Sun-Mi Clyburn owns the term ‘multi-disciplinary artist’.
She’s a writer, singer, musician, actor, dancer, producer, visual artist, theatre-maker, educator, mental health worker and the list goes on!
She made a big splash on the Fringe Festival scene in 2018 with her critically acclaimed show Audiotherapy, which returned in 2019 before becoming a weekly radio show.
Using the healing power of music, Sun-Mi shared and explored her personal experiences with mental health; something which deeply resonated with her audiences.
Since then, she hasn’t stopped. Sun-Mi is always up to something; her mind buzzing with creative, interconnected ideas for current and future works. I caught up with her at Paper Mountain, where she’s currently a resident artist, to see what this creative force is up to.
Sun-Mi Clyburn at Paper Mountain
With Cece Peniston’s ‘Finally’ playing, Sun-Mi gave me a tour of the Paper Mountain space, including her favourite mezzanine spot [pictured], before offering to make me a coffee.
On the way through to the kitchen, we start chatting about what’s changed since the last time I saw her a few months ago. She tells me writing is her primary focus at the moment and she’s writing a book, inspired by some of her Mom’s journals.
“What I find fascinating is that I have a very similar style of writing to my Mom, without having the influence of her and I found that out by reading her journals that she shared with me.”
Sun-Mi started this project as an assignment for university which asked for autobiographical and biographical elements. She asked her Mom for her journals from a year before she was born to three years after, “It’s biographical when it comes to my mother, but autobiographical, because she was describing a lot of things about how I was an infant and toddler.”
Never without something to write with and on, Sun-Mi explains that despite her multiple and varied passions and interests, she always has been and always will be a writer.
“At my core I am a writer. That was the first passion of my mine that really came to the surface and revealed itself. When I was about four or five, I already had around 40 books that I had made myself. I cut out the paper and sewed it together and bound them. I don’t know what I had written but I had illustrated them, and I had catalogued them!! I was a librarian at five.”
“When I think about that, who was that? But I can still relate. The library is still a place where the world is okay, there’s nothing wrong with life when I’m in a library.”
Although the book has stemmed from her Mom’s journals, Sun-Mi has broader plans for the content; wanting it to explore family and parent/child dynamics; analysing what it means to be a mother, a father or parent, child, daughter or son. She also tells me she’s been delving deep into stories we’re surrounded by from those in the Bible to Aesop’s fables and even Disney films, to further inform and shape her work.
“Whatever my book ends up being it’s going to be cross sectional in a number of ways. There’s a good chance it could turn into a theatre production because that’s the main thing I do!”
Touching back on theatre, I ask about her current plans for Audiotherapy. “I feel that the words in my book or what my book is going to be made of and the process of writing that book is going to be the foundation for whatever I can do with Audiotherapy. I want to change the methodology, the story, the format. There are a lot of things to do there.”
Sun-Mi Clyburn at her Paper Mountain desk, surrounded by her artwork.
As we make our way with coffee to Sun-Mi’s desk, I point out her old Audiotherapy posters and ask how she feels looking at them. “I hope I’ve come a long way since these. On one hand I did that! [I’m] Trying to remember who I was. Revisiting old reviews from different publications and thinking, “That was about me? Really?”
“If I was to do either of those [past two] shows it wouldn’t really represent me anymore. A lot has changed”
I ask what’s changed (other than a global pandemic!). “My approach to managing mental health issues. Also, that I’ve finally started getting better in terms of my health.”
“I’m already planning a PhD. I want to research utilising the medicinal properties of cannabis and psychedelics for managing mental health issues, managing chronic issues [such as] chronic pain”
“I want to see where there’s medicine that we’re not utilising or don’t really have much of an understanding of. We’re definitely living in a time where there’s a lot more interest and consideration of it. Before it was unnecessarily invalidated.”
Using creative therapies to build and better one’s health is another key focus of Sun-Mi’s. She uses singing and dancing as part of her rehabilitation, “I can see massive differences compared to where I was this time last year. This time last year I was looking at [using] walking canes. When it came to my recovery from injuries, surgeries and chronic pain, it wasn’t looking good.”
I ask if her health was previously getting in the way of the work she’s doing now. “For sure, ill health gets in the way of everything. You can’t focus on anything when you’re in pain.”
Since her health started improving, Sun-Mi explains that she’s now pursuing the things she’s always wanted to do, “I feel as if I’ve had the opportunity to step into my power with everything I’m actually good at.”
As we further chat about her writing, artwork, study and various other projects I mention the label of ‘multi-disciplinary artist’ and how well she embodies that term. “It gets exhausting at times.” she says.
“I’ve always been the person sort of in-between, I was born with that I suppose being bi-racial, bi-national, I’ve lived across a few continents. There was never going to be time where I would only identify with one thing or one aspect of being human. It makes sense that I would always be on the fringes, but I enjoy going in-between things.”
“There’s something quite fluid about my practice and me as a person. I enjoy things which completely clash but still make sense in my head.”
If you’d like to stay up to date with Sun-Mi and all of her projects, you can follow her on Instagram @sunni.sun.sun