Annyeong Haseyo y’all. I’ve landed in Seoul, South Korea for a one-month art criticism residency at Seoul Art Space Geumcheon (SASG). SASG is a city-funded international artist residency program and studio space for local artists. Established in 2009, the art space transformed a former printing factory into a center for interdisciplinary experimentation and community art projects, offering one example of an urban area revitalized through the cultivation of the arts. Currently sharing the space are six international artists in residency, along with a collection of Korean artists. (Some of them are building a robot as I write this). There will be more to come on the artists who are here and their upcoming shows in the city in future articles. But first some initial impressions of a few art spaces I’ve visited.
I began my exploration of Seoul’s art scene by heading to Culture Station Seoul 284, a train hub turned art space. Gearing up for its big opening, a group of artists were working on the Countdown project, an evolving exhibition, lecture, and performance series created to engage with the time and space of the retired rail terminal. Originally built in 1925 as the city’s central train station, the Culture Station Seoul 284 takes the number in its title from its historically issued site number. Expanded in size, the current Seoul Station is only steps away and is comparable in activity to New York’s Grand Central Station. Standing as concurrent representations of past and present, the plaza that physically connects the two spaces presents a socially liminal space, where men line up for free services, and others, hard on their luck, take reprieve on the steps (or in the case of one man, smack dab in the middle of the plaza).
Inside Culture Station Seoul 284, Countdown demonstrates the kind of site specificity where form is dictated by the space an artwork inhabits. Encouraging small moments of discovery, many of the works offer an engaging bit of whimsy: a glowing tree emerges from a mysteriously dark pond in a small corner room, while the attic features a collection of flags waving in the air generated within the space. The nine-channel video installation Mansin by Chan-Kyong Park creates a more nuanced relationship between the physical site and its content. Situated in the station’s former women’s waiting room, Mansin intertwines storytelling and performance to reflect the role of women in Korean history, specifically their position in rituals, mythology, and spirituality.
Later, I headed down to a performing arts district to catch the Hello performance—a live public dance and screen project, called Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere, produced as a public art collaboration between Seoul and Melbourne. This year marks an official year of friendship between the two countries, and to celebrate, the project uses Skype to teach one another a new dance. Described as a continuously evolving dance routine, movements are passed back and forth in real time between participants in Melbourne and Seoul over the course of an hour. In an exchange that resembles the telephone game, participants learn what they can and then teach what they remember to the next participant in the other country.
The next day I met with artist JuYoung Ban, a friend of Atlanta artist Gyun Hur, in Insadong, an area composed in part of traditional houses and shops and contemporary art galleries and boutiques. Across from this district’s historical palace sits Gallery Hyundai where artists have taken up residency in a storefront to DJ, fly fish, camp, and draw. Further down the street at Kumho Museum of Art, a photography show titled Cross-scape exhibits the diverse aspects of Asian culture through works from eleven Southeast Asian countries. Meanwhile, Kukje Gallery is showing a selection of works by Jenny Holzer, including prints of her iconic projections onto architecture, inscribed marble benches, and LED signs constructed into structural forms. The last place we visited was Artsonje, a contemporary art space dedicated to driving a dialogue about contemporary art in Seoul. Currently on display is an extensive retrospective of drawings, called Lines of Flight, by the internationally acclaimed Korean artist, Yiso Bahc. Bahc is credited with introducing postmodern art theory to the Korean art scene. And with nearly two hundred drawings and early paintings, the show provides a glimpse at the artist’s process and the development of his work and interests.
I am beginning to learn about the city and its politics of space as a rapidly growing metropolis. Though Seoul and Atlanta can’t necessarily be described as analogous cities, there are threads that do connect the two; they just articulate themselves in dramatically different ways: In Seoul, the ever-present railroads are used to transport people not goods, and the old buildings that are repurposed into art spaces are managed by the government not artists, but in case I felt too far from home the nearby Coca-Cola plant acts as a reminder. During my month here, my plan includes visits to artist studios, two biennials, and all the art spaces I can find. Stay tuned for more updates.
Kristin Juárez will be in Seoul, South Korea through October 28, 2011. Click here to read Seoul Residency, Part 2.
In her monthly column, The Fringe, Kristin Juárez writes on the intersections of art and the public sphere. She emphasizes art as a vehicle for visualizing social, environmental, and political issues pertinent to our lives both in Atlanta and abroad. This column traces her exploration of interdisciplinary practices that continue to reflect, foster, or challenge contemporary notions of collective identity.
Check BURNAWAY to read The Fringe on the second Wednesday of every month.