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Massy Interviews / Yeonmi Kim

June 14 – July 07, Massy Arts will host Plastopia, a new exhibition by British Columbia-based visual artist Yeonmi Kim.

Kim’s current work considers, and is inspired by, sustainable practices in order to help raise awareness and motivate change about the amount of plastic and materials humans waste in daily life.

This series of works uses discarded materials to create art that addresses environmental changes and consumerism, while celebrating the needs and joy of nature.

Click here to know more about the exhibition

Click here to register for the Opening Reception

This interview is part of Massy Voices, an ever-evolving collection of book launches, exclusive interviews, and artist talks that celebrate community voices and the stories they carry. Click here to know more.

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To address Kim’s upcoming exhibition and environmental vision, Rafael Zen interviews the artist for Massy Arts, asking: how can art practices help raise awareness and motivate change about human waste in daily life?

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Yeonmi Kim / Our Lives Are Dominated By Plastic

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Rafael Zen – The synopsis of Plastopia claims that the works present sustainable practices in order to help raise awareness and motivate change about humans waste in daily life. How do you think this show raises awareness about environmental changes and consumerism? What does plastic represent in the show?

Yeonmi Kim – In my work, plastic represents our wasteful habits and by using it I emphasize how to practice sustainability in our daily lives. I want viewers to think about our bad habits based on plastic consumption which degrades nature and contributes to severe climate, and how global warming threatens our life outcomes.

I’m not an activist, but a responsible citizen sharing my thoughts through the language of art.

One day I realized how much of our disposable household waste are plastics. It was mind blowing to realize that I hadn’t really thought about how much plastics are deeply infiltrated in our life and how much we waste them unconsciously on a daily basis.

Since then, I have sewn disposable plastic packages in my work and started reducing using plastics by purchasing fewer and re-using the ones we already have.

Our lives are dominated by plastic, from everything we eat, consume and wear. There are no real viable recycling or reduction strategies. Plastics are not just killing ocean animals, plastics are in the air, soil, water and in our bodies as well.

Whenever I see people use single use plastics at a supermarket, I feel deeply guilty. We concern ourselves with minor inconveniences, but how can we not think about the unnecessary plastic that can harm nature including ourselves.

If viewers are able to think about the issue from my seeing my work, that’s the completion of the work for me. As an artist, I start to bring a story and give them a question from the artwork, but finding the answer is the viewer’s role. Using plastic in my art is just one suggestion in the conversation about finding solutions to waste.

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RZ – The pieces you are presenting were produced by sewing recycled plastic packages to produce maps showing locations that are suffering the severe effects of climate change, What are these main locations? What do you think is the main reason they are suffering severe effects?

YK – Many of my mapping works are the locations that are affected or vulnerable by climate change such as New Orleans, Sidney, Venice, Tokyo, Florida, Saipan, Mozambique.

Mostly, I chose big cities, which have suffered majorly damaging weather events in recent years. With denser populations, city infrastructure damage affects so many more lives. I also chose some lesser known locations as well that get less news coverage, to remind us that all populations on earth are equally vulnerable.

Climate change and cities are deeply connected. Cities are one of the greatest contributors and likely best opportunities for addressing climate change. Cities are also one of the most vulnerable parts of human society to the effects of climate change, as more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, consuming a large portion of food and goods produced outside of cities.

Cities have a significant influence on construction and transportation which are contributors to global warming emissions. Also, because of climate causing conflicts and climate refugees, city areas are stressing infrastructure and concentrating more impoverished peoples in cities.

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RZ – How does this show reflect your practice and themes as an artist? Why this inspiration?

YK – The best thing about being as an artist is being in the position to inspire people. Art is not a one person’s performance. It’s a conversation between artist and viewers. Living , working, and exploring the natural world is a big part in my life now and as a nature lover and an artist, the theme appears naturally in my work.

I garden, forage, study about plants and see wildlife. The more I spend time in nature, the more I realized how much nature gives me value in life and how much I feel deeply connected to nature. I often witness how much human activities modify, disturb and threaten the balance of the environment.

As an artist, I have a commitment to contribute or preserve nature. I would like the audience to look at what is a fundamental urgency in our life to think about and act on the seriousness of environmental pollution and wasteful consumerism, by practicing sustainable living.

My work is not all about sustainability and climate action, but also about living peaceful, positive , and meaningful balanced lives. Aside from the serious nature of the maps, many of my works are joyful meditations of daily life.

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RZ – You have worked with fashion industry and interior design. Do you think these experiences shaped the way you perceive sustainability and Eco-practices? If so, why?

YK – Definitely my experiences from previous careers shaped my current life in many ways. If I hadn’t experienced the city life and capitalist system that rolled in such an intensely stressful way, I wouldn’t have realized how fortunate I am now , living in such great conditions and how much nature offers me great value, which then forces me to practice more and more sustainability.

I worked in the centre of consumerist industries as a designer in Korea. I encouraged people to buy new products, follow new trends and spend more money. Keep staying busy. I never thought that the way what I was living was wrong or potentially harmful to other lifeforms until I experienced living close to nature.

Now I live a different life in terms of attitude , behavior, respect for nature and can share my thought with others in my works. I don’t question myself anymore about what is really valuable in my life, because I believe that I’m heading in the right direction.

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RZ – You were born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Then, you immigrated to Canada in 2013. How do these two geographic experiences compare to each other addressing environmental changes? Do you feel like Canada is taking leadership as state nation, regarding environmental practices? What would need to be urgently changed/ reshaped?

YK – Korea and Canada have the same conditions in response about climate concerns and are two of the highest countries that produce greenhouse gases. They do differ greatly as Canada is resource rich, and Korea is mostly manufacturing.

Korea is experiencing changes in climate hazards, including extreme annual temperatures, and rainfall amounts. It is a large emitter of carbon dioxide, water and air pollution, and half of population of Korea lives in Seoul metropolitan.

Like Canada, the population is also disconnected form nature, highly consumerist and capitalist, and principally concerned with economic growth.

Unfortunately, Canada is not doing better than Korea. Even though people live in better conditions geographically and with low population, Canada is facing many challenges addressing the causes of climate change such as deforestation, fossil fuel production, energy consumption and food waste.

Canada is one of largest greenhouse gas emitters. Furthermore, Canada has one of the heaviest climate debts in the world.

We need to pass enforceable and verifiable national and international laws, and reward individual actions to reduce our global fossil fuel burning behaviours, control population growth, and redesign our economies to sustainable practices.

We are privileged to live in such a beautiful part of the planet. It’s not just our fortune. It means it’s our duty as Canadians to lead in the preservation of nature.

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