Kyoungju Choi + Dongryeol Lee


Print artist + Trumpeter

Yeokchon-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul

Kyoungju Choi and Dongryeol Lee are a married couple. The two live in the northern edge of Seoul, Yeokchon-dong, a complete residential town where there's quite an absence of cool shops nor cafés besides houses. The couple's home is a renovated 20-year-old multiplex housing which they also use as a studio and a practice room. And there's Julian, their cat, roaming around its dwelling playground freely. Unlike the majority of the citizens of Seoul, those that live lives with the lack of a 'real' evening, the two start the day slowly in the morning, spend the afternoon in calmness, and then the evening together. We took a peek into their usual afternoon.


Yoojin Jung

Since when did Kyoungju Choi start to work and go by the name Artistproof?

In 2014 I did a show and sold my works at The Book Society in Changseong-dong which I took part in a pop-up shop project. And thankfully a lot of my friends and acquaintances came by and bought many of my works. I also received a number of positive reactions. So from then on I naturally started in full-scale to produce daily silk-screened products.


You are a print artist. What are the attractions of print making?

Most of all it's fun. The indirect appearancing of images that spread over on the other side of the screen oddly fascinates me. And I like the repetition of it too. My printing styles constantly change but I always stick to my interest of color, form and objects and continue to use them as my main subjects. 

When I look at your works it seems as though you're interested in daily objects. You sort of dismantle the object into plain figure.

I at first dismantle and then overlap and pile-up the scattered figures. So it's like a switch from a process to an end, and then the end to a new process. These days I broadened my areas of interests and started to look wider around me. It's sort of like a play–like kids, how they learn the world through it. I examined my nephew play a few times and I realized that a child starts from a very simple kind and slowly develops into a more complicated one. And a play can be as fun as much as it could be intense. For example when a child sits in front of a puzzle, concentrated, it could get frustrating and upset but when the pieces match, you'll see the brightest smile as if the child owned the world. And then they fall into it again right away. My work is like a child's play, but I follow it with a sensitive mind while I picture what'll be next. Anyways, the fun is still there.

 I was told Dongryeol Lee was originally a musician.

Back in 2003 my friends and I started up an acoustic folk band named 'Cabinet Singalongs', just for fun. We released our first album in 2006 but unfortunately we sort of stopped everything soon after the debut, and then we recently got together again and we meet up intermittently. Giha Jang (lead vocalist of a popular folk band) was kind enough to play our song 'This narrow alley' on the radio from time to time and that gave us quite a royalty. But then as I reached my late 20s, being a band member got trivial and my parents kept questioning me about doing music. And frankly I got tired of it too. I made my living as a musician until my 20s and then after marriage I went to work for a company. Well, of course, giving up music entirely was difficult. I now play the trumpet in a multinational funk&soul band 'The Studs Lonigan Experience'.


Is there something you two are planning on doing together?

We're preparing to open an off-line store for Artistproof in March in Sogong-dong. It's a place where you can see the print works in person and also purchase them. And I'm in charge of the things going around. At times when I'm alone in a certain place I find this urge to play or to listen to good music. It's probably because I'm a performer myself. The Book Society bookstore and studio Grav were such places and we wanted to make our space feel somewhat similar to them. So we're also doing another part of our space for listening to music that plays out of a tube amp. We might as well use that space to host small concerts once in a while.


Dongryeol, where's your hometown?

I lived in Taebaek until high school. To be exact, I lived in a town 40 minutes away by bus from Taebaek, very close to what you call a countryside. I came to Seoul for visiting my cousins every now and then. Seoul was an enormous place for me. I have graphic memories of the lightless nights in Taebaek where only the streetlights would brighten the darkness. And when I arrive in Seoul at night, specifically in Cheongnyangni station, there would be flashing lights everywhere. I was so amazed to see so many lights at that time of the day


So Seoul must have captivated you.

