Hyun Jung Jun’s art practice is all about process. The act of dipping candles, baking cakes, following a recipe, painting dozens and dozens of multi-colored cut-paper strawberries. She is drawn to the monotony of everyday life. Her work is based in repetitive acts, often centered around domestic activities, that draw attention to the passing of time.
Originally from South Korea, Jun received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she focused on oil painting, visual communication design, print media and photography. It was then that she got interested in watching YouTube tutorial videos—at the time, mostly of cooking. She still uses internet videos as a way to feed her artistic practice: it’s how she learned how to make candles.
She now has a candle-focused Instagram account (@hyunjungscandles), where she posts her increasingly bright and complex wax creations. Jun’s candle-making started around the time she finished her master’s degree at Northwestern, after the death of someone close to her.
“For my final crit at school, I made a candleholder for one of the installations, because it was about life and death,” she says. The piece, titled “Going Back to Dirt,” is stunning in its simplicity. A large space on the floor is covered in dirt, into which the artist used her hand to write a series of verbs: preparing, choosing, emptying. A small television showed the video “Formless Foam,” in which the artist walks back and forth on a thick piece of foam; her footprints slowly disappear as the foam bounces back into its shape. In the dirt, a small candle, in a black, lava-shaped holder, burns.
She had always wanted to make candles, and this experience inspired her to teach herself. “I just found the process really comforting because I didn’t have to think about anything,” she says. “I was just dipping candles.” The resulting pieces are stunning. Bright pink candles sprout spotted wings. Some are twisted or bent in a U-shape, with two wicks. Many resemble butterflies, or angels. Lumpy, multi-colored candles were on display in Jun’s July solo exhibition, “Teyo’s Lightshield,” at Fresh Bread gallery.
Like millions of others around the world, COVID-19 has interrupted everyday life and work for Jun. She has stayed inside her Evanston apartment for over three weeks. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to do the candle stuff in the living room area and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, everything’s dripped everywhere,’” she says.
A group exhibition at LVL3, “Echoes in Rain,” that was scheduled to open in April, has been rescheduled to September. She plans to show bread sculptures she’s been working on, and is experimenting with setting them in wax. She also has color-saturated rice paper watercolors, made in collaboration with Cody Tumblin, on display in the storefront windows of Tusk, for the enjoyment of neighbors on social-distancing walks.
Other than making candles and doing yoga, Jun has also been spending time baking and cooking. “I always have to do something that’s labor-intensive,” she says. Cooking tells a lot about one’s habits and identity, which is partly why she has been incorporating cooking and sharing food into recent work. Pre-coronavirus, she was baking cakes, documenting them, and then sharing them with friends and family.
“Food has a unique way of bringing us together and often connects us physically to our memories as we make them,” Jun wrote in a statement on her work. “I hope that by sharing these experiences, they encourage us to have deeper conversations around our connections and the composition of our relationships.” (Kerry Cardoza)