" Among a lot of queer theory and a lot of artists and their conceptual works I've been communicating, what we're finding is true in a particle level of our world."
Woo Yeon Kim
Yuxuan Wei: What motivated you to start modeling 3D art? What are the central ideas behind your works? Would you like to tell us more about your creative process/methodology?
Woo Yeon Kim: Well it's funny because I think about the trajectory of my artistic career: I went to graphic design for the same reason a lot of other people did—it's just where the money is. It's really fun for me but I haven't found it enjoyable as a commercial aspect. I do freelance work but it will never really be fulfilling to me. I felt like there was a lot of absence and something else that I was supposed to be doing. What got me into 3D modeling was actually through VR. I got into VR because it was just another thing that was up and coming in the design world. A lot of my designer friends were like “oh VR and AR’s like the future of design”. So I was like “okay I'll learn it”. However, in that class I took I just completely fell in love with it. I found a lot of freedom and autonomy to talk about and digest things that were on my mind that I couldn't do with graphic design. Doing VR work, I was able to criticize, share a lot of love and appreciation for the technologies that I interact with for all my works. It migrated me towards 3D modeling. I was like “I want to make my own 3D models for VR!” Then I took Intro to 3D class in 2020 which just changed everything for me.
I'd say that path says a lot about how my creative process works too. I hundred percent believe in the process. I never really think that the final product is what I'm after. To me, it's always been the process of making, which I realize that I do that with design too. I've noticed in my classes, I spent a ton of time just experimenting a ton of things. However, I'm so dissatisfied with the final product because I can't show my creative process. This is something really interesting about working in technology versus doing fine art, like painting. When you're doing fine arts you have this freedom to build as you go. You can start with a blank canvas and just let your paintbrush wander, your thoughts wonder. It'll take you somewhere. Strangely, in digital spaces, you have to work backwards. You need to have a concept already made. You have to have a workflow created for that concept, and your final product won't resemble your process unless you know ahead of time what you want to do. That was something really difficult to learn. In fact, that's a lot of what I wanted to fight through technology: this workflow, the institutionalization, and how technology is being treated now. Honestly, it's difficult to fight that because the way I have to work is the pre-plan, and that's not really how I work. Now I always build something and I start off with a broad idea, then I try to still have that process where I develop my ideas more while doing it.
Yuxuan Wei: I remember when we were in the same design class. I was surprised that every week you came up with a new concept and new designs. That's a very exciting moment for me. At least for graphic design, you can’t just present all the ideas during the whole process. Is there somehow a better way to present the process more in the 3D area?
Woo Yeon Kim: Yeah I really admired the ability to be able to go through this process and hone down on one idea. Through my design, that's definitely something that I'm continuously trying to work on because I'm not sure if I really want to “stop” or “give up” on design. I just think I'm using that knowledge in different ways and applying it in different mediums. Let's say you have a little bit more freedom in exploring. Because in the world of 3D, there’s an infinite amount of possibilities. There is an infinite amount of things you can do; you can imagine; you can create; you can feel in digital space and in 3D. At the end of the day, however, it poses the same issue that I encountered in design: I still need to hone in and have one thing in mind and then develop a workflow to get to that point. I'm still working on it.
Tracing the Body, 3D Art
Yuxuan Wei: This is like an add-on question. You mentioned that you have an interest in quantum science intersected with philosophy and culture. What role do you see these theories playing in the creative process?
Woo Yeon Kim: My interest in quantum physics has always been a more theoretical background. I got really interested in quantum physics because I was interested in alchemy and “where did science come from”. It was this really beautiful painterly, abstract, and exciting background where I think the perception of science with a lot of spirituality mixed in it.
