The Artist Formerly Known As: Sung Kim

Sung Kim is a studio art and math double major whose senior video project, Body Directed, will be shown at the Senior Art Exhibition, opening Friday, May 12 at the Williams College Museum of Art. In March, Sung’s video/performance, Turn On, was shown at the Spencer Art Building. While at Harvard for his junior year, he screened three videos, J Story, VES 51B Video Project and an untitled work.

Why video? What led to video in the first place?

I loved watching films when I was a kid. And then I did NYU Film School, freshman year, in the summer. That was when I was still very interested in narrative. I’m still into narrative, but that was when I thought video was an inferior media, when you don’t have money. When I went to Harvard, I couldn’t get into the film class because I was a visiting student and the class was too popular. So I took video, I took two video classes in the fall semester, and I met Joan Jonas, and she’s like the pioneer of performance in video. That’s when I got really into video and realized that video was something that I like.

What is it about video that you like?

I like other media too – video is not the only thing I like – but video is the thing I like the most. I can do a lot of interesting stuff with video. Most of my work I do inside my room, and I have a TV and video connected, so I can see the video shooting. I like to look at myself. I can’t act on stage – I can’t do anything like that – but I can pretend to act in front of a camera. And I like that. Or I like to make other people do that. For example, I had people walk around in front of a camera. I like what the camera can do. What video connected to a TV can do. That kind of thing – it’s interesting.

And I do things that I wouldn’t do without a video, when I have video. And those things are interesting to me. Like for example, in one of my videos, I try to cut my hand with a knife, and that’s something that I wouldn’t do when I’m not making video. But I’m not doing that to show other people. At that moment, when I’m connected with the video and TV inside my room, I do something like that. What I think is a kind of poetic act. Every time I work with video there’s something that I learn, which is true with other media too. I think it’s important that you do something that you want to do when you’re sick – that would be video. Drawing’s like that too, but for now, video is more interesting.

What do you think it is about the camera that draws you to it? It sounds like you’re talking about you being more involved, but you’re not really more involved than you would be if you were holding a brush, or something like that. What is it that makes you feel more attached to seeing yourself on screen than seeing your work in oils or watercolors or something?

That is a good question, but I don’t have a good answer for that. I don’t think I chose video, I just grew to like video. That’s what my body likes to touch. I wasn’t like, “Oh, should I do painting or video? Oh, I think video is my media.” I don’t think you should do it like that.

But you did choose it – I’m just asking you to turn it around…

You mean justify. I can come up with the reasons, but that’s not what I really think about. Video is moving image, and it’s a time-based media. With video, how you edit it is a non-linear system, which means that you put all the footage that you want into the computer, and you can just edit it, you can just pull it out. So you see the whole timeline. It’s not like a final piece where people see from the beginning to the end. You still have a timeline, but you can move around anywhere – it’s like a CD. And that’s an important notion to me. To me, my life is like that, too.

How is your work a reflection of your life?

My life is not like that, but that’s how I see time – not from the beginning to the end, but you see it as a whole, and that’s intriguing to me. And video has that quality. Painting has it too, but video made me realize that before painting did. So I see painting in a different way, now that I learned that from video.

It’s fascinating to me that you identify the way that you view the world through your art. Has that happened with anything else besides this non- linear time quality? What else have you discovered about the world through making art?

My video, the Body Directed video, I give people instructions. I give myself instructions. Very simple, silly instructions. And I see how that instruction is directing a body’s movement. That’s the acting part of it – what we did together in that gallery is very different from what the camera captured in the image. Video does a better job of educating the artist to think this way, which is that expression and editing are two different things. A lot of people think art is expression. It is, in some part, and some people just deal with that, and that’s fine, too.

But to me, you express something, but when you express something, that is not really part of you anymore, after you express it. But you’re still connected to it. Switching back and forth, between someone who’s expressing and someone who’s seeing, video has a way to deal with that in a system. You shoot something, and that’s an experience, and in the gallery where you shoot it it’s off in the corner and gives everyone some kind of feeling. But what is captured in video is something different – what you’re going to show is just the images. Some kind of final product that has nothing to do with what was going on inside the gallery. So you learn to separate those two. In painting, you don’t have that kind of division. Painting is just painting – you have editing, you don’t have production and then post-production.

Do you think that division goes on in your mind, those two steps, in media other than film?

Well, I paint something, and then I stand back and look at it. That’s the two steps. But recognizing that you’re in a different state might not come easily with painting. One day I was really mad, and I was trying to express madness, so I painted, and then the next day I’m not mad at all. And you come in and you see this painting, and you can’t connect to it. Then you have to make a way that it makes sense to you right now, and the next day. If you don’t do that, you’re confused. Things get awkward. A lot of people say, “Oh no, that’s not what I meant,” or something like that, and I think that’s the problem with that. Because obviously a lot of people are critical viewers, but when it comes to their work, they become very attached. I think it’s because they’re not recognizing that positions – they try to think that they’re one person, a creative person.

Do you think that you do a good job of that? Even in film, you have to separate yourself. You look at the finished product and you know what went into it, the distinct steps. How do you separate yourself?

Even though I said that, I don’t think of this stuff all the time. I thought of that through video, that’s how this whole answer came about. But I don’t really care. The reason why I’m making video is because I like it. I can’t live without video. It’s very cliché, very cheesy. It’s not because I love video that I can’t live without it. I can live without it, of course. I would just keep touching it. That’s the most important part for me – I’m not trying to make something, that’s not why I make it.

The editing process, it’s sometimes important, but…for example, my piece was pretty much done in March, and after that I was just listening to professors. Because I’m showing this in a public space at the museum, and they have better experience with how to finish it. Because I was done already. The whole thing made sense to me already, and I didn’t have to edit it. I was listening to this professor, Amy, and every day it was changing. That’s how I dealt with that kind of switching mind for this piece.

What if you had no professors or friends to show it to? Do you think you could ever reach a point where you could look at a piece and consider it completely done without getting other people’s opinions?

I feel I’m already at that point. I think everybody’s at that point. For example, in this one, Amy said it’s not done – I’m done, I have a final cut, but she thinks it’s not done. I think I just have to make a piece that makes sense to me. Because as one of my professors from Harvard said, you might as well just make things that you like, because by doing that, you at least know that you pleased one person. If you try to please other people, it’s not going to work. Because everybody’s different. Everybody’s different every day.