Kazumi Tanaka : Jayoung Yoon

May   June   July   August    September

Conversation #3 
May 28, 2024

Dear Kazumi,

We talked about nature - how it inspires us and influences our work. You find materials from the land, making natural ink from plants. You create sculptures from remains of creatures - skulls, shed skins, and other materials that evoke memories and a sense of time passing. I am also finding inspiration from different forms of fibers in nature, such as feathers, dandelion seeds, milkweed seeds and thorns. These natural materials possess a fragility and ephemeral quality, yet also have a strong physicality, which is often a starting point for my creative process.

My connection to nature:

When I was little, my parents left me at my grandfather's house for a while. When my grandparents went out to work in the rice paddies, I would sit alone on the wooden porch, and watch the clouds floating in the sky, or observe the cows, chickens and rabbits. If a guest came, I would quickly run out to the fields to call for my grandfather. I remember the sight of my grandparents, wearing boots that came up to their knees, and bending over to work in the waving rice paddies. I had to call my grandfather's name loudly several times before he would lift his head, look at me, and wave his hand.

I enjoyed the white rice that my grandparents harvested, and the fresh vegetables and fruits they grew. The abundance of flavors allowed me to appreciate, the sun, wind, rain, soil, and fertilizer. I could feel gratitude for nature because I grew up watching my grandfather’s hands, covered in soil, and his sun-darkened, sweat-covered face. My favorite hands in the world were my grandfather's. Just holding his rough hands, with the hardened calluses on each knuckle, conveyed the simplicity and sincerity of his life. The taste of the figs he picked for me with those hands was incomparable to anything else.

Before 1996, my grandparents' house was a traditional Korean thatched-roof home (Chogajip). It was constructed using natural materials like straw or reeds for the thatched roof, and mud and wood for the walls. Nowadays, we can only find these types of traditional thatched-roof houses in historical villages and cultural preservation sites. Although my time there was brief, I have cherished memories of living in that traditional rural house. It was a home where you could heat the rooms and cook using rice straw gathered from the fields. As soon as you stepped out of the room, there was a wooden floor, elevated above the ground, connected directly to the outdoors. I would play and take naps on that outdoor floor, feeling so intimately close to nature.

In 2013, my grandfather and I were in his brick house, which was built in 1996.

South Korea is known for having 70% of its land covered by mountains. Seoul is a very unique capital city where urban development is intertwined with nature. So even though I lived in Seoul for most of my childhood, I still felt connected to nature. There were mountains right behind my home. I remember climbing up into the mountain countless times with my brother and sister, collecting black locust flowers, and sunflower seeds in a basket to eat.

When I moved to Beacon, where I could see mountains surrounding the town, I felt at home for the first time since moving to the USA. Whenever I take walks on the nature trails and climb up Mount Beacon, it brings back childhood memories of closely observing nature.

I am so excited about visiting South Korea this summer. I will look for some photos at my parents' house to share with you. I hope we can have one more conversation before the trip.

Much love,

Dear Jayoung,

How wonderful to hear about your memories of you spending time with your grandparents.
The time you spent in the traditional house and to remember seeing your hardworking grandparents in the field.
The description of your grandfather’s hands was so powerful. Your story reminds me of my childhood of spending time at my grandparent’s house as well.
My brother and his cousin were busy catching frogs in the rice field, we ate sweet watermelons, etc...

My grandfather - my mother’s father who was also a farmer passed away when I was little, but eating watermelon at their house was always a good memory in my mind.

Yes, maybe because of these memories of spending time in the rural countryside of Osaka, I grew to appreciate the nature of Hudson Valley, NY.
My work often became about other creatures living in the woods or plants growing on the land and I harvest them without hurting them.
Creating colors from those harvested materials often produces very unexpected colors that provide unexpected challenges.
Repeating excitement of discovery and disappointment of failure became a ritual for me at this point.

We also talked about the animals, imagining you as a little girl encountering enormous cows on your way to the outhouse. You were a little brave girl!
My father loved all kinds of creatures, especially fish. He tamed Koi in our garden, they swam up to the surface when we clapped our hands expecting to get fed.
When we catch other fishes from the river, we release them in the pond and they all learn to do the same. As a child, I thought all the fishes were supposed to come up when I clap my hands. I was disappointed when it didn’t work in nature..
Sadly, all the original fishes died from some kind of fish disease, he was very sad.

