Thursday, July 22, 2021

About to leave home again

So much had changed when I got home. The weed jungle, the thousands of dead ants in my basement in mysterious piles that keep multiplying alarmingly, the mysterious leak that is hiding so that I can't fix anything while not being able to use a kitchen cupboard, and the missing maple trees that the new neighbor cut down along our property line. I had always felt mixed about them because they dropped so many trees and so many birds pooped in the driveway but trees always provide shade. I had to do something to block the western exposure so I took my new stash of colored hanji from Mr. Shin and covered up my door. There's a flap at eye level so I can freak out anyone who comes knocking with my eyeballs.
True unfocused snapshot of all the knives (aside from the commercial ones) that I came home with from Korea. I shipped six and flew with one. The left six are all for bamboo processing and that means I probably can't use them for a long time because I have to source bamboo first. The right one is for bark scraping but was made off of a "bad" knife, so I'll find out eventually how well it works.
These were my big late splurges before I left Jeonju and I love them. My students next week in NY will get to take a closer look as they are already packed.
Wooooo! That black one, a hapjukseon, was more rare and for rich fancy folks, used to block the sun. Both made by the only national ICPH of fan making.
I have been struggling since getting home with the usual re-entry, which has been compounded by feeling for the first time that coming back to the US is not so great. I have been going to Korea since I was so young that I don't remember that first time. Never annually, but each time I would come home grateful for things we have here. When I was in Korea this time, in theory I missed things like clothes dryers but when I got home, I thought, these are so wasteful and now all my stuff has shrunk. Things have changed so much with Korean development and American decline that I marvel that I've been able to witness the tables turning in my lifetime. Somehow through the haze of jet lag, I managed to finish this edition of 10 for the Jeong project. Old indigo-dyed hanji that I made, new persimmon-dyed hanji that Mr. Shin made.
I also a commission that I knew I had to do now or else next month would become insane. Getting back to my friend Helena reminds me often, I am only grounded when my fingers are busy.
She has been an enormous help and guide through my ups and downs in Korea and also the same when I returned, as I had to negotiate some sudden decisions about job offers and how to shape my future. After I finished the work for hire, I had taken apart a weird thing I wove before I left and turned it into something sweeter. Working more freely, this one came just as quickly but with so much more room to breathe. This is a bad translation of the Korean word that comes to mind, yeoyu 여유. It's like having space and time, being more relaxed but not out of laziness. For the first time, I also feel deep sorrow at feeling this language slip away so quickly as I don't use it daily. The comfort is that when I go back, I can slip it on again, and that even for a short time I was thinking and dreaming in Korean.
I've already forgotten why I was posting, I think there was news. This entire year or more I've felt so strongly that I've created such a weird life that it's not comprehensible or understandable. Even to those closest to me, when I say, "I'm working," they have no idea what that means. I remember vaguely being a child and knowing that what I wanted to become was something I'd have to invent, as I didn't see it out in the world.

Oh, I remembered—

1. The studio building has passed building inspection! Now, time to apply for occupancy.

2. I got a grant to start a paper/dye garden there as a public art project, gathering kids from the school district and city to be part of the design and creation process, to learn how urban gardens can transform commercial spaces.

3. I got my second Pfizer shot this morning! RELIEF.

4. Next week I'll teach a hanji class at Women's Studio Workshop; they made a hanji vat!! SO excited to see old friends and meet new ones and share some of my new research.

5. The following week, online lecture on Aug 4 about hanji (new research), and then an online jiseung workshop on Aug 8 for Dieu Donné.

6. If you miss those, I'm doing a combo talk/demo on my work and jiseung for Minnesota Center for the Book on Aug 18.

7. I made beautiful grilled cheese sandwiches last night. Busy fingers!

Most importantly, I'll finally see my family in the flesh in just a couple days for the first time since last March's lockdown. I've never not seen them for this long, nor been away from home for so long. Today I replaced air filters in my car and see that the rodents were having a field day inside. Back to packing!

