Follow by Email

Monday, January 23, 2012


23 January 2012
YOUNG SUN HAN: sooner later

Reception + Book Launch: Saturday, 4 February, 6-10pm
Runs: Saturday, 4 February - Sunday, 12 February, 2012

(Image caption: Belated Ceremony, 2012 by Young Sun Han)

The recent death of Kim Jong-il prompted Korean-American artist and activist Young Sun Han to think about his own family’s connections to North Korea:

“My father’s family escaped northern Korea somewhere between 1949 and the summer of 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War. They got out just in time by bribing Russian officials and stowing away in military tanks across the border.”

When the artist’s father passed away in November 2010, Young Sun Han was left with hundreds of iPhone photos which documented his father’s battle with cancer. About 6 months later, Han began to assemble an intimate book with these images, recently published under the title, sooner later. The book portrays his family’s daily struggles and efforts to combat the disease.

The 76-page full-color book will be sold along with limited edition prints and posters in an evening fundraiser at Las Manos Gallery, with half of the proceeds benefiting the organization Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees ( provides protection and material support to defectors of North Korea who have fled the country or are hiding in shelters in China. They also provide food and basic education to escaped children while lobbying for defectors’ recognition of refugee status.

“I want sales from my exhibition to benefit LFNKR because my father’s family was lucky enough to escape North Korea and start a new life in America, while thousands of North Koreans don’t have the same opportunity. I worry about what will happen inside the country as the regime restructures.”

The artist will be present at the opening reception, and the book will also be available for sale at his web site:

Young Sun Han is an artist and curator who has exhibited locally and in Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. He was the runner-up on the recent season of Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. He has been the recipient of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship, 1st place in photography at the Union League Civic Arts Foundation, Fred Endsley Fellowship (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), and Jean Paul Ohadi scholarship. He currently lives and works in Chicago.


For more information and images, please contact Mieke Zuiderberg:

Las Manos Gallery
Ph: (773) 728-8910
5220 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dreaming of Oceans

Yesterday, I dreamed that I visited the world's largest aquarium with my father. A large glass wall soaring 40ft high separated us from the depths of the ocean, where thousands of titanic colorful fish thrashed around in a frenzy. They looked like prehistoric sea creatures engaged in an endless battle. Their bodies were larger than whales and their movements more violent than erupting volcanoes. I was in awe!!!

Earlier this year, I had a dream a week before visiting my father's cemetery, near his one year anniversary of passing. I recorded it on a scrap of paper near my bedside, and typed it out later:
Oct 30, 2011

There's a competition for pianists with an undisclosed life-changing prize on the line, and I find myself in the final round. There are no other competitors left; just myself. I'm moving through highway traffic in South Korea, and I'm being driven in a car that's been hired to take me to the final location where the jury shall announce whether I'm a worthy recipient of the award. All the judging has occurred, and as I'm imagining musical notes in my head, my guide assures me that I will not have to perform tonight (I'm nervous because I don't feel prepared for a surprise recital). This evening is simply for everyone to gather and hear the news, good or bad. She does mention that if I am declared the winner, I will have to perform in the country sometime within the next several days. A bit soon, but no sweat.

We are spirited away into a church or cathedral, where numerous people have already filed in to take their seats at long rows of pews. I recognize members from my church when I was young, people I haven't seen since my childhood. Most in attendance are unknown to me, however. Relieved, I finally locate my mother.

To my complete shock, my deceased father is at her side, their arms casually linked. He looks no older than 48, 49 and in his prime. Despite my baffled state, Korean words spill from me with ease. I address my mother, "How is this possible? I need an explanation right now!" She shoots me a look of concern, a pursed face that seems to communicate, "it's not appropriate to discuss these matters here." I push, though. "Are we all dead?!"

