Installation view of “Mother Spill,” Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Heather Rasmussen, Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth & Council

Body of Work: A Conversation with Young Joon Kwak

Young Joon Kwak, a Los Angeles-based artist working in sculpture, performance, and video, reimagines the form, function, and materiality of objects in order to propose alternative ways of seeing and understanding bodies, as well as physical and social spaces. Rather than closed or static, Kwak sees these entities as inclusive, fluid, and open-ended, their shapes (and meanings) not determined, but in flux, capable of change and transformation. Much like an actor inhabiting a character, or a quiet individual who dons a mask and becomes a lightning rod of energy, Kwak’s work is chameleon-like—it changes color and appearance by changing the wavelength of light reflected off its skin. This material transformation serves to elevate the mutable (as opposed to an ideal) body to something worthy of belief.

Object or performance—Kwak is also the founder of Mutant Salon, a roving beauty salon/platform for experimental performance collaborations—these works consistently challenge us with unusual beauty, taking over the spaces they inhabit with fearless abandon and breaking boundaries of every kind. While continuing traditions, they forge new paths—formally and culturally—through joyful expression and critical discourse premised on nurturing and belonging. Kwak’s work makes you want to dance, and it allows us all to be ourselves without shame.

Joshua Reiman: I am curious about your view of being a transgender artist at this point in time and how you view your role in the discipline of sculpture. Do you have a philosophy of making work about bodies in transition?
Young Joon Kwak:
I’m a material girl. I love exploring how materials can be manipulated or cared for in different ways, taken off, reapplied, and reconfigured. This relates to my lived experience of body plasticity, which is also the experience for many trans, disabled, and non-normative bodies . . .

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