My work considers a sense of transience through drawings and prints. I use images of man-made environments and the culture of cut flower arrangements as metaphors to evoke a sense of time that is both fleeting and eternal. I am interested in beauty, irony, impermanence, and the mundane and extraordinary way we structure our surroundings.
The images of the structures in my drawings are inspired from my everyday environment. They are either in the process of being torn down, built up, or simply in some kind of a state of change. It may be due to time, neglect, development, or forces of nature.
In the arranged flower imagery, the flowers, once cut from their roots, have only a short remaining time to live. They will quickly wither and die, but before they do, they are elegantly and elaborately arranged, as if time will stand still for them.
- Yoonmi Nam
Artist Yoonmi Nam produces delicate and precise lithographic and moku hanga(Japanese woodblock) prints that poetically point towards the impermanence of place, both real and perceived. As a printmaker, Nam works in multiples in multiple senses of the word; not only can she produce a number of prints of the same finished artwork, but she has built up an arsenal of individual image elements upon the surfaces of her woodblocks and lithography stones that are ready-to-print within any given composition the artist imagines.
The arrangement of repeated forms in space is a technique Nam gleamed from her studies of (and fascination with) the classic Chinese painting manual Jieziyuan Huazhuan(or, Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting). Originally compiled in the late 17th century by the Qing Dynasty, the Mustard Seed Garden Manual was (and still is) used as a teaching guide for young artists to learn standards of Eastern image making. Specifically, the Manual attempts to regulate the making of forms appearing within a larger landscape, including trees, hills, stones, people, houses, flora, and fauna. The artists’ job, as prescribed by the manual, was not to imagine new forms, but rather to arrange compositions from the perfected set of forms offered within the manual.
However, Nam resists the urge to depict pristine, finished landscapes composed from the accepted stuff of dynasty. Instead, Nam depicts architectural structures either in a state of construction or destruction that are much more dubious and mutable than the finished, pre-designated landscapes of the Garden Manual. In other words, all of the structures appearing within Nam's work will surely soon change.
Indeed, in her wallpaper-like lithograph, Lawrence in Blue Toile (2012), it is clear that Nam utilizes four distinct lithography stones repeatedly within one work, each of a distinct domestic structure either mid-construction, or mid-collapse. In Occurrence (2012), it is similarly unclear if Nam’s strangely composed set of wood-beams is the beginning or the end of something, a project started or abandoned. What kind of neighborhood is Nam imagining? The point is that we do not yet know. The point is that we get to decide. The point is possibility. It is anti-imagery to that of suburban sprawl and the generic, unendurable McMansion-style homes endemic of unsustainable development.
Similar concerns appear within Nam’s much more playful series of moku hanga prints depicting cut flowers doomed to fail within unlikely consumer products repurposed as vases. This is imagined, makeshift Ikebana. In Kitsune (2012), an oversized cherry blossom branch sprouts from the tiny enclave of a plastic yogurt container. In More Beer...For Instance (2013), an impossibly symmetrical bouquet of flat, folky flowers emerge from a disposable paper cup. As certain as these flowers will die, there is poetry in the human effort to arrange something beautiful with whatever means possible, if only momentarily. Nam’s work captures that effort in prints and images, linking the impermanent to something she can do, something she can reproduce, by hand.
- Danny Orendorff, Curator & Interim Programs Director at Charlotte Street Foundation
Her delicate architectural drawings depict structures in transition. Initially they give us the impression that the buildings are being destroyed by time, neglect, poverty or by forces of nature – tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. But as we linger over them we realize that perhaps these are not ruins but rather sites of construction. These unpeopled images become metaphors for impermanence. It is these transitional spaces that fascinate Nam as she continuously attempts to orient herself within one location.
- Nadine Wasserman, Independent Curator and Freelance Art Critic
In Yoonmi Nam's work we experience the world in small fragments. Bits of trees, birds, buildings, water, and land all seem adrift, caught in a small moment of time. That fragmentation represents the way we may perceive the world in which we live. Living bodies and personal encounters are often replaced by web-based text and images. Actual face-to-face conversations and physical gestures become increasingly foreign to us. On some days small isolated moments are all that we may encounter of the actual physical world outside of our offices and away from our screens and smart phones. That fragmentary experience of the world sits easily-or uneasily as the case may be-with how Yoonmi Nam experiences living in a place that is not her country of origin.
A longing for both the mythical and real home of memory and experience often pervades the work of transnational artists who experience their lives through displacement and transience. Living between two cultures, perhaps never feeling fully belonging to either, may leave immigrants feeling alienated from not only their country of origin, but also from their new culture. Basing her work on traditional Asian art-Yoonmi Nam has studied in Japan and has a keen enthusiasm for traditional Chinese painting-she discerns her cross-cultural experience through her work. The floating and illusive qualities of her images that barely seem anchored to the paper underscore ideas of displacement.
In her woodblock prints, lithographs, and Sumi ink on paper drawings, things often seem to fall apart. Small buildings of indeterminate use are broken as wood peels off of their facades. In some images structures seem either half finished or half demolished. It is almost impossible to know what stage the structure is in. We only know it is a fragment; pieces of itself barely held together. Stairs lead nowhere, or wood planks are waiting for someone to use them.
Yoonmi Nam provides no answers in her work, rather she suggests the confusing feeling of time having passed or stood still or something in between. And while the images have minimal color and line and are often very small on the expanse of white paper, they suggest a quiet, contemplative quality, as if we have missed something we needed to see or know, or we have come upon a situation just a little too late, or maybe years too late. For Yoonmi Nam the in-between physical and conceptual places, such as between Asia and America, are the ones she lives in and in which she interprets her life.
- Dana Self, Independent Curator and Freelance Writer