My sister, my brother, and I left home one by one. 
Then shortly after, a little bird landed on my mother’s shoulder, and she took it home. This bird was so tamed, and they loved her very much.
But then my father lost her when he was outside showing off to his neighbor. My parents looked for her for weeks, and my father finally found her sitting on the rooftop of someone’s house. He called her name, she recognized and flew towards him. Suddenly, a big crow showed up and snatched her away in the air.
Again, my father was very sad, mother told us never to mention this bird to him.

My husband Eric and I recently lost our beloved pet - bearded dragon here in Beacon.
She just took off while he didn’t keep an eye on her for 5 min., disappeared in our backyard and never came back..
We were sad but maybe that says something. She was a great company, but this is not really her habitat.

Here is the photo of her and the little banjo I made from her shed skin. We are still really sad to lose her.

These days, I feel that it makes sense to go meet the birds or other creatures in the woods. We go visit them but not to disturb them, though pets and creatures in the woods are different things.
I am looking forward to continuing those thoughts and my nature practice in Bovina NY this summer. There are many birds and coyotes out there. Coyotes howl in the evening through the night. Hoping to record it.

I understand that you are leaving for South Korea soon.
I can’t wait to see the photos of your grandparent’s house you’ve been describing. Hope you will find some photos.
And perhaps photos of your grandparents?

Look forward to our meeting next time.
With love,

Conversation #4
June 10, 2024

Dear Kazumi,

It was great to see you once more before our months-long summer trips—you to Bovina, NY, and me to Jeju Island, South Korea. As we discussed, I hope to create new artworks inspired by our conversation about visual components for the upcoming exhibition.

I aim to finish two boxes incorporating horse hair to hold each of my twins' umbilical cords. Additionally, I have two pieces of baby clothing inherited from my mother that I hope to incorporate into new works reflecting our discussion.

When my brother was born, my mom made a pair of traditional Korean baby garments called ‘baenaet-jeogori,’ which she continued to use for me when I was born. ‘baenaet-jeogori’ is a baby's first clothing upon entering the world. The word 'baenaet' means 'inside the belly' or 'womb,' so the term literally translates to "womb jacket."

Two pieces of traditional Korean baby clothing, 'baenaet-jeogori,' inherited from my mother
As I look at these baby garments, I think not only of my twins but also of two children my grandmother lost. These tiny cherished garments hold the passage of time, and a sense of nostalgia. Hopefully, I can convey the generations of mother's love, connections, and stories in the new work incorporating these pieces.

Looking forward to our conversation continuing with email or Zoom in July.

Warm regards, 

Dear Jayoung,

Thank you so much for these notes and a beautiful photo of the baby clothing your mother made.
They are so beautiful. I can see how it evokes thoughts of the stitching and weaving that transcend three generations of love. How beautiful.

I admire the way you develop projects and focus on each object or material and explore, looking forward to seeing the progress and what will come out.

Indeed, in the end, we hope the results of our conversations become something we can share with the world. 
My challenge is that the nature of each project begins very vague, I move here and there, sometimes go off the track...
So please bear with me.

My mother has been long gone, but never felt too far away. I have mentioned to you about the small locks of my mother’s hair I have - I looked for it everywhere, but I couldn't find it, perhaps it was lost or tacked in somewhere.
So I moved on to think of other objects I inherited.

The bamboo cricket cage
This bamboo cricket cage originally belonged to my grandfather, she gave it to me. When you told me about wanting to learn how to make bamboo thread for weaving, I thought of this object. It was kept by my mother for many years and now I am the keeper of it.
In the old times, we selfishly captured crickets and put them in the cage for their beautiful cooling sound for us to sleep well during the hot summer. 
We feed them watermelons and let them escape in the morning. (or at least that was the idea)
Come to think of how cruel and wrong doing it is! 

My mother and I also shared interests in nature, she practiced flower arrangements when she was young.
After she passed away, I was helping my sister to sort through her belongings. I noticed this piece of paper of her handwriting by the bed - it was a very puzzling list of plants.

