At 24 years old, South Korean artist Dahae Song has built a significant following of admirers drawn to her powerful and reflective body of work. Stark and emotional, her work is only strengthened by a social media presence that gives an alluring glimpse of the confident and provocative individual behind the art.
Currently situated in downtown Toronto and a student of Ontario College of Art & Design, Song grew up as the daughter of child psychologists. Her work speaks to an emotional intelligence and self-awareness that are undoubtedly shaped by her upbringing and knowledge of psychology. Loneliness, disorientation, and emptiness: Song’s work excels at translating feelings of loss using simple but powerful universal imagery – a hand reaching out, a disembodied limb.
It’s this vulnerability and unwillingness to shy away from those raw (and often disconcerting) emotions that allow her pieces to resonate with so many who come across her work. Leading up to Blank Canvas’ opening exhibition this Thursday, we spoke to Dahae about her creative beginnings, artistic identity, and the value of creating as therapy.
When did you first start creating?
I started creating as a young child. Anything I could make drawings or sculptures out of were my toys. A lot of my early childhood memories are of drawing alone at my parents’ or grandparents’ homes, or drawing with my best friend. Around the age of 6 or 7, I started having private art lessons with a small group of close friends. These are my fondest memories. I have journals I wrote at that age that talk about how I want to become an artist when I grow up.
Growing up, what kind of artistic influences were you drawn to? How have those changed as you’ve gotten older, and in what capacity do you believe your influences affect your current work?
I was drawn to conceptual art, the idea of the art object being the physical extension or visual counterpart of a concept. My current practice is extremely idiosyncratic so it’s all self-reflexive and referential, but I am still drawn to – and explore – philosophies of conceptual art.
At what point did you decide to pursue a career within the art world? What made you feel that you were on the right path?
I went through a heavy depression for three years from ages 17-20. I dropped out of U of T twice, and spent almost a year living in Tanzania. During the time I lived as a volunteer amongst victims of sex-trafficking; I realized that I cannot help others until I help myself, and decided that I am so tired of being sad. When I returned to Toronto, I started taking steps towards being able to pursue the path of an artist. When I completed my first body of work, and sat back and looked at it, was the moment that I felt happiness which felt like the first time my life. That exact feeling of complete happiness I to this day only get through making art.
What are the biggest sacrifices you believe you’ve made for your career as an artist?
When I was making the decision into pursuing art, my mindset was stuck that it was my family that was impeding my future as an artist. I made a decision that I will chose art over my family. I wanted to be happy. Now I have redeveloped the once lost and destroyed love between my family and I. Now it is the most important thing in the world to me.
EMOTION, IDENTITY and IRL vs. URL
The upcoming exhibition at Blank Canvas focuses on themes of character and identity – what have you learned about yourself in the process of creating?
I learned that I am a walking paradox. I am never in a fixed, definitive state; it is what it is. I will be in a constant state of flux, changing until the moment of death- and change is neither negative nor positive, regressive or progressive, it just simply is a state of dasein.
In what ways is your art a reflection of the identity you have created for yourself? What effect has this identity had on the way you present yourself in the physical world (your everyday appearance) as well as the digital world (your online social media presence)?
In every way I am an artist, that is my identity. What else am I without my art? I don’t want to be anything else.
Much of your work is based on the convergence of the digital and physical worlds, and how they affect the human experience – and despite creating a significant amount of your work using digital means, you’ve stated that limit your online presence to Instagram for what appears to be fairly pragmatic reasons. This feels somewhat contradictory, could you speak to that?
To me, social media is work. It is a place to make connections, but not to connect on a “human” level. I love and revere physical human interaction a lot; it is so sacred to experience the energy or aura of a person. I don’t enjoy the spiritually distant, and disconnected interaction. I have so much that is beautiful in my life, I barely have the time to be in their presence, let alone be lost online.
You’ve spoken about your struggles with anxiety and depression, and the significance of art as therapy. Anxiety is often framed as a preoccupation with the future, and depression a preoccupation with the past. Does creating have therapeutic value for you because it allows you to be in the present, or are there other benefits conferred by creating that make artistic expression so healing for you?
I use the act of creating as a processing mechanism of the past, present, future simultaneously; they are not separate things for me nor can they exist independently from another. I believe that time is non-linear and nothing is in a definitive state as it is in a constant state of flux. I see my practice as a series of progressive dialectical synthesis in order to bring dualities (especially the heart and the brain) into a paradoxical unity. My work is very idiosyncratic in nature, because it’s how I experience and understand my world, both internal and external.
Your art can be incredibly emotional, and openly displaying emotion and vulnerability is something many people tend to find uncomfortable. Are you a naturally open person in all areas of your life, or is this something you embrace especially in your art?
It is very hard to attain emotional intelligence. It is only through my art that I am able to process, understand and accept emotions. Emotions are valuable and sacred. They aren’t something that should be controlled, ignored, and manipulated as they will no longer be pure. I chose to be vulnerable and not weak.
LESSONS, GROWTH and MORE
You’re quite proficient at marketing both yourself and your art through Instagram, and have built a significant following in Toronto. What would be your advice to other young upcoming artists in the city?
To become fully aware of and understand who you are as an artist, and simply be that. Present and represent yourself according to your own identity.
Who are some fellow artists based in Toronto whose work you admire?
What are you passionate about outside of your art – are there any causes you would like to lend your voice to?
I want to make disappear the stigma attached to mental health.
What’s next for Dahae Song, both in terms of the evolution of your work and your individual personal growth?
I don’t know, I believe that your art matures as you mature as a person, and vice versa. I’ll just live.
Dahae Song will be showing at Blank Canvas’ Opening Exhibition on April 21st, 2016 (1544 Bloor St. W, Toronto.)