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An Endless Art Practice

Hyungi Park Defines Multidisciplinary

Photos by Willem Verbeeck

It’s her studio, but to a passerby Hyungi Park would seem out of place. A vision in all black, the 28-year-old artist dons only a trace of color — the smattering of red tattoos that start on her left cheek and snake their way down her neck and arms, punctuating the thick collage of black ink. Her studio, on the other hand, is almost ethereal. Its white walls hold shelves brimming with machines, tools and containers of organic materials that Hyungi foraged, found or made. The scent of her handmade incense permeates every corner of the minimalist space, reminiscent of a temple. Welcome to the juxtapositions that define Hyungi’s practice.

Though she’s always been creative, Hyungi didn’t always envision herself establishing a studio in the San Fernando Valley or teaching workshops about book binding. Growing up in North Carolina to Korean parents, she struggled to see a future for herself beyond familial expectations of a traditional nine-to-five.

“When I went to art school for college and then moved to New York, it really opened my eyes,” she says. “It was kind of like an awakening.” Suddenly a life in art seemed both possible and infinite.

Hyungi’s multidisciplinary practice is almost entirely self-taught. Combing the internet and collegiate journals, she’s mastered art forms including bookbinding, textiles, woodworking and incense-making. Perhaps best-known for the latter, Hyungi’s approach to incense combines traditional methods with modern innovations. It’s earned her a following and a student body — Hyungi teaches incense workshops that frame the aromatic shapes as tiny structures of time.

Hyungi’s studio is a testament to the past decade spent collecting tools, materials and skills. Unfinished wooden shelves, built by Hyungi, line the walls, holding glass jars and dropper bottles filled with powders, elixirs and dried plants bearing anachronistic names like frankincense, opopanax and white joss. Displayed are a set of hand-bound books, encased in hardwoods on another of Hyungi’s stands. Her labyrinthine studio holds myriad machines: an industrial laser cutter, 3D printer, kitchen stand mixer and a plotter. Further back is her tattoo studio, painted all black with a single window.

However, her journey to these forms has not been without challenge. Initially planning to pursue graphic design, a vocation her parents approved of for career-security reasons, Hyungi had a last-minute revelation that led her to sculpture. While Hyungi now theorizes that it was out of a kind of care-driven practicality that her parents prioritized a “certain future”, her decision ultimately began the first of five disownings by her parents. After graduating from studying sculpture, Hyungi hopped from place to place for artist residencies. She took up tattooing as a way to support herself. The new gig earned her another disownment, a renewed rejection of her seemingly unorthodox life path.

Her challenging relationship to her parents serves as both hindrance to and fuel for her work. She laughs her way through an explanation of her favorite piece: a performance exploring consumption and rituals. In it, she created then burned incense and images of family talismans, some generated from her parents’ disownment emails. The incense smoldered down to the webs of her fingers, leaving behind a dotted pattern of white scars which remain years later.

Yet, despite her parents’ perceptions, Hyungi’s practice is interlaced with a deep reverence of tradition. She uses the Coptic stitch for bookbinding, marrying a technique that dates back to 2nd century Egypt with her laser-cut wooden covers. She designs incense papers using Adobe Illustrator then produces it with traditional handmade Korean paper and tree resins. Her first tattoos were stick-and-pokes.

While they still don’t know about her face tattoo, Hyungi’s relationship with her parents, especially her mother, has developed into a place of mutual understanding and unlikely parallels.

“She kind of did this whole 180. She views me and my brother as, not just her children, more as just … friends,” she says. Hyungi also sees her mother in a new light: an inspiration of resourcefulness.

Currently, she’s teaching herself coding and 3D printing — a skill Hyungi’s simultaneously developing on the opposite side of the country. “She’s always been really cool. She was really into quilting and used to make our clothes when we were kids and I really admire that a lot.”

Reaching the back of her studio, the shelves around Hyungi’s massive laser cutter hold brushes, rotary cutters and a simple mallet. Yet, she’s not a purist — she’ll tell you this much herself while adjusting the mirrors of her laser cutter to demonstrate the science behind its function. Her adherence to tradition and modernity never comes at the expense of either – it’s all fair game for the good of the work.

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