Sui Park: “Jeong”
as the Unifying Force on the Structures of Reality
By Chunbum Park, December 15, 2023
I remember meeting Sui Park at art school in 2011, where she was an Interior Architecture graduate student. Although I was an odd and reclusive creature at the time, the artist conversed with me with great warmth, and I felt that she wanted to understand and connect with me on a spiritual level. Her overall warmth could be phrased as “jeong” in Korean, which is a collective sense of affection, emotional connection, and loyalty. Just as she cared for me as a younger generation Korean/Korean American, Sui Park views the world with jeong, care, and affection, and her art could be seen as a product of this spirit. At the Sapar Contemporary in Tribeca, Sui Park’s solo exhibition, “Weaving Colors into Cosmos,” curated by Dr. Barbara Stehle, presents sculptural forms or units that appear to suggest microscopically the biological and macroscopically the cosmological. What do these forms mean, and why do they appear so mesmerizing and dear to us?
While we can examine and dissect Sui Park’s works in terms of form, color, and meaning, I believe that I must always go back to the Korean conception of jeong in reading her works because my first encounter with the artist was colored with such warmth and understanding. To explain it at greater length, jeong, which is pronounced as “chung” (or rather, “jung”), is a philosophy originating from Korea that involves empathy, kindness, and the gradual deepening of friendship and bonding. The organisms or the intergalactic clusters of matter and energy are all made of the same stuff (microfilaments) and interconnected, just as the people who have feelings of jeong are united by a strong sense of connection as well. The units are often assembled into superclusters or groupings, so that there are many in one and one in many. Some groupings (such as in “Molecule 2C”) appear somewhat disconnected at first sight, but they also may indicate the strong efforts that are required for the units to bond with one another.
There is a subtle yet clear difference between communication and connection. Even as both occur in Sui Park’s works, I would like to emphasize connection or bonding as the main model through which the structures within and among Sui Park’s units interact. This is because any fleeting encounter between two beings or entities can establish an instance of communication, yet this is short-term. However, it is connection, like a satellite in orbit around a planet, or the chemical bonding of hydrogen and oxygen atoms to form a water molecule, which establishes a sustained and continual channel of communication between or among the parties involved. It is this interest in the long-term relationship and its deepening strength or bond that is an integral part of Sui Park’s art creations. Even in the works where the units are separated from one another, they are united by their common sense of direction, as evidenced in the “Pink Flow” series.
We can also perceive Sui Park’s works through the lens of other Eastern beliefs describing cosmology, infinity, karma, and reincarnation. Reality is not continuous and solid as it seems, and we are all made of countless holes and empty spaces in our body. The shared essence of the mind and the universe is nothingness. When we look at Sui Park’s organisms woven with microfilaments, we see one structure leading to another and another, yet there is no source or origin. In a way, the empty negative spaces that surround and weave through the structures of microfilaments comprise the other half of Sui Park’s creations. The spaces are equally intricate and beautiful.
Sui Park’s creations follow a long tradition of women artists working in diverse media such as fabric and sculpture. (Dr. Stehle mentions Ruth Asawa, in addition to Gego and Tara Donovan in her essay.) Within the canon of Korean art history, one may also find Chunghi Choo (born 1938) as a possible genealogical forerunner or influence that we can reference in relation to Sui Park’s works, as both artists made sculptures consisting of interweaving forms, and they both studied at the Ewha Womans University in Korea, albeit at different eras.
We find Sui Park’s art so mesmerizing absorbing because it reflects us and our relationship to everything and everyone around us. Through the power of jeong, Sui Park transforms the microfilaments into art with sincerity, which mirrors our image when we look at it and consider what it has to say. Being a Korean American, Sui Park may also reference the phrase “E pluribus unum,” which means, “out of many, one.” But if we take away the political-ness or the American-ness of this phrase, perhaps the artist means to really say that we are many in one and one in many, so peace, love, understanding, and compassion should prevail in us all.