By Alyssa Shapiro
Mimi Jung works in textiles, specifically in weaving, a medium and method that requires particular patience—something the artist herself was originally manufactured without. Through time and experience, Jung learned to slow down, and found the meditative benefits of an easier pace creeping pleasantly into other aspects of her life. Though her pieces are static, they’re also mutable—the experience of its space is relative to the viewer’s perspective, and whether they’re focused on the solid or the spaces between. Here, Jung reflects on her process, the flow of energy, and the ways she’s added depth and meaning through the causes that are important to her.
Alyssa Shapiro: I was reading an interview that you did with Architectural Digest, and you mentioned the slow pace that weaving forces on you, that a slow, mindful method becomes essential, and impossible to work around. Can you speak a bit to that pace, and if you’ve been able to hear something in yourself due partly to the pace of weaving that you may have rushed past before?
Mimi Jung: I hate to say, I’m not usually a patient person. When I first learned how to weave, I thought that it was a ridiculous process.I thought it was too slow. Once I switched looms and saw the composition unfold in front of me… I mean, everything has to be planned, you have to have all of your intention planned out in advance—there’s nothing you can do, because it’s so linear, and it’s warped from bottom up. So you have a plan in place, and when you’re actually in the process of weaving, picking up the other warp, which is the vertical line, there is no way to rush anything. You’re not into working on some corner bottom composition therefore you want to work on [another part]…it’s impossible. It forces you to slow down, and it is really meditative.
A lot of the time I work in silence, and I think it helps for me to sit with my own thoughts and reflect on what I’m working on: the work itself. Because the process is so slow, it forces me to be really focused and always…
Alyssa: Very present?
Mimi: Present, and I don’t waste a lot of my energy. If I’m going to work on a composition, if I’m going to work on a piece, it takes a tremendous amount of time. Nothing is rushed. I’m not doing something half-assed. It’s really thought out, I want to see it, to realize it in its full potential.
Alyssa: You answered it, but I was going to ask if patience is a part of your personality.
Mimi: As I grow older, I feel like naturally, with life, I am becoming more patient in general. This is so off topic, but I was a foster mom. We don’t have kids; my husband and I were foster parents for four months. It was very short. I thought I was becoming a very patient person, but when I became a parent, I was like, Okay, that’s a whole other level of patience that I did not realize! I mean, I grew up with a single mom. When you grow up with a single parent, speed is key. She had three kids, she was a single mom, she was working. I would say that patience wasn’t really part of it.
Alyssa: What motivated you to become a foster parent?
Mimi: I had a pretty rough childhood. Looking back, I’m someone that probably should have been in foster care. I really didn’t grow up thinking that I was going to have a biological child, if it was something I was going to pursue alone or married, would I adopt…? Fostering wasn’t really on the radar. It popped into my head one day. I was talking to my husband, and he was like “Yeah, I mean we could try that.” There’s a lot of training… Because of my background, I thought maybe I would be slightly better equipped to understand the trauma that they’ve gone through, and help with the recovery in some way…
Alyssa: And now, what do you think? Would you do it again?
Mimi: It’s been over a year now, which is crazy. We went into it very naive. We did it through DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services], and they train you to basically help with the child and the trauma and the questions and discipline and all those things. Because we were first time parents, we needed even more training: how do you become a parent overnight?
Our foster daughter, she was three when she came to us, she turned four while she was with us. She was really great, and she adjusted for what she went through pretty quickly. Everything else around the system was just too broken. With fostering, every day is unexpected. Everything changes on an hourly basis. I thought, I can deal with it… but the first week that she was with us, her grandmother popped up and was like, “Well maybe I’ll take her,” and we were like, Oh my god, she’s leaving, we have to pack her and pack everything up, and we have to have her understand what this means… She’s been moved around so much, so for her, what does that mean?
