Q&A with Sunset Paperworks collaborator, Rochelle Youk.
What is your name? Where are you based? My name is Rochelle Youk, and I am an Asian American visual artist living in Berkeley, CA. Although, I work mainly out of my studio in San Francisco, with the Dogpatch Collective.
What role do Korean Folk crafts play in your work? Having been born and raised in a suburb of Los Angeles, the daughter of immigrants from Korea and Japan, my ethnic, cultural heritage was always a big part of my life. Yet at the same time, in many instances in conflict with my understanding of what it means to be ‘American’. Because of that dynamic, I grew up often rejecting that which was so important to my parents.
My investigation into the folk crafts of Korea has been a way to rediscover and embrace the history of my ancestors. One thing that I have really enjoyed in the process is the discovery of threads and ideas that are still deeply woven into the cultural landscape of Korea, and in turn also inherited by my own family in some way or another. Also important is the idea that these threads do not always hold up in today’s modern context, yet they can be easily accepted under the guise of tradition. In my work, I try to quietly point to these areas of inconsistency, while also making the space to appreciate a specific craft tradition or idea for what it is as a visual art form.
What is a Moon Jar and what is its significance to you? A moon jar is a large ceramic vessel, unique to Korea, meant to mimic the moon with its shape and color. Often assembled from two separate pieces, they were extremely difficult to make, and as a result not many of the oldest versions survive to this day.
I have been thinking a lot about the history of ceramics in East Asia and how there was so much exchange of technique and decorative ideas between China, Japan, and Korea. Unfortunately, this exchange happened mainly through the tools of Imperialism, yet it still resulted in separate traditions, with a lot of overlap, but still unique to their own national border. I think it struck me that this jar, the moon jar, is only a part of Korea’s tradition. Why isn’t there a Japanese version of the same thing? How did it become unique to Korea? Given the history between the three countries, it doesn’t seem possible that the moon jar’s uniqueness could be accidental.
What can you tell us about horse hair hats? Well, first off, I am kind of obsessed with them.
Secondly, in Korea during the Choseon era, woven horse hair hats called Gat were worn by the male aristocracy. They look a little like pointier top hats with a wider brim. Although there are other versions with different shapes to designate scholarship or different positions in the government. They were extremely labor intensive to make, woven by hand using a four strand braided weave, and very beautiful. You can see them in real life at the Asian art museum, which has a few in their collection.
For the past several years, I’ve been making my own versions out of my own hair. I thought it would be fun to explore the same craft tradition, with the hair of a woman and see what happened. So far it has been a very slow but enjoyable process. I’ve been told that Gats are no longer being made in Korea, so it has been difficult to find information about the actual techniques and processes that were used.
What are your thoughts on collaboration? How do you benefit from collaborating with others? The collaborative process with Sunset Paperworks was really great. The resultant moon jar print is something that I could never have made on my own. Not only because I know very little about woodblock printing, but also because of the exchange of ideas and creativity that happens in collaboration with others. I enjoyed how both Nathalie and I could work on the same idea, yet bring our own unique experiences to the project. At certain points we saw the project very differently and it was so eye-opening and helpful to talk through those things and come to consensus.
Can you tell us a little about your experience creating the Moon Jar print at Sunset Paperworks? Thoughts on the woodcut printmaking process? Do you think you will do more printmaking in the future? Outside of the collaborative process, it was really great to work with Nathalie again on a creative project in a totally different environment than our previous work together at Arion Press. The Sunset Paperworks studio has really nice natural light and is generally a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon working.
It was very satisfying to spend time carving an image into a piece of wood and then have a printed image that comes from it. The character that the wood brings to the print in texture is also something that I would have never thought about on my own. I definitely hope to make another woodcut in the future.
What is your favorite thing to eat in the Sunset? Dumplings! There are so many different dumplings to choose from in the Sunset.
What are you working on now? I’ve got a few different things going on in the studio right now. A larger gouache painting on the history of ceramics in East Asia. A small painting based on the weave pattern of Gats. A painting to accompany a modern music album using traditional Korean instruments, based on the Korean folk tale, Chilseok. Sketches for a sculptural project based on wooden window screen patterns. And of course, the hair hats.
If you could display your work or do an installation of some kind any where in the Bay area, what would be an ideal place? I have a lot of dream show spaces. It would be a lot of fun to put together a large installation in a really nice space, somewhere like Ratio 3 or Altman Siegel. But I also like the idea of putting a show together in one of the numerous small/tiny spaces in this city. I think my work does better in small spaces anyway. Sometimes I also fantasize about making a huge mural outside somewhere that incorporates the Korean Sekdong or rainbow stripe pattern.
Where can people learn more about your work? You can see more of my work on my website www.rochelleyouk.com or follow me on instagram @roachyface.
Thank you Rochelle Youk for your participation in our Collaborative Print project. We look forward to seeing your new work to come and please come back to Sunset Paperworks anytime.