Can someone belong to the land, if she was born there or lived there for a good while? Is this determined by where the body exists or what the spirit relies on to subsist?
Is what we see the same as what there is? Or is what we see what we believe is there? There is a landscape that my physical eyes cannot see but my mind can discern. It doesn’t exist and yet it is always there.
When I first came to New York, I spent a lot of time wandering around the city thinking of my hometown, which, ironically, I had wanted to leave for long time. I was looking to find a tiny corner shop where I used to frequent everyday as a child while I was turning a corner in NY. I often looked up expecting to see the mountains, which are everywhere surrounding Seoul instead of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. More than ever before, I came to believe that I belonged in my native country. I found myself pining away for the place, which I once desired to escape. However at one point when I visited my country, I realized that it took more and more time to readjust to the city and find my bearings. I began aching for the comfort of my bed, my desk, and the streets that I could walk eyes-closed from force of habit. I concluded that my native country had started pushing me away to a region where I would be called a stranger.
The city that made me an outlander for the first time in my life also gave me a sense of belonging. Like it or not, the streets, smells and people become something that I grew accustomed to. On the other hand, the land that my blood belongs to, the wind where my past is alive, and the very air that my family is breathing is all leaving my body. The emptier I feel, the more I want to return.
The similarity and unfamiliarity of these two places have started to intermingle and balance each other out. Have I become a stranger and a native daughter to both places at the same time?
In this series, I envisioned the third city that only exists in me. Taking apart and reassembling the two cities where I am rooted made these personal cityscapes. I built this cityscape to reconcile and call a truce to the contest they wage inside of me.
For the past three years I photographed views of New York City and Seoul, establishing two parallel archives each without committing to a finalized vision for a digital composite. Among the photographs, I chose the images, which would function as main images or stages for the work. I would then question these images repeatedly until I understood that something about them could be shifted or altered with an additional element, sometimes several elements, or a large building block taken from an image from the other city. In some cases, I decided to combine photographs, which have similarities to each other. For instance, the Highline in NY and Cheonggyecheon in Seoul both have elevated rails and used to have an elevated highway running through them. Also, there are old warehouse buildings and small mills in their surroundings. Sometimes I altered the part, which I “missed” and wished I could find in the other city. For example, I might substitute the typical NY brick wall with the shabby wall where I used to play and walk by everyday and night of my childhood; or perhaps switch the windows from which I observe different scenes of city life. Also, quite often the new landscapes were made by intuition. At a technical level, all composites require that I carefully calibrate elements such as color temperature, perspective or shadows to make the photographs look seamless, just as if they existed in another city somewhere.