Exclusive: Five Questions with 3 Emerging Artist Pals


Caroline Hwang, Require Assistance: the heart is a lonely hunter, 2009

Tonight at the Lower East Side’s Sloan Fine Art three artist friends — Caroline Hwang, Saelee Oh, and Seonna Hong — debut I Know What You’re Thinking… (through April 11), an exhibition that’s a mixture of paintings, quilted works, and delicate painted and cut paper pieces, that all tackle the idea of communication. Tickled by the idea that they all already knew one another, we decided to interview the triple threat as a group, asking them the same five questions about how their career choices have affected their social lives, how they view one another, and what they’re hoping their work says to the world.

Their interesting responses — along with a preview of a few additional pieces on view — after the jump.

1. Do you have a set of favorite fictional friends? What is it about their bond that’s appealing to you?

Caroline Hwang: This is going to be a weird set of friends, but I love the friendship of Max Fischer, Herman, and Dirk in Rushmore. It’s completely dysfunctional and unlikely but despite everything they are still friends. Even though each of them wrong the other, they try to make the wrong right and forgive in the end. They teach a lot to one another and that especially is most appealing.

Saelee Oh: The Babysitter’s Club, mostly for nostalgic reasons. When I was a kid, I wished that I had somewhere that I belonged.

Seonna Hong: The A Team. I like that they were so different in their personalities and specialties yet they came together and worked as one for the greater good.

Seonna Hong, Lazy Susan of Rage No. 2, 2009

2. Creative life can be solitary. When you’re working on a new piece does it tend to affect your social life? Does it help having close friends who are also artists?

CH: It is a very solitary life, but I think that’s why I depend on my friends for an outlet. I actually like being solitary most of the time, but those couple of hours with friends is time that I value. It does help having friends who are creative, not necessarily artists. But I think if you connect with someone, creative or not, you just mesh.

SO: Yes, it affects my social life in that I won’t have a social life. I’ve never produced artwork regularly. I work all the time but a lot of that time is not spent making actual artwork but rather a lot of time towards research and administration. During this stage, it’s easy for my head to switch over from work brain to stop work brain and I’ll go out and prioritize time with family and friends. When I’m in the middle of producing artwork however, I have to clear my schedule, retreat and have as few outside obligations as possible. It’s never easy for me to transition into this more meditative state of mind but when I’m in it, I love it. That’s when I talk less, listen more (to silence, to music, to audiobooks, and to my own thoughts) and time seems to go by in a different sort of way.

Having close friends who are artists is great because our common thoughts transmit faster than spoken words. I pick my friends because I like them as people though. Shop talk is minimal. Also, having friends that aren’t artists is very important to me because they remind me that the world is bigger than the one I think I’m in. I like to live vicariously through them.

SH: I’m lucky because I work in an industry that has a lot of collaboration with other artists (animation), and I also share a studio with six other artists where I work on my personal work. I thrive in situations that aren’t as solitary… where I can bounce ideas off other artists… or just chat about stuff. It’s nice.

3. How does the theme of communication fit into your work? Do you think it’s harder to communicate now that we have more means with which to do so?

CH: Well, my flags are referenced from Nautical Signaling flags which are mainly used in communication between ships, ship to shore, etc. But I use that to play off of miscommunication. I think it’s not necessarily harder to communicate nowadays, but different… Almost everything is succinct and to the point, which I personally like, but I realize that maybe that takes away from getting to know someone and the patience that goes along with it.

SO: I think it’s definitely easier and I am grateful for it. I am still amazed at technology and often have moments that make me pause and appreciate how easy it is to get in touch with somebody so far away. That’s communication on the most surface level though. Technology doesn’t clear up misunderstandings. I guess the theme of communication fits with my work in that all of my pictures are messages that are saying something but what they’re saying is not declarative. I disguise personal details with visual metaphors as a protective mechanism. Their meaning can be cloudy or interpreted in a way not intended and that’s OK with me because that’s what makes it worth sharing with other people.

SH: Yes. A ringing phone gives me anxiety. I’m mostly kidding. But I do believe that while the nets of communication are wider, it can spread thin. I’ve struggled with communication and I’ve been lucky to have my art as a mode of communication, and an outlet for feelings that are too difficult to convey… either because I don’t have the words or I’m too scared to say them.

Saelee Oh, Secrets, 2009

4. What are you hoping these particular works to say to the world about you?

CH: I hope that people will see that my work is constantly evolving and that I, myself, am evolving as well. The work is so much about human behavior and I’m so curious about why people do the things they do and make the decisions they make.

SO: Well, I think the hope is more that a stranger can connect with a piece of my art for their own reasons having to do with them and not me. I can tell you some of the things I was thinking about while I was making the works though. I was thinking about romance, long distance dreaminess, relationships between men and women, happiness, the desire to want to become more like the person I lust after even though I know it’s not who I am, cages and idealism.

SH: The works for this show go further into the abstract landscape of my brain where things like the “Lazy Susan of Rage” and the “Hamster Wheel of Doom” exist. My tongue-in-cheek way to refer to these things are a way of making light of and poking a little fun at these darker mechanisms.

5. If you had describe the other two artists in six words or less, what would you say for each?

CH: Saelee- quirky, strong, adventurous, curious, dependable, a dreamer. Seonna- a mentor, hilarious, compassionate, nurturing, cautious, honest.

SO: Caroline- Lucy from Peanuts, surly, dependable, diligent. Seonna- affectionate, articulate, great listener, funny fashionista.

SH: Saelee is like Faceman and Caroline is like B.A. Baracus.

Caroline Hwang, Stop Instantly, 2008