Artist profile: Ji Min Hwang makes magic with electricity
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For Ji Min Hwang, art has always been a part of her life — even when she didn’t want it to be. Hwang was born in New Jersey as a first generation Korean-American. Growing up, she said, her parents noticed her creativity early.
“As a child, they pushed me to pursue art in any way possible,” Hwang said. “I did extracurricular art classes, played both the piano and violin, and they even hired family friends to come to our house every Sunday and do craft projects with me.”
She described the experience as intense and said she became burnt out in her teenage years and ceased to create — until she found herself in her high school guidance counselor’s office discussing college options.
“I felt so lost,” she remembered. “I was young and had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I was kind of good at art.”
That’s how Hwang ended up at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. There, she started studying with a communications design focus before switching to fine arts, and ultimately, taking a leave of absence after struggling to find her footing in the fast-paced city life.
Hwang came to Steamboat Springs to slow down and reconnect with herself.
She started making jewelry back in New York while working for a designer who had a booth at a Brooklyn flea market; Hwang worked full time for her, helping to assemble and sell her pieces.
“I eventually developed my own style and felt inspired to start my own business,” she said.
From there, Kozmicroots was born. Now, Hwang sells jewelry, glass pipes and more through her Etsy shop and locally in Steamboat.
“I wasn’t sure what my business was ultimately going to be, so I wanted the name to be something general but relatable,” she explained. “I was just discovering spirituality at the time, so I chose the name Kozmicroots to reflect our deep and fundamental connection to the cosmos and all of its magic and mysteries.”
Hwang mainly uses a technique known as electroforming, which is the process of plating metal onto an object using electricity. She uses a positive and negative current to draw copper from one source and stick onto something else using an electrolytic chemical bath.
“It’s a very magical and alchemical process,” she said. “I became interested in it after feeling like I was never going to be able to afford studio space or a studio apartment to pursue any hot metalwork in Steamboat. Electroforming doesn’t require the use of a torch, and all I really need is a flat surface, an outlet and a sink at the bare minimum.”
While traveling with her family — a gestation period for her art, she said — she began studying the electroform process after tiring of making jewelry from feathers, stones and bones, which she described as “festival jewelry.”
When she returned to Steamboat, she began to experiment with the technique and has been using it ever since. While jewelry used to be her specialty, Hwang now focuses mainly on custom-order glass pipes.
“For me, the meaning behind this work is in the magic of the co-creative process and how it reflects life in general,” she explained. “We are all co-creating this life together. It feels like alchemy, watching something change so drastically, and feels like magic, being able to electroform anything from bones to pretzels.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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