Nina Jun

nina jun

One day, as a mylar balloon slipped from her hand and drifted up into the sky, Nina Jun reflected upon the fleeting happiness the balloon had initially brought to her and the subsequent loss she experienced as the balloon escaped. In recognition of this transient happiness, Nina recreated the mylar balloon in ceramic, imbuing the balloon with a permanence, and raising it to the status of an object of art.

By making a plaster mold of the inflated mylar balloon and casting it in a ceramic slip, Jun captures the shape of the balloon, as well as the indentations and ripples along its edges, creating the illusion that it is filled with air. Jun decorates her balloons in soft pastels and cheerful colors that, once fired in her kiln, correspond with the reflective material of mylar. Adding to the illusion of a weightless, helium-filled balloon, Jun hangs her ceramics arbitrarily, mimicking actual balloon clusters and creating an interactive experience for the viewer.

The permanence of her selected medium, in conjunction with the rapid deflation of mylar balloons reminds one that, in life, time is ephemeral. However, while the choice of clay as a medium may seem completely contradictory to the weightlessness of balloons, Jun emphasizes not only the differences, but also the common factors the two mediums share. Jun explains that clay is a product of the earth, where life is born and lost, echoing the cyclical life of balloons.

On the day her mylar balloon escaped her grasp, Jun watched as it flew into the sky, becoming a mere dot on the horizon. Through this, she realized that her interest in space, balloons, and the human desire to fly could converge within her sculptures. The abstract patterns with which Jun decorates her balloons allude to the space formations she finds beautiful for their random yet orderly organization, merging galaxies, exploding stars, and vivid colors. Within the balloons, Jun uses dots to represent galaxies and butterflies for constellations. Her sculpture Laniakea is in fact a group of galaxies, while Supernovae is an explosion of stars, and Interstellar, a merging of galaxies.

The celebratory joy of balloons is an integral component of Jun’s balloon series. Since their invention in the 1970s, mylar balloons have become a symbol of celebration and love across generations. Used at both birthdays as well as for sending good wishes, the cheerful colors and shapes evoke a fleeting happiness. While she hopes that the balloon will spread happiness to its beholders, by imbuing her balloons with permanency, Jun also addresses the human desire to attain constant happiness through the control of time and aging.

Jun addresses her Korean heritage and gender in her compositions. The convex forms of her balloons relate to the traditional dome shape of Korean tombs. The curvilinear shape references femininity, while the hard materiality of the ceramic alludes to masculinity. Thus, within her sculptures, masculine and feminine entities coexist creating a work that is both “soft and hard, delicate and resilient.”

Jun has enjoyed a great deal of international recognition as an installation and sculpture artist. Upon graduating with an MFA in sculpture from California State University, Long Beach, Jun has exhibited her works in Art Fairs across Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Miami, Toronto, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea. Her works have additionally been published in magazines including Sculpture Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Korea Monthly Ceramics, Ceramics Review in London, Sculptures Pacific Magazine in Canada, Design Amid Magazine, and Designboom: Architecture, Art, and Design, in Italy.

Jun is most proud of her project for the National Council on Education for The Ceramic Arts of America, her Hello Kitty commissioned ceramic balloons displayed at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and her video installation commissioned by AWBW at the Sparc Gallery, Los Angeles, which addressed domestic violence. Ultimately, Jun hopes that her sculptures will lift the spirits of her audience across the world.

Kelly Bertrando
July, 2015