This time her face exudes calm compassion, "No, not here. I'll explain later, it's not what you think. We're alive, don't worry." Then, I somehow seem to understand. As I look around the room, other faces that were previously obscure in my memory, take on familiar semblances. Other deceased people are alive and well with their families. They are not ghosts, nor are they spirits. The 'gone ones' have the same physicality and non-mystical presence as the living. They are all here with us in this unique place where our memories of loved ones are enough to bring them into the present. The past and future don't exist. Only the present, reshaped by the desire to have our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends here. There isn't even an acknowledgment of the supernatural elements even though this is unnatural as it gets.

There is no mention of death. It just is. They just are, and the gone ones stand by our sides alive as we remembered them. I don't feel any sadness, just a surprisingly quick acceptance of these circumstances. Somehow I've stumbled into a chapel, the one place in the world, where our persistent hearts have kept the memory of past souls alive. They exist here with us, only when we are here with them. I've forgotten about the competition, realizing I've already won. I've reached far enough that I am allowed access to this special place. When I go home, I know what I must do. I must cherish and remember the memories of those I've lost, because it is my memory that nourishes their existence. It is my memory that gives them life, and it is not an afterlife, but simply a portal where they can come into my dreams and offer silent comfort on a chilly, autumn's night.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Week 4 - Arts Education

Remember Week 4 of Work of Art when the studio was filled with young budding artists from A Studio in the School program? I thought of them today after completing the SNAAP (Strategic National Arts Alumni Project) survey for arts educated alumni. It's a very useful tool to see how us art kids have grown up and fared in the real world. The survey is also broken down into segments that ask what we actually gained from an arts education and what tools we've used in our jobs or ditched all together.

Sadly, for young artists, the outlook isn't rosy, but the results aren't SO bad that Tiger Parents should be completely terrified when Oliver drops the bomb that he's going to be an artist instead of a successful dentist. The biggest takeaway from the survey is that surviving as an artist and sticking with it is mother-fucking tough. Let's look at some of the results shall we?

13,581 alumni filled out the survey. Of those only 7% still consider themselves working artists, 6% writers or designers, 4% photographers. People working in arts education fared better with 24% working in that field. I remember my first day of class in art school when the professor scanned our bright eyes, and asked us to look to the person on our left and right. He then said that both of those people, statistically, would no longer be artists by the time they had graduated. He was right!

In context to the 99% movement, only 1% work as curators/gallery dealers/museum folk. They truly are the gatekeepers, aren't they? Even though so few people hold the keys, the median salary is still only about $30,000 for these peeps. Maybe not so 1% after all. I'm guessing Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling opted out of the survey.

If money isn't important to you, stick with your arts career: Arts admin, education, curator/dealer, designer, musician, photog, theater, writer -- they all make about $30k compared to non-artist counterparts in communications, admin/office and construction who make the same amount on average.

Dancers and crafts artists suffer the most at a median income of $15k. If you want to make more bling, you should become an architect ($50k), go into management ($50k), math/computers ($50k) or enlist in the military ($40k).

Of course, all of these results are for people who pursued some sort of arts degree. If you major in business or math and sciences to begin with, the median income would be higher. I'm guessing it's a bigger leap for a fiber artist to get a job at an investment firm, than say an econ major.

What about debt? Most survey-fillers say that getting a BA, BFA or MFA put them $15k in the hole while they average a $30k salary. PhD students have only $5k of debt on average and make about $50k a year. I'm guessing that most art grads actually have way more debt, but this survey reflects the cost of state schools as well as graduates who had their education paid for them (by grants or parents).

The SNAAP is a very enlightening survey, and if anything, I would encourage young artists to do the research to get an understanding of the challenges they face. I would use these results however, as motivation to keep pushing and keep making your art. Take advantage of all the resources your school has to offer (if you're going for a degree). I currently hold a BFA, and I have to admit, this survey makes me question the cost/value equation of going to grad school.

Remember: your experience and success will be very unique. I have worked with artists making less than $10k a year as well artists who make 6-figure+ salaries that employ multiple assistants. My favorite advice to young kids about pursuing a career in the arts comes from British playwright, Philip Ridley who said, "How dare you! How dare you try and be as good as me!" Hahahaha!