I was so surprised when I first got on the subway. I mean, people alseep in subways, a scene so shocking to see and I thought 'how could they be so defenseless and fall asleep among all these bunch of strangers?' But now I'm one of those sleepers in subways. I moved to Seoul when I was 20 years old so that makes it 13 years dwelling in this city. I still do feel like a stranger. And this applies to Kyoungju too.

Why do you, Kyoungju, feel this way?

I spent about 4 years in England during my childhood and came back as soon as I got used to living there. And when I came back my family moved couple of times more within the city. The multiple move for a sensitive elementary kid meant to adapt to new places each time, which left me with a gap between the others. I didn't realize it then but I certainly had some kind of an emotional anxiety. Like the feeling of not being able to fit myself anywhere. And I used to use those distressed emotions into my works. Maybe that explains why I felt depressed to work on my art before. After some blank period, I rebooted myself into working again and that's when I started with Artistproof.


What images do you, Kyoungju, recall of Seoul?

A place where I have to adapt to, again. It felt as though I was too far aback when I returned from England. Everything here was about competition. Even in school festivals. It was so stressful. I mean, it's bothering to see things are still always so competitive.


How does a stranger like yourself, Dongryoel, feel living in Seoul?

Out of any place in the world, Seoul is my favorite. It's where I can communicate with my language. And it's pretty much a global city that helps you acknowledge diverse cultures everywhere you go. And if it gets boring, just head to Itaewon for some fresh foreign air(laugh). If you're rich, Seoul is a great place to live but on the other hand, if you're not, it gets tough.


How did you two come to live here in Yeokchon-dong?

We kept moving from a one-room flat to another one-room flat. Then it got too expensive to live in Seoul so we even thought of moving out of the city. As we kept looking, we learned that this area was the cheapest in Seoul. That brought us here.


So it's been about a year since you moved in.

We love it here. We later found out that Eunpyeong-gu had the biggest number of town communities out of all areas in Korea. The majority of the population are those that lived here long enough so they all pretty much have this affection for their neighborhoods. And surprisingly, even in such a small-sized multiplex, like ours, hold regular tenant meetings. This shows how much the people care about the place they live in. Recently someone dumped a cigarette butt so I put up a sign that said 'Butts goes in the waste bin'.


I could guess working on art solely at home could make you lazy sometimes.

It's not easy to control your self-tension all alone. Making art is not something you do by someone asking you to do it, it's entirely voluntary so I try to be as systematic as I can be. I finish my chores until noon and work on my prints in the afternoon no matter what. I do so while I sort of mumble to myself. Print making actually requires heavy use of print chemicals and hard labor so I grab a few cans of beer in between.


Is there anyone that inspired you in your works?

My husband and our cat Julian. My husband is who I conversate most with and I spend most of my time with my cat so she's like family. Julian seems like a careless cat but she barely leaves my side all day. I think sooner or later we might one day find ourselves talking to each other(laugh).


As I can tall that you like the solitary at home, a home could mean more to you than anybody else.

I feel the biggest comfort when I'm home. And this house feels closer and closer by the day because it also serves as my studio. Before we came to this place, we moved every two years when the contract ended and because of that things in our house changed quickly. But now we take care of our space with much ease, taking our time. And Julian's boundaries are becoming wider as she gets used to her new home.



Post Poetics

240 Itaewonro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
6 Hangangjin
13:00-20:00 (Mon-Sat)

 "We like to watch people while we look at our books."

Choi and Lee enjoys frequent visits to bookstores to self-check on their intellectual curiosties. The only flaw about coming home with a new book which you were almost certain that you'd read, is that you don't. But the act of buying itself is the pleasure and excitement of it all. Besides the giant chain bookstores, small-sized ones are also their regular places to look at offsprings from independent publishing houses and art-related books. According to the two, many new bookstores opened in small sizes recently, each of them with distinct taste of their own, which is a great interest for them. Their favorite ones are Post Poetics where Choi once worked as an intern and still keeps an ongoing friendship, and The Book Society where she took part in a project 'On the Table'.