Suji Park

Fracture and regeneration play a crucial role in the work of Korean-New Zealand artist Suji Park. Working between cultures, languages, and places, Park creates cumulative sculptural forms which carry traces of the past into the future. Actively embracing breakage and change, her works are enlivened by the dynamic potential of the unknown.

In 2015, Park made Garden, a site-specific mixed-media installation which fused an imagined archaeological site with a consideration of the histories embedded in material culture. Free from the constraints of the gallery environment, Park embedded Garden into a grassy landscape, first removing a section of turf and then breaking up and turning the topsoil. Digging into the exposed dirt to create shallow depressions, she partially buried a sequence of vessels within this earthen site. Groups of elongated gourd-like and semi-figurative forms were clustered upon the surrounding grass, strewn across the broader site like fragmented relics of some unknown history. 

The fertile soil into which Park dug lies on Waiheke Island, the second-largest of the islands spread across the once-abundant waters of the Hauraki Gulf. The waters and earth of this region – like all of Aotearoa – are marked by the ongoing impacts of European colonisation. The forced imposition of private land ownership, in combination with extractive attitudes to both land and ocean, have traced a legacy shaped by violence, dispossession and environmental degradation. Though Park’s imagined archeological site does not explicitly reference these processes, the power of Garden stems, in part, from the ambiguity of the relics she has situated here. Unmoored from any historical context, these vessels prompt us to consider the ways that we reconstruct our understandings of each other in the wake of the severance or repression of historical memory. 

Much of Park’s work operates at this intersection of memory, history, and place. Her recent show, Meonji Soojibga | Dust Collector, commissioned for display in Auckland Art Gallery’s North Terrace, traverses her own memories of place, layering several geographical spaces through which Park has lived and worked. Produced for display in Auckland, the body of work which constitutes Meonji Soojibga | Dust Collector was produced during the year-long Palbok residency in Korea. As Park has explained, “I travelled a lot through the remote countryside of Korea, and all across the country I saw these stacked piles of rocks. They were prayer rocks, so a person will pray or wish for something and then balance their stone on the stack. So an anonymous group of people build up these stacks of wish stones. They’re ritualistic, totemic. I saw them in front of temples and up in the mountains.” Park’s thinking around these collective, cumulative, ritualistic structures informs both the formal and conceptual shape of the works in Meonji Soojibga | Dust Collector. Exhibited outside, the works sit atop custom-built plinths combining recycled timber frames and rippled glass. The transparency of these plinths seems to subvert the notion of a display vitrine, the sculptures exposed to the elements, relinquishing the protection of a glass enclosure. Bulbous stacks of clay echo the irregularity of stacked rocks, their precarity most evident in the sloping angularity of Goyo, 2022. The elongated verticality of these forms embodies an awkward kind of elegance – symmetry is imperfect, forms are slightly tilted, spherical orbs slump under their own weight. 

The spatial interaction posed between these works and the viewer is shaped by a layering of space, Park taking the dimensions and forms of her studio in Korea and translating them into the North Terrace of Auckland Art Gallery. Her studio workspaces and tables were measured, mapped, and transcribed so that the works sit in relation to each in the same physical configuration. “The way people actually look at the work, the way they move around it is exactly the way I did it in my studio. It’s a translation of space.” By carrying the embodied spatial dynamics of her Korean studio into the exhibition space in Auckland, Park enacts a layering of both spatial and psychic geography. This cumulative approach is evident, too, within her approach to materiality, pulling physical traces from past work into current projects. The title of Meonji Soojibga | Dust Collector speaks directly to these ideas as they play out in relation to the collection of material within her practice: “I’ve always collected all these little bits of clay, unwanted parts of sculptures. I carry these fragments with me – I call them dust. They’re very noisy objects, they carry their timelines and they bring their mother sculptures with them. The Korean word meonji soojibga has been in my mind for a while. I sometimes look at my work and I see all these fragments – that I call dust – and I think, maybe I’m just collecting dust, you know?” 

Perhaps she is collecting dust, but it is a rich accumulation of dust, granted significance through the energies and histories that it carries. Like the stones placed atop one another by anonymous hands, Park’s dust carries the traces of collective pasts with it. By pulling these fragments from previous iterations of her work into their present, Park brings those works – alongside previous versions of herself – into the future. These fragments, carried with her across oceans and back again, gather meaning as they transition through time, place, and form. 

Dodo, 2022, the blue-headed talismanic figure who stands over Meonji Soojibga | Dust Collector, is perhaps the most literal embodiment of this idea. “The body of the work is a vessel from Garden. I cut off its head with a hammer and then put them together to make Dodo.” A vessel made in Auckland was placed into the soil of Waiheke, before travelling to Korea where it was intentionally broken and reconfigured in order to be displayed again in Aotearoa. Dodo embodies the generative power of fracture and renewal, positing breakage as a point of energetic dynamism and growth, rather than deterioration. For Park, “breakage is a way of connecting the past and future. For me it opens a door to something else, to possibility and potential.” 

The open-ended nature of potentiality shapes much of Park’s making process. “I never know what I’m making,” she says, “as I’m building or accumulating a form I never know what it will be. That mode of working is very important to me.” That mode of working will be on display in her upcoming exhibition Noise Collector, opening at The Dowse Art Museum in late 2022. Alongside nine iterations of her geologically striated Fever Heads, 2021–ongoing, Park will be showing Beatdol, 2018–ongoing. This exuberantly and expansively additive work is the third generation in her Dol series, 2013–ongoing. Beginning with a cluster of hand-shaped spherical paper clay forms, Beatdol grew organically through the addition of objects that share a similar shape. “It’s a methodology of making connections. In a way, I think of it as making poetry or a song out of materials. ‘Beat’ sounds like light, and ‘dol’ is rock, stone, boulder in Korean. Also, the lights have a beat, or a rhythm to them as they pulse, so there’s a play with language there.” Oscillating between languages, between places, between sculptural form and textural surface detail, Park creates a poetics of sculpture that harnesses the power of unruly potential.  

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 60, 2022.
Images courtesy the artist, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland, and Ivan Anthony, Auckland.

Meonji Soojibga | Dust Collector
2 July 2022 – 2 April 2023
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland

Suji Park: Noise Collector
5 November 2022 – 2 April 2023
The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt 

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related