Choi Jeong-Hwa

The Creators Project: How would you classify your approach to creating art?

Choi Jeong-Hwa: I believe that everything is art. Every material found in the kitchen, your room, the streets -- everything in everyday life can be art. So I can’t say for sure what kind of an artist I am.

When were you first inspired to do the sort of things you do?

In 1989. I couldn’t really draw so I didn’t think I could become a painter, but I really liked walking. So I used to walk between streets and narrow alleys and discover garbage piles and construction sites. I realized that “normal” people built and created things better than artists or professionals. Plus, what they were making was more natural. I decided against becoming an artist and decided instead to be an ordinary person who thinks like an artist.

But you went to art school too, right?

I attended Hongik Art School and started painting there. Around 1986 or 1987, I entered a contest and happened to receive the grand prize—a ticket to Europe. Basically, I made the paintings I thought they’d like in order to enter the contest and travel to Europe. When I returned, I burnt all my drawings and decided to never paint again. I accomplished my goal of winning a trip to Europe, but I was ashamed, and decided that from that point on I would use my work to portray only the things I truly felt. For example, I think construction sites are rough and alive, but I don’t want to paint them because I can’t seem to express those feelings in two dimensions. After I made that realization, I started to pick up things from the street and take photos of them.

You use a lot of plastic and other cheap stuff in your artwork? Why do you like it so much?

First of all, plastic does not rot. I contemplate the differences between a real flower and a plastic flower a lot. The real flower can be ripped and will deteriorate in a short time, but the plastic flower is immortal. And the interesting thing is that there is such thing as a fake flower that looks real and a fake flower that looks fake. I played around with these concepts of plastic, real, and fake; and that’s how the plastic series started. Another thing is that I like collecting old plastic. When I look at my collection, I tend to get a lot of ideas.

What's one example of how your obsession with plastic and garbage has paid off?

In 2009, at the Seoul Design Olympiad, I gathered the trash that got thrown away by the 10 million people in attendance and hung it in Jamsil Stadium. The point was to see the difference between trash and art and ask the questions: What makes us feel emotion and affection? Who is to decide what’s worthy and what’s not? The whole stadium was covered with trash, but it became beautiful and sparkly and memorable when light was projected on it. Now I am doing that all over the globe. It’s basically a campaign that emphasizes working with worthless materials. I like doing things outside of art museums. I dislike the whole pay system of museums and prefer working and interacting with people outside. For example, I recently completed a project in which people tied massive amounts of balloons to the outside of a museum in Chile. I love participatory projects like that.