I just needed a moment in my life where I can just blend into the crowd, every day.

I've been getting amazing support and encouragement from all over lately, which helps me feel better after this spat of freaking out about my future. Narae's book has a beautiful spread on me and my work, so that was lovely to see and hold. It's a satisfying big paperback, which I love (hardcovers are fine, but they're just so heavy. And not as easy to hug; no yielding). Kind of like this other gorgeous, full-color paperback that Clover sent me MONTHS ago: Peter Turchi's Maps of the Imagination. It is pure indulgence: the writing, the topics, the delicious literary and film references, and the IMAGES! To swoon for.

Last night, I had dinner and tea with Stephanie, which was also wonderful and therapeutic. She is SO smart, articulate, hilarious, and an amazing listener. I feel so lucky to have the community that I do here. Melissa recommended a meridian massage therapist to me, so I go tomorrow morning for a session! Hooray.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

"Make good choices"

Sarah texted that to me last night when I was at the House of Sharing benefit concert. Needless to say, I made a whole string of unwise choices, which led to staying out way too late and aggravating the already tenuous state of my health. I'm a little horrified (again) by how I've adapted to this incredibly stressful lifestyle, and how I create a lot of the stress and then feed off of it. I have nightmares every night about things that I worry about during the day (last night's was about laundry, the night before about packing). It's not sustainable, this much I know.

Sarah brought me peanut butter and an English muffin yesterday for breakfast as she finalized her NYC sublet and as I lazed in bed. We went out for a stuff-your-face lunch, and then walked around as I bought trinkets and a dress from young vendors lined up and down a street connecting two popular neighborhoods. We met two of her friends but I left soon after for a nap, and then dinner with Katherine in her hood. Dinner was great, and she advised me wisely as usual, but on a topic that devastates me: the ethics of how people interact in various communities.

We then headed to the benefit, which drew a big crowd, albeit not the kind that I'm used to here. I haven't been in closed quarters with so many non-Koreans for a LONG time, and got a little panicked about going back home in a month. Sarah and I had talked about the different ways of negotiating our lives as "the other" and how it's constantly changing. And that the changing nature of constant negotiation needs to be understood and accepted for what it is.

I just talked with my sister for a bit and she has helped put things into perspective (as in, what am I stressed about? What's really important? How can these problems be solved?) - I see that I've been digging myself into the usual hole so it's time to climb out.

I couldn't take pics on Friday of Boram's show, but she did! Look here. [a serious framing job!]

Also, I was poking around recently and found this, which I love. [start there and go about five frames; that section I liked best.]

Friday, June 05, 2009

Throwing in the towel today

It's 7pm and in lieu of a nap, I'm going to bed after posting. Sarah took this pic last week - two women asked if I would answer an interview question for their school project: "how do you feel about tattoos?"

Sarah and I went to my dyeing class today, and I was psyched b/c I finally did a new dye (things have been all over the place so I hadn't been able to learn any new ones for a while): mugwort. Hooray. We met Hyunmi's fiance and had another faboo lunch. I think that b/c I'm going less to dyeing class, my health has suffered since I don't get nutritionally-balanced lunches as often. I'm fighting a nasty infection now; clearly I need more rest, less stress, and a better diet. The chances of that happening, though...

My teacher gave us branches of his tree that had delicious tart red seeded berries and we sat on a stone bench next to a homeless guy and picked them off after the lesson (we had already spent a good portion of the lesson picking them off the tree and spitting the seeds out). Then I headed to the bank before meeting Boram - she's in town for a show. I was so impressed! It's great to see the progress of her work, and to talk. We have a lot of similar struggles (in terms of being too in our heads and making ourselves crazy), so it's nice to talk it out.