INTERVIEW: JEONGMEE YOON - The pink and blue project

The pink and blue project

N 2005, KOREAN ARTIST JEONGMEE YOON LAUNCHED THE "PINK AND BLUE PROJECT", A SERIES OF IMAGES PORTRAYING CHILDREN SURROUNDED BY THEIR TOYS, CLOTHES AND OTHER PERSONAL ITEMS. IT APPEARS THAT GIRLS OVERWHELMINGLY COME IN PINK, WHILE BOYS LOVE BLUE. THE PROJECT WAS TRIGGERED BY YOON’S DAUGHTER, AS AT THE AGE OF SIX, SHE BECAME OBSESSED WITH PINK. SHE WANTED PINK CLOTHES AND PINK TOYS ONLY.

SHE WAS HARDLY ALONE. YOON FOUND THAT IN KOREA AND MANY WESTERN COUNTRIES THE MARKETING INDUSTRY, THAT INDEFATIGABLE ENGINE OF OUR CONSUMERIST SOCIETY, ‘TEACHES’ GIRLS AND BOYS TO EMBRACE PINK AND BLUE RESPECTIVELY. IRONICALLY, SOME 100 YEARS AGO, AMERICAN KIDS WERE TOLD EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE ...

You started the Pink and Blue Project when your six-year-old daughter fell in love with pink. Today, she must be some 16 years old. Is it still all pink for her?

No, not anymore. Now she likes various colors, like other teenagers. Not just pink.

How has the project evolved? Are you still portraying girls in pink, boys in blue?

Yes, I’m continuing. The Pink & Blue Project I (2005-ongoing) consists of photographs of boys and girls who love the color blue and pink respectively, presenting the children with a selection of their personal objects. The Pink & Blue Project II revisits the same children four years later. The children have grown up and their interest in color has changed. This project portrays the development of these children as part of the social assimilation today’s society requires. Also, I found there are some adults who love a special color, so I have also started to take pictures of adults and their special color.

How have these colors become so associated with gender?

Perhaps it is the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements aimed at little girls and their parents, such as the universally popular Barbie and Hello Kitty merchandise. Girls train subconsciously and unconsciously to wear the color pink in order to look feminine. The saccharine, confectionary pink objects that fill my images of little girls and their accessories reveal a pervasive and culturally manipulated expression of “femininity” and a desire to be seen. The clothes and toy sections for children are already divided into pinks for girls and blues for boys. Their accessories and toys follow suit. Most toys and books for boys are made from the different shades of blue and are related to robots, industry, science and dinosaurs. This is a phenomenon as intense as the Barbie craze.

People will be surprised to learn that some 100 years ago young children in the USA were brought up with exactly the opposite concepts: pink was for ‘real’ boys. blue for girls. What was the idea then?

I don’t know. I just found texts that claimed pink was once a color associated with masculinity. It was considered to be a watered down red and held the power associated with that color. In 1914, The Sunday Sentinel, an American newspaper, advised mothers to “use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.”

Marjorie Garbor wrote in her book Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety: “Baby clothes, which since at least the 1940s have been routinely divided along gender and color lines, pink for girls, blue for boys, were once just the other way around. In the early years of the twentieth century, before World War I, boys wore pink, “a stronger, more decided color,” ... while girls wore blue (understood to be “delicate” and “dainty”).

When and why did it change?

The change to pink for girls and blue for boys happened in America and elsewhere only after World War II. As modern society embraced 20th century political correctness, the concept of gender equality emerged. As a result, the perspective on colors associated with gender generally changed, as well as the superficial connotations they are associated with.

Can you tell us how you create your images?

I begin a photographic session by arranging the larger items, blankets and coats, and then spread the smaller articles on the bed and floor. I soon realized that the photographs in which small possessions are well organized and displayed in the front of the scene make the images appear to be more crowded. This method shows my organization of subjects similar to the way in which museums categorize their inventories and display their collections. To capture the crucial photographic moment of a child's facial expression, as well as to assure that all fine details can be seen, I use a medium format camera, a 6x6 format Hasselblad, to make the objects seem more crowded and spectacular. This works better with a square frame rather than a rectangular one. To achieve a hyper-realistic painterly quality of the objects and subjects, I use the smallest aperture, f-22. In some of the pictures, the children are placed in the background and this, coupled with their blank facial expressions, gives them a doll-like appearance. Diffused lighting is used in order to flash all the articles in a small room evenly.

In 2004 - 2005 you lived in New York where you did the Stars and Stripes project, a reflection on American nationalism. Today you live in Seoul. Don’t you miss New York?

Oh, I do! I love New York so much, and I still often visit!

What do you love and hate most about Seoul?

I like Seoul's rapid and dynamic way of life, and its comfort and convenience. Living in Seoul offers many advantages. I have many friends here and my family is still living in Seoul. Everything is very fast and convenient. It is not like any other place. Just one phone call delivers anything from food to laundry. Also, having the fastest internet service in the world is handy. I hate its traffic and education system.

In 2011 you were awarded the prestigious Sovereign Asian Art Prize in Hong Kong. Was that for a particular project or for your whole oeuvre?

It was for the Pink & Blue Project II - Lauren and Carolyn and Their Pink & Purple Things, 2009.

What has the award meant for you and your career?

It is very honorable to receive such an award and great for my career.

What (other) projects are you currently working on?

I am taking photos for the Color Project, the Collector Project and the Companion Animal series. Also, I’m continuing The Pink & Blue Project II.

ArtEli Rezkallah