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Looking back: final days in Korea

At the national museum in Seoul, I was so curious about how well bamboo planters can work, and so unsurprised by the roots poking out.
I was delighted to be able to see Jeong-in one more time (and even one more time after that! In a surprise book gift drop off) at a book arts show in Seoul at the Korea Foundation gallery. She's so good about documenting me in space, and has been a dear friend for years. The kind you know you can always lean on.
I intentionally got off one bus stop early on the way to the gallery because I was so early and figured it would be more interesting to walk. I hadn't eaten properly either so I went into one of the underground subway/shopping areas and took a lap before sitting down to some tuna kimbap (which would be one roll plus soup and kimchi, which all come out immediately, for 4,000 won. That's under 4 US dollars, and this is not a tipping culture. I will miss the instant, delicious, affordable food!). Then I made my way to the gallery up the fancy staircase.
My understanding of this show is that it's a mashup of the winners of the latest Dutch book design award (given to books published anywhere, but designed by Dutch folks) and Korean books. It would be a stretch to call them artists' books though a very few are. The awarded books are on the long table that is designed to look like an accordion book. There are also large photographs of some of them on the walls as you enter and throughout the gallery.
I spent the most time with this book, by Henk Wildschut, called Rooted. At first, I had kind of skipped over it, but then when I went back to actually read what was going on, it felt so of this time and every time: how humans create home in temporary places by building gardens. In this case, refugees living in extremely harsh landscapes where water is scarce.
The Korean books were then placed in designed spaces around the rest of the gallery and clearly not the focus of the show. Some cubbies were more clever than others. I was mostly annoyed by the constructions like the one at left, where you can take the book out of its hole but then where do you put it if you want to read it and it's a big heavy book?
Some books are literally shoved into a corner and then others given a bit more room to breathe.
After I went down this wall from the corner, I was so confused by the constructions that I assumed the HVAC unit on the left also housed a book!

Jeong-in inspired me with her close attention. She is an illustrator and book artist, and we met years ago during my first grant. She at the time had a studio close to my aunt and late uncle, where I stayed for a few months during my language study. She helped me so much with my research but also in understanding the artists' books community in Seoul at the time, which apparently has dissolved these days. She also connected me to my calligraphy teacher and we had lots of wonderful meals together.
This clever little book "shelf" of sorts. The book is sweet as well, drawings of leaves and accompanying text.
We talked about book arts in Korea and I wondered if more commercial printing and large editions were common in Korea over one of a kind and fine press editions because their printing industry and economy are so robust. Something you might notice that is very Korean is how very much printed matter they create. It's not as expensive as it is here to get well-designed, well-printed ephemera and books, so every artist seems to have their own self-published monograph or booklet to share, of which I've been jealous. If I hadn't been so strapped for time, I would have gotten some done myself.
My last visit to Seoul had to include family, and that is what I made the most time for. Here is my eldest female cousin (well, her hand), who essentially taught me Korean again when I decided I wanted to be more fluent when I was 20 and living with her family in Seoul. We took a little break from her very difficult job running a tangsuyuk place in a very hip neighborhood.
She had already fed me stuff from the shop and then we had lots more treats at the cafe. She even called an old friend of hers that I had not seen in years, who came by and then helped me shop for last-minute gifts.
The next day I was able to see my eldest aunt again as well as my eldest cousin (who was so good about checking in on me throughout my stay even given his busy cardiologist schedule) to welcome his younger brother and his family back from Jakarta for a summer stay. They had just gotten out of quarantine and came straight to my aunt's home. The night before, they ordered the lunch spread so that she wouldn't have to cook. The king crab is not pictured and it was all delicious. I was overjoyed to meet his kids as I haven't seen them for over seven years. His daughter in particular was so chatty and fun, his son terribly sweet, and I made them both some hanji jewelry before we had to say goodbye again.
They were kind enough to give me a ride afterwards to my dinner date to see another old, old friend that had lived in New York when we were kids, and then in New Jersey when we were teenagers, because of her dad's work. She now lives in Kuwait and had just gotten out of quarantine for her summer stay with her kids. She came out with her mom, whom I hadn't seen since I was probably a teenager! Those friendships are the best—being completely out of touch and then back together like no time has passed. They gave me a ride in the torrential rain (as monsoon season has definitely started) to the subway. But this sign on the bus was something that I appreciated: "Are you having a hard time? It's okay to say so" is the rough translation. It's a very ... non-traditional Korean thought! There were similar little signs on the bus that were a good pick-me-up right when I needed it.
Ugh, then back to the reality of having to return home: the covid test. I thought this would be a quick visit to a hospital I've never been to but I was very wrong. Just to get "registered," I had to wait in line behind 20-something people. Then I had to wait for over 40-something folks to get through the line to sign testing paperwork and get info. We all hung out in this skywalk that I had seen when walking to the hospital (thinking, "surely that won't be the line *I* have to wait in..."). Then I wanted behind another 20-something folks to pay for the test. Then I got the test! Which was speedy enough but the rest of the stuff took all morning.
Leaving the hospital I saw this bottle solution to the gutters.
And on the way to see some other dear friends, I saw this new store for massage chairs. They are really nice to lay in and have tons of settings. I can attest to that because I tried at least 3 or 4 settings during my stay with my angel host near Mr. Shin.
My final research visit (and I was SO disappointed with myself for not getting to her sooner...that was out of my own insecurity that she wouldn't remember me but of course she did) was to Professor Park Ji-sun, a noted and very experienced conservator who has done tons of hanji research and has been behind a lot of Mr. Shin's success, encourage Jae-gyun, her student, to become his apprentice.
This is what I wanted to do more research on but was guided away from it by the person I no longer speak to: screens made of grass and reed fibers. Jae-gyun himself had harvested these.
And my final guide as always was my first: Kim Bo-kyung (Beau Kim of FIDES) and her husband drove me from our lunch meeting with Prof Park (Bo-kyung also masterminded combining meetings so that we could three meet together and I could then have a free evening to pack and see family one last time) to the post office. This was a BIG job: combining over 400 sheets of paper and a wooden frame into one giant box. The packing guy was so helpful in letting us know that it was better to actually splurge for EMS premium (aka UPS) because the regular EMS (express mail) was adding a surcharge due to pandemic that made it more expensive than the top option. It arrived the day after I did!
Final taxi ride to the airport, complete with lego car made by the driver's daughter.
I lucked out again with three seats to myself, and a safety video by BTS on Korean Air. How times have changed! Time now to head out for caretaking. I miss Korea for sure but hope that I won't have to wait 7 years until the next visit.

