Camella Daeun Kim

We are very excited to bring you the compelling work of Camella Daeun Kim, who met our writer, Nazish at a show in LA this Spring. When she applied for a feature to our magazine, we were excited and delighted to talk with her. Camella originates from South Korea but has spent over the last decade living in Canada and the United States​. She just completed her MFA from UCLA and we are so excited to see her work develop.

There is something unique about the life of an artist who is speaking about their birth country from the perspective of living abroad. I have found that through this distance, great truths are exposed; aspects of the culture that wasn’t apparent before. How do you see yourself and your artistic relationship to both South Korea and your current home? 

I agree and I’m glad that you brought it up. During my MFA program, I spent significant amount of time reflecting back to my “home(s)” and how I relate to each place.Before I get further with the question, I feel obligated to fill you in with my background little bit. I was born in Busan, South Korea and moved to Canada when I was eleven; people just assume that my family must have immigrated then but that wasn’t the case for me. I was there as an international student for more than a decade until I became a permanent resident just few years ago (I am currently waiting for citizenship). Since 1999, I was constantly traveling back and forth between the two countries. However, now I travel between three countries since I moved to Los Angeles.

My artistic relationship with “home(s)” is a complicated, but valuable experience for me. It keeps me motivated. Ever since I moved away from my first home, Korea, I tried so hard to maintain and keep my relationships with people I knew back then, while trying to make new ones in Canada. Even though it was my decision to balance between two opposing cultures, I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I felt so isolated until I realized how easily I can walk in and out of two different cultures/groups and have a unique perspective on each side as a spectator.

Since then, I started to teach myself how to feel comfortable with where I stood. This is only the tip of the iceberg, but to make a long story short, this feeling of ‘lost in transitions‘ helped me to value what it means to be the Others, both the power and fragility of language.

This ultimately led to a slow but smooth transition to what has been the foundation of my art practice: to examine how human connections and relationships are redefined in traditional and contemporary art and digital culture.

Your work evokes community collaboration. What about this process urges you to use it in your art form?

I am glad to see you use the word collaboration rather than interaction or participation, even though I would categorize No Losers as more of participatory work. Collaboration plays one of the most important roles in many of my works and just to clarify, collaboration doesn’t just mean expanding the circle of audiences but as a dictionary defines, it means: “working jointly with others in order to achieve or do something.” This collaborative process has been very pleasant and full of surprises for me.

Can you share this collaborative experience with us though some of your projects?

Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced is one of video work in which  I recruited three international students with three different English level classes and asked them to share the most cringeworthy moment they encountered since they moved to Canada.

The next part of the collaboration was with an editor who proofread and modified their stories into more grammatically clear and more legible writing. This edited transcript was then given back to the students and they were asked to express their concerns or comments as they read it out aloud.

From the beginning to end, I was never alone in the process and I am so thankful to those who were so brave and generous to share their stories.

Creating (un)fixed conversation was probably one of the most unforgettable experiences. I remember a girl who volunteered to participate in this project coming in late and was apologizing with teary eyes. I asked if everything is okay and told her we don’t have to do this but I think she needed the distraction, so we carried on. As soon as she sat down in front of my camera, she became very vulnerable and shared her story of finding her husband cheating on her just a couple of hours ago.
​After two hours of crying and laughing, we both felt great gratification; I needed someone who could share a story and she needed someone who could listen. But I think we both genuinely enjoyed talking to each other and felt connected. She, who now is one of my closest friends in LA, later told me how therapeutic our conversation was.  This kind of relationship is so rare and priceless and I must say this is probably one of the many reasons why I am often drawn to the idea of working with others.

Can you tell me about your piece Ours? From my understanding it is a Korean word on fabric – what does the word mean? Can you (or anyone) ever really find a word in english to translate it?Big question! I wrote my thesis on Jeong and I am still being challenged to explain it. Partially for this reason, I wanted to create a piece that could speak about this cultural specific emotion to western audiences. Jeong exists in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cultures, and the same Chinese character, 情, is used to designate it in all three languages.

However, it is interesting to note that there are subtle differences in the meaning of the character in each of these cultures. Especially intriguing is how jeong has a much broader and amorphous range of definitions and nuances in Korean culture that also involves greater ambiguity in the expression of emotions.

Jeong is difficult to define, and it may even be impossible to translate the word directly into English or any other language. One Korean-English dictionary defines  jeong as “feeling, love, sentiment, passion, human nature, sympathy, heart.” Despite the breadth of this definition of  jeong in English, seems to include even more basic feelings such as attachment, bond, and affection.

Also, jeong has many different subcategories: as the mother’s warmth radiates to and is felt by the baby, jeong  begins to permeate the baby’s entire being. This type of jeong  is called “mo-jeong. ” This total trust of life and of the Other, without logic or reason, begins with the earliest experiences of life, comparable to Freud’s “basic trust” during the oral stage.

