Traditional Rituals and Current Violations Meet in Jee Park’s Dimensions Variable Show
Jee Park’s “Chrystie Street,” which references the murder of 35-year-old Christina Yuna Lee, is part of the artist’s exhibition “Close to Home” opening at Dimensions Variable on Saturday, July 29. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
In Korea, when someone dies and is prepared for burial, family members dress the departed in a garment called a suui. Made of hemp, it is part of a tradition that artist Jee Park knew she wanted to contemplate and explore in her art.
The practice is a key part of Park’s exhibit “Close to Home,” which opens Saturday, July 29 at Dimensions Variable. The show brings into conversation the suui custom with the violent attacks against Asian-Americans in the United States over the last several years. Using fabric, wood, paint and other media, Park’s work asks what is left when a life is taken, especially when it is snatched away by a deranged gunman or hate-filled attacker.
“That could be my aunt, a friend, or me.”
Her work particularly references the 2021 shooting of eight people, six of whom were Asian American women, at Atlanta-area spas. “That incident shook me to the core,” says Park.
It wasn’t the only outrage that affected her. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino and others of Asian background or descent were targeted during the pandemic and beyond. They include the 2022 murder of 35-year-old Christina Yuna Lee, who was followed and stabbed to death in her own home, on Chrystie Street in New York’s Chinatown. “Chrystie Street” is the title of one of Park’s Dimensions Variable installations.
Park grew up in Seoul, and went to an art-focused high school, then attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. The relocation wasn’t easy, especially in the beginning. “I think I understood 50 percent of what was going on in the classroom.” She began exploring beyond the medium of painting, eventually moving into fiber and a melding of surface and frame. “At the same time I was more free – it’s very structured in Korea.”
She later earned her master’s degree at NYU. Park moved to South Florida with her partner and fellow artist Clara Varas in 2000. During a visit to her Allapattah studio, where she was preparing work for the upcoming show, Park explains how she began exploring ideas around grief, remembrance and anxiety after the death of her father five years ago. “Those feelings intensified during the pandemic,” she says, and grew more insistent because of the gun violence epidemic that has roiled the United States over the last few years.
“Chrystie Street,” combines a variety of fabrics – muslin, gingham and pieces of clothing – attached to a wooden frame. There are fragments of lingerie, the arm of a T-shirt and a hand-crafted sock similar to that used in the suui dressing. In the front of her studio, Park has a pair of Singer sewing machines where she transforms with fabric the memory of lives, now flattened, stretched and deconstructed.
The work “reminds me they may be wearing something, working every day, not knowing their lives are going to be cut short,” Park said. “I wanted to capture the everyday lives, and that we never know when they are going to be taken away by some crazy hate crime.” Swaths of gingham bring to mind picnics, and pretty domestic aprons. A box stuffed with a pillow speaks to the confinement experienced during the pandemic.
Park has garnered recognition as an Oolite Arts’ Ellies Creative Award winner, and has been shown in a number of galleries, particularly in South Florida and New York. Frances Trombly and Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova co-founded Dimensions Variable in 2009, after deciding to create a project space where they could welcome other artists. They have known Park for some time, meeting her first through her partner, Varas, who has also had a show at Dimensions Variable.
Rodriguez-Casanova notes that he and Trombly use elements, including fabric and found objects that are in harmony with Park’s work.
“Her work speaks to both me and my partner,” says Rodriguez-Casanova, who added that Park’s creations have a soft and subtle feel. “It is really using a very light palette with infusions of color,” he says, adding that Park’s work “is very personal to her,” bringing up issues of loss and grief, relatable to many people.
WHAT: Close to Home, Jee Park solo project at Dimensions Variable,
WHEN: Opening reception, Saturday, July 29, 6 to 9 p.m. runs through September 2023. Open Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment.
WHERE: Dimensions Variable, 101 NW 79th St., Miami
INFORMATION: 305-606-0058 or 305-607-5527 and dimensionsvariable.net
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