Saturday, July 03, 2021


I was going to do another long post to wrap up but I can't, it's too much right now. But I wanted to surface briefly to say I'm home, barely functioning. This man was incredible, packed up hundreds of sheets of hanji and that damn frame (bal teul, at the very end tied up on the left) that I somehow got back from Jeonju without a car until the very end when Bo Kyung and her husband spent what felt like well over an hour at the post office on my last day. Incredibly, both packages arrived to NY and OH almost immediately, while I fret about one last box that hasn't arrived from Jeonju after weeks.

After this kind of trip, the usual jet lag, sleep loss, exhaustion, but this time the new wrench is coming home to a house that was left empty and wanting to weep at the sight of the weeds. I've been at them for the last three days straight, thank god for Bill and Michelle for coming over to mow because I just could not bring myself to even think about doing it myself.

This was my final lecture in Korean, lots of photos and videos even if you don't speak the language.

In my frenzy I managed to record a podcast about how we are doing during pandemic, in conversation with another beloved papermaker and artist, Barb Adams.

And below is the lovely video that Catherine Alice Michaelis created for the Cynthia Sears collection of artists' books at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. She focuses on a couple of books for each episode and all of them are created with great care, thought, time, and research. It feels good to be seen.

Finally, a blog post that I thought was quite wise. Maybe because I try so hard to eschew "social media" but mostly because I think that Gary is a great person.

Once I'm back in my head/body/etc., I'll continue to share more from Korea even though my body is not there anymore. My arm is less sore now and I am so relieved to finally have gotten my first vaccine dose the day after I flew home!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The last few days