The piece of paper with Mom's handwriting
It says:

キンセン花 (Kinsenka - Calendula officinalis - is a orange marigold flowers)
センリョウ (Senryou - Sarcandra glabra - is a herbal plant produces orange berries)
マンリョウ (Manryou - Ardisia crenata -  is another red berry plat grows in east Asia, also called as Christmas berry)
アマリリス (Amaryllis is a well known holiday plants in the US, also blooms big red flowers)

I had looked into these plants on the web.
I would never know what she was thinking but I think she was thinking of the color of red.

There was also her notebook which she wrote a brief history of herself for me thinking soon she may not remember anything.

I make ink out of plants and berries, 
Red is a very difficult color to achieve but I will try again anyway this summer and fall.
Perhaps, there are red berries in Bovina I can find.

Jayoung, have a wonderful trip to Jeju Island.
Wishing you the best luck for your learning and practicing.
Till we speak again over Zoom in July.

With much love,

May   June   July   August    September

Conversation #1
The day of solar eclipse - April 8th, 2024

Kazumi’s note:

Dear Jayoung,

It was so nice to see you at our first conversation yesterday.
I thought it would be good for me to write to you while memories are still fresh about what we talked about.
Please take time, I know your free time is very limited.

Here is what came to mind and I tried to find some answers to your questions about Japanese customs. Hope it all makes sense.

It was a quick research, but when our conversation progresses, more questions may come up, so please do not hesitate to ask anything :)
It will be so good for me to get back on those thoughts I had many years ago and reexamine them. It could open up the new possibilities –

Point of the conversation

Seeing two of your son's umbilical cords was the most amazing moment for me. They represent the connection.

About the Japanese custom of passing umbilical cord from mother to her children.

In Japan, when one passes there is a custom of putting the umbilical cord in a coffin.
The umbilical cord is a symbol of the bond between mother and child, and it is said that if you have the umbilical cord, you will be able to meet your mother after death without getting lost on the way.

In the past, it was believed that if a child was seriously ill, drinking a decoction of the umbilical cord would save their life.
This belief led to the custom of preserving the umbilical cord as a talisman.
When a child became an adult, the umbilical cord was handed to him as a talisman when men went to war, fishing, or sailing, and women when they got married.

The umbilical cord is not just an object; it is filled with the good wishes of parents for their child's future.

Photo of my umbilical cord with my baby hair and footprint. This note book was used to keep a record of my growth.

We talked about Kiri - Paulownia wood that is used as a favored wood to preserve umbilical cord.
Because Kiri wood contains tannin, it has a high resistance towards insects. A cabinet that is made from Kiri wood is quite a popular choice in Japan because of its excellence in humidity control and insect repellent.

We also talked about Mizuko - Water child.

My mother passed away in 2018. She was 89 yrs old, I was one of her 3 children and was the youngest. She told me there were two Mizuko between my brother (who is 4 yrs older than me) and I. How strange to know that if one of those children survived, I wouldn't have existed in this world.

Jayoung’s note:

Dear Kazumi,

It was a pleasure having you, and I found our conversation truly inspiring. Here are my notes.

Key words : Mother, Umbilical cord

When we began our conversation, we discovered that we both had created works related to the theme of mother. Your piece, 'Mother and Child Reunion,' and my work, 'The Offering Bowl 07,' both explore this concept. For us, 'mother' represents our emotional and mental home, rather than a physical one. Consequently, our conversation naturally gravitated towards discussing our mothers and their influence on our lives and work.

Umbilical cord in Korea traditional culture:
The umbilical cord of a child was not only a symbol of life but also signified one's destiny. After giving birth, Korean ancestors washed the 'tae' (umbilical cord), kept it in pottery, and buried it in a special place on a special day called 'tea-jang.' If the 'tae' was properly buried, the baby was believed to go on to live a healthy, successful, and long life.

Photo of my twin sons' umbilical cords, baby hair, and footprints.

It is fascinating to see how the meaning of the umbilical cord in two cultures symbolizes wishes for well-being.

