Meet the Artist: Yoonhee Choi

Published April 28, 2022

Q&A with artist Yoonhee Choi, whose new installation, based on a folded drawing, hangs in the PDX Rental Car Center through 2022.

When the Portland airport's new Rental Car Center opened last fall, it didn't just make it faster for visitors to zip off to their destination. The center has also become a showcase for major new works of public art. In the walkway from the main terminal to the center, you'll find three large sculptures and digital prints, commissioned just for PDX. Starting in mid-February, you'll also find a fourth across from the rental desks: Yoonhee Choi's "FD 21.07 | April," two overlapping scrolls, criss-crossed with fine lines, covered with gorgeous washes of gray and black.

"FD 21.07," in its original form, is just 10 inches long! It's part of a series of folded drawings that Yoonhee, a Portland artist who also trained as an architect, first started making six years ago. PDX Next talked to Yoonhee this month about her work, which will be on display for the next year. (The interview has been condensed and edited for space.)

PDX Next: How do you make folded drawings?
Yoonhee Choi: It's like [the traditional Japanese dying technique] shibori, where you fold a piece of fabric and dip it in ink. I love that process, so I did it with paper. I fold a piece of sketch paper randomly, then rub both sides with powdered charcoal. Then I unfold it, like opening a paper snowflake. I redo it, based on what I find, soaking the paper in mineral oil so it becomes more transparent.  Sometimes I sand it with sandpaper, or wrap it and squeeze it. I really like crisp edges, so the folding lines become a part of the mark-making process. It's very spontaneous. 

During the pandemic I stopped all work outside my own home studio, and more and more of my thoughts went into this process. In Korean, the word for fold—jeopda—also means putting your thoughts aside to go forward. That concept really came through the last couple of years. And, as a mom, I do a lot of repetitive chores like folding clothes.

How did you choose this drawing to blow up for the installation?
My work is pretty small. But when I made it, I imagined it in a huge space, like the backdrop for a stage. Even before the PDX opportunity even came up, I [envisioned] it as hanging drapery. Now I'm excited to see it at this bigger scale.

As an architect, how are you hoping that your drawing interacts with the rental car center?
There will be people working there, facing that wall, 24 hours a day. There are many other things [in the space] that are so colorful. So vibrant. Black and white is calmer. I wanted to create a space with a little difference — a deeper, calm space, like a reading room. Maybe when the workers see that, maybe they can go into that space.