If you are a victim of “doomscrolling” in this visually overloaded world, what better place to take a mental break than Mue Studio’s otherworldly spaces? Now more than ever, we all need a place to escape from reality. Their realistic digital renderings can make a person wish scenes like this existed in real life.
We talk to the creative duo about their works, which some have likened to 'visual ASMR'.
Where are the both of you based currently? How do your surroundings affect and influence the work that you produce?
We are based in New York. When COVID-19 hit the city, both of us stayed in Seoul for half a year. Both cities are metropolitan areas, yet they differ culturally. We are constantly inspired by this difference between the eastern and western perspectives, including how people live and communicate with one another.
Perhaps we are inspired by the feeling of an alien in New York, whereas Seoul inspires us with the comfort of the motherland. These emotions eventually construct our work, creating a comfortable place that might exist, but it doesn’t.
How do you decide to work on a particular scene? Could you take us through your thought process when selecting a location, or deciding certain characteristics to be included in the final image?
We are interested in exploring blurring the boundary between fantasy and reality through our works. When we initially design a place, we make sure to create a minimalistic space that viewers would like to enter and take a break (i.e. Somewhere in the World’).
This goal is further approached by intentionally setting the time of the day in the image, placing a certain object, choosing a location, and more. Also, our other approach is ‘less is more', because it is the most effective way to present a comfortable vibe (i.e., ‘Virtual Vacation’ & ‘Visual Escapism’). It becomes difficult to promote comfort when the image gets cluttered.
Your work commonly features compositions that mimic early dawn and dusk. Is there a particular reason why you chose these timings?
Our work is often constructed by soft light and directional light scenes, including sunrise and sunset. These objects imply early dawn or dusk, which facilitate to deliver subtle emotions, melancholy, and mysterious scenes that we like to deliver. It also makes our images look more intriguing. Further, the sky at the time of sunrise and sunset has a full spectrum of colours with many details.
In the larger context of psychology, sunrise and sunset represent the cycle of nature, including that of humans and other living things. This is why we like to utilize sunrise, sunset, dawn, and dusk to provoke feelings, through colours, tones, and compositions.
Your works have a very lived-in feel, and a general sense of humanity and warmth — this, despite not having any humans present in any of your works at all. How do you create that feeling, that sense and narrative of having people in a space, and why was that important to you?
We both have a background in fine art photography. Though we come from a different timeline, our mutual interest was about human beings. Minjin was keenly interested in human beings and the tension between presence and absence, whereas Mijoo was interested in exploring human lives and the culture behind them.
We firmly believe these backgrounds are present within our 3D art. Although there is nobody in our image, we invite the viewers to present in our dreamy space and ultimately create a sense of humanity.
The both of you have Korean roots; is there anything in your shared identity that helps you collaborate, or are there any references and inspirations that you’ve drawn from Korea?
One advantage to our collaboration is that there is no need for any cultural explanation. This helps us to stay on the same page and maintain a similar wavelength, which then helps us to cultivate great teamwork. Particularly, being a Korean American is a big part of the team’s identity, as our diverse background helps us to generate more diverse ideas.
Which particular project or artwork of yours do you feel the most strongly about; are there any that you have a deep personal connection with?
A lot of projects were memorable for us. Especially in early 2020, our partnership with Adobe was a breakthrough for us. We have partnered with Adobe Stock and Adobe Dimension to create a set of tutorials and creative works centered around semi-surreal, which was one of the trends for 2020. The opportunity to discuss design trends, create tutorials, and engage with the creative community truly provided us with a memorable collaboration.
Where do you find inspiration from? Are there particular artists whose works speak to you?
Minjin: I get inspiration from everything I experience. One of them being New York City, which is the perfect city for a walker like myself. Everything that I see, hear, and feel on these streets inspires me. As I live in a constantly packed state of mind both physically and emotionally, my work tends to present the opposite.
Mijoo: As a long-time photographer, I was always interested in other mediums and had a longing for other artists who used different mediums. These artists tend to inspire me, especially from painting, sculpture, and the music industry. Another source of inspiration is from the architecture and culture that I see when I walk down the street, as I’m keenly interested in human beings and their environment.
For many, your work is seen as something of a ‘mental break’ from the chaos of social media. Was this intentional, and does this stem from any sort of personal experience?
This is our sole intention. As creatives who worked for several years, we have been thinking that our role is to create a piece that gives people comfort, inspires people to dream a better world, and helps them feel better in this harsh world. We really appreciate a lot of comments such as ‘these images are calm’, ‘I would like to be present in that space’, ‘this image is like a visual ASMR’, as these words fuel me as an artist. We also appreciate the moment when people share their thoughts, memories, and stories inspired through our images.
Further, we are currently living in a world that consists of multilayers with digital culture and social media. Yet, we feel that our emotional and social connection is actually fading away, and the episode of pandemics further separated society physically as well. Technology should function to connect individuals and build a stronger community, yet the opposite is being observed, as we feel more isolated and disengaged.
Through our social media platform, we offer a variety of semi-surrealism images. This provides an opportunity for viewers to escape reality momentarily, creating a safe digital space that the community can relax and interact with one another.
Finally — why did you start Mue Studio together, and what was the ultimate goal or impact you wanted your studio to have?
Mue is the collaboration between Minjin Kang (@minjinart) & Mijoo Kim (@mijookim_studio) as a creative duo. Throughout the course of our academic work, we provided genuine feedback to each other’s projects, and also provided assistance when needed. In 2015, we both moved to New York City and decided to work together. Our first project was the series of Coney Island: The Modern Paradise, and we travelled to various cities while performing as a team.
We used to focus on the medium itself in our previous work, however, we realized that we cannot limit ourselves based on what medium is being used in our work. That is when we decided to define our identity as multidisciplinary artists, constantly pushing our creative boundaries. Even though the message has been the same, constant changes in our mediums including photography, 3D art, video, and more, allowed us to expand our work.
As a multidisciplinary design studio as a global brand, we would like to maintain our own colour, and further challenge ourselves, expand our disciplines and ultimately share inspiration with the creative community.