Therapy didn’t kick in yet because there’s a huge waitlist for every foster kid, there’s not enough resources obviously, and things like that. The system was tremendously difficult for us to deal with. Obviously, the grandma disappeared, and a month later DCFS… well, I work full time, I’m in my studio…. DCFS, for them, we were really unusual couple. My husband’s a furniture designer, and so we have our own businesses and our own practices, but we still have to put in the hours. We can have flexible hours but we still have to put in the work. They thought, well, you work full time and a lot of foster families, either the mom or the dad will be a stay at home parent. So they thought that maybe this wasn’t the best home for her.
She was in a great preschool, and I cut down on my hours, things like that, and then they were like, “We’re gonna move her, there’s a great family with a stay at home mom, so we think that would be a better home for her.” You know, you get more and more attached, and you have no control over your life, over your daughter’s life. Everything is up in the air all the time. Even in that sense I had to learn to let go. I wasn’t necessarily good at it. I had to try to deal with it the best way I can, and try to give her the best home possible under the circumstances.
Alyssa: Oh my god, my heart, I can’t even imagine what that’s like for her, and then for you…
Mimi: I’m going to start crying, but it was… she’s so young and she doesn’t understand what’s going on. After a month and a half, we were so persistent in getting her therapy, we got her bumped up. There’s such a huge waitlist, a lot of foster parents don’t… at one point you’re so overwhelmed that you’re like, you know what, forget it. But we didn’t know how to talk to her, she was just so little. There’s no explaining things… she doesn’t have the vocabulary. Everything was just going against her having any sort of normal, healthy, stable life.
Alyssa: That’s interesting you’d talk about her vocabulary, because that’s what my next question is about… Being understood is part of being able to feel calm. When someone doesn’t have the words, and you can’t explain it to her in words… But my question for you, going back to the art is: being bilingual, speaking both Korean and English, I wonder if that’s influenced your art or your methods in any way. I think that when there are more words available to you, you probably have a greater understanding, more tools, especially for understanding the concepts of untranslatable words or phrases … has that influenced how you look at, or how you make art?
Mimi: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that. Actually, I think I was always a pretty quiet child. I would say I was an observant child. Coming to the States and not speaking the language made it even more so, because you can’t communicate... It did make me more of an introvert. So I feel like that gave me in a way a lot of strength to understand my environment and read people and read situations really quickly, because that’s all I did as a kid.
Alyssa: Are there words or phrases in Korean that you really love that don’t translate in the same way in English? Or vice versa.
Mimi: There’s a word called “noon-chi” and it’s kind of like, reading the situation, reading the room. I don’t think there’s an exact translation for that. Like being self aware. It’s a combination of all of those things.
Alyssa: Your work is very beautiful, and for me at least it’s very calming to look at, I can kind of zone into, get lost in it. When you’re creating, are you thinking of a balance between the meaning or intention behind it and the aesthetics of it?
Mimi:: When you say that my work’s really calm, I take that as a compliment. Because every weft, which is the horizontal line, I always think it’s almost hand-drawn. There are no two weft alike because it’s all hand woven. You can see gradient like 20 feet back, and read it as a gradient, but as you get closer and closer, you realize it’s made up of all these lines, and the space in between is what makes it a gradient. That’s what I’m drawn to—the space in between and what that creates. And the fact that you can get lost in all of the different wefts, all of the spacing, the mohair, the brushed aspects of it, that it’s not something flat, it’s not something that you register in your mind as a gradient, you move on. But you can really start to see every line individually. And every time you look at it, hopefully, what I want, is that you see something different.
