Previous: Art Trip: Houston | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios
Next: Art Trip: Indianapolis | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios



View count:74,620
Last sync:2024-05-09 18:15
Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here:

We introduce you to the talented and amazing JooYoung Choi, who shares tales of her fictional realm The Cosmic Womb and beckons us to create our own IMAGINARY FRIEND.

INSTRUCTIONS - Imaginary Friend
1. Make an imaginary friend using any medium you like
2. Introduce that friend to others
3. Share your friend with us using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Learn more about JooYoung's work:

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:

 (00:00) to (02:00)

(PBS Digital Studios logo)

Sarah: Today we're in Houston, Texas and I'm delighted that we're gonna be meeting up with JooYoung Choi who started out as a painter but has branched into a wide range of media to tell the tales of her expansive fictional land called the Cosmic Womb.  For this imaginary world, she builds sets, sews costumes, and makes by hand its inhabitants, who each have their own intricate creation story and narratives that interconnect to form the Cosmic Womb mythology.  Choi appears in the work as well, as a variety of characters including Queen Kiok and C.S. Watson, an earthling from Concord, New Hampshire.  

Choi herself was born in South Korea and was adopted by a family in Concord, New Hampshire where she grew up.  In 2008, she reunited with her birth family in South Korea and this experience has heavily informed and shaped the Cosmic Womb, whose motto is, "Have faith, for you have always been loved."  Choi's practice is radically imaginative and explores loss, longing, and despair as well as hope, love, and healing, and while she creates an entire fictional world, she's gonna ask you to will into being just one special character.

JooYoung: Hi, I'm JooYoung Choi, and this is your Art Assignment.


JooYoung: I think the idea of imaginary friends, it's something that over time maybe we give up, and our imagination should be our friend.  I think as we get older, maybe imagination becomes something that we're supposed to put away.  I think the idea of our own imaginary friends are just as essential and important as adults as they were when we were younger.  It is this idea that there's something I'm trying to understand in my life and it's through a character, like the idea of being enough, that's something that really fascinates me, this idea that you already are enough right now.  You don't have to go do or be something else than what you are to be truly loved by yourself and by the universe.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

This latest character, Spacia Tanno, that I've been playing with who I've done two large sculptures of, it was this idea of how can I do the concept of 'you are enough' and the coming of age story together in a whole arc, and so that has lead to a number of new characters being created and a bunch of new pieces made.

Your assignment is to make an imaginary friend.  Now, I've made a puppet, but you can make anything that you want.  And I know that our imaginary friends, well, you can be a little bit shy about introducing it to other people, but I hope that you'll bring it out in to the world and share it with others.

Sarah: What I love about this particular assignment is that it's not just about creating a thing, but it's about creating a thing and building a whole world around it.  Giving it a name, a backstory, a life, friends, a context.

John: Yeah, I love worldbuilding.  As you know, Sarah, it's not something that I necessarily excel at in my own writing, but I love it as both a reader and a writer, whether it's the Bronte sisters coming up with these fantastically complicated world when they were little kids or JK Rowling's world of Hogwarts, I just love living inside a world that is not my own.

Sarah: And when we think about this in the realm of art, the fantastic worldbuilders that come to mind for me are artists such as Henry Darger, who spent decades making a three volume illustrated manuscript titled "The Story of the Vivian Girls, In What Is Known As The Realms of the Unreal of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion".  It's the story of seven little girls who set out to rescue children who'd been enslaved by adult Glandellinians.

John: Darger started this work when he was only 19 and his work actually wasn't discovered until after his death, but even in his absence, we've been able to follow and get to know his bizarre and utterly compelling world, but we're actually going to talk in today's animation about another artist's work, who was very much an active physical presence in bringing his invented world to life.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

Sarah: You probably know Alexander Calder for his abstract hanging sculptures dubbed mobiles by his friend Marcel Duchamp.  He called them this because they're well, mobile, with suspended forms that move about with the normal flow of air, but before he made these, Calder explored movement in objects through his spectacular circus, a menagerie of small sculptures designed to be performed, not just observed.

He would gather friends, play his (?~4:23), and bring the circus to life.  He fashioned acrobats, clowns, contortionists, and animals from materials like wire, bottle caps, corks, and fabric lying about his studio.  For as long as two hours, Calder presented act after act, entertaining guests with elaborate routines performed by his kinetic creations.  It was playful to be sure, but also something he took seriously, immersing himself and his audience in this miniature realm of danger and delight. 

