Jinkyu Ahn is an experimental animator whose work has been featured and won awards around the world, from the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards to Animaze Daze at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Ahn participated in this Film Matters interview via email in summer 2017.
Emmett Williams: Your biography, as seen on your website, is a bit sparse. Could you tell us some more about yourself, and your background?
Jinkyu Ahn: I was born in Pohang, South Korea and spent my childhood there. After studying landscape architecture in college and completing military service, I came to the United States and began studying art in Los Angeles. I first studied drawing and painting. Afterward, I earned a BFA in Character Animation and an MFA in Film and Video at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).
It is typically considered a red flag to have such an eclectic academic background – going from landscape architecture to character animation to film and video may seem indicative of an unfocused mind. I saw it as strengthening my ability to express myself in a multifaceted way.
As a child, one of my favorite activities was writing poetry. However, I was limited by my youth to only written poetry – I neither had the technical know-how (and possibly the inspiration) to do more than that. However, with my studies, I can finally enjoy expressing the sensibilities of poetry in a visual, and often nonverbal, medium.
EW: Tell us about some of your creative influences. As your work is experimental in nature, these influences are especially interesting.
JA: Personally, I avoid the idea of searching for inspiration or subject matter for my experimental works. I find that ordinary thoughts can easily become new experimental compositions and expressions. It is unavoidable that I consciously or unconsciously desire some sort of “newness” in my work, but I try to push beyond that and pay attention to what feels new to me rather than whether something I am doing can be marketed as new. In a sense, what I mean is that I seek “newness” as a self-fulfilling experience rather than as an end-user product.
What this means in my daily life is that I try to be conscious of my feelings and thoughts and what was impactful enough that I could recall that feeling or thought. Then I will spend some time sitting down and trying to parse the reason for why I could recall it. I always hope that this investigation helps me learn more about how the events unfolded to leave me with that moment, what that says about where I am in my life, whether it is actually meaningful to me, and how can I express it to others. I find that dedicating a significant time to examining these sometimes sparse, sometimes common moments of my daily life help me focus on the emotions I want to convey to the audience and sometimes help inform me on the method I want to communicate to them.
EW: Your earliest filmed work was Organ, in 2011. What led up to the production of Organ? In other words, what were some of the factors that led to your interest in film?
JA: I wanted to understand myself and my place in the world. This period was a time of self-reflection, speaking toward my contradictory feelings of wanderlust and homesickness and of feeling displaced from my community yet factually being active in my community.
To achieve this, I wanted to know the things that composed the world and how they work. Organ approaches these relationships through stories about people, society, and nature. And as the inner composition of the work, I tried to organize organic and multisensory external objects, such as the forms of people, society, and nature, together as a poem.
The cause of my feelings was not clear cut – I could not say that X caused Y and that A caused B which then caused C. And thus, I felt that Organ should not constrain itself to a linear narrative and instead act as a collage or collection of moments that would help inform viewers how I felt without being directly told that.
EW: Your website has images from a number of your visual art pieces, many of which predate Organ. Can you tell us more about that pursuit?
JA: I sincerely believe that my works, whether in performance, installation pieces, photography, or drawing, inform my film work (and vice versa). I am perpetually trying new things, not necessarily with a clearly defined motive or endgame in mind, but because I have found that trying new things on a whim tends to pay dividends. I understand and respect people who dedicate themselves to one medium, regardless of whether it is because that is the only medium they are passionate about or because it is the medium they are most proficient in. I am simply the type of person who, with or without inspiration or a plan, will try something I find novel if it helps me reflect upon myself and express those feelings with others. I am currently experimenting with more rigid planning, but I believe my body of work speaks to the wanderlust of my art.
EW: Your most recent film was Flipping, three years ago, in 2014. In the time since then, have you been working on other projects? Can we hope to see a new film from you in the near future?
JA: Since Flipping, I have dedicated myself to Contained, a multiyear project that began as a series of indoor paintings. As the years have progressed, I have begun incorporating more in Contained – what began as abstract monochrome paintings now includes photography and will soon become adapted into animation, an installation piece, and a performance piece. I intend for it to culminate in a final feature film that will incorporate slices from all of Contained’s iterations.
The next step, which I am currently developing, is an animation that includes all of the image work I have done so far. Very generally, the installation piece will adapt that animation so that each visitor will meet a unique selection of the animation based on their movement through the installation, while the performance piece will have interpretive dancers express themselves with their bodies according to the scene and order of images.
This will ultimately culminate in a film incorporating parts from all past parts of Contained. I hope that iterating on the subject matter and experimenting with different mediums will help inform my film creation process and produce something that will allow audiences to experience every aspect of Contained.
EW: What are some of the themes that you wanted to explore, in Organ, Echo, and Flipping?
JA: If there is one common theme among these three films, it’s unconventional beauty. Organ is a collection of videos I took, one of my life in California (where I have resided for the past ten years), to videos of my travels through Europe, as well as my past videos in South Korea. Instead of attempting to create a cohesive or clearly understandable narrative, I lay out the videos like a collage, hoping that viewers will find a serenity in simply “people watching” me and others around me going through our lives. In Echo, I created a dance video that incorporated lively music and scenery despite conveying the character’s sense of listlessness in life. And in Flipping, the focus of the film is on the mixing of oil-based paint droplets in a sea of water-based paint, a phenomenon you would see any time you are washing greasy dishes. In the end, audiences deserve more credit – despite often being laymen when it comes to the technical know-how of creating films, they can understand and appreciate beauty in forms that may not always seem immediately obvious.
For more information about Jinkyu Ahn, please visit: http://www.jinkyuahn.com/
Emmett Williams is a senior, double majoring in film studies and history. His interests mainly include exploring the intersection of film and history, as well as examining political history.