Strand by Strand
Artist Mimi Jung on her latest, deeply personal projects—and making room to serve and breathe
Montana-based artist Mimi Jung is known for creating dreamy woven pieces that feel at once intimate and expansive, serenely still yet potentially kinetic. She experiments with new, intricate techniques while exploring deeply personal, broadly resonant experiences through her work—such as her time as a foster parent, which sparked not only the stunning Subsuming Ellipse series but also led her to launch, just this summer, a nation-wide arts program for teens in foster care.
A Brief Fall, Jung’s new, handwoven public installation in South Korea—Jung’s birthplace—is also particularly meaningful. It is the first public work for her in the country, and thus a sort of homecoming. It is the latest and arguably most ambitious work to-date in her ongoing Fallen Fence series, featuring cloud-like, topographical pieces that seemingly float and dance, mid-air. A Brief Fall is intended as a reminder of the beauty of unexpected moments, and our potential for connection—timely themes to be sure given all we’ve experienced over the past year and a half.
We spoke with Jung about these projects and more, from her new home in the idyllic Montana mountains.
Was there a particular moment when you realized you wanted to—and could—pursue a career in the arts?
Self-expression through visual art was very much part of my early education. My childhood days were mostly spent at my mother's art hagwon, attending gallery openings of her artist friends, and filling the time between creating various art projects for myself. We lived modestly; however, art supplies were always prioritized and plentiful. It was a given that I would pursue a career in a creative field. To this day, I'm still “creating various projects for myself,” just as I did as a child.
You studied fine art at Cooper Union in New York and graphic design in Switzerland. I understand fiber art came a bit later, after school, when you took a short weaving course and fell in love with it. I've heard you say elsewhere that now, nine or ten years later, it's “the only way I think.” I love that line; can you elaborate on that a bit?
I'm envious of fiber artists who had access to a broad education in weaving. Fiber art was not part of my studies at Cooper Union. However, my lack of formal training in weaving allows me to break quite a few rules to create my own language more freely.
When I say weaving is “the only way I think,” I mean I'm regularly investigating spaces through the presence of strands. So in a way, I'm also looking at forms as lines and spacing.
You consistently explore new techniques in your work, though each series takes two or three years to explore. Can you tell us a bit about some of the techniques you've investigated?
I'm interested in the growing and narrowing of space created by the proximity of the strands. With my latest Shield series, I've pushed the limitations of the grid format, breaking the conventions of the loom—creating impressions of movement within the composition. I am in the beginning stages of developing this series; it will undoubtedly branch out beyond the frame.
What about the pace of your work? It can take literally hundreds of hours to finish a single work, and then years to build a series. Is the process cathartic for you? And how do you approach work given that seemingly infinite time span for each piece?
Developing a series requires weaving a minimum of 100,000 yards. I often get asked, how long did this take you? My answer is that I try not to clock in the hours when working on a particular piece. I find calculating the time can sometimes feel disheartening.
I'm not a particularly patient person; weaving is one of the few exceptions to this behavior. My woven work requires great focus; the placement of each weft has a tolerance limit of a centimeter. It also demands relaxation of the body and a clear mind to achieve the desired gradual transformation of the composition. It's a delicate balance.
Congratulations on A Brief Fall, your new installation in Korea, commissioned as part of the Today's Weather Public Art Project. Can you tell us about the significance of this work for you?
I was born in Seoul and immigrated to NY when I was eight years old. Although most of my upbringing was in the states, Korea is my birthplace. It, therefore, will always hold personal importance when it comes to placing work, especially public art.
I met Bora Hong, the curator behind Today's Weather Public Art Project, during a studio visit in LA. She has been a great supporter of my work ever since. Bora and her team placed my work as part of a more extensive public art curation in Gwangmyeong U Planet in Korea.
