2015: Soohye Park

We are proud to present to you the 2015 Emerging Artist
Soohye Park.

The annual Ethical Metalsmiths Emerging Artist Award is chosen from the applicants to the So Fresh + So Clean student exhibition.  

This year’s jurors were the 2015 members of the EM Students, Virginia Commonwealth University Chapter: Lucy Louise Derickson, Kelley Morrison, Morgan Babic, and Carli Holcomb, with guest juror Renee Zettle-Sterling.


Artist Bio:

Soohye Park is a Korean born visual artist who holds a BFA in Textiles from Seoul Women’s University, and Metals from California College of the Arts, and recently earned her MFA from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is particularly fascinated by symbolic associations in objects and materials that could arouse emotions and empathy in others, beyond words, and through the heart.

Currently, she primarily utilizes seemingly discarded or neglected second hand jewelry, and investigates their lost value, histories and emotions, alongside her own visceral attachments to them. Her work aims to evoke the poignancy of the ephemerality of life, versus the intangible remnants of things that we encounter and accumulate throughout our lives.


Artist Statement:

I’m fascinated by the fact that such small objects of jewelry can possess such potent sentimentality and attain so much emotional weight, beyond their aesthetic pleasure. Rings especially have more of the characteristic of their owners, and more symbolic associations within people’s relationships than any other form of jewelry.

In my recent body of work, Memori Ephemera, I use second hand rings from estate sales and vintage shops, to investigate the lost value of the seemingly disregarded and neglected—not just their physical, aesthetic value, but also their emotional qualities, which once made them precious. At the same time, there is a poignancy in the idea that things cannot last forever and must one day be passed on, or forgotten and left to fade into obscurity, much like the relationship between life and death.

I see my process of making: collecting second hand rings, fabricating them by flattening and fusing, into material such as silver sheets or nuggets, and recreating a new piece, as strongly related to ethical practice. I also hope that my work of taking once valued rings—embodied with lots of histories and memories and which have lost their old identities—and recreating something new out of them, like a simple silver plate, could create a dialogue about our behavior as humans of consuming, abandoning and forgetting things.


Spotlight Interview: 
We followed up with Soohye 6 months later.


What events lead to you becoming a metalsmith?

I’ve loved making things by hand since I was little. I previously studied Textiles, because I loved the warm sensitivity in it. After encountering a metal sculpture show by chance, I realized metal could be warm like textiles, depending on how the artist treats it and that moment led me to become a metalsmith.

What is the tool you love the most? If you could  have one tool, that you don’t have already, what would it be?

It is hard to choose one specific tool. I love all my worn out tools that I have been using. One thing immediately comes to mind is my bench pin with lots of file marks and holes that shows signs of use.

It might sound absurd, but this is something that many people in this field might have dreamed of. I wish I had one more hand that could resist heat, so that I could hold a piece with my third hand while I’m soldering.

Who are some of the artists you admire and why?

There are lots of jewelry artists who I admire, such as Iris Bodemer, whose work has a spontaneous quality in interesting forms and unusual approaches to creation; Iris Ichenberg, whose work raises sensitivity; and Dorothea Pruhl, whose work is primitive and humble, yet spiritual.

In terms of art in general, I admire Doris Salsedo’s mute yet reverberant work, which touches me so much, even before I knew the traumatic history of Colombia, the main influence on her work. I admire the empathetic power in her work itself beyond words; it comes from the heart and that is the thing that I’d like to achieve in my work.

After receiving the EM award, how have you considered ethical practice?

I became more aware of ethical practices in many aspects of my daily life, such as minimizing water and energy use and choosing less toxic chemicals. These are actually very simple yet fundamental practices. I’m growing some air purification plants in my home and studio. I’m unsure of how well they function, but the greenery is great. It makes me feel good and reminds me more of ethical practices. In my studio, I began to collect not only silver scraps, but also non-precious metal scraps, and I separate them for easy recycling. Also, I try to create things out of the scraps and during the process, I often find unexpected new possibilities and forms. 

Also, even though I don’t use many other materials besides metal, mostly recycled silver, I became aware of the importance of acquiring the right information and being educated about material resources.

What is the significance of wearables in your work?

I don’t take much account of wearables in my current body of work. Rather, I have previously considered the heaviness of work is important to convey the idea of burden. (Now I think the physical weight doesn’t imply emotional weight.)

I appreciate one of my colleagues’ comments on the teardrop-shaped pendant, made with lots of second-hand rings: “It is very uncomfortable to put it on my body, not because of its fit, but because of the fact that I’m holding so many rings once belonged to others, the unknown memories, the embodied emotions.

How do you select your materials?

I take in ordinary objects and materials and try to find meanings and emotional values in them that might be understood and shared socially and/or universally. I started paying attention to discarded jewelry as material for my current body of work for those reasons. Also, it was quite a visceral response to them. The jewelry displayed at a vintage shop or estate sale, and piled on a scale, evokes feelings of poignancy and sympathy. Although the memories associated with the jewelry might be different and unknown, they convey universal symbols and emotional values that could arouse empathy in others. Also, I mostly use rings because I consider that they have more of the characteristics of their owners, and more symbolic associations within people’s relationships than any other form of jewelry.

What’s next for Soohye Park?

I currently work in my studio near my home, which is a small space with a bench, a table and a few tools and machines. After graduate school, it was a little difficult to adjust to the new circumstances. But, now I’ve gotten better and feel comfortable working in my studio alone. My working speed is slow and many of the pieces that I explore go to scraps, but I know that is my way of working in my studio. I just try not to be impatient.

My next project is developing my current body of work, investigating new materials and hopefully gaining more recognition in my work.

What do you listen to while you work?

It depends on what I’m working on. However, when I work on my current body of work, “Memory Ephemera”, I mostly listen to New Age music or emotional music that helps me be sentimental and contemplative.

What are you reading right now?

Contemporary Art and Memory by Joan Gibbons

Dream job?

Full time Artist + Foster for abandoned dogs