Through her creative uses of daily – yet, as she describes them, temporal and precarious – materials, Lina Sun Park lives and breathes her artwork. This is precisely how she spent the, more or less, 2 years of the pandemic that restricted us all in our intimate spaces, whether alone or with our closest people. As the period of lockdowns and social distance ends, it feels distant though not long past, making our return back to normalcy nostalgic and uncomfortable at the same time.
Park's recently published book A Spell Too Far, moulded with the help of her partner and photographer, David Brandon Geeting, gives us a glimpse into how they turned, what was to some, the daily mundanity of being restricted in a small space, into a magnificent archive of their creative collaboration, with Getting as photographer and Park utilising her unique talent to turn edible materials (and much more) into ethereal designs, and taking the phrase “stop playing with your food!” to unforeseen heights.
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Most known for her abstract creations predominantly constructed using fruit as well as inanimate objects, today we speak to artist Lina Sun Park. Lina, how has your day been so far?
My day has really just started! I made my usual breakfast of a smoothie with a concoction of healthy powders, today I chose chanca piedra and cacao powder to sprinkle in, along with a cup of peppermint green tea and warm lemon water. I feel this will be a nice foundation for the day. Hope your day is off to a great start too!
Before we get into how the last couple of years have treated you (2020 and 2021), tell us a bit about how you have spent the first half of 2022, especially with how new yet familiar it must feel going back to how our lives were (if we can ever really go back, that is!) pre-pandemic.
The first half of 2022 has been a bit jarring, and the familiarity of it all makes it so strange! Reacclimatising to public transit and a regimented schedule for part of my week was stressful. However, it is amazing how quickly you can get back into the groove of things, even with new perspectives in place. I very much miss my days of having all the time in the world to explore and to follow the path each day had in store for me. So far, I am feeling a tad burnt out, but I am always trying to find a harmonious way to balance the different obligations in my life.
Congratulations on your recently published book, A Spell Too Far, which you made alongside your partner David Brandon Geeting, who contributed creatively through his photography! Though I am sure you get asked this a lot – given the circumstances that the books’ content was made in – how did being in lockdown guide and encourage, or perhaps even disrupt, your aspirations of publishing the book?
Thank you! Being in lockdown allowed for the luxury of time to create. Dave and I created the work for A Spell Too Far as a way to give ourselves a sense of happiness and sanity during an otherwise rather bleak time. It also fulfilled a sense of synergy we had been yearning for, as we had been wanting to work together for some time and lockdown presented itself as the perfect time to do so.
The whole thing was very organic, never in our wildest dreams could we fathom it would turn into a book. We would wake up every morning, and fresh from our dreams, talk about our ideas of what we wanted to make that day. About a year after Dave and I had made the initial group of images together, our friends at Same Paper reached out about wanting to create a book of the images. We didn’t want the book to be solely images made in lockdown, so we created more images, using the initial images as a jumping off point for the book. Unlike the initial images, these later ones had no limits, as we had the ability to shoot in a studio setting, and use things found outside the bubble of our abode.
How did you both decide on the title?
A Spell Too Far is the world beyond a magic spell gone wrong. Something in the spell has been recited with one or two words off. Things are a little peculiar, like that of an odd dream. There are familiar characters, but not quite. Simple, ordinary materials that become something else entirely, are presented in a new world with its own story, past, present, and future. Each fruit creature or flower made of pipe cleaners or what have you, we knew would have its own sense of self once we captured it in a photo.
As artists, you only have so much control until your art takes on a life of its own, and that is what the title is about for us.
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 7.jpg
For some people in relationships during lockdown, it was challenging to be together during all hours of the day in such a small space; you even manage to reflect this in some of your work, where you have used miniature, toy-sized objects like chairs and tables to set a scene, evoking how tiny the pandemic all made us and our intimate spaces feel. What was it like to not only live with a partner but to also create with them during such an unprecedented time?
It was a joy for me to live with my partner as well as to create with him. I absolutely relish spending time at home, and to do so without any sense of obligation to the outside world, was very liberating. We are both people that go all-in with whatever we do, so we both really dove wholeheartedly into this one-on-one, intimate time. Figuring out how to spend our days felt like an adventure, and making work together operated like a self-imposed art residency.
Additionally, we are both adept at taking time to recharge on our own, which enabled us to enjoy our time when we reconvened. We had ideas and projects we had put on a backburner, and the lockdown was the time to act on those ideas. Since the fate of the world seemed so uncertain, we could only really live in the present moment. There seemed to be no rules and past references didn’t seem to matter.
That is an interesting interpretation of the miniature chairs and table scene! There are two images of miniature furniture in the book. One is a tiny lilac chair and vanity table I found in New Mexico, surrounded by flowers I dried from my wedding bouquet. The scale of the flowers towers over the vanity mirror like a tree. The other is a table scene made out of fruit. It consists of four different chairs, made of different fruit or vegetables. Both images were actually made post lockdown. I’ve always had an affinity for small things. Almost any material can become medium to make something tiny, which is both overwhelming and amazing at the same time. It also allows you to make things that may have been near impossible to make life-size and opens up a world of possibilities.
