Samin Son’s Artist Studio

Author: Mackenzie Grace Paton, Editor, Friends of The Dowse Newsletter

The Dowse team is busy gearing up for Solo 2014: Five Wellington Artists, a fascinating biennial exhibition which invites you to delve into the worlds of five very different local artists. Solo showcases never-seen-before works. With painting, jewellery, multimedia installations and captivating performance work, Solo 2014 will have something to appeal to every man and his dog—and then some.

Last month we caught up with Samin Son in his lively Lyall Bay studio to learn a little more about his emotive performance work planned for Solo. Stepping into Samin’s studio in a large warehouse building at Lyall Bay’s industrial end, it’s very clear that we’re entering an artistic world with rules of its own. Books lined up in cardboard boxes and wooden crates pile on top of each other, while canvases, bits of building material and coils of wire are all jumbled together and competing for space.We come bearing fruit. Samin has just had word that his New Zealand Visa has been approved, so we’re celebrating! Perched around a pile of books that may or may not have a table underneath, we munch on pears and oranges, and listen to Samin talk about his inspiration for Solo, motivations and life as an artist.

Samin is a Korean-born Kiwi. He moved here at thirteen to attend school at Hastings Boys’ High School before going on to study Fine Arts at Massey University. In the middle of all this, he was called back to South Korea for two years of compulsory military service. At first, his only form of creative expression was drawing toothpaste on the bathroom mirrors he was supposed to be cleaning – a few stolen moments before his supervisor returned. His art, often deeply personal and informed by dialogue between his Korean and Kiwi life, took a powerful turn as he began to explore his military experiences. He works with a range of genres, but is becoming known for his emotive performance pieces.

Samin’s piece for Solo revolves around a popular 1930s Korean song from the Japanese occupation era. It was taught to him by his grandfather, who went to war at the same age that Samin entered military service. He tells us stories about his grandfather, who as a teenager, used to ‘wag classes and go jam on his violin in caves.’ As he talks, he wanders around the room, stopping to pull a work off the wall, to show us a photograph of his grandfather, or to dig through his desk drawer to show us his works throughout the years. We rifle through his brightly illustrated schoolbook from the age of seven, while he shows us pieces that span across his teenage and army years through to the present day.

The process of working out identity—and it is a process: rather than a static, unchanging entity, is a key part of Samin’s work. While he pays homage to and deeply respects the histories and art practices of New Zealand and Korea, Samin’s experimental works and his desire to change things up aims to breathe new life into traditional concepts of art identity and practice. His art unashamedly works through sometimes confronting emotions and ideas, using artistic experience to express, communicate, and work through life’s challenges.

Solo 2014: Five Wellington Artists runs 18 Oct 2014 – 22 Feb 2015


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