Artist of the Week Angie Kwon ’24 on the Authenticity of Absurdity

I’ll never forget my initial impression of Angie Kwon ’24. She was sitting a few chairs away from me at the round table in the middle of the Title IX House. We had both applied to be STIX Leaders, and while I nervously fidgeted with my rings, my eyes were immediately drawn to Angie’s posture. She sat back in her chair, resting her arm across the top, wearing clothes I thought were far too cool for Swarthmore, and laughing at her own jokes. So, when I found out she was a Studio Art major who helped run Kitao, our student-run art gallery, I immediately knew I wanted to be friends with her. 

Now a senior, Angie seemed like an obvious choice for the first Artist of the Week of the semester. As a Studio Art and Psychology double major, I was surprised to hear that she initially wasn’t interested in majoring in art; “When I first came to college, I wanted to do academic research. I think I just said I was a psych major, but then it was weird not to do art. I started with a few art classes because I missed them, and then it naturally compounded. But I’ve just done art my whole life. It’s weird when I’m not doing it.” She elaborated, explaining that art is a core part of who she, her brother, and her entire family are.

I was stunned when I saw the diversity of Angie’s portfolio. Since she was seven, she remembers crafting with and exploring various types of media — from fabrics to oil paints. She had realistic paintings, storybook miniatures, a laser-cut acrylic sketchbook, and what she calls “bug art.” Given the depth of Angie’s experience, I was interested to see the world from her perspective. But when I asked her about her artistic vision, she replied, “See, that’s the thing for me. I don’t have a vision per se. A lot of artists have subjects they want to focus on: like their identity, crises, trauma, or some really big life story they want to tell. That’s very admirable and I wish I had stories like that to tell. For most of my works, there isn’t this deep, agonizing reflection of my identity, and while I do think about my identity a lot, it’s never been something that was so conflicting for me that I felt I had to make it into art. Art has always been about me making what I want to create right now.” Angie continued to describe an experience she had in London when her professor described art as having absurdity: “For now, I’m okay with having humorous and absurd pieces of work, and eventually, I’ll find something that gives my art deeper meaning.”

As I watched her explain the meaning, or lack thereof, of her works, I admired her dorm’s blank walls. She said she hadn’t put up any decor but had bookshelves brimming with small maquettes and a radio made of bottle caps. In the center of it all sat Angie, relaxed, as she cleaned the room. This room was an art piece of hers: it was somehow brimming with life despite how bare it appeared initially. The Jo Malone perfume sitting on her bookshelf that she had dabbed onto my wrists, the digital camera she used last weekend brimming with photos of smiles and Sharpie-d dinosaurs with angel wings written onto our wrists — it was all absurd but meaningful in its own, poetically beautiful, Angie way. 

When I asked her what she wanted viewers to gain from her work, she replied, “I want them to have fun. I want them to enjoy it. I want them to be captivated by it. And think it’s kind of funny, but I don’t need them to think of anything. I just want them to enjoy it, and for them to remember it.” 

I was captivated by her environment. It was as if I were in one of her miniatures, observing the squashed mosquito receiving therapy from a beetle psychologist sitting on a cup chair. Yes, Angie created a sculpture out of two dead insects she found in her studio.

“Have I told you about my bug art? So there was a big mosquito and this beetle, but the mosquito was disintegrating. I stuck the mosquito on the top of this cup. The beetle kind of looked like it was crossing his legs, so I sat him at the edge of a cup. Now I have a whole scenario where it’s like beetles, a therapist, and literally I have sticky notes behind the beetle [saying], ‘So how’s it going?’ And then behind the mosquito, it’s [says], ‘I don’t know. I don’t feel quite all there yet.’ And it’s a little violating. I was thinking how the joints are working after death, how both are very delicate, and how they are just exoskeletons with nothing else inside them. I was just thinking about that while I was super gluing them to the top of the cup. I’m funny.”

And yes, Angie is undeniably funny, but hearing her talk about some insects she glued to the top of a cup revealed the hidden meaning behind her work. While it is absurd, she finds meaning in the process, and the finished product, though initially an exploration, becomes profound.

For example, she began experimenting with an empty green bottle of gin. “I was briefly thinking about my cultural identity, where I feel very squarely in the middle of Korean and American but not necessarily Korean American. And there’s not, I think, well, at least in my opinion, a lot of people that feel the way that I do. I can name like maybe one or two other friends who have felt the way that I have though, where it’s like, we don’t feel Korean American, but we feel Korean and also at the same time, just very deeply American. So I was just thinking of what are some potential ways I could kind of go about exploring that idea. I just saw the green bottle and then I realized it’s the same color as a soju bottle. So it’s gonna be this western gin bottle, but I’m going to repurpose it like a soju bottle, and we’ll see what they’re where that takes me.”

Currently, Angie is working on a project with laser-cut text messages from her friends. She’s tying the messages together with red strings to reference Korean mythology and destined connections. Angie’s inspiration is boundless but non-constraining, and she accepts that some of her work will be more emotionally resonant than others. She ultimately creates art for herself and hopes viewers will derive meaning from themselves. 

If it’s not blatantly obvious, I love her approach to art. That relaxed but assertive expression she always has translates directly into her meticulous but playful works. Angie’s Sharpie-d dinosaurs, blank but filled room, insect carcasses hot glued onto cups, and laser-cut text messages are beautiful in their authenticity. In her art, I see a portrait of that chill upperclassman sitting with her arm sprawled across the chair, laughing at her jokes but always there when you need her to be. I immediately knew I wanted to be friends with her, just as I immediately knew I’d love her art. 

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