Artist Profile: Erin Kim (Agnes), Creator of Lettres Mag - New York City
Hi Agnes! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Professionally I’m the Social Media Manager at Architizer and outside of that, I’m an artist and storyteller, expressing myself through words, photos, songs, zines and more to come! I also take care of my mother and live in Astoria, Queens.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
In university, I created my own major in Media Storytelling at NYU Gallatin – I basically looked at cinema, fashion, literature, documentaries trying to understand how we choose to communicate realities to one another. It was a lot of theory, because I didn’t believe I was personally a storyteller or artist myself. It was only at the end of my time at school, I showed my photos to professors, and they were like, “we had no idea you did this. You need to share more of this.” And that was the first time I thought “oh, I guess I make art.” All the photos and written stories I had made until then, I just saw as a hobby just like anyone else who took photos or wrote journals. But it’s because other people have believed in me and pushed me to share my art, that I’m here, now trying to make as much stuff as I possibly can.
Tell us about Lettres Mag! When/where did the idea come from and how did you decide on printing a magazine?
Lettres Mag is a printed art magazine of 26 handcrafted love letters from around the world. There are poems, illustrations, notes to friends, lovers, strangers, to selves. Earlier this year, I was unemployed after a lay off, and I was feeling creatively deprived looking for a new job in a digital landscape that seemed to be all about analytics, getting more followers and achieving fast measurable results. So my mentor-y friend asked me, “what could you make right now that would make you happy?” I said, “a print magazine would be cool.” She said, “You should do it.” And I was like, “Whoa.” And I went for it, with the support of her and a group of other women who were working on their own passion projects. Initially I thought about making a travel magazine, because I love culture, but I couldn’t figure out how my travel magazine would be different from others out there. Then I realize, what I love about travel, is getting to live everyday life in someone else’s eyes, meeting new people and their stories. Eventually, I came to the idea of collecting love letters, and now that I think about in, Lettres Mag is an alternative travel magazine of sorts, a collection of stories of everyday lives that are inextricably linked to the places these stories were created. (Instagram)
Why are letters important to you?
To me, communication and connection are the most important thing. If you were to crack open my brain, you’ll find different thoughts and ideas trying to use storytelling to connect people in new ways. It’s hard to trace one single reason as to why letters are important to me, but a big part of it comes from just trying new ways to create and share meaning between two or more people.
In high school, around 2009, I found loads of meaning through the medium of fashion blogging; it opened a door to experimenting with my visual identity and reclaiming my body and appearance. Then I used Instagram as a new sort of intimate communication tool, but as the landscape of Instagram grew more saturated, I wanted another new medium to communicate without fear of judgment, so I made a creative outlet for myself through emails, via Tiny Letter. And now I'm looking for the next thing – it may have to be real, physical letters!
Who is writing the letters for the magazine? Where did you find participants?
Earlier this spring and summer I called for submissions on my social media; I really don’t have a huge following, but somehow that proved to be just enough. I also asked friends to ask their friends, and I now have 26 love letters (one for each alphabet letter!) in the first volume. Some are friends, many are strangers, and new friends from New York City and Sweden to Colombia and Nebraska and wherever else.
How has the process of running a Kickstarter been for you and this project?
I’ve never run a Kickstarter before and I think it’s a very vulnerable process, at least for someone who doesn’t like drawing attention to myself. Having managed social media accounts for companies before, I’m used to advertising brands all over the interwebs, but promoting myself is a whole other story. Every time I post a reminder on Instagram or Facebook, and especially when I write to individuals about my project, I click “send” as I scream internally “I’M SO SORRY. PLEASE DON’T HATE ME.”
But what keeps me going is the fact that I know this project is a part of my mission, as an artist using storytelling to connect individuals. And my project is like the most innocent thing, a print magazine of love letters, literally, so I’ve decided that if people think I’m being selfish or arrogant with this project, I don’t know what to say! I’ve experienced so many emotions with this Kickstarter, but I’m learning that it’s ok to feel gross promoting something that matters so much to me; I’ve got to try and do the work, and see what happens.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Artistically, I draw inspiration from French pop artist Christine and The Queens. Her birth name is Heloise Letissier, but she created this alter-ego of Christine in order to channel the bravest, boldest version of her unique self. It’s like Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce, except I find a stronger sense of vulnerability and tenderness in Christine’s artistry. Watch Saint Claude, and I think you’ll get what I mean. (Here’s a talk I did regarding this).
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
It’s two-fold: 1. I’m passionate about challenging myself and discovering how far I can go with my creativity, what new thing can I create of myself. Who am I? What are my dreams? And how can I unleash my voice in my own magical way? 2. I’m passionate about empowering others to discover their creative voice too. I used to think I wasn’t an artist because I didn’t go to art school, and that creativity and success was for other cool people with art studios or lots of followers or parents with money. But I’ve begun to accept that my voice and success doesn’t look like those things, I can reclaim what that looks like in my own way that media has never defined before. I want to help anyone who doesn’t think they belong on this earth, to realize that they do belong and they deserve to love themselves and share their voice. When we can all speak truly from our nourished souls, then we can better love one other.
