Thursday, December 20, 2007

International Creative Community (ICC), Ulsan

Ulsan, Korea.
The International Creative Community (I.C.C.) is a unique artist’s group founded in 2006 by Australian artist, Lainie Cooper and Ulsan-based Korean artist, Kim Chang Han. Their aim was to foster cultural exchange between artists of different countries through exhibitions, workshops and home-stay exchange programs. In June this year, 12 Australian artists visited Korea to participate in an exhibition in the prestigious Hyundai Art Gallery in Ulsan, as well as touring around Korea and participating in a variety of art seminars and workshops. During this time I met one of the visiting Australian artists and viewed the exhibition, and subsequently joined the group myself.

Membership of the I.C.C. is not limited only to Australians like myself, or Koreans – in fact there are also members from Canada, U.S.A., and England, and the ICC welcomes any emerging or established artists of any nationality to join as new members. This month, from December 11 - 20, the ICC is holding another international exhibition in the Bukgu Culture and Arts Center in Ulsan. The exhibition title is “Impressions from Afar – A Visitor’s Perspective”, reflecting the way that foreigners often view a new country with fresh eyes. Hence, the Korean artists are sharing artworks inspired by their overseas travels, with many interesting visions of foreign lands such as Africa, China, Australia, India and Europe, and the foreign artists are showing work based on their varied impressions of Korea.

Unlike the June ICC exhibition, when most of the foreign artworks were contributed by the visiting Australian artists, this time many of the foreign artists represented are actually resident here in Korea, which adds quite a different dimension. There are 3 foreign resident photographers – Kevin Pope, Katrina Baran and Kevin Copley showing their unique vision of the Korean people and landscape, as well as multi-media artist, Ryan Maclay displaying an installation inspired by the distinctive graphics and design features of Korean clothing. Other resident artists include Canadian painter David Macri, with his commemorative portrait of an uncle who died in the Korean War, and Australian painter/ writer Leah Broadby with some autobiographical works. Also included are paintings and ceramics sent over by some of the Aussie exchange artists inspired by their Korean visit in June 2007.

Of course I contributed to this exhibition as well, with last night’s opening performance entitled “Portrait of a Foreign Artist in Korea, 2007”, and an installation of the same name. During one part of my performance I actually emerged from a zipped up suitcase and proceeded to give an English lesson on the theme of ‘time is money’ (an action which should be readily understood by many a foreign teacher in Korea).

The I.C.C. ‘Impressions from Afar’ exhibition will run until Thursday December 20, 2007 at the Ulsan Bukgu Culture & Arts Center gallery, 1010, Saneop-ro, Bukgu, Ulsan. You can contact the Gallery on 052-219-7400, or for enquiries in English about the exhibition or ICC membership please contact Kim Chang han on 018 591-3338, or email:

The author of this blog, Penelope Thompson, is an Australian contemporary artist living in Korea who works in performance, installation and community art events. You can see her personal exhibition blog at

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Behind the scenes at Busan MoMA

Last week I went behind the scenes at Busan Museum of Modern Art in Haeundae to find out what is on offer at this large and well-designed modern city gallery. Anyone interested in art will probably be familiar with the Busan Biennale centered every two years on this space, (the next Busan Biennale is due again in 2008), but outside of that major international event the Busan MoMA is still well-worth a regular visit.

When I first moved to Busan in 2003 both the gallery and the nearby subway station were named the Busan Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then, a little while back, I noticed the subway train announcements had changed to slightly pretentious sounding “Busan Museum of Modern Art”. On checking the gallery I found that not much had changed except the coffee shop had greatly improved! I asked the friendly Busan MoMA team of curators about the reasons behind the name change and found out that the previous title that had included the words “metropolitan museum” had been considered as sounding too much like an ordinary museum. The committee had wanted to put more focus on the modern art aspect, hence the choice of MoMA. However, that is not the end of the matter – for the 10th anniversary of the museum next year, the name of the gallery (and the subway station) will be changed yet again to Busan Museum of Art to encompass a greater range of art periods and styles!

The Busan MoMA has a permanent collection, a selection of which is always on show, plus there are usually a couple of other major exhibitions. There are also small gallery spaces – known as the ‘Citizen’s Gallery’ - downstairs in the basement section of the MoMA available for inexpensive rental to any local artist who would like to exhibit. I asked the curators for a special sneak preview of the next major exhibitions to be shown at the Busan MoMA: -

Starting Dec 7, 2007 and running until Feb 17, 2008 will be ‘vision & perspective’.
This is an annual exhibition for emerging local (and that means Busan) artists that celebrates its ninth anniversary this year. It will show the work of 4 up-and-coming artists; PARK Mi-kyoung, PARK Ja-hyun, BAE Ji-min, and LEE Won-ju, focusing on the individual artists’ originality, concept, and experimental spirit. The artwork ranges in style from colorful installation, large-scale contemporary ink portraits and landscapes to some interesting cartoon-style drawings by Park Mikyoung that are hard to classify!

Then from December 21, 2007 through February 17, 2008 there will be a major photographic exhibition, entitled ‘The Beauty of Baekje’ by one of the most famous photographers in Korea, Joon Choi. The artist has spent 3 years searching out historical art relics and landscapes related to the Baekje Dynasty period of Korea, and the exhibition will present 27 very large –scale gelatin silver prints on that theme.

