Sunny, One So True

Artist Soo Sunny Park is stubborn about the kind of art she wants to make and how she makes it. That could be a problem.

Park makes ambitious works, but not very many of them. She recalls one visiting critic's visit: "She was the most blunt, honest person I ever met. She said, 'Some people don't like me because I speak in such a blunt way, so I hope you don't take this the wrong way. But stop teaching! Work on your artwork. Don't ever think about getting a full-time job. Work part-time and work as minimally as you can and put the most hours of every day into your studio.'"

Park has yet to develop the everyday discipline and sacrifice an artist must cultivate. "Discipline," she says, is her greatest ambition right now.

"I'm in a big dilemma. I'd like to go to more residencies, because they're another opportunity, like grad school, where you get to drop everything and have a studio environment." Park speaks of her time at Skowhegan, after grad school, as a trip to Arcadia.

The sculpture studio at Washington University, where Park teaches, could be mistaken for an industrial zone.
Jennifer Silverberg
The sculpture studio at Washington University, where Park teaches, could be mistaken for an industrial zone.
Washington University freshman Jessica Garz with Park in sculpture studio. “I just show ’em techniques,” Park says.
Jennifer Silverberg
Washington University freshman Jessica Garz with Park in sculpture studio. “I just show ’em techniques,” Park says.

"Right now, all these things matter: Pay the bills, go to this [opening], car payments. The real world -- living and eating and surviving -- that's been a priority.

"I always have art stuff to do. Now I have school stuff," teaching at Wash. U.

"I come home. Which do I do? I pick school. I spend my whole evening, my whole weekend, preparing for school stuff. Sometimes I don't make time to do my art stuff."

This kind of talk drives Shannon Fitzgerald crazy. Fitzgerald curated both the shows at the Contemporary and Lemp Brewery, and she often hosts the visiting critics. She talks to Park often. Not only does Park fail to seize these opportunities, in Fitzgerald's estimation, she's not taking advantage of other approaches to support her own work.

Park's art, by its very nature, is uncollectable. It's a reflection of Park's nature, Fitzgerald observes: "This all relates to her work, because it's about transit, not being weighted down, having to move. This lightness is what she's looking for."

A girl left behind, an ocean and a continent away from her family, needs to travel light, be prepared to go in an instant.

Yet there are artists, artists Park reveres, who make objects that relate to their unmarketable work, both as a means of exploring those artistic genres and to help pay for the big projects. James Turrell makes gorgeous prints, as well as replicas of his Roden Crater site -- a visual experience within an extinct volcano in Arizona, years in the making -- to pay the bills. Christo, when he isn't wrapping buildings or islands, sells his diagrams for those projects. Such artists aren't selling out -- they're investigating other media and paying the bills, too.

"Documentation," Fitzgerald says. "Right now she's not interested in documentation. She's adamant. Can it become a photograph so someone can buy a photograph? Can she make multiples [of an object or an image]? She still doesn't want to do it. So she'll live a life of honoraria, which don't go very far and you end up spending it all on your work anyway.

"In Chicago, they asked her to make an inflatable ball made out of contact cement [in reference to her installation made of the same materials], which she could easily reproduce and show somewhere else. But she insisted that she would not do it.

"Her insistence," Fitzgerald says, exasperated. "She's gotta figure it out. She makes smaller pieces that are sculptural. She's doing great things with balloons that are becoming objects. Her handmade balloons have a weight and become an object you can look at. So maybe she can start making those things."

Yet for all her frustration with Park, even the pragmatic Fitzgerald admires the young artist:

"I see her as very noble."

"I'm stubborn," Park says with a flare of pride. She's still a young artist, she says. She's still working it out. Those other artists, the ones who turned themselves into small corporations, they figured it out their way, and she's going to figure it out her way.

She admits, laughing at the thought, that she cherishes her naïveté.

Yet she also cherishes her "young struggling artist" status. When she talks about her place in the art world, she talks like someone trying to figure her way in.

For whatever reason, she's not trusting those voices that are saying, "You're already at the threshold. You gotta move."

Yet when she talks about the life in the studio, Park becomes radiant. "I was working in the studio yesterday," she says. "I was making patterns for this idea that I have. It's a ceiling piece. I was thinking about in Gothic churches, the...." She searches for the right word for ribbed vaulting, but "umbrella arch" suffices.

"I wanted to create a space you could walk into. It would be head-height. But since I couldn't attach it to a ceiling, I'd attach it to a wall. It's a cone coming out this way from the wall."

The drawing is lovely, simple, elegant.

"Brian said it would be really interesting if I got involved with the architecture and the surface design. I'm totally interested in it!"

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