Artist Profile: Jin Meyerson

Jin Meyerson, Sequence 4.0, oil on canvas and augmented reality overlay (AR graphic), variable dimension, installation view at Spazio Berlendis, Venice 2022, © Photo: Haupt & Binder,

Artist Profile: Jin Meyerson

Written by Victoria Stephanie Uzumyemezoglu

“My work is squarely grounded in the community of which I am a part of. While the work I produce is centered on painting, it begins with conversations and shared experiences; these lead to ideas that filter into sketches, and finally and only then can the paintings, AR overlays, videos or installations be made.” Jin Meyerson says.

The Korean-American artist, when just five years old, was adopted by an American couple and grew up in the rural side of Minnesota. His interest in art started when he was a young boy. Drawings of clouds, trees and cows: These are his childhood memories of car trips with his Swedish American grandparents. At that time his only language was Korean. “These first drawings not only taught me the definition of words but also allowed me to discover the meaning. In so many ways this process of understanding and discovery is at the core of what drives me to make art” Meyerson reveals. His interest in art led him to study at Pennsylvania Academy of Art, one of the oldest art schools in the USA. Nevertheless, Korea has always been significantly important for him and in his artworks we can notice that the connection to his origins is crucial. He recently returned to live in his homeland, Seoul in South Korea.

During the period of Venice Art Biennale 2022, one of Meyerson’s artworks is exhibited at Spazio Berlendis, Venice. The exhibition is titled “to where the flowers are blooming” organized by the city of Gwangju and Gwangju Biennale Foundation. The exhibition place itself is a beautifully renovated space, an old carpentry which belonged to Squero Vecio; the oldest shipyard of Venice. Also, the physical location of the space has a certain impact on seeing the artworks. All the artworks at the gallery reflect the 5.18 democratization movement of Gwangju in the 1980s, a historically significant event that allowed democracy to take root in South Korea. Hundreds and thousands of Korean people fought together for their rights, democracy and peace. It reminds us how powerful we can become when we unite.

In the main hall of the exhibition space, visitors immediately engage with Meyerson’s artwork The Politics of Memory which is made up of two elements: The painting Leviathan and the QR code Sequence 4.0. The painting Leviathan contains scenes from festivals, concerts, political rallies, as well as people celebrating and protesting. He re-elaborates those elements in a contemporary context. ‘‘We all carry internal monuments that reach back into our heritage and family histories. My work has always relied on feeling to be made, but the expression of the work has more to do with conveying and honoring this internal monument which has defined who I am and what I am able to do. Especially with each generation we are always in search of our own way of presenting and amplifying the things which are important to us’’ he says. He connects the artwork to a QR code of an Augmented Reality Overlay, titled Sequence 4.0 which becomes the second element of the artwork. The QR code takes the audience to May 18 Democracy Square of Gwangju, a very important location for Korean citizens to remember all the people who suffered during the 5.18 democratization movement. Seeing such a location virtually is also the result of the advanced technology and the creativity of the artist. The AR Overlays are related also to his first return to South Korea and his personal thoughts. 

In his own words: “AR Overlays have always existed within my own mind. They are the closest way to present my mental imagery process that become the sketches. The absolutely wonderful thing about getting older is that technology has kind of finally caught up with what I have always wanted to do. My displacement from Korea and eventual return have defined my work even before I consciously intended to engage with being a displaced Korean Adoptee. When I began doing the AR Overlays I realized they allow the sketches or points of inspiration to have an actual presence. In many ways they reveal a subverted presence within my own personal process much like my work reveals the presence of a larger subverted history within Korea, and in turn is relative to the results of Korean post war recovery and post colonialism on a global scale.”

He uses AR Overlays with the recent artworks as well and calls them all sequences with different numbers. In this way physical presence and location become connected. When we are in front of his painting it feels like we are traveling to another location and think of a historical, cultural and personal context of the world and its communities.

“I turned 50 this year, and with age comes an understanding of how singular experiences are connected. What seemed like an unconnected “coincidental” phenomenon when I was younger, has revealed itself to be a large cycle of experiences that has lead me back to Korea. The titles of the AR components that are overlays and act as invisible installations are all drawn from never -before- seen sketching material. Since 1997 I have used scanner beds, randomization filters, CG and photo editing programs to find the specific frequencies that make up my sketches and paintings. Until I began creating the AR pieces this material was never visible. I keep a rather large archive of digital files that are all numbered and in keeping with this point of origin the sequence piece titles also mainly are numbered” he reveals. 

