Long-haul and overseas moves can be some of our most stressful life-events, yet there was an unequivocal sense of serenity and calm about Kathy Suyun Kwon when we caught her last November, at the cusp of leaving Berlin.
Letting go of most of her belongings and what has been home for the past 13 years, she’s settling in California—for the second time—the first with her family from Korea, this time, some thirty years later, with her own family: her husband Til and their 3 year old son Nöe.
Currently working on building a tiny house, they envision a life in communion with nature where they’re able to make a living from work that embodies their values. Apart from the obvious efforts involved in building a DIY home, the idea of setting themselves up rural and starting out ‘light’ seems like the obvious route to take, considering the high costs of any urban area in California.
Acknowledging the daring and experimental aspects of their project, Kathy admits that there are some days where they feel both displaced and homeless—but on good days they feel like brave pioneers.
Defined as habits with intention, rituals can serve as anchors in otherwise capricious times, which is perhaps one of the reasons Kwon has been predisposed to forming a number of her own since early childhood.
In this two-part interview, we talk about change and transition, alongside attachment and everyday ritual.
Kathy wearing the Slit Crop Top in Alabaster
You're hardly bringing anything with you on your move. What are some of the few things you are bringing and why?
It’s funny that out of all the things I've accumulated over a decade of living in Berlin, what I'm departing with are my journals, a few handmade things and art-gifts from friends.
My journals chronicle my many lives lived here: the shadows, the break-ups, the healing. I’m saving these for my future-old-lady-self who's going to want to read every juicy bit.
Can you tell us about journaling as a ritual for you?
Aside from meditation, which is a practice that returns again and again in my life, showing up by writing in my journal is my longest standing ritual.
What first got me into writing was Julia Cameron's, The Artists Way. I chanced upon this book while studying classical piano at a conservatory in the German Black Forest, and it inspired me to write in a really honest and raw way I had never done before, allowing me to begin to unlock a bunch of old programming. This lies at the heart of my creative process; to be in touch with this ‘zero-point’ field of no judgment: An absolute space that allows everything.
You've studied classical music, and it's also part of your work and creative practice through Air of Colors. What role has music played in your life?
Music, growing up as a kid to hard-working immigrant parents, was both a ritual and a portal. In love with classical music, the soundscape of beauty that a child can only begin to imagine, I fell asleep each night, entranced by my single cassette tape; Chopin’s Impromptu and Beethoven's Piano Sonata.
Paradoxically, music became a vehicle for my healing, but in a way one wouldn't expect: Studying piano at an older age, I became obsessed with the idea of ‘being a pianist’ as a way to gain a sense of identity and worth. This volatile combination led to an injury that sparked my journey to (self-)healing.
How has motherhood altered your creative process?
At the core, it’s essentially about me showing up and sifting, and then allowing what’s there to come through. What’s astounding about any kind of art-making, whether they involve sound or visuals, is that they're a testament to the dream-world that’s absolutely embedded in our lives.
This reality, in which our bodies reside in, has so much more magic than what our socialized norm conditions us to believe. We’re in a constant dialogue with this dream realm, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Music is a medium that transports us there.
What are new rituals you hope to create once you land in CA?
Born a city kid, in Seoul, before moving to the suburbs of CA and then to Berlin, our new rituals will be about building union and closeness with nature. I believe I’ll have to discover a lot of nature-communing for the first time, and then, let the romance give way for the real to emerge.
How does what you wear affect your mood and creativity?
I believe that as we collectively live with more awareness and intention, we start to choose the objects which we bring into our lives with more sensitivity. As we begin to read and sense our pleasure, the things that we use and adorn our daily lives with become more beautiful—beautiful, in the sense that there’s an immediacy of satisfaction and joy, and that it expresses something essential about our inner lives. I love to choose what I wear this way as well, and now that I have such few pieces to choose from, I have to be even more deliberate and essential.
Kathy wearing the Selena Slip Dress in Alabaster and Hera Pants in Onyx
Checking in, half a year later, how has the transition been so far?
We’re currently living in Sacramento, at my parents’ house in the suburbs. Meanwhile, our tiny house is being built in our neighbor’s yard, 5 houses down, and we’re looking for land hosts. The experience is calling us to grow and be more patient than ever, yet in all of it, we're continuously astounded by the unexpected generosities of strangers and friends.
Are you able to work?
While I’m not actively creating music right now, there are moments of ideas which I’m keeping bookmarked. I’m trying to feel all of the feelings coming through, and whenever possible, to stay curious about how these fears, insecurities and inner conflicts pan out in my body.
There’s so much ego-death happening in these limbo periods and I’m trying to resist the urge to understand everything and go with what comes daily. It’s difficult!
Have you already started any new rituals in communion with nature?
I’ve been working with a wonderful medicine woman and herbalist named Sun Song, who's prescribed a few different flower essences specific to my current needs of spiritual protection, compassion, inner softness and ancestral healing. They’re really fascinating to work with.
Another very new ritual is giving myself one daily nourishing activity, which can mean a short evening walk on a nearby trail with a journal in my hand. This keeps me sane in the blurry passing of time between working and mothering.
Kathy wearing the Athena Dress in Onyx
Kathy Suyun Kwon is a visual artist, musician and healer. She creates music for meditation through her portal, Air of Colors. And is the founder of Bright Matters Studio, a design studio offering visual communication and strategy for female creative entrepreneurs. She is currently based in San Luis Obiso, California.