AVP’s curators visited MeeNa Park’s Yeonhui-dong studio on March 27, 2020, when everything had halted or changed due to COVID-19. With a month left until the show’s opening, the works were already ready. The Coloring Book Drawings, which began in 1998, start with a collection of coloring pages available in the market. Park adds colors, lines, and other elements to the designs using various materials. Sometimes, images from her Scream series appear in the drawings. The rule-setting and rule-altering artist discussed these drawings.
AVP: Isn’t this your longest exhibition title yet?
MeeNa Park: I wanted to add a story to what I have always been doing. When you open the Dropbox folder where the drawings are organized, you can see a list of the titles. I chose one starting with an A, another with a B, and so on, picking one title from each letter. I thought about what titles would make a sentence. The only one that expresses a place was “At the Circus.” Do what at the circus? I needed the subject, the object, and the verb. I made each decision this way, and came up with the whole title.
AVP: The series Coloring Book Drawings began in 1998. What made you start this project?
MeeNa Park: I started it in my second year of graduate school. I felt it’d be my last chance to test what I’d learnt and what art fundamentally is. To just think from the start, I made a lot of drawings. I passed the thesis presentation with drawing installations, and Coloring Book Drawings is one of the series I started then. Early drawings were constructive dealling with structures. At first, many drawings used workbook-style pages that teach children the numbering system or connecting dots to draw rectangles or circles. It was fun twisting the designated processes. I thought that if I add another narrative to the one in the coloring page and examine how the two are interrelated, a third narrative would also be created. That is, I assumed that at least three different narratives will overlap.
AVP: It’s interesting how the drawings change. We can learn about various aspects from workbooks to stickers, icons, and your choices and rules.
MeeNa Park: I needed something to invoke intuition while painting. I hoped it would come before reasoning. My motto when drawing was to “do the first thing that comes to mind.” I kept going, hoping that something as raw as possible emerges, to become a material.
MeeNa Park: You can also see how the ecosystem of coloring changes along with the outside world and the environment. Materials such as stickers and tape also continually change. There are things I inevitably record as I work, because it makes me bring a part of the outside world inside. Coloring books target preschoolers. It’s interesting that they make the most innocent children do certain things. It adopts a visual system to teach them about what they need to learn — such as alphabets, numbers, and figures — in order to live as human beings. These days, I’m collecting horses, which turn out to be so bizarre in the cartoons like 〈Snow White〉, 〈Cinderella〉, or 〈Rapunzel〉. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, but I collect them anyway. As I continue to observe them, I start to see other symbols that were not even intended by their makers or producers.
AVP: Like your paintings, it is an artistic work as well as a collection of massive data from the outside.
MeeNa Park: As an artist, I often think of myself as an empty window to the world. It’s not about me, and there must be roles for such windows for others. And one of them might be, like an archaeologist, recording events. Many records of art are not objective but slightly distorted. But art reflects “multiple aspects” of economy, society, and daily life. Not only a single aspect, it penetrates zigzag many of them. The penetration itself is very interesting. I think I penetrate several, and visualize a certain state by causing severances in some parts. Painting is an experience that unfolds before our eyes.
AVP: As you have drawn for such a long time, how did you relate drawing to painting?
MeeNa Park: Drawing is also about chiaroscuro. Many things that deal with light and darkness are in a completed form, not incomplete sketches. This time, I included parts of Scream for the first time. I broke the rule I had been trying to follow. Painting is visualizing everyone’s own experience and displaying it in front of our eyes. What is interesting about painting is that time is constantly placed within the same time. The motions we see and do move on to visualization and memory, and painting is thus turning experiences into a single scene and bringing them into the same time. If we look at a painting for three hours, it can be a three-hour phenomenon. In this sense, painting is fun. When everything just slips away according to time, painting makes time stop. It is fun because it is two-dimensional and disconnects the three dimensions. It might be a different story, but videos become closer to our lives by adding “time,” which makes it similar to daily life. Turning multiple dimensions into a flat two-dimensional surface of painting creates some interesting aspects.
AVP: Is 〈12 Colors〉 also part of Coloring Book Drawings?
MeeNa Park: Yes. When I started, I wanted to leave the sun, moon, and stars uncolored. At some point, I started to collect all the suns into a folder, and then the moons and stars, too. I have a few other things, such as butterflies, fish, small birds, small animals, and clouds, in my collection. First, I drew everything except the sun using various types of pencil. That was when the tsunami killed many people in Japan, and it was extremely dark. I drew a bright sun, and the rest so dark like the inside of Noah’s ark. I used pencils to draw the sun, and gray crayons and colored pencils for the moon. The stars to be featured in this show are drawn in 12 colors. We generally use 12 different colored pencils for coloring books, don’t we? I bought approximately 30 of them, and so far I have done about 20. I have done these in 2013, 2015, 2019, and 2020.
AVP: How do you match the 12 colors with the pages?
MeeNa Park: I hold the color and decide what page to color. If it's pink, then I match it to a page that goes well with it. Sometimes, my political awareness prevents a matching — “pink is for men,” for example. Or I just resist it — “oh, it doesn’t matter.” There’s a subtle narrative going between colors and pages. I match, distort, or defy the so-called common sense at a slightly different level each time.
AVP: Did you only use colored pencils made in Korea? The quality of the colored pencils might be showing.
MeeNa Park: It shows immediately. Globe Chemicals products are the best. It’s pencils show the deepest colors. Some others are so light and waxy that the colors don’t come out well, no matter how hard I try. All brands have different ways of arranging the colors, which is interesting. They set their own order based on different criteria. Some brands have black at the end, and some have purple. Black usually comes last, while yellow usually comes first. In 〈12 Colors〉, it’s important to show the order of the 12 colors accurately.
AVP: In an interview with AVP in 2016, you said you were considering importing canvas fabric. What is your thought now?
MeeNa Park: I still use materials available here, if possible. That is more interesting. I like to observe the system in which materials must undergo trade procedures, rather than trying to obtain the materials that I can’t find here. You can see how this system conflicts with or passes through others. Coloring books and colors all operate within a system. The tops and the bottoms are interesting. You can see the “scope” between them, and what sets the limits. It’s similar to my previous work, 〈Pen〉. Of course, some people take pleasure in using the best of materials, but I am more into “generic” stuff. It’s interesting to show the variations, what can be done, and how. The most important or the best are duly remembered. Generic things disappear once they expire and completely vanish, never to be encountered again. The thing is what we do in 2020, how much and how we do it. It’s like digging up rice bowls used by common people. Some people make exquisite white porcelain, but I’m more interested in seeing variations in the most commonly used earthenware. While I live in the present, I always think about archaeology.
Working as an independent curator, she plans exhibitions and writes on images and art.