Ceramics professor installs show at downtown gallery

David McAtee
City Times

Dancers and ice shared the CJ Gallery in the Gaslamp Quarter on July 18, where more than 80 artists, students and even the City College president came for City College’ s ceramics professor Yoonchung Kim’s art exhibit.

Six dancers dressed in white from the City College Dance Department, choreographed by adjunct faculty member and choreographer Terri Shipman, danced around and between large blue, glittering cone-shaped sculptures made to represent ice.

“It’s nice to have that moment where live energy is crashing with each other,” said dancer Hiriomi Yoshita, a former City College student. “Our group focuses on organic stuff, dancing being an organic matter too,” she said. “I think the ice is a good theme for us.”

A collaborative effort between Korean-American ceramics artist Kim and the Dance Department, choreographers first chose the pieces to go with the dance from Kim’s collection, said Shipman. Then the artist had to find a way to produce something light and translucent that the dancers could move around easily, Kim said, as the original ceramic pieces weigh as much as 80 pounds each.

The exhibit ended Aug. 18.

The combination of ice and dance was definitely a challenge and source of stimulation for the choreographers, Shipman said. She said it is challenging to work with an artist and to have to choreograph to that artwork.

“For me, to choreograph that ice, when I am a fluid dancer that likes to move around, and to become ice?” she said. “Wow, that’s different and that’s difficult, and it’s interesting and it’s fun. The work looks very different than the work I would normally do.”

Kim’s artwork is about the melting of ice, Shipman said. Among Kim’s sculptures was “365 For One,” a large circular sculpture of clay and glass on the floor, and “Rising Sun,” three orange and blue ceramic boxes symmetrically lined on the wall. The cost for the pieces averaged $3,000 each, with “365 for One” going for $16,000 and “Rising Sun” going for $1,800.

Kim, whom all her friends call “YC,” started working in Korea, where she was born and raised. She did undergrad and some post-grad work in her native country before pursuing more international studies at UC Berkeley from 1967 to 1969. From there, Kim moved to Tennessee, where she taught for five years, and eventually left the state for the West Coast.

She began teaching at Grossmont, then Mesa where she settled into a teaching position for another six years. In 1990, she took a position teaching ceramics at City College which she holds to this day, as well as a position teaching 3-D design.

Kim’s work has been shown all over the world including installation pieces in her native Korea, the first of which she installed in 1999, returning in 2006 and 2007. In 2001, she also installed pieces in a gallery in Hong Kong. These international installations have all been one-person shows, yet until CJ Gallery opened four and a half years ago downtown after residing in La Mesa for over 30 years, Kim had never been able to secure a one person show here in San Diego.

The Korean-owned gallery contacted Kim three and a half years ago and asked that she participate in a two-person show to take place in their barely-year-old location at 343 Fourth Ave. Excited to finally be able to show in a gallery close enough to campus to allow her students to encounter her work, Kim was now allowed an accessibility that was impossible with most of her work being shown overseas. Kim had only had two shows in the Southern California region until CJ Gallery had offered her the show, one in Solana Beach, and another at Boehm Gallery at Palomar College in 2006.

Yoonchung Park Kim’s art is inspired by the shifting permanence of nature. When asked how her work has changed over the years, Kim explained that while working in Korea her work was more vessel-like, but when she arrived in Berkeley her work became more sculptural. But don’t think of her as a sculptor.

“I’d rather be known as an artist using ceramic clay as a medium, because using ceramic was thought of as making vessel mediums,” Kim said in an interview. “My work is less like a vessel or container. I am inspired by nature, as it is more permanent than human life. I tend to look at nature really close up and see the cycling back of things.” Which is clear in her work for this installation, entitled simply “Cyclical.”

“Ice in particular tends to interest me, as in the freezing and refreezing of glaciers, as well as their enormity. Looking at that, I move on to the cycles of life, breaking up, reforming, and to the temporary nature of human life,” she said.

Her pieces resemble glacial fracturing and oceanic drift, specifically a nine-panel hanging piece entitled “Pushing Away.” While similar pieces resemble ice floes breaking up viewed from overhead, the tactile gratification of ceramic clay is maximized with the size and shape of her pieces.

Working with ceramic clay also allows Kim to produce in a three-dimensional form as well, as with a three-part piece called “Ice Canyon.” The texture in Kim’s work comes out most in the three-dimensional pieces, with cracks and crags on the topmost surface resembling desert clay dried and cracked by the sun, while the sides bear tight striations that Kim created by beating the sides of each of the three pieces with a 2-by-4 plank of wood over and over, and lightly glazing the surface before it went into the kiln.

In working nature into her pieces, Kim tends to try to free herself.

“When you live in this world, little things are so important. But in the big spans of the universe, you’re not so important. Thinking about nature frees me to not put so much weight on the little things in life.”

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Ceramics professor installs show at downtown gallery