Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Choong Sup Lim

Installation view of Choong Sup Lim: Stroke. Courtesy of Shin Gallery, New York, 2021.

Choong Sup Lim: Stroke

Shin Gallery

December 7, 2021 through January 15, 2022

By LARA PAN, January 2022

It was a delight to visit Choong Sup Lim in his studio in Tribeca. A renowned Korean artist living in New York, he told me that his creative process is bound up with his daily early morning walks by the Hudson River. His work, which span various intellectual disciples, mediums, and materials, is chimeric in a positive sense. It combines traditional and contemporary elements in highly original assemblages, and thereby produces new abstractions that emerge from this particular process of creation. In a curious sense, Lim’s production of the new is concerned with the past, but it also manages to resonate in the present and future. In this way, his work cultivates a form of knowledge that is rather out of joint—i.e., it reflects the need to subvert linear or “progressive” time, and the notion that there are alternative cosmologies (to the liberal modernity) that have to be unlocked and realized. “Scientific thinking wants to improve the capacity of the senses, while philosophical thinking wants to develop other senses. It is in art that both can be united. Therefore, the relation between art and technology is not yet determined.” And it’s definitely Choong Sup Lim who has accepted the challenge of developing new ideas inspired by the past as well as his state of inner being.

LARA PAN: Forms and materials are carefully selected in your work, in a way that makes me curious about the title of your exhibition, Stroke, which opened recently at Shin Gallery in the Lower East Side. My instinct is that you are playing with multiple senses of the word, and that its meaning is not limited to the brush stroke alone, but includes the nature of repetition, and even more…

CHOONG SUP LIM: I am Asian and a Korean. We have a longtime tradition of rice paper and black ink oriental landscape paintings. The main concern is the brush activity of black and white dynamic or some color. Brush becomes a spiritual medium where spirit or the energy flows through it for the creation of the painting, that kind of Asian art tradition is what I am using for my artwork recently. NYC has a multimedia environment and I have adapted this environment to my “NY stroke”. So, my NY stroke is mentally very simpler than Asian stroke made with brush movement. That kind of formative art spirituality adapts NY art life.  

Installation view of Choong Sup Lim: Stroke. Courtesy of Shin Gallery, New York, 2021. 

LP: When I visited your studio, we had a conversation about the interior and exterior influences on your creative ideas. Some of them originate in nature, some in science, and some in memories. But you spoke about how your main source of inspiration comes from the within yourself. Can you talk more about this aspect?

CSL: My installation is inspired by Asian Traditional textile loom or spirituality that adapt with western geometric or scientific activity. I despise localism and I am not cosmopolitan, I am digging out more myself, which automatically turns Asian or Korean. I do not like to state I am Korean and my work is very Asian and Korean. Instead my identity gets dug out through the process as who I am, I am lucky in NYC art life many critics say your work looks Asian or Korean. Digging out my aesthetic point of view in my heart my works turn out that way. 

LP: You are obviously a free thinker, if I may say so. When we emigrate (that is, leave the country of our origins) and move somewhere new, we develop a unique perspective and understanding of the world around us. And our childhood memories come to form a major part of our creativity. Yours are an important part of your work, too. I’m thinking now of the kinetic boat sculpture on view at the gallery currently. What are your most powerful childhood memories?

CSL: My grandmother years and years ago used to dry out cotton thread in the field, that memory was really shocking for me when I was young that she made her husband’s (my grandfather’s) clothes from the cotton thread. That kind of a process was involved in my grandmother’s generation, I was inspired as a little boy, that kind of memory stroked me about loom and textile culture. My inner history and my heart create this desire to return to nature due to this memory. 

LP: I remember a story you told me about a discussion between two post-Confucian philosophers from the 16th century, and their different ways of seeing and understanding the moon in the sky, and the moon’s reflection in the water;they couldn’t agree on it, even though the eye perceives the same image of the moon in two different places. And a resonance between the sky and the Earth is the main (moral) principle of Confucianism. How, in more detail, have these ideas made an impact on you?

CSL: Lee dynasty around 16th c, that period had good mind concerning scholars. One of the canonical scholar was Sung Ri Hak. The academy of Sung Ri Hak had two scholars Lee Hwang and Ki Tai Seung. Lee Hwang argued that the reflection of the moon is also moon whereas Ki Tai Seung argued that the moon in the sky is the only moon. I agree more with Lee Hwang and I am proud of his judgement because even back then he is thinking surrealistically. This kind of debates in nature inspired me to go back to nature. 

Installation view of Choong Sup Lim: Stroke. Courtesy of Shin Gallery, New York, 2021. 

LP: In Taoism, there are ideas that encompass our ability to mirror other(s) that we also find in the mirror effect. How does Tao teach us to better understand others and our surroundings? I see this perfect balance of nature, object, and composition in your work, not only in the paintings, but also in the sculptures and other pieces that incorporate found objects. Tell me more about how you perceive art’s relationship to Taoist philosophy.

CSL: My understanding about Taoism is simple that they want to go back to nature.  No-Ja, the philosopher that predates Confucius dwells in the metaphor of water. Water always flows down; modern science reverts this pattern of natural character pursuing the impossible. Many, many, contemporary young artists pay homage to philosopher like No-Ja just because they want to go back to Nature. Their art is all about their changing identity, or their expectation or their ability, they want to judge through nature than science. I agree with Taoism, recently I made an installation from Manhattan soil, the heaps of soils excavated by con edison looked like god to me…small mountains of soil represented Jesus or some noble being. Recognizing and grasping myself is my practice. Buddhism also simplifies it, the process of us looking into our mind is Buddhist activity. All kind of modern art is Buddhism. 

LP: You had a retrospective in Seoul not too long ago, which highlighted your ability as an artist to work in diverse media: painting, sculpture, found objects, drawing, installation, and media art. Which of these, would you say, best manifests the oneness that exists between you and your art? Or perhaps it is all of them equally?

CSL: When I returned from America to Seoul many said I should make painting or installation only, but I don’t think so. America gave me many choices of media and my process has been free with this freedom. My aesthetic participation from the countryside to Seoul to America has evolved and embraced all of them.  

LP: Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a book called Letters to a Young Poet, whose ideas relate to many concepts from the Eastern philosophers that you connect to in your work. In this small book of wisdom and encouragement, Rilke highlights four points in the human existence: loneliness, patience, love, and poetry. What advice would you love to share with a young artist?

CSL: Like I said before try to enjoy art with natural life with less intervention of man-made objects. There are two terms in modern art and philosophy: “objectivity” and “subjectivity”, and I would encourage young artists to explore things subjectively. WM

Lara Pan

Lara Pan is an independent curator,writer and researcher based in New York. Her research focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and paranormal phenomena.

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