12 November 2011 – 15 January 2012
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00-19:00
Admission: 3,000 won
by Andy St. Louis
**This review appeared in Eloquence Magazine (December 2011)
Artsonje Center doesn’t organize many group exhibitions―typically only one per year―so when such a rarity does present itself, it’s best to take note. Meticulously curated and thoughtfully conceived, the new exhibition at Artsonje Center tackles a theme with increasing relevance to contemporary artists as each year passes. Working under the enigmatic title “City Within the City,” curators from samuso: (Seoul) and Gertrude Contemporary (Melbourne) have created a diverse yet incisive platform within which visitors can engage with the larger questions surrounding cities and our roles as participants, observers or obstacles of urban development. This is socially-conscious curatorial programming; beyond pretty pictures and interesting concepts, “City Within the City” proposes a comprehensive look at the relationships between the urban landscape and city dwellers, keeping an eye to the way they have changed throughout history, resulting in the status quo.
The documentary impulse presents a strong current throughout the museum’s two floors of exhibition space, from “officially recognized” histories to first-person remembrances. This sliding scale of authenticity and historical potency reflects the negotiations between individuals and the cityscape that inspire the exhibition. Haegue Yang juxtaposes utopian apartment-tower fantasy with the banality of newsprint in her slide projection Dehors (2006). Ash Keating takes a similar tack in Zi Namsan Plus (2011), satirizing the grotesquery and sensationalism part and parcel of the visual language employed by Korea’s mega-developers. Yeondoo Jung does Yang and Keating one better, however, by going inside these very same structures and investigating―via an encyclopedic photo series of living rooms with nearly-identical floor plans (Southern Rainbow Seoul, 2011)―how Korean families subvert the dehumanizing effects of Korean residential architecture.
“City Within the City” charts hypothetical encounters with the urban environment as much as it does verifiable ones, providing ample possibility for more imaginative discourse with the show’s theme. Minouk Lim‘s three-channel video presents a series of idiosyncratic riverside encounters during a presumed Han River night cruise (S.O.S.-Adoptive Dissensus, 2009). This three-channel video installation engages the river not only in dialogue with the city, but also with the way individuals conceptualize ownership of civic space. In his short film Seoul Fiction (2010), Jun Yang exposes an emotional, surreal and highly personal conflict between city and countryside as experienced by an elderly Korean couple. In stark opposition to carefully constructed story lines and cinematic contrivances, Alicia Frankovich proposes an impromptu physical manifestation of city life in her brief but aggressive video installation Volution (2011). Somewhere between reminiscence and reaction, Frankovich explores notions of personal space and personal expression within the strictures of urban life, assuming the role of de facto archetype for the show’s curatorial imperative.
The exhibition is activated beyond the gallery’s interior spaces through projects by two Seoul-based artists collectives. Part-time Suite, nominated for the Hermès Korea Art Prize earlier this year, literally offers itself and its daily operations as a part of the exhibition. For their project SAMUSO Patch (2011), the collective sets up a temporary headquarters in a storeroom/garage nearby the museum and uses it as a base for its interventions, projects and film screenings. Adopting a more didactic approach, the group Listen to the City repurposes Artsonje Center’s ground-floor lounge/bookstore as a resource center for contentious urban development projects. In addition to this on-site content, Listen to the City is also offering its trademark Seoul Tours―alternative excursions aimed at reexamining sites of large-scale state-sponsored public works projects in and around Seoul―as well as organizing its 2nd annual Urban Film Festival.
Artsonje Center’s location in historic Bukchon, an historic and culturally rich enclave in Seoul rapidly succumbing to gentrification, lends the works inside the museum additional immediacy. Within its neighborhood, the museum itself acts as an accomplice in the very development that the exhibition (partly) condemns. Yet, this poignant truth adds further layers of complexity to be parsed from the dialectics advanced by this show; the physical and symbolic presence of the museum itself takes on the function of a meta-artwork, analyzed and encountered alongside the contents of its exhibition.
“City Within the City” Public Programs
12 November/5pm – Alicia Frankovich, Ash Keating, Andrew McQualter
19 November/5pm – Abraham Cruzvillegas
17 Devember/5pm – Suyeon Yun
Urban Film Festival
18 November – 20 November/5pm daily
16 December – 18 December/5pm daily
(Abraham Cruzvillegas) Screening Program
10 December/5pm – Autoconstrucción (2009)
(Part-time Suite) Screening Program
26 November/6pm – Video Patchwork
22 December/6pm – Video Patchwork: Open Call
(Listen to the City) Writing and Drawing Workshop: North Korea, imagined by South Koreans
7 January 2012/4pm