Yoon Ji Seon’s photographic self-portraits are far from ordinary.
That’s because they’re not really photographs—or, at least, they’re not exclusively photographs. They’re more like tapestries that use photographs as their base and are made into something much more complex and strange with the creative use of thread.
In her series “Rag Face,” which is on view at New York’s Yossi Milo Gallery through Dec. 5, Yoon takes her shots and then embroiders the prints into colorful fabric with a sewing machine, using multiple layers of thread, some of which she lets hang or bundle to suggest hair and other features. She got the idea for this technique while working on another series, “Pricked,” for which she poked holes in photos with acupuncture needles.
It’s a hugely labor intensive process, one made all the more difficult, at least initially, by the fact that Yoon had never used a sewing machine before she started the series. It now takes Yoon six weeks of 15-hour days to create a small piece. Larger pieces take about a month of 15- to 20-hour days to complete. Her largest piece took three months.
“When I sew, I experience unexpected incidents every day, and I am busy fixing up the incidents. This is my work process. As time goes, fabric starts to shrink and threads get tangled. Fabric goes out of shape and gets crumpled. The photography gets distorted,” she said via email.
Yoon’s facial expressions are also pretty unusual, ranging from frowns to sneers. The exaggerated looks, made more dramatic by the warping effect of the thread, challenge traditional notions of beauty in a selfie-addicted world and, moreover, bear a striking resemblance to the looks of traditional masks.
“Masks are very attractive because masks have various kinds of facial expressions and they usually exist as substitute personalities that express real-live people’s desires. I never tried to imitate these masks, but they often inspire me.”