Apart from the exhibitions, the gallery also has a gift store (including a selection of art books, some of which are in English) and a decent coffee shop where you can mull over your artistic inspirations. From time to time there are workshops and seminars for the public, but these are currently only in Korean language. However, the good news is that the Busan MoMA curators are interested in creating more ways for foreigners to participate in gallery activities. The newest curator, Mr. Gim Jun gi also has a mission to develop more public art projects, so we should see some new developments in the coming months. Anyone interested in getting more information about gallery programs, renting an exhibition space in the Citizen’s gallery, or suggesting activities for foreigners can contact the Busan MoMA. See the Busan MoMA website:
or email Mr Gim Jun gi, curator at:

The author of this blog, Penelope Thompson, is an Australian contemporary artist living in Korea who works in performance, installation and community art events. You can see her personal exhibition blog at

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Seoul International Experimental Arts Project -IEAF 2007

Last Saturday night I ventured into the Hongdae area of Seoul to experience the International Experimental Arts Project – a collection of European avant-garde artists from countries such as Germany, Finland, France, England, Switzerland, and Estonia presenting performance and multimedia works. Some of the works involved collaboration with Korean artists, including artists connected with KoPAS (Korean Performing Arts Spirit) who organise the Korea Experimental Arts Festival (KEAF) every year.

The last time I visited this funky arts area near Hongik University was in December 2005 when I was an invited performance artist for the KEAF 2005, but this time I was a merely one of the “culture vulture” spectators. In previous years the KEAF mixed local Korean and foreign artists together in one event, but this time a group of overseas foreign artists got their own separate three day “project” complete with seminar and two nights of performance art events (obviously someone has been writing some very successful funding applications!). I caught four shows in the Velvet Banana nightclub on Saturday night. It should have been six, but in typical Seoul fashion I was stuck in a traffic jam for an hour and a half!

First up was a German artist, Michael Steger who is described as a ‘conceptional’ artist in the programme booklet (is that an exceptional conceptual artist, perhaps?). Imagine if you can, a tall, thin, thirty-something man with a goatee beard prancing around in a bra, pink satin dress and black platform shoes. The performance is accompanied by free-form music played by a Korean musician on electric guitar using various pieces of cutlery. We are in an underground club, complete with all the usual black-painted exposed plumbing and steel mesh. The artist begins to ask the audience rhetorical questions (in English) about why they attend cultural events, and then moves onto the subject of why we eat meat. Later, in a Q & A session Steger answered questions about his performance: - “My performance ends with questions because we don’t have answers,” he said. He also commented that his wearing of a dress reflected the dual nature of a human being – male/female, and that he chose the pink color dress because it was like the color of meat, of ham.

Some of the other artists refused to answer such particular questions about their work, preferring instead to turn the question back to the audience “What do you think it means?” This is the essence of contemporary art – to provoke questions in the mind of the viewer rather than provide a neatly packaged answer, something that audience members unfamiliar with the genre may find uncomfortable or even unbearable. To appreciate contemporary art one must develop a high tolerance for ambiguity, and be simply prepared to think, and feel.

The following artist, Jouni Partanen from Finland, literally asked the audience to think – he distributed pieces of paper on which we were asked to write down the thing that is most precious to us, the thing we would not want to lose. After collecting the answers in a large envelope he then proceeded to pluck all the leaves from a large potted tree – like the way a lover plucks the petals from a daisy. “To care… not to care… to care… not to care…to care…” - on and on like a monotonous mantra for fifteen minutes until the last leaf came off on “not to care”. The artist walked off and that was the end of the performance, leaving the audience in a disturbing anticlimax, and the envelope of our precious dreams unopened. When asked later what would have happened if he had finished on “to care” Partanen did not make any specific comment other than that he “does care”.

Obviously artists do care about a lot of things, which is why they choose to do strange and sometimes risky things like experimental art. The last artist of the evening was a Swiss woman named Saskia Edens who presented quite a physically strenuous performance piece. On a gleaming white electric running machine she proceeded to first walk backwards, and then run faster and faster for thirty minutes. Dressed in a white dress and white stockings she maintained her cool European demeanour, even as a group of Korean video artists and musicians (Sakgayo) pounded out loud electronic music and sometimes screaming vocals to accompany the mix of live video and pre-recorded frenetic images projected onto the screen behind her.

The only thing that revealed Edens’ effort was the spreading blue and red stain on her white dress as her blue bead necklace and red disc earrings began to dissolve in her sweat about ten minutes into the performance. When the accessories had totally dissolved the artist stopped running. The process, whatever it had symbolised, was finished.

I found it interesting that the audience had watched and waited with amazing patience for thirty minutes, when they would not normally watch a person in a gym run on a running machine for more than a couple of minutes. There is something about live performance art that is real and visceral that holds our attention in a way that a video cannot do. Another German artist, Oliver Griem had shown a technically interesting video of performance art filmed in a European architectural space, however, the impact was just not the same, especially scheduled in between some very physical performance art pieces. It seemed as if the actual physical presence of the artist to press the play button for the video on his Powerbook was kind of superfluous. My definition of performance art is usually “any art form that involves the physical presence of the artist”, so I was left wondering if I should tighten up my definition a little!

The Korean part of the KEAF festival will continue in Hongdae from November 19 to 25, as a collection of performances and exhibitions by Korean artists in various nightclubs and gallery spaces. For anyone in the Seoul neighbourhood it’s well worth a look, as some of Korea’s better-known experimental artists will be presenting work. The website (sorry, only in Korean) is
Tel. 02 322 2852

The author of this blog, Penelope Thompson, is an Australian contemporary artist living in Korea who works in performance, installation and community art events. You can see her personal exhibition blog at