Interview with “(Sub)Urban” Artist Sang-Mi Yoo

This is the third installment of the (Sub)Urban artist interview series. (Sub)Urban features work by Amze Emmons, Yoonmi Nam, Benjamin Rogers, Nick Satinover, Christine Buckton Tillman, and Sang-Mi Yoo

Sang-Mi Yoo | Associate Professor of Art at Texas Tech University | Exhibiting in (Sub)Urban from October 30 to December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Sarah Schurman


1. Let’s begin with some background: Where are you from? What made you fall in love with art and printmaking specifically? 

I am from Seoul, South Korea and currently live in Lubbock, TX. As a painting major in my undergrad, printmaking was built in our program at Seoul National University. I loved drawing industrial buildings in the outskirt of the city and the sharp and precise line in etching made perfect sense to tie in to this imagery. Also, the professor, Dong-chun Yoon who just came back from his study abroad in the US brought a fresh influence to the classroom.

2. In both Anomalous Traces and In Transition, you explore notions of home and community across cultural borders. Has the process of creating both pieces developed or changed your definition of home?

Not necessarily. The notion of home is a conceptual realm that exist in our minds. Once you depart from your original home, the home you create elsewhere is a mirror of that kind as in memory, but never the same.

3. Your works underscore surprising architectural similarities between Korea and the United States. Do you think that uniformity in living communities is caused by an individual’s instinct to blend in or the pressure from institutions and governments to conform?

Before I came to the states, I had a certain speculation on American life and individuality. Korean life is still rooted in a collective culture coming from Confucian tradition. Being different/standing out is again the norm when the culture values a modest personality. While my expectation of Western living was much of an individualized living, the the reality was much of the same due to the capitalistic markups and convenience, which is related to the government’s 1950’s suburban developments dating back to the Levittown in New York.

4. What concepts inspired your titles: Anomalous Traces and In Transition?

American tract homes and my childhood memory about New Village houses in South Korea that are from the 1960s’ economic development lead by a former president Park, Jung Hee.

5. Through Anomalous Traces’ felt material and In Transition’s draping position, both works allude to clothing garments. How does materiality engage with meaning in your works? 

The ideal home is a lure. The physical and tactile presence of felt cuts are opposite to a painter’s vocabulary of pictorial illusion in my digital prints. While the ideal home is not a tangible reality, the felt cuts are the subject of the prints indicating hollowness of house forms and shadow effect.



6. Similarly, both pieces utilize vibrant colors that contrast the drab consistency of suburban homes. Is this use of color intentionally ironic or revealingly symbolic? 

The original color palette came from my artist coping system living in less saturated landscapes, such as semi-arid earthy toned Lubbock, Texas and rainy grayish Northern Ireland. As I developed the palette further, I was able to make a Korean Saekdong pattern colors used in children’s garment. The color combination is traditionally believed to combat evil spirits and brings health and long life.

7. Through your work, you question the existence of an ideal home. Even if you know it is an illusion, do you have a mental image of your ideal home?

No matter what design it is or what kind of people live in, it would be a place where my heart is. In their work, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe nomadic space. In this model, one navigates the vast space through relationships between elements within the space. However, being somewhere is not restricted to being in a single place. Our body is always moving on. We are potentially at any place within the region. Everywhere becomes the place.

8. Based on your travels, how do you contend that local communities give insight to the state of the global community as a whole? 

Similar to the notion of home, the perception can come from individual experiences. Without having a direct connection to the relevant parts of the world through a conversation and experience, the understanding would be limited. Although my work has a sense of dry humor, I hope to encourage a good connection though my work. 

9. How do you think Anomalous Traces and In Transition react in conversation with the other installations in (Sub)Urban? More generally, how does the context of an exhibition inform the message of your art? 

I think the exhibition showcases different facets of (Sub)urban life. The 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said, “Man is what he eats.” This phrase is not necessarily about the consumerism, but indicates where we stand. I think Nicholas Satinover and Amze Emmons work relate my work in terms of their use of the built environment as my work deals with residential architecture.

10. Has your art always been focused on everyday subtleties and ordinary markers of home? Where do you see your art taking you regarding future projects or endeavors?  

No not always. My current work focuses on botanical elements from American public gardens. My work not deal with the man-made environment, but also the connection to colonial botany and dazzle camouflage used in WWI.

11. What do you hope that (Sub)Urban visitors take away from your work?

I am such a Modernist. I would first love the viewers immerse themselves in the installed space to enjoy the patterns, cast shadows and optical illusion. The current U.S. political climate tends to encourage us to be more territorial, creating conflicts between peoples of different racial, national and cultural backgrounds. I would like share with viewers some common visual aesthetics in my work and carefully reflect on their choices in everyday living.

Yoo’s work is included in (Sub)Urban at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30-December 16, 2017


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