As part of the 1% Public Art Act, three juries deliberated on the final selection of artwork, which included work by A Kassen, Sanghyeok Lee, Randi & Katrine, and Studio APVD. From the day of the proposal to delivery of the work, the entire process took three years to realize, hinging on tireless efforts from Bora Hong (director), Green Kim (chief curator), TaeHyoung Kim, (on-site producer), and everyone at Team Factory. I'm immensely grateful for their support and for allowing me the freedom to be in my studio to simply create the work.
I’d love to talk about another beautiful, very meaningful series. Your recently exhibited work at Carvalho Park Gallery in New York—the Subsuming Ellipse series—was directly informed by your time as a foster parent. Can you speak a bit about how that powerful life experience informed or is expressed through the work please?
I continue to examine and process my relationship with our foster daughter, who is no longer in our care. The work created for my solo exhibition at Carvalho Park was a form of documentation, three years after her departure, of our limited time together. The title of each piece contains six digits marking the exact date of a pivotal moment.
Though our recollection changes and our interpretation of memories evolve—my body of work in the Subsuming Ellipse exhibition considered a particular translation of these specific memories, ones I hope to retain.
In addition to the series, your experience as a foster parent also inspired Happy Trails Art Start, a pilot arts program for foster youth, which began with face-to- face workshops and ultimately moved online with Covid. What was that experience like, and what are the biggest takeaways for you?
As much as I thrive in solitude, I have ample room in my life to serve and mentor teens impacted by foster care. HTAS was a one-year pilot art program for teens in foster care. The program was conceived pre-pandemic; however, after a few classes in my LA studio, we quickly had to pivot to virtual learning. The change required a tremendous shift in the curriculum; however, the virtual aspect allowed me to refine and customize the programming more efficiently.
For example, in-person classes were limited to once a month. However, going virtual allowed the flexibility to add more sessions throughout the month, raising engagement. This program, which I created in partnership with Happy Trails for Kids, concluded in December 2020.
Since that pilot program ended, you've decided to expand the program and take it national. What do you have planned? And is there a way for people to support the project already?
I recently launched WITH ART, an advanced virtual studio art program created to serve and mentor teens impacted by foster care nationwide. We are currently in the process of identifying applicants for our 2021 summer session.
By going entirely virtual, we will be ensuring the safety of our students and their family's health. WITH ART will also provide a rare opportunity for our students to connect with other artistic teens facing similar life challenges in foster care from coast to coast.
My mission in the early stages of the program is to serve a focused group of teens with highly customized programming in an effort to accommodate each student's interests. WITH ART programming includes a pre-college level introduction to foundational art, virtual studio tours, and conversations with a highly curated group of creative professionals. Students will also receive weekly care packages, comprised of professional-grade art supplies and art books throughout the program.
Our summer session will be taught by myself and a stellar group of creative professionals at the top of their fields, covering drawing, 3D, creative writing, and color theory. The goal of WITH ART is to provide teens in foster care with tools to pursue a life of creative fulfillment after aging out of the foster care system. Once our summer session is underway, I will announce ways in which supporters can engage with our program.
This past year, you moved from your longtime home in LA to a 10-acre property in Montana, nestled in the hills and shared with roaming wildlife. What motivated the move, and how has that change of environment affected your work so far?
I have wanted to live outside of a city for the last decade or so. I'm my best self when I create ample space between me and everything else. These parameters allow me to re-connect on my terms.
The work I do requires me to be relaxed and yet hyper-focused. Although I thoroughly enjoyed growing up in NY and living in LA for the past ten years, city life is too demanding. Here on my 10-acre property, I finally have some breathing room.
My newly built studio sits nestled in rolling hills lined with pine and juniper trees. I'm finding more balance in my life. I also have three dogs, and they are 100% living their best lives here. That alone would have been worth the move.
What's up next for you?
I have an upcoming solo gallery exhibition in LA in February, a book release, and a solo presentation at the Korea International Art Fair with Carvalho Park gallery.
Thank you, Mimi! ◆