But jeong is also experienced and expands as the child grows older and begins to develop a relationship with his or her father, other relatives, friends, neighbors, and members of the community. As the child passes through the various developmental stages of his or her life, new forms of jeong evolve, such as “bujeong ”(jeong  between father and child) and “woo-jeong ” (jeong between friends). These forms remain with the individual throughout the remainder of his or her life.

Another unique characteristic of jeong  is that it can exist not only “in the interpersonal space between people”  but also between a person and objects or places, such as a house, a book, a mountain, or one’s hometown.

Thus, time and the physical presence of people and objects seem to be a significant characteristic of jeong  as well. In fact, “mool-jeong ” (jeong between a person and an object or a place) seems to have a vital connection to time, since the objects and places involved may include those that you no longer own or inhabit, or encounter in everyday life. For example, you can say “jeong-deun ” in talking about a house or hometown that you used to live in and have fond memories of but left a long time ago. When you go back there, no matter how long after you left, you feel “jeong ” towards it, even though it may have changed entirely.

What kind of collaboration does it take to make ​Ours a successful piece?
This work is a collaborative performance that can only be completed through exchange of thread and needle with my audiences. So it implies the production of the work with a degree of equality between the participants. Also for this reason, I think the piece offers much more to those who have participated and
experienced the piece. Every exchange of needle with participants is unique and different in speed, tension and rhythm. Sometimes I get people who are nervous and very cautious and often I can feel those who are impatient or intentionally trying to poke me. One time I had a 7 year old boy sitting across of me whose feet I could barely see below the paper hanging between us; we exchanged the needle for more than half an hour. I get to know the person without any communication after each performance and I think they also feel a sense of closeness with me at the end.Your video on Ours doesn’t have any sound, what lead you to making this choice?
I tried adding audio and background sound to it but it was too distracting. I really wanted to capture the intimacy, connectedness and mutual understanding between my audiences and me and how jeong can be visually expressed through the performance.

Can you tell me about No Losers? Where does the name come from?

No Losers suggests an ideal interaction and offers the possibility of engagement in jeong (in a different way that Ours offers.) It begins with scratch-off ink completely covering the surface of a 2′ x 12′ panel mounted on a wall.

As the title of the work suggests, unlike the real-life experience of buying a lottery ticket, in this experience there are no losers; what is uncovered beneath the ink is not as important as the action of uncovering, itself. The experience is meant to be fun and pleasurable. But if this positive experience with others can turn into a fond memory for someone later on, then it has contributed to an encounter with the experience of jeong.

Where did the content (which people unearth through scratching) come from?
It’s my archive plus collected toilet graffiti from the Internet.I would love to hear more about Rage Quit.
Rage Quit is written as  (╯°□°)╯􀀀 ┻━┻). But as you can see it is hard to identify it as flipping table emoji at first so it is referred as Rage Quit. In case you are not familiar with the term, Rage Quit means to stop playing a game out of an anger towards an event that transpired within the game. This installation is comprised of two pots with audio indicating two people sitting at either end of a table that is built intentionally long enough to accommodate at least 6 to 8 people. This arrangement immediately speaks of the invisible emotional distance between two individuals sitting far apart from each other.

Many films, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), and animated features such as The Incredibles (2004) and MirrorMask (2005), depict scenes with intense tension between two individuals physically distanced by a long dining table between them. The auditory-sensory experience of a dinner—of overlapping conversations and collective rhythms and sounds of the guttural joy of eating and sharing food together—is a visual depiction of jeong , which contrasts with the sparse and impotently violent sound of the audio causing the pots to rattle so far apart. The diegetic sounds on the audio track, such as the characters’ voices and the sounds made by objects used in the scene, invite the viewer to ask what the ritual of eating means for him or her.
As non-Korean speakers, what do you hope we walk away with from this piece and how would that differ from Korean speakers?

Audio edited from six different K-dramas (mostly) and the reason I chose Korean dramas is because they convey such variety of emotional levels in short amount of time. With Rage Quit, I wanted to depict the scenery of most vulnerable and yet stereotypical gathering scenes that one can easily relate to. Despite your background, everybody seem to agree that the dining table is where family and often friend dynamics, in all their mess and dysfunction and beauty, play out. The table in this work was to depict microcosm of our larger lives where we see various power and gender dynamics, but also where we celebrate, confess, and sometimes mourn alone and/or with others. This is how I began to brainstorm Rage Quit and every decision including the voices, were very carefully selected and arranged.What are you working on now & what do you have on the horizon?
I have been working to gain a citizenship in Canada for past two years and currently in process of compiling an artist visa application in the US. I have never felt so anxious about uncertainly of status even though I have been living as a foreigner for more than half of my life. I am in process of revisiting all the statuses I gained as a foreigner in the places that I identify as “home” and hope to create a new body of work ranges from sound sculpture to drawing that derive from status anxiety.

Thanks for talking with us Camella!!