Was creative block easier or harder to overcome with another person by your side?
I would imagine creative blocks are definitely easier to overcome with another person by your side, as they bring an energy to the environment that is unique to them. In my case, I was lucky that person was Dave. He is a quick worker and jumps into things intuitively. I take my time and am quite inclined to focus on little details. It was a synergistic mix of energies to bring to the table, as we were able to push each other out of our comfort zones. Many of the photos started as a loose skeleton and were then thoroughly realized in the actual shooting process. Each photo is a conversation between both of our sensibilities and art-making processes, both physically and verbally.
Your art is so whacky and niche in the best way possible; especially your creations using fruit and other food, which are perhaps the maximal version of when our parents would tell us not to play with our food. How young were you when you discovered that you had a talent in transforming fruit like strawberries into a rose, or spring onions into a praying mantis?
My parents operated Japanese sushi restaurants my whole childhood. I would spend much of my time in the restaurant, leafing through these shiny, large-paged books or calendars of beautifully plated sushi with elaborate garnishes and unusual color and texture pairings. That really informed my young and current mind in so many ways, especially in terms of the presentation of food and the different forms it can take. My sister and I would always help my mom make food as children too, things like making dumplings from scratch. We would fold the dumpling wrappers into funny shapes and laugh at how they emerged looking once cooked. Creating with food has been a natural progression from so many elements of my childhood. This type of thinking also lends itself to using other materials that are not traditional mediums as well.
Another wonderful creation which is featured on your Instagram profile, is the Crispy Cat which you made using puffed rice, sugar, and chocolate. How much patience and diligence does something like that require? Is it more challenging to work with such precarious materials, or does the reward override the challenges of the process?
I very much enjoy working with precarious, ephemeral, temporal materials. I’ve always had a knack for choosing uncooperative and unusual materials, and nostalgia plays a part as well. My dad loves rice krispies, and in an effort to make him a healthier version as a health-conscious teen, I would experiment with using different types of puffed grains, like kamut, and organic cocoa rice crispy cereals, with vegan marshmallows. After making so many rice krispies, I found you can mold them into shapes when they’re warm. It requires patience as well as an exploration, understanding and appreciation of your chosen mediums. I sometimes find it harder to work with permanent materials, as the thought of amassing a bunch of solid pieces makes me feel a bit uneasy.  I’ve always been drawn to temporal mediums and art pieces, things that exist in a certain time frame, a special moment. Making actual permanent, three-dimensional objects is something I do want to explore however.
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Your work is predominantly available on your Instagram profile – with the exception of the book which people can purchase on Shashasha, a website devoted to representing Japanese and Asian photography, as well as making it more accessible for people to buy. Would you like to expand further in regard to making you art more available to audiences, perhaps through an exhibition, where your three-dimensional artwork can be more appreciated?
Yes! I would very much like to explore three-dimensional artwork, something with a physical presence and permanence. I don’t usually keep a lot of my old work, as I find myself feeling a disconnect with the pieces as time goes on. Perhaps that is why I shy away from three-dimensional work, but it is something I have actually been thinking about these days, and I hope to be able to share something soon.
You yourself are also featured in some of the artwork of A Spell Too Far; my personal favourite is that of your hair from the back styled into two braids entwined in a bow and being held by two blue birds, evoking a Disney princess scene. Since not many artists choose to be physically visible in their own artwork, how do you feel this amplifies your own art?
Utilising ourselves as characters in a play or another world was something that was readily available to us during lockdown. However, it is also something that we had fun doing, as dressing up provided a lot of respite from being stuck inside all day with no occasion to dress up. Utilising yourself or someone very close to you, such as a partner, in your work allows for a level of intimacy and experimentation that is not always possible otherwise. It also feels very natural and easy somehow, since you know yourself so well, you know what you would like and not like to imaginatively play dress up as, instead of projecting things onto someone else.
The artists’ relationship to themselves is something that is always growing and evolving – being able to have it documented is so fascinating. Whether it’s playing a part or amplifying an element of yourself in an exaggerated manner, it allows the viewer to have many glimpses of your psyche. Having a curiosity to utilise yourself in your work also creates an opportunity for an exploration of your identity that is beneficial for both your private and public self.
What are your plans for the rest of 2022? Do you have another book publication in the works?
My only plan really is to make more time to make work! I have not been able to make work truly for myself lately as I work very slowly, and my part-time job and commissions have taken up a lot of my time these days. So much goes into conjuring a book and I feel it will take a little bit more time before the time is right for another. However, I would be very excited for another!
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Lina Sun Park Metalmagazine 8.jpg