We love that the intention behind this work is to create slow, personal, and vulnerable forms of communication in such a fast-paced world. Do you want to create a community outside of an online realm that focuses on these values with events or ways for people to get to know each other?
Yes! I think there are ways to actually use the Internet and online tools to bring this sort of intimacy and connection – I really like this offline page that shares a similar idea of consuming stories with distractions. So I’m interested in how I could potentially create a new digital space for intimacy, but I don’t have the tech skills to figure that out. I was thinking of making a slack community to empowering women who enjoy being creative but maybe are scared of calling themselves an artist.
I’m also interested in creating an offline social media network via mail. It is so special to feel and see paper, handwriting, everyday life of someone else…I’d like to explore this idea next year. To me, the size of the community is less of a priority; authenticity and creating a safe space where everyone can be vulnerable is the most important thing to me when creating something new.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with Lettres Mag?
The biggest challenge with Lettres Mag has been time and process. This is the longest I have worked on a personal project (9 months now) – I started a new full time job in the middle of it, so that delayed the process. I keep thinking, I’ll be done by next month and the process just keeps going. On the one hand, it makes me mad, because I’m so excited to make it happen and I just want to share it, but it’s not like a social media post or one of my small paper zines I whip up with one sheet of computer paper in 3 days. There’s the whole layout design, crafting each page in a way that brings out the best of these 26 individual stories, finding and working with a printing press to produce 100+ copies and so much more. A lot of my time was actually spent on creating a mission and vision statement for Lettres Mag and diving deep into myself, asking “why am I making this? Why do I need this? Why does anyone else need this?” And I think it’s because I asked those questions, I feel less bad about promoting the project/doing a Kickstarter (even though I still feel super bad, but I’m gonna stop that! Maybe!).
You mention being a selfie artist and you held a selfie workshop a few months back. Could you touch more on this and how you began using/teaching selfies as a form of empowerment?
As an Asian American, I’m realizing more and more so, it’s so important to see, visually, people of color or outliers, the ‘other’. I use selfies as my medium of performance art, performing the artist me that I dream to be and I realized that there are so many people who feel like they just don’t look good in photos no matter what, but I believe it’s because we haven’t let ourselves really see ourselves the way we believe we are. So I got to lead my first selfie workshop in Astoria, sharing different styles of selfies and above all, creating a safe space to experiment with visualizing oneself. There needs to be no more guilt and shame tied to taking selfies. It is so freaking important to share your voice, yourself(ie).
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
One thing this project has taught me for sure is that creativity is not an independent process. Great creative work happens when we share energy and care and support for one another. Lettres Mag was a mere idea that came from a desire to make something from myself, that was not going to be born until my friend invited me to a connect group by UME Design, where I met with 6 women each week who were all working on passion projects (like starting a fashion label or redesigning their website). Seeing other women go through their own personal processes was an unforgettable experience, to know that we don’t go through these growing pains alone, and we don’t have to. I believe when we support each other, when we see each other for who we truly are, we can all only grow better and create more beautiful stories and art. There is courage and power when we share vulnerably.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Suze Myers is a graphic designer friend of mine who started a Zine of the Month club where a few women will make a small zine according to the month’s theme, and we all mail one another copies of our zines! She invited me into this group during a time when I hadn’t accepted my artistry or creativity, and making these pocket zines every month really reminded me that I’m a storyteller and how important it is to make art with my actual hands. I'm also inspired by Allison Rosecast and Leah Pell who are both very intimate, personal, honest storytellers. I recently "internet-met" Colleen Kavanaugh who hosts a podcast for caregivers. I love the space she has created and the important questions of life she asks. I'm really inspired by women who are not afraid to share the hard stuff and empower one another to do the same; I want to find more creative women like this to be inspired by.
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
Everyday, when I post something to social media promoting the Kickstarter, I remember the beginning, I remember feeling like I had nothing going for me and that art wasn’t something that belonged to me, but as I created this project, it felt so right. I cannot forget how me it feels to make this, it is a part of me.
If I hear the voices of haters or anxiety creep up, I try to speak to it “I see you, anxiety! I see you, haters! But right now is my time. I’ve got a story to tell and people to love. So excuse me, but you need to leave.” And I just keep going.
I return to any screenshots nice things people say about my work and remember this mission is not all in my head; it’s real. I take walks or appreciate the light glistening through my window, I remember this is my time and I need to fight any doubt to enjoy it to the fullest.
What are some of your favorite places in New York?
Bosie Tea Parlor – very friendly staff, their playlist is often French music, and they hand you your check inside an old book.
Fiat Café – cozy, European vibes, reasonably priced wine that actually tastes lovely, great paninis and Italian food.
Albertine – French bookstore in the Upper East Side that’s quiet – I like to read the children’s book upstairs.
Poets House – a public library of poetry along the water in Battery Park.
Kinokinuya – I love looking through the Japanese fashion magazines like Fudge magazine.
Lincoln Center – It’s the one landmark of NYC that feels very personal to me. I love the bright material and how wide the space is, even when it’s crowded, I can often find a corner that feels quiet and hidden.
Socrates Sculpture Park – it’s not far from me, and there’s always some intriguing art there, great waterfront views.
Hudson River late into the evening when no one else is there and I can just stare into the water and horizon.