Jukhee Kwon is a book artist or rather, a book sculptor. She takes books which have been thrown out or ‘abandoned’ by their owners and turns them into a different form of art to give them a new lease on life. The Korean-born resident of Italy, a graduate of Camberwell College of Arts, recently visited London to open a new solo exhibition of her work at the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, which will be displayed to the public until Feb 1, 2014 and are also on sale (there are a wide variety of sculptures, so it is recommended that you visit in person to see them all for yourself). During Kwon’s trip, she sat down with AGI to give us this exclusive interview about her incredible creations, which range in size and shape from one book to many, and several inches to several feet in height.
AGI: Your blog is titled ‘From the book to the space‘. Is there any special meaning behind that?
JK: The physical meaning is from the book -the information and contents coming out – to the space; spreading it. But for me, it also has a metaphorical meaning, which is from inside, releasing your potential into the world; expressing an energy which is hidden.
AGI: In regards to your work, do you usually have an idea for something you want to create first, and then find a book to use, or do you find the book first and then an idea comes to you?
JK: I shift from side to side. When I choose a book, sometimes I choose it because I had an inspiration from the title, from the contents, or simply the material quality. It’s like when you draw, when you paint, if you have many [kinds of] paint, it’s much easier; you can do better. For me, collecting the books is a kind of research which I will use afterwards.
AGI: Where do you find the books that you use for your art?
JK: In rubbish bins. By accident. One time, I was in New York for a book art fair conference. There was a bookshop outside with a recycling bin and a box of books, and I just took it! It’s like meeting new people, finding and discovering [these books].
AGI: What is it about this particular form of art that attracts you?
JK: It’s not just that I want to create something new with books, but more like I want to open myself. The book is like a prop. You need a prop that can work instead of yourself. It’s like a tool or a symbol. Whenever I see my opened books, I feel great excitement. Also relief, and freedom. I release myself. Just as the book is speaking, I feel like I am speaking [through my art]. As a foreigner, it’s difficult to communicate in another language, but doing art is for me, the perfect language [with which] I can communicate. Also, the reason I like to work with books is because they have ideas inside, they have been written by someone; it contains a spirit. Especially old books. And a book is a very personal object; you carry it, you touch it, you leave your fingerprints and notes on it. It’s very intense.
AGI: One unique thing about your work is that it could not exist without the work of other people before you. So in that sense, it is not a completely new thing. Is that part of the interest for you?
JK: I am a collaborator. I like sharing, I like exchanging. [Original] art is fine, I could make something new, but there’s something missing which is sharing, connecting. Something between you and the object, between you and another person, between you and the world. Within that, I just want to clarify who I am, rather than only [doing something] by myself.
AGI: To some people, the book is a very special thing which should be preserved and not altered or destroyed. Do you not consider this as kind of ‘book torture’?
JK: Yes, I know, some people said it’s violent, destructive. But simply, I didn’t cut the words. I left the words [intact]. And secondly, I used a ‘dead’ book, which someone threw away. To me, throwing it away is more violent. [laughs] Now they are in a gallery and they have been re-created into a new artwork. Creation comes through destruction; a butterfly comes out of a cocoon by destroying the surface. The Big Bang as well.
AGI: What has been the reaction to your work so far, for example at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair which you participated in last month?
JK: They said, ‘what’s this?’. ‘Did you add any paper?’. But no, I didn’t add anything. If I did that then it wouldn’t be true. And they asked ‘How did you do it?’. At first they were struck by it, but eventually they started to figure it out, how I did it. Later on, they could also feel how I felt when I was making them, which was [a sense of] freedom. So I was very glad about that because it means I was able to transmit my will or my hope through the book, to share that with people.
Interview and photography by Tim Holm