The viewers are impressed by the size of these large-scale paintings as well. “Scale is inexorably linked to presence and experience. This begins with the points of inspiration which all art begins with. As I have been engaging with a digital and virtual sketching process since the late 90’s I am able to sense and gage the scale of where I want the work to be. One of the earliest breakthroughs for me occurred in the late 90’s when I was in NYC in my late 20’s. I stumbled on very early randomization software which allowed me to “hand-over” many of the traditional decisions that painters are required and celebrated for making. I first began image sampling in the late 90’s, mainly because it was a process that allowed me to sidestep the inherent co-opting, choreographies of appropriation. I still wanted to use aspects of established culture in critical ways to reveal something about itself and myself, so I turned to a strategy that was in the music and videos that I had grown up with and admired. Christian Marclay, Paul Pfeiffer, early hip hop and electronica.” he reveals. 

In his recent artwork, Impotence of Fire (2021) he represents a kind of autobiographical abstraction of all of his displacements and the research on his family. The technique seems to have changed but the concepts he chose are quite similar. As he says, “This painting is drawn from a specific conversation I had with my Korean Father in Law. When he had just moved to Seoul In the late 70’s he noticed that Koreans who owned adoption agencies were all successful financially. They drove expensive cars, wore expensive clothes and had excessive gold jewelry, they were ballers. Then suddenly at some point, news reports of the orphanages burning down started to fill the newspapers. I visited the Star of the Sea Orphanage where I had been adopted from, hoping it would remind me of something or help clarify memories I still carried. But when I went nothing was familiar. Everything felt too new and I asked the orphanage director why there were no photos or records.” In many of his paintings like The Death of Water (2008) we can recognize many details of places where he had memories. He made these large-scale ‘‘disaster/landscape paintings’’ – as he calls them – before moving to Asia after four-five years in Paris. “The idea of space and memory is absolutely essential for my work. Strangely, I have always needed a certain distance from the pictorial images which are scanned and incorporated into sketches. To have this original sense of discovery which began with drawing as soon as I became immersed within the gravity of American culture as a young boy and to convey the internal sense of displacement. In fact, I tried for years to take photos of places I knew and visited but none of them worked. Years later I understood that it was because these places were already known to me.” In his artistic approach, his displacements related to his life are visible also in Father (2020) and Post California (2021). We notice that nothing is static and there is always something moving like the waves and something in action. “We as species, sense things optically. During my NYC origin period when I began the “hand over” pieces, it was incredibly important to allow the randomization filters to define the context of the compositions.” he says.

During the beginning of September, two of his recent artworks were exhibited at Frieze Art Fair in Seoul. The fair included artworks from the best of the local Korean art scene to those exhibited by the most compelling international galleries.

Nowadays technology has a significant power on art and it gives new creation opportunities to artists. Social media networks and smartphone screens carry us to lots of different locations. When we especially look at an oil painting of JM together with the overlays, we get a feeling like we are traveling through his thoughts, to a place where he feels connected. “We are all sharing this meta-virtual existence through our online presences, but it is through our communities and locations that we find real belonging. I hope that viewers can converse and commune with the conversations the work began with and in this way sense and connect to real meaning. What we have all witnessed recently is a long overdue self-correction within the gallery and institutional presentation of contemporary art. Subverted voices and histories which have never had the opportunity to be heard are finally gaining visibility.” he reveals. 

‘‘to where the flowers are blooming’’
Gwangju Biennale 5.18 Democratization Movement Special Exhibition in Venice

Artists of the exhibition: Jin Meyerson, Ahn Chang-Hong, Kader Attia, Bae Young-hwan, Choi Sun, Ho Tzu Nyen, Hong Sung-Dam, Kim Changhoon, Noh Suntag, Park Hwayeon, Suh Dasom
Venue: Spazio Berlendis, Cannaregio 6301, Venice
Dates: April 20 – Nov 27, 2022
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Admission: Free

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