Very Special Her

Young Artists Series
“Very Special Her: Joo Yeon Woo” by Eun Mi Lim (Executive editor, Daegu Culture)

Our daily nutritional value can be taken as a simple pill and a cup of water. We don’t need to eat lots of vegetables and fruits; we don’t need to chew through tough meat. How nice would it be to be able to absorb other important necessities just as we take vitamins? In Drinking Your Surroundings, last month’s solo exhibit by Joo Yeon Woo (30, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado) at Kyungpook National University Art Museum, Woo set out to explore that very idea. The works originated from her own wish to “drink” unfamiliar cultures so that she could bear cultural differences as an international student in the U.S.

Despite her friends’ and senior international students’ worries that it would be hard, Woo had adapted herself very well to new environments and culture. One day, when visiting old castles in a German village with some of her American friends, she found herself continuously taking pictures. At that moment, she recognized that she was still a tourist visiting the U.S., that she had only adapted well to her new environment. After that, she began recording her daily experiences in the U.S. She created prints, placed them in cups of water, and photographed the half- submerged images. What is seen above the water’s surface is real, but what is submerged in the water is imaginary. Woo said, “How you feel really depends on your experiences. When I was in Korea, I had always found subject material for my art from external stories. But in the U.S., my personal stories became subjects, as I was alone with unfamiliar cultures.” Her meditation on boundaries continued with an installation with video and digital photography based on documentary.

Although her life as an alien was challenging, she could have not been more successful as an international art student. After two and a half years of graduate study at Pennsylvania State University and teaching there and at Oklahoma State University, she became an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado.

“Early in my graduate study, I planned to be a full-time artist, supported by nonprofit galleries and art foundations in metropolitan areas like New York City. But, it was very rare to get financial support as an international artist who don’t have permanent residency. Finally, I decided to go into academia, where I could focus on my creative work with a flexible teaching load. Because the University of Colorado put emphasis on faculty members’ individual creative activities, it could not be a better place for artists.” She believes that every difficulty can be overcome. “So far, my surrounding environments have been going well with me and will continue so,” said Woo. We find the power of optimism in her.