Because of pandemic, many elevator panel buttons and door handles are covered with plastic as a kind of "virus, slide off!" protection. That helps reveal just how impatient Korean nature is, given how the plastic is so damaged and worn at the door closing buttons. We all KNOW Koreans are like this but this is visual evidence.
Somehow, after a LOT of fretting, I managed to get one large suitcase, two smaller ones (they are held together with an orange cover for the large one, like how you cover two people with a donkey costume and they pretend to be one four-legged creature), my backpack, and a long (and heavy and awkward) package of long hanji, an umbrella, and 8 pieces of wood for a hanji bal teul (frame) wrapped in a blanket from Jeonju to Seoul. It was very hard to do and of the course the cab drivers on both ends scolded me for having so much luggage. But the Jeonju post offices don't have packing services like in Seoul, so I had to drag it all here! The tallest pieces of wood come up to my chest. 
At least I wasn't the only one traveling like this on the bus. Except this is actually a musical instrument, which is what the taxi drivers assumed I was carrying.
One of my first meals in Seoul was lunch with Minsun, who I think I have only ever seen at the Met, where she works in NYC. I didn't want a lot of beef as people keep feeding me red meat even when I protest, so I asked for seafood, not knowing it was going to be this much. This doesn't even show all of the veggies that go into the shabu-shabu. It was so nice to have a long leisurely lunch together as usually she has to rush back to work during her lunch hour.
I hadn't gotten this off of my old phone but it's from way back when I visited the indigo farm and Cho Misook picked me up from the train station first and fed me at a delicious Southeast Asian place.
This time, I wanted to have a day dyeing with her without other distractions, and miraculously my schedule finally allowed for it (this play date is months later than when we originally conceived it). The purple comes from gromwell roots, not something I've ever dyed with before.
She has two indigo vats and we worked with her indoor one as the temperature is easier to control. It was so fun to be able to teach each other about what we knew, as the info is really valuable to each other (she is at the start of a 5-year project that includes dyeing hanji). Things I took for granted when it comes to understanding how handmade paper and natural dyeing intersect are not common knowledge even for really skilled dyers.
She is an expert safflower dyer so this was a big treat. She had already washed out much of the yellow in this precious dye and we could get to pink pretty quickly. She gets deep reds from this dye and her goal is to let people know that you can get brilliant colors from natural dye, not only browns and other subdued tones.
She treated me to a delicious and enormous late lunch, which meant I could skip dinner with no repercussions.
Outside the restaurant, we ate from this tree. Our rough translation was banyan but I'm not convinced.
And back near her studio we sat under this giant gingko tree (of course there was a wood platform to do so right next to it, that's where I'm sitting to shoot, and a wood bench at the trunk that you can see peeking out from the left side). It's hard to see but this tree has had cement work done where they fill holes/rot with cement to help prevent more rot or decay.
Koreans are very serious about taking care of their trees. This is a metal post supporting one giant branch that goes out horizontally.
I had also forgotten to take these not good quality pics from my old phone from Jeonju, where I saw a mama duck and two of her kids. While it would have been nice to make more friends and connections in Jeonju, it was also easier to take off because I was alone most of the time.
Back in Seoul, I asked my cousins about these cops, as they are dressed in white and drive fancy BMW bikes. He said they also wear tall boots even in the hot summer and are a special unit that often guard the president's entourage. We later saw them pull over another guy on a motorcycle.
In my clumsy attempts to do less in my final days in Seoul, I took a morning to visit the National Museum of Korea. I haven't been in years and thought it would be a nice treat. See the bamboo roots pushing out of the bottom of the planter?
SO many planters, to create a lovely cool walkway to the main building.
Using online timed reservations, of course, during pandemic.
The inside was the same as I remembered, except for the robots.
I won't do a comprehensive sweep of what I did but mostly stayed on the first floor to do the history of Korea from the emergence of humans there. I love how you can see netting impressed into these shards of pottery.
Chinese knife-shaped coins! After years of struggling to find and order good knives, this makes so much sense.
Duck vessels abound!
I like to see how tools evolved over time,
and how we have both versions of these even today.
A tiny book! I haven't prioritized explaining any of this but the way the history was laid out in also a pretty political way was fascinating. Also, very interesting to note that after we get into more printing technology, a majority of the artifacts became books. Which, in this setting, are extremely boring as objects (I say this as a book artist) after seeing so many other artifacts. I had a meeting with Ki Chan Lee of Ki Lee, a fashion brand that is trying to use less harmful materials—including hanji—and he had great insights as a young Korean man raised here but educated at Middlebury in Vermont. One was that we don't have a lot of really excellent models of different types of Korean art/artifacts, so even visually, we're working from a small amount of not the best stuff. Why? Colonization, war, imperialism, etc. The easy answer: it was all burned or stolen. The best stuff is in Japan but it's not like the people who own it there are willing to either give it back or let us know they have it! I won't get into those politics and didn't intend to end on that note, but it's a good reminder that not only do the victors write history, they get the prizes.

Flying back home next week! Just learned that I have a major leak in my house and there is nothing I can do right now to deal with it! Except probably try to reach my home insurance folks. We are entering monsoon season here, which means that when it rains, it pours.