With the live edge series, when I first exhibited it, I think people read them as landscapes and I was so adamant, saying they’re not landscapes, they’re edges of colorfields, and the more I was resistant to it… but in the past year or so, a curator came to me and they were like, “But look at the colors you’re using, it makes sense, you’re almost making mountain views and sky.” I started to notice that my commute back from my studio to my house, that’s what I see every day. It did seep in, I don’t know why I was so resistant to the idea of landscapes…
Alyssa: Your conscious and your subconscious are grappling with each other…
Mimi: Exactly. It is definitely influenced by my environment, being in LA. A lot of my work, also the scale and the translucency was so hugely influenced by my move to LA and having this kind of space and light, and just calmness. Growing up in New York—New York is great, I still feel like New York is my home, but there’s a lot of distractions, there’s too much to do. I would be making very different work if I continued my practice in New York.
Alyssa: What do you do to get into a flow state or the right state of mind to work?
Mimi: I drink hot tea all year long. Non-caffeinated. I’m not snooty about tea, but I always have to have a hot beverage next to me. If I really am diligent about going to the market, fresh mint tea is my favorite. If I can have that every day… I mean I should just be growing mint at this point, I’m not sure why I don’t. That’s my favorite.
I have really great light in my studio, the ceilings in the front room are like 20 feet plus, in the back room 11-12 feet. It’s a really peaceful space, and a really peaceful environment. I’m my happiest when I’m in my studio, creating something in a really peaceful, quiet, clean environment, and I’m in my own thoughts, reflecting… getting lost in everything. But also fully focused at the same time! [laughs]
Alyssa: Flow state, man! What are the topics or ideas that you’ve been grappling with recently in your work?
Mimi: The space in between things. That’s always present in everything that I do. I’m really focused on weaving right now, everything I’m creating has a woven component. In the future that may change, I don’t want to limit myself…
Alyssa: When you talk about the space in between things, are you talking about more than just the physical space?
Mimi: Yeah, I think it goes both ways. Sometimes I’m looking at a piece that was woven and then cast, and I’m looking for—I drive my foundry crazy because when something is cast, if there are areas where the metal, aluminum or bronze, didn’t flow properly, it’ll leave these gaps or holes within the cast, and usually they’ll see that as a flaw and discard it, and for me, that’s what I want. I want the irregularity and the voids within the cast, because that’s what I feel is so present in my work: the space, these things that don’t get filled, but they become almost the positive space in this huge sheet of woven metal cast.
Alyssa: I love that phrase, “positive space,” instead of “negative space.” Are there creative ways you use to get calm that you’ve found work for you? When you’re taking your me-time, decompressing…
Mimi: I take baths all the time. I take a bath almost every night before I go to bed. It calms me, I feel it cleans away the day. You end the day in a more calm state. I guess I’m just into hot water [laughs]. Although I went to an acupuncturist lately who was like, “Don’t take baths! You’re giving away all your chi! If you have to take baths don’t put your arms in.” It’s a thing! I started reading about it.
Alyssa: Is it because water goes down the drain?
Mimi: I think it’s all the chi leaves your body, that’s why you’re so calm: you’re exhausted. All this positive flow is leaving your body. I don’t know, I mean, I’m still taking baths, and when I go to my acupuncturist, I just lie. [laughs] Acupuncture is something that I recently got into, I’m Korean, so I should be really ashamed that it took me this long. It totally works! I don’t know why I was so resistant to this idea. But that’s been really great. Bonzai! My husband got me, I think for Christmas… it’s difficult! It takes a lot of patience, and care. Oh kombucha! I started making my own kombucha like two months ago, and I don’t know what I’ve been doing all this time, buying kombucha. It’s so fun, I love the whole process of it. But you have to take care of it every day! You have to burp it—
Alyssa: Oh yes, the burping thing.
Mimi: I make my husband drink it, too. I feel all the healthy bacteria going in [laughs] anything that helps my digestion, I’m obsessed with. I’m a homebody. I was pretty crazy and wild in New York, kind of like everyone, in college. I went to school in the east village, obviously I’m going to be nuts. I’ve gotten kind of boring, but in a good way. I mean I love my life now. I’ve finally found where everything fell into place. I have a state of mind to really focus on what I love.
Photos courtesy of Mimi Jung