writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Friday, April 22, 2011

Asian Culture Co. at Kunsthalle Gwangju

Asian Culture Co.

23 April – 8 May 2011

Kunsthalle Gwangju

Guest curators: Clarissa Chikiamco (Philippines) and Pichaya Piyassapan (Thailand)

Opening reception and performance: 23 April 2011, Saturday, 7.30 pm.


The exhibition and performance Asian Culture Co. is the product of a swift collaborative laboratory conducted as part of the first ASIA YOUNG ARTISTS FESTIVAL in Gwangju, South Korea, where alternative art space MITE/Ugro selected and brought together local artists together with various artists and curators from Asia.

The exhibition takes Daein Market as its focal point, a traditional Korean public market where MITE/Ugro as well as numerous artist studios resides. The infiltration of art in Daein Market began in 2008, during the 7th Gwangju Biennale as part of the Bokdukbang Project, in which artists responded to the site and installed artworks and held events and workshops. Since then, Daein Market has flourished into a critical art hub, encompassing alternative spaces, artist studios and even spurning the market’s own Artist Association. Prior to art’s influx in the market, it had been declining in popularity in its 50-year history.

The presence of art often brings about eventual gentrification, raising as well the question of a sustainable coexistence between the market vendors and the growing artist population. The popularity of art market projects around the world certainly makes Daein Market an interesting site to specifically respond to, in its unusual medley of fresh and live produce, household items, clothing shops, restaurants as well as historical background, having played an important role in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and once a bustling mecca by the city’s former train stop and bus terminal. For many of the local artists, however, the primary relevance of Daein market is in its provisions of space in which they can continue their individual practice and in which they can easily connect with other artists. As an assembly of old-time traditional residents and creative new inhabitants, the market becomes host to these parallel realities which attempt to convene in their occupation of shared space.

At the same time, the Daein Market has become an international portal of transient agents, through the initiation of residencies, exhibitions and events. The Asia Young Artist Festival, with its mix of various artists of different countries, is emblematic of this. The festival as well as Daein Market—where the festival’s participants live and discuss their profession and project—can be seen as a microcosm of Gwangju’s cultural ambitions, as the “Hub City of Asian Culture” which is colored by the imminent rise of the Asian Culture Complex in 2014.

It is in this light that the curators have decided to call the exhibition, Asian Culture Co. While ‘Co’ may seem more reminiscent of the major commercial professional organizations that are the traditional market’s competitor, the curators see ‘Co’ for its more classical meaning, such as ‘one that is associated in an action with another’.[1] The words beginning with ‘co’ – particularly the words communication, coordination, community – emphasize this and are especially denotative of the festival as well as Daein Market in its evolution and survival.

The show features video interviews of selected vendors and artists in the market, serving to reflect the market’s current community and contextualizing and providing comprehension on the situation of the site from past to present. An installation in the Kunsthalle by Kim kang seok, one of the market’s resident artists, serves to underscore the importance of giving and exchange, originating from something deeply genuine and personal but with an optimism for the local commune.

The exhibition also introduces the divergent practices of the local and international artists, who were selected by MITE/Ugro to present a performance at the Kunsthalle, which include Soichiro Mitsuya (Japan), Yangjah (Japan/Korea), Yao Chung Han (Taiwan), Mahima Singh (Nepal), Black Jaguarand Lee Jo Hum (Korea). Documentation of their past works situates the event to be staged by this improvised community of artists. During the brief period of 1-3 weeks together, the challenge is for these artists, most meeting each other for the first time, to come up with something collaborative or connected to each other to be shown at the Kunsthalle during the evening of the exhibition opening.

The evening of the opening will also feature another special performance, artists Royce Ng and Daisy Bisenieks (Australia) presenting Sing the Fruits of Our Labour. This involves them pushing a karaoke cart which was built and inspired by actual musical carts in Daein Market. Ng and Bisenieks will invite people to sing to 70’s-80’s popular Korean music and will also be distributing to the audience food with a color-coded map of the market. The English and Korean versions of the map, which they meticulously charted during their stay in MITE/Ugro and are also making available online, provides an opportunity for Koreans and foreigners to easily navigate themselves around the site, whether visiting for the fresh produce, the art in production or both. The giving of the food, which is obtained from the market, emulates the act of giving by the vendors in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, an important historical aspect of the market and the city’s history, as they protected and fed the student protestors.

As the 7th Gwangju Biennale curator Okwui Enwezor said of the market project in 2008, it “has taken the logic of the city of Gwangju.”[2] Three years later, Daein Market still alludes significantly to the city, its aspirations and its stable, transient and developing character.

As a parallel exhibition to the Kunsthalle, documentation of the Asia Young Artist Festival event, including the performance in the Kunsthalle, will be exhibited in Lotte Gallery, Gwangju, from 29 April to 6 May 2011. There will be an opening reception of the exhibition on 29 April, Friday, at 6 pm.

[2] Quoted in Jean Oh, ‘Gwangju Biennale Fuses Art and Spectacle’, Korea, Vol. 4, No. 10, October 2008, p. 60.

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