Quantum physics is a trend nowadays. Because of technology in a bunch of other things, it's like people are recognizing now that our lives are so complex that we can't live the way we previously thought to. There is no one truth anymore. We have to be comfortable with the fact that life is non-binary. Everything is so much more fluid. It's good in that it allows people freedom to see what they really want to pursue. The negative is that you get lost in the chaos. I don't know if you guys see Everything Everywhere All at Once but this movie to me was like one summed everything up about what I've been feeling. There's an infinite amount of possibilities. We understand nihilism, understand how difficult that might be, but you have to learn to accept that and be okay with that. How that theory leads into my work is a lot of my work has to do with the complexity and how complicated everything is, but it's me navigating those channels.
Intercepted Awareness was a piece I did for my BFA and it's currently my main piece I worked on for a year. That piece had to do with navigating my relationship to my body and memories, and how I believe that memories are stored in certain parts of our bodies associated with muscles. That depends on whether you use muscles. What you think about activates certain memories but they're also so stored away; the amount of times that we are actively aware of what's happening inside us; what we're feeling. It's these very small moments and it's usually triggered by something like you're hungry so you become aware you have a body or you are sick. I was actively trying to accept the fact that the way I see my body, the relationship I have with these memories aren't in the background. They're just fluid things in the front.
Science intersects with everything. Without getting too much into it, to me the science I'm interested in is not the empirical science that we have today, but science of the concept of how people have approached understanding ourselves and our place in the world using a lot of different tools. How that also reflects on us and what we believe in our time period.
Yuxuan Wei: You are right. More and more people get interested in quantum science because of the complexity and the fluidity in our society.
Woo Yeon Kim: Absolutely. I think artists love quantum science. I mean Picasso was already doing superposition, for instance, that particles aren’t in one location. Particles are in an infinite amount of location at the same time. It just depends on what moment in space time or looking at it that it's in one place. That's probably what artists have been trying to explore and express in their own ways. Among a lot of queer theory and a lot of artists and their conceptual works I've been communicating, what we're finding is true in a particle level of our world. That says a lot about our spirituality and our intrinsic need. Understanding our world in abstract and conceptual ways is just as good as understanding it more empirically.
Bubbly Dream, 3D Art
Yuxuan Wei: As a digital artist and a graphic designer, how do you see different techniques and mediums come across in your work?
Woo Yeon Kim: What's great about the trajectory of my education is that they're all very mixed together. What I've learned as a designer has highly contributed to my curatorial work. My designer skill sets helps me with my workflow in 3D and understanding methodology. In return, I think that my 3D knowledge, for instance, sculpting and understanding the foundation and the form, does mainly the heavy work. The textures and the details are really important but the model doesn't look good without the foundation, form and composition. I learned all of these through design. So I really believe that everything that I learned contributes to each other equally in different ways, which I never thought would happen between design and 3D. I've always interpreted my design knowledge not to be just on a printed poster or a website. To me, design has always been more of a concept and a way of thinking about whatever it is I'm approaching.
Yuxuan Wei: For sure! The interdisciplinary approach in SAIC definitely provides students an opportunity to not just learn different techniques but also, as you said, set up a different mindset for creation.
Woo Yeon Kim: Yeah I absolutely agree. I kind of regret not taking more physical classes like sculpture or print media. Truly, I am in the tech world which I love and that's where I thrive. Nevertheless, I'm also wondering how it would be to go into more fine arts stuff and how would that in turn get back.
Tracing the Body, 3D Animation
Yuxuan Wei: Last time we talked about virtual exhibitions. Can you tell us a little bit about your curatorial work? What do you think about the inclusiveness and exclusiveness in virtual exhibition space in terms of accessibility?
Woo Yeon Kim: My curatorial work has only been digital. I don't think the way I see curation is how I think of a more formal institutionalized version of it. However, I think that's why I really love digital curation. The regular approach to curation doesn't really work in digital spaces. For me, the way I approach curation in digital environments is to imagine. Taylor, someone who graduated from my school, told me this: He said it's like building a garden. All the artworks exist together in that space. The artworks should contribute to the environment and the environment should contribute to the artworks. In that way, my role as a digital curator has always been to build a world best suited for the artworks—where the artworks stand out and shine but they also give back to the space they live in. There's a lot of inclusiveness and exclusiveness in that. Virtual spaces are all about illusions in simulations. To me, that's no different than a physical reality like we in our physical world. We also live in a hyper reality where we don't realize all the ways that our lives are being simulated. The invention of the light bulb allowed us to be working through the night, and allowed us to see spaces that we cannot in the natural world. We don't really think about it when we see billboards or buses with LED lights. That's all simulated. That's all unnatural but we don't recognize that. It's like “did this pop culture imitate life, or does life imitate pop culture?”