One of my sons, who is only three years old, has already started talking about death. He asked, 'Mom, do we all die? Will you be with me when I die? How can I be with you forever?' I told him I will always be with him even after I die. I hope to be my sons' emotional home, just as I thought of my mother in Korea. I am inspired by the Japanese concept that the umbilical cord symbolizes the bond between parent and child. I would like to create small woven boxes, made from my hair and horsehair, to store their umbilical cords. I want to give them to my boys when they grow up as a symbol of our connection.

We discussed our traditions and the traditional techniques we employ to create our artwork:
  • Tansu: traditional Japanese mobile storage cabinets.
  • A traditional Japanese natural indigo dye technique, and Shibori-Zome (resist and dye)
  • Bojagi: Korean traditional patchwork.
  • Gat and Tang-goen: Korean traditional horsehair weaving techniques to make hats.

Conversation #2
April 29th, 2024

Kazumi’s note:

Dear Jayoung

I am following up on our meeting.
Still in the process of how to orient myself in this project.
It is a lot to digest from our conversation, so please be patient.
I hope to make this project meaningful to both of us.
I often wonder about our brain, how we process our knowledge and then let it transform without being too forceful. I think your artwork is an amazing transformation of your meditative mind.
They are such powerful manifestations.
You have channeled your emotion to something incredibly beautiful.

After I came to the US, I traveled to many places and saw so many beautiful things inside and outside of the US. I always wished my parents were with me to experience and see them as well. Those feelings of loving and sharing are so important for our own well beings. I think perhaps you share those feelings? I love and admire your parents without knowing much about them because of you and the stories you are sharing with me.

Talking points: Family relationship
-Do you think now that you have a relationship with your twin sons, maybe you are going through another transformation?
- What are your grandparents' family structures? We've discussed some but please remind me. Would you please indicate if your father was the oldest of his siblings? and your mother?
-What are their occupations? (or were in the past)
-About their lives

Human beings make all kinds of mistakes, countless cruelties, regrets, or no regrets, etc... - those negative feelings often bring fears and sadness.
I find that you and your mother’s connection and relationship carry strength and overcoming energy.
I learned of your parent’s incredible kindness which carries priceless value to you.

Talking Points: Family occupation
I don’t know much about my paternal grandparents, the memory of my father’s father was limited since he passed away when I was three. I have a good memory of my grandmother - my mother's mother.

My father’s work - recycling tin cans & drum cans trading business my grandfather started after the war ended and my father inherited his business.
We lived across from the factory. These are the only photos of them at work. (Sorry for the blur images) These photos were taken for keepsake when my father decided to close the factory soon.

My father tied the repaired/washed tin cans to the track to be delivered to his client. My mother at the side entrance

My father was basically a metal worker, he worked on Sunday, too. It was a quiet day without other workers and no sound of loud machinery.
I grew up watching him work alone every Sunday to solder holes of tin cans and it was my favorite time with him.
I was little and completely fascinated by the process.
They worked hard but the time changed and his recycling business was declining. There were serious concerns about family finance. I was still in high school, there was no money to send me to college.

Talking points: I really wanted to go study at the Art university in Osaka. My sister and brother, who are 8 and 4 years older than me , felt so bad that if I cannot afford to go to college, so the found the solution to run a family cafe together.
It was successful and I was able to go to Art University. I helped at a cafe while going to college but the college assignment was very heavy loaded and I couldn’t fail. So it was mostly run by the rest of my family.

They had an arranged marriage.

This photo was taken in front of the family home. They must be in their mid 20’s, dressed up for the new year with their baby - my sister who was born 8 years earlier than me.

Talking points: Our family religion.
-Were your parents both Protestant? Do you practice Christianity as well?
My mother grew up in a Buddhist family but converted to Tenri when she married my father.

Talking points: Artwork relates to the stories I heard from my mother.
My work often addresses the memories of my past life in Japan as well as my current life in th US. I used to think they are sort of separate but, after being here more than half of my life the are all kind of together and became one passage of my life.

*Mother and Child Reunion - my journal of traveling to meet several masters to learn
Shibori-Zome (resist and dye) and Indigo dye techniques.
*No Home Go Home / Go Home No Home - series of tea drawings from my memories
*Ring of firefly - happening oriented performance with firefly at OMI residency

I have other stories I would like to share with you perhaps at the next meeting.