If you are an arts alumni, go to the web site and fill out now. It's the last day to do so!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Week 5 - Ai Weiwei update

Ai Weiwei "Sunflower Seeds" - image by Loz Flowers

When episode 5 of Work of Art, "Ripped From the Headlines," was filmed, Ai Weiwei's status and whereabouts were still unknown. I'm glad that the producers of the show provided a small epilogue about his release at the end of the episode. His battles with the Chinese authorities, however, are far from over.

Here is the latest report on his attempt to receive an administrative review of tax evasion charges that were cited by the Chinese government as the excuse for unlawfully detaining the artist for 81 days: China's Ai Weiwei appeals for lesser-known detainees. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Ai Weiwei was initially arrested without a formal charge, and it was only after immense international pressure, did the artist and social activist reappear in a highly unorthodox series of events. Since his release, he has been banned from leaving the country, and he has faced a series of hurdles in receiving a fair review of the charges set against him.

The artist rightfully calls the 1.3 million dollars the government requested from him as a 'ransom.' Supporters around the globe have pitched into his fund, but in a faulty catch-22, the act of paying the government is a tacit admission of guilt, even though it is required for a review to occur in the first place.

This is not the first time Ai Weiwei has been harassed by Chinese officials. In January of 2011, his studio in Shanghai was completely razed within a day. In 2009, he was beaten so badly by police, he had to undergo brain surgery. He remains one of China's most vocal critics on human rights abuses and the government's failed cover-ups. Weiwei is also one of China's most internationally recognized artists, notably celebrated for his contribution in helping to design the bird's nest Olympic stadium in 2008.

To keep up to date with Ai Weiwei, I highly recommend following this web site There will be a feature length documentary in 2012 called, Never Sorry, that highlights his creative process and struggle for individual expression. I admire artists and leaders who are able to blend their inner creative world with the pragmatic demands of the outer real world. Ai Weiwei is such an artist, but he understands the danger in becoming a lone symbol. That is why he uses his prominence as a bullhorn to speak of other injustices and disappearances that receive less attention: Ai Weiwei's documentaries of human rights abuses.

To conclude:

On a table in Ai's work studio, balloons printed with the words "Free Chen Guangcheng" were stuffed in a vase. Chen is a blind legal activist whose long confinement in his village in eastern China has sparked widespread anger.

Spread the word!

Follow progress of the Ai Weiwei documentary, Never Sorry, on Twitter here:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Week 3 - Domestic Propositions

During my first year abroad in college, I also experienced my first long-distance relationship. I was with my then boyfriend for about 2 years before we spent a year apart. We were committed to reuniting after I finished two semesters in London while he took on a new teaching gig in Korea. At the age of 20, I did not expect to be in such a serious relationship, especially after my teenage years entangled in many one night courtships.

Feeling lost, shocked, and horny amongst the parade of flashy men in Soho's gay pubs, I contemplated what it meant to be a young gay person at a time where legal battles centered on marriage and domestic partnership were raging across the world. I found solace in the work of artists like Catherine Opie and Sunil Gupta who explored relationships in an intimate, vulnerable way. I realized I had to begin my own journey of documentation and story-telling, talking to 'domesticated' couples about what their coupledom meant to them. How did they define being partnered, even if the law didn't recognize their unions?

This inspired my meeting with Ken and Sharyar through an online advertisement I placed, who were a couple living together in a modest flat. Ken is a native Brit and Sharyar a Persian immigrant. When I entered their home with full photo gear in tow, I saw them playing chess together wearing matching green socks, each with a cuppa tea. After asking about their backgrounds, how they met, and feeling all of the room's tension empty out during our chatter, I knew immediately I wanted to compose an image showing the private interaction I had witnessed of them playing and competing.