JooYoung's assignment asks us to take a similar imaginative leap, taking bits of this and that and giving them a name, a backstory, and bringing them into contact with the world.

JooYoung: There's this character named Larry that I was obsessed with two years ago and all I wanted to do was talk to people about Larry and Larry wasn't like, in a real painting, he was just this cut-out I had and I'd be like, This is Larry, and I'd hold him and be like, And Larry likes to eat bad feelings and push stuff.  Like, that was his thing.  He had a wagon.  Oh, no, pull things.  He had a wagon and he pulled stuff and he liked um, I don't know, he liked to eat bad feelings and I thought, oh, well, he should have a sister, you know, like someone to hang out with, and that's where Bernadette came in. 

I had noticed as of lately, a lot of my friends were going through this kind of feeling of defeat and maybe some despair.  This idea of kind of hopelessness and I thought, well, all this hopelessness must be useful for somebody, you know, it's like, they say sometimes that you can't have the lotus unless you have the mud, and I thought, oh, I'll make this really wonderful character.  She'll be so lovingly wonderful and she always wants to come be with you when you're having a hard time and eat up all of your despair.  

 (06:00) to (08:00)

She was really fun to create, 'cause um, I wanted to make one that you could also do stuff with her feet so there's elastic bands inside of her, so you can actually, like, make her dance and she's a--it was interesting, 'cause I had this idea for her, but then it wasn't until I made her that I realized she's like, this fabulous dancer and she can do kind of like these moves where it might be that she, you know, like the breakdancing, when they do a stall?  So like, she'd be, let's see here, gotta get my hands in, okay.  So, if she's dancing, she could always, like, drop like that, you know, and like freeze and have like a cool pose and then, let's see here, go back to--then she can walk, which I hadn't really ever done a walking character before that could do that, so that was really fun, and also to have a mouth and um, there's a stick that you can attach to her nose, like so then she could, you know, make her elephant nose go up and down, but um, it was when I was playing with her, I realized that she reads through her nose, so she can like, soak up information.  So there is this level of play that helps you understand the character that I think sometimes we think play is a nice idea as artists, but it's not essential, and more and more as I continue to make work, I realize, no, it's actually what enriches and it, yeah, it is very essential to the process, 'cause there's so many things about her I wouldn't have understood unless I made her.

There's two or three different ideas.  One way is to go back to your younger self and think about three animals that you found to be really precious to you, that you really, really loved.  They could be specific animals like, I don't know, maybe you liked Flipper or something, but maybe it's just that you love the idea of a rabbit, you know, and so take those three animals and then blend them together into one creature, thinking about the aspects of that animal that you really loved and took comfort in.  

 (08:00) to (10:00)

Maybe you liked eagles because they could fly away and soar, or you liked giraffes because they had such great perspective on what was going on, 'cause they have these long necks.  So really accentuating the features of those animals that you like and then, then you have this amazing imaginary friend that embodies these things that you like. 

You can also do it based on medium.  Say there's, you haven't done a lot of photography and, or you haven't done a lot of photography in collage.  Then you can spend the day taking photographs, print them out, and then collage them together into a creature, so that's the medium way, and the other one is is by idea.  So say in your life, maybe, there's something that you're trying to deal with.  Maybe like my creature, it was the idea of, I needed, I wanted to create a creature that could bring comfort and eat feelings of defeat and despair and so I wanted to make this really interesting looking character that would make you just feel better by being around it, but then not only that, it would eat your bad feelings, so if it's not for you, maybe there's someone in your life that really needs an imaginary friend that could come cheer them up or maybe loves to go outside, this friend of yours isn't spending much time outdoors, so maybe it's a creature that has a bad habit of just running out, outside all the time, you know, so maybe it has beautiful legs that run really fast, you know, so um, I think those are three great ways to start your character.


JooYoung: So this is Milford, and Milford's pretty shy.  He works a desk job and, with, does a lot of numbers, but his, his dream is to really make it as the guy at karaoke that just sings and wows everybody.  Isn't that right?  Yeah.  Yeah.  He's, he likes coffeeshops and bagels and I don't know, secretly liking poetry and not letting anyone know.  

 (10:00) to (10:32)