Jina Seo started her position as Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of Metal/Jewelry within the Art + Design Department at Missouri State University in Fall 2017. What follows is an interview with her about her background, her work, and inspirations.
How would you describe your background in your field?
I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. For as long as I can remember, my dream has been to be involved in an art related field such as painting, graphic designing, fashion designing, or really any similar discipline. I entered Kookmin University as a Metal and Jewelry Design major without knowing what it [was] really. Now that I think about it, it was not an accidental choice even though I had no understanding of the field or what it was going to involve at that time. I always had a good eye for detail and appreciated the hands-on experiences. After participating in a study abroad program [at the] University of Kansas during my senior year, I decided to go to graduate school in the United States to experience a different education system. Since 2013, I have been based in the US actively engaging in the field.
What attracted you to this position? What are you most excited for as you work in this new environment?
At Missouri State University, I often interact with a diverse group of students who come from many different backgrounds. Some of the students are not metal and jewelry majors, or even art majors at all. It is fascinating to see how everyone quickly realizes the joy of making something with their own hands. Of course, there are always struggles and frustrations when it comes to learning something new. My favorite moment in my class is when everyone is absolutely focused on the making process and the only thing you can hear is the sound of tools. After weeks of hard work, students learn what it takes to create quality work. I think the word “quality” includes broad aspects, such as craftsmanship, conceptual creativity, functionality, or visual resolution. With that experience, I want them to understand the value of well-made objects and continue to have an appreciation of other makers that they encounter in their lives.
Can you tell me a little bit about your most recent accomplishments/things you are proud of?
In 2019, I won the Grand Prix award for the Art Jewelry Context doing the Amber Trip, an international jewelry event in Vilnius, Lithuania. The winners’ and finalists’ work were exhibited in many different venues for a year including Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. As a part of the award prize, an interview article about my work has been published in Baltic Jewellery Magazine. I was invited to go to Lithuania to participate in Amber Trip 2020.
What has the response been to your work? What do you want the wearer of your creations to feel?
One day someone told me that my work seems shamanistic. Despite the formal qualities, I think that is because I truly believe in the materials I use and how powerful they are. [We] seek to give meaning and power to our surroundings and objects [within it]. While the simple action of stacking small rocks into a pile is a way to pray in Korea, some mundane materials including nails and mud become something powerful and magical in Kongo, Africa. The extraordinary energy in those customs was generated because people actually believed in them. Like creating a pile of rocks, I love when simple gestures like drilling a hole on metal surface becomes something larger. As much as I love things that are chaotic, I also find some level of beauty in repetitiveness.
What is your desire for the future of your work?
Currently I am experimenting with new materials to introduce to leather gloves, such as plastic or synthetic rubber. I enjoy the sharp industrial quality of them [contrasted] to the primitive and natural leather. Revealing and connecting has been some of the key ideas of my recent work. The transparent plastic sheet makes the action of looking through a lot more exciting, exposing only certain information to the viewer. I am also finding a way to introduce the mark making process.
What inspires you?
My interest in leather gloves originated from my lifelong fascination with fashion and clothing. Garment has the ability to create a significant connection between the body and social phenomena by not only providing physical protection, but also acting as an effective cultural signifier. Sometimes, it empowers the intimate and sensual vitality. Other times, it creates a shield to hide them by adding an extra layer onto the body. I utilize a lot of used clothing, especially leather gloves that are discarded or damaged. To me, they are a form of [the] documentation of human desire. Jewelry and garment share some overlapped areas; that’s when I [start] utilizing parts of garments to find my own answers to the idea of body adornment.