Their portrait above is the result, and it is a combination of staging the original moment with some improvisation. I love this picture, and it is the first work of art I sold in a professional gallery show. An edition I donated ended up fetching the highest price beyond its reserve at Chicago's Renaissance Society benefit as well. It began a series of photos with other couples living in Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Auckland and elsewhere. It's a project I come back to every now and then with no specific end goal. Many of the couples are no longer together (including my self-portrait with my ex), while others are steadfastly committed.

Talking with my straight friends, it does seem true that dating for gay men is much easier: more direct initial contact, no confusion of Mars versus Venus thinking, sex happens readily, and far less expectations and pressure regarding getting married and popping out children. Although it's a breeze for gays to date and mate (at least in urban areas), sustaining long-term relationships and finding cornerstone moments for a gay couple to commemorate their togetherness can be more elusive. This is reinforced by the lack of federal rights for civil unions and marriages in many countries, and the general societal view that same-sex couples should not have the same legal benefits as a male and female partner.


San Francisco, 2008: I remember the exhilarating rush of watching Milk, Hollywood's biopic on America's first openly gay elected public official, Harvey Milk, at the historic Castro theater. In high school, I had chosen him as my subject for a writing assignment about heroes. My teacher, who had never heard of him, suggested I write about someone else instead. Seeing Milk's life on screen made me proud and happy to see attitudes were changing in this country. His film was long overdue.

Outside the theater, a vigorous anti-Prop 8 rally was in full force. I smiled seeing a straight elderly couple wearing 'No Prop H8' buttons and signing a petition. Although the highly contested Prop 8 is now resolved, other entities like DoMA (Defense of Marriage Act signed into effect by Clinton in 1996), are huge barriers for gay couples to have their unions recognized. This also affects immigration rights for bi-national couples that try to reside together in the US.

It's very easy to remain complacent, especially for individuals who have never felt oppressed or suicidal because of how society views gay people. It's easy to be complacent for us younger queer men and women who have not rallied and fought for the rights we have today. Gays are everywhere in pop culture and beloved consumers -- we're 'in.'

We know that gays' rights to marriage and adoption at a national level are just a matter of time. However, until day time comes, measures like Proposition 8 are a symbol of a time when the American national debate about the lives of gay people (as determined by others) was at its hottest and most visible. It inspired creative responses and was a reality check for the gay community about how we were accepted but still not acceptable. Even though today it feels like it has been discussed to death, Prop 8 remains a historical event that is worth remembering.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Southern Hospitality

My regularly scheduled writing this week was interrupted by a weekend trip to Harrodsburg, Kentucky for a gorgeous fall wedding. Dazzling foliage, model Hilfiger-esque children scampering about in warm layers, pumpkin muffins, and charming lawn games like croquet and horseshoes -- you get the picture. The groom (now husband) is my boyfriend's college buddy, and we had the unexpected fortune to run into the newlyweds in Queenstown, New Zealand earlier this year while on vacation.

After an 8-hour drive from Chicago, we welcomed the generous flow of bourbon served at the historic Woodford Reserve. Following a tour and raucous cocktail reception there, we then checked into the idyllic Shaker Village inn, the former enclave of a religious sect known for, well, shaking during ecstatic bouts of worship and their strict vows of celibacy (didn't help membership numbers much). The village features a cluster of 19th century cottages with tidy and rustic decor, public buildings such as an art gallery, and animals trundling over the rolling hills.

Having traveled through about 40 states in the US of A, I am always bowled over by the hospitality of Southerners. People from the midwest are friendly and genuine, but the level of service and unabashed attempts to make you dance, feel welcome and right at home can't be beat in the south. Where do they go for training to disarm the brusque and paranoid attitudes we city-slickers show up with?

Although not specifically art-related, my interactions this weekend made me think about the social functions and effects of art. Art is almost always an invitation, and the degree of hospitality dispensed from the artist varies with every decision: the opaqueness of subject matter, the level of risk involved for the viewer, how it's installed, and the amount of information provided. My most difficult performance piece to date, 24 Hour Embrace, began as a literal invitation to a stranger on Craigslist to hold me for an entire day to experience an intense kind of intimacy together.