Because digital environments are so simulated, there are places where they can be inclusive and there are also places where they can be exclusive: They can be inclusive because anyone can be anywhere, but that creates this paradox where it's difficult to be anywhere since everything is possible for you. It leaves everything up to the user to navigate those spaces. As individuals, it's really difficult for a lot of people to know what they want, where they want to be, what they want to do. As the curator, I can create an inclusive environment but exclusiveness comes with that. For digital spaces, whether you're included or excluded should be at the end of the day up to the user. Like every community that I interact with andI create, it should be open for the individual to decide whether they want to be a part of this or not. Alternately allowing someone to choose whether they want to be included or excluded, not the group, I think allows for inclusiveness. Versus that power in a group, no matter how many people you let in, there is still exclusiveness.
Yuxuan Wei: I do agree with that: because everything is possible, people might get lost. They don't know what choices they have, but I do think making choices proactively is a really valuable skill because people eternally have to choose.
Woo Yeon Kim: I don't think there's anything wrong with either side of it. I like both. Sometimes I just want to be told what to do. Like “I don't want to choose what to eat!” But yeah, that link back to quantum physics and the complexity of our world. Again, how do we navigate a space that is so complex? This is up to you to decide what to do. Having knowing the option is there if you do come to it, that's what I really enjoy about digital spaces.
Iridescent Memories, 3D Animation
Yuxuan Wei: Last but not least, congratulations on your graduation! Is there any plan for you for the future as an artist and designer? Do you have a preference in one direction?
Woo Yeon Kim: Well, going back to the whole complexity thing. I have a few interviews with game design spots. Ultimately, I want to teach in my older life. My plan is to learn industry skills first and then be able to provide that for conceptual students. Therefore, they have the technology and they know how to use it for their own creative ideas, not for someone else's video game or for someone else’s motion graphics. The preferred direction is that while I'm building the industry skills, I want to continue to be a practicing artist to maintain that industry technical skill and conceptual balance. But you know, I'm kind of okay with whatever happens at this point. Everything will work out the way that it's supposed to. I really believe it.
Yuxuan Wei: Do you know what kind of educator you want to be?
Woo Yeon Kim: My dad taught for a while and I also enjoy teaching.I had really small teaching jobs here and there. It's because I see a huge gap in 3D modeling and just the tech world in general. On one side there are people who are technically amazing: They know the workflow. They know how to make things up, but they don't understand why they're making it. They just make whatever they're told. On the other side of the spectrum are people, like SAIC students, who conceptually have so many good thoughts and creative ideas, but they don't know the technology. As a student that kind of exists in between, I personally had to do a lot of self research and self-teaching to navigate through it. As an educator, I want to be able to provide both and give students the options of both routes. Instead of drawing a line between “okay I'm keeping it clean and I don't like conceptual” people or “I'm a conceptual person and I can learn from a technical person”.
Dancing with the Voices of my Body, 3D Animation
INTERVIEWER: YUXUAN WEI
CURATOR: KE ZHANG, WANTONG YAO
EDITOR: WANTONG YAO, KE ZHANG, CHENYU LIN
GRAPHIC DESIGNER: VIVI SHEN
Hi! My name is Woo yeon Kim but most people call me Woo. I am a new media artist residing in Chicago. A lot of my work has to do with examining post-humanism, for instance, my individual art collective in my ancestral history, and combining it with other disciplines to engage with the complexities of our realities and our perceptions. Therefore, my work mostly ends up having to do with dreams, sensory experiences, emotions, and how they all interact with each other to highlight the complex. It’s all about us trying to digest physical and digital realities.