Please add anything you can remember or any other thoughts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your gift of spirit.

With love,

Jayoung’s note:

Dear Kazumi,
I want to express my gratitude for sharing your thoughtful reflections on our conversation and for sending the photos of your family. It was truly meaningful to hear your family stories, and I was captivated by how you incorporated the family stories you heard from your mother into your artwork. Although I may not address every talking point you raised in this email, here are my notes from our conversation:

My family:

I grew up in Korea in the eighties hearing stories pass-ed down through my family about Japan’ 35-year occupation, the Korean War, the subsequent division of the country into North and South Korea, and the rule by oppressive military regimes for decades.

My grandfather (on my mother side) was a teacher during the Japanese occupation. He was put in jail, and was tortured by Japanese soldiers, because he taught Korean language and history to the students. And then he lost touch with his family, who remained in North Korea during the Korean War.

After the Korean War, my grandparents on both sides had memories of losing a child because food and medical resources were limited. My mother was the second child in her family. She lost her brother Gye-Su (born 1955, age 5 at the time of death) and her sister Yae-Ryeong (born 1958, age 2 at the time of death) due to Japanese encephalitis, which is a virus spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. My mother, who was 8 years old, saw her mother go through severe mental distress after losing her children, so she became a very quiet child. My father was the first child in his family, and he also lost one of his brothers when he was young too. Since I now have twin boys who are 4 years old, I can imagine the unspeakable pain and grief of losing a child. I felt for my grandmother's pain. My grandmother became a sincere Presbyterian Christian. I heard my grandmother's belief helped her overcome her grief and continue to live forward. My grandparents on my father's side became Catholic too.

I've heard many stories from my parents about the democratic movements against the military dictatorship. Thousands of civilians were killed, injured, and tortured from the 1960s to the 1980s. My mom was a student protester when she was in college. She was arrested once and was being watched by the military police for a while. These democratic movements went on until the late 1980s. I remember when I was young, I often had to run back home because the military police used toxic tear gas against the student protesters.

All these direct and indirect experiences informed my understanding of the human condition. So, I encountered a big question: Why did something happen that was unexpected, unwanted and uncertain? I think it is not only about my questions and issues, but instead, it is something universal. I searched for my own ways of processing suffering, cleansing memories, and moving toward healing. It was integral to my art.

My mother:

My mom went to a college which is a School of Theology to train ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Korea. She worked as a preacher in church one time. But she found another path. She learned Korean traditional music, 'Pungmul,' and dance. She also studied counseling and became a therapist. She often danced for people who had deep personal and social pain. For example, there were Korean comfort women who were abused by Japanese soldiers during World War II. I remember when I was young, she danced for those women, and at the end of her performance, she invited all of them to come to the stage and dance with her, and I saw that the women were crying. When I saw that, I realized that sometimes people heal through the physicality of the present moment; sometimes words cannot solve their problems. Her compassion and wisdom nurtured me as an artist and the person I became.

Photos of my mother performing in public.
I made 'The Offering Bowl #7' to represent that my mom is a pearl of wisdom to me. I used my mother's gray hair, contemplating impermanence; We all get older, have cycles of health and sickness, and all of us will die. We can't hold onto any of it forever. However, her wisdom was passed down to me and to my work. Those were some of my thoughts around the piece.

The Offering Bowl 07, detail, 2022, Artist's hair, artist's mother's gray hair, 6 x 6 x 6 inches

About family religion:

Since both my grandparents were Christian, I attended a very conservative Christian church where learning other religions was discouraged. However, my parents were open-minded to other religions even though they were Christian.

My mother is a very spiritual person rather than religious. She recommended that I attend a spiritual retreat before I moved to the USA in 2005. At that retreat, I learned the practice of fully inhabiting the present, cleansing memories, and recognizing our duality. It was a turning point for the way I think about art and life.

My mother continued to introduce me to diverse spiritual practices and books that inspired me. For example, A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman, The Disappearance of the Universe by Gary Renard, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and other authors like Deepak Chopra and Anita Moorjani. Also, since my work relates to exploring themes of mindfulness an interconnectedness, I found a connection between Buddhism and my work.

Looking forward to our next visit.

Much love,

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