While speaking to people from different walks of life this weekend, I was moved by the stories they shared that created an instant bond. One woman in particular approached me to ask about my boyfriend and I, the only visibly gay male couple in attendance for the traditional service. It turns out that she and her partner (also female) met over 14 years ago and were brought together by tragedy, but have persevered through very difficult circumstances and judgmental loved ones. I admire her openness in seeking me out and wanting to connect through similar experiences. There is something about her very simple gesture that is often missing in art -- a generosity on the part of the artist, open communication, and a willingness to be vulnerable rather than mysterious.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Contemporary Gladiator

Today's gladiators aren't necessarily the testosterone infused warriors above. Nor are they slaves and enemies of the state. Instead, the mortals drawn to engage in battle are plucked from the hoi polloi, the masses, and there have been many works of contemporary fiction that borrow this idea of commoners competing against each other for society's entertainment. Classic examples such as Stephen King's The Running Man and The Long Walk and Koushun Takami's Batoru Rowaiaru (Battle Royale), plunge your local neighbour, relative, and workmate into dangerous arenas that are broadcast to multitudes. I'm currently engrossed in reading the Hunger Games trilogy, and when the protagonist clinging onto life could be someone you know or even yourself, the immediate drama that unfolds becomes visceral.

Indeed, the allure and addiction of reality television is that ANYONE has the potential access to recognition and rewards but at a high risk. It's less random than a lottery ticket, and the exposed psychological reactions provide a fascinating study into the range of human emotions. A brilliant satire of today's obsession with reality TV can be seen in the film Series 7: The Contenders by director Daniel Minahan. In it, five everyday Americans are selected to fight to the death while a camera crew and producers document every blow and weepy confessional. The film is presented as a straight marathon of the show's 7th season featuring a return champion vying for her freedom. Oh, she's also pregnant.

In a more positive light, certain reality shows include the spin of including educational demonstrations and showcasing actual talent. It reminds me of a sub-genre of documentary films that follow the aspirations of quirky individuals performing in niche competitions: prepubescent spellers in Spellbound, scrabblers in Word Wars, and Chinese campaigners in Please Vote for Me come to mind. Works of fiction in a similar vein include the classic Chorus Line and Christopher Guest's deadpan movie, Best in Show.

The most radical form of schadenfreude catharsis arrived in Josh Harris's art experiment, QUIET: We Live in Public. Ondi Timoner's documentary of the same name (We Live in Public) reveals the dark and deranged footage of about 150 volunteers living together in a NYC basement fully wired with webcams and monitors. Every participant lived in a podlike bunker equipped with a TV set that showed live feeds of the orgiastic compound. No square footage was safe from scrutiny: the communal shower, dining hall, and other pods where people openly fornicated. To encourage uninhibited behavior, illicit drugs were available buffet style, and there was even a shooting range where people could go aggro after undergoing one-on-one sessions with a live-in psychologist who snapped people's spirits like uncooked spaghetti (all under the lens of course).

Two critical elements distinguish themselves in QUIET's dystopian rave party:
1) It is a non-stop surveilled environ rather than an edited product.
2) The participants of the project are simultaneously the viewer and the guinea pig.

There's something romantic about the notion of living so openly and publicly. We are ALL in the public sphere (especially so if you have a Facebook, Twitter, Blog, or even just an email account). Why not just admit privacy is a Matrix-y illusion, right? On the flip side, We Live in Public shows that a buffer or distance between fellow men and women is necessary to maintain sanity and a semblance of self. Humans are prone to attachment and sometimes the groundswell of community and fellowship can lead to activism (see: 99%) or hysteria (witch trials anyone?). I haven't figured out yet what factors contribute to where the needle pitches (light or dark) once a collective force has gathered. I only know that the technological social sap that glues us together is tasty and addictive stuff. People like Mark Zuckerberg are billionaires for knowing first.

To read about someone's experience in QUIET:

Watch Ondi Timoner's trailer for her excellent documentary here: