“A person isn’t just who they are, but is influenced by their parents and friends, and their parents and friends are also influenced by the people around them,” says Seoul-based South Korean illustrator Younsik Woo. “When I have a conversation with someone, I tend to first unfold the influences of the relationships that this person has gone through like a map.” But Younsik isn’t just interested in the tangible point of these networks, specific people and events, but also in the in-between, in the “gap” as she refers to it. “My work is an effort to unfold the imaginary situation in the ‘gap’ and gather those pieces.”
Her dreamlike illustrations build on these liminal spaces, imagining the qualitative aspects of them. She understands the ‘gap’ not as an isolated phenomenon, but as one linked to other realities – as in Murakami’s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, where “two different worlds appear side-by-side and influence each other.” In her work, this in-between is depicted through bright, colourful compositions with carefully choreographed figures that lean on, twist around, and overlap with one another. Their blank expressions give a feeling of vacancy, as if they are lacking consciousness. This is deliberate, explains Younsik: “This is because I feel that the relationship and arrangement of the figures are more important than the meaning of each figure. Their faces aren’t positive or negative but in some transparent neutral state… I want to emphasise the events that are happening before the personality and emotions [appear] on the surface.”
Through these expressionless displays, we are reminded again of the importance of networks in Younsik’s illustrations. The characters within are not the focal point, but equally they are crucial to the overall concept. Here, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “When you consider relationship networks, you realise that an individual isn’t its own entity, but an entity from a complex whole,” says Younsik. This is communicated through the careful balance achieved in the compositions, in which the characters are frequently depicted as supporting and reinforcing one another. The colour palette itself also ties into this idea of intricate and intimate unity whereby an individual in and of itself is not necessarily more important than the system it belongs to. A strict palette of red, yellow, blue, and green creates an imaginary world without hierarchy, showing that we are all products of our relationships and that each of us is inextricably joined to an ever expanding network.
“My imaginary world seems to be filtered with a spectrum as if illuminated by an infrared camera. [It] conjures a certain pure primitiveness,” explains Younsik. The concept driving her work, an examination of the fabric of society, also shares this primal nature. Her studies of human relationships and the intangible system that links them all tap into a primitive need for connection and an arguably collectivist perspective on life. At their core, Younsik’s illustrations are at once uncanny in their detachment and warming in their simplicity. They speak to the interconnectedness of all things, but also to a possibly unsettling understanding of true individuality as a facade.
Younsik Woo: Points and lines (Copyright © Younsik Woo, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.