A Radical Place

Interviewer: Kiyoung Peik
Interviewee: Seoyoung Kim

KP> A Radical Place is a project by the Artist Residency Program and contributes to the cultural exchange between Korea and Germany. Can you tell me more about it?

SK> The Korean Artist Residency Program focuses on a “site specific” concept, connected to distinct geographic areas and unfortunately, certain alternative scenes remain un-explored. With the nomad project “A Radical Place”, Korean artists are invited in to take part to the alternative scene in Berlin as well as to document and report on local and memorable events.
There are certain political constraints that limit the Korean institutional Artist residency program. To start with, my job consisted in securing the necessary budget and see to production of the artist’s works. For the show in Berlin, I am cooperating with the DNA Galerie, which has a documented interest in the Korean contemporary art scene. Together with the DNA Galerie I selected the exhibited artists. Germany, and Berlin specifically, is an appropriate context for this experiment, seeing that its art scene keeps on developing.

KP> What does “A Radical Place” mean? Is it connected to a specific geographic area? It sounds interesting to me that you are using the English adjective “radical” together with “Place”.
By “radical” I understand “unlimited” or “extreme”. Does your project transcend limits? And if so what is the limit?

SK> Well, the word “place” comes from the Latin word “in situ”. In the art context, “in situ” means the process of creation, which occurs in a specific space. The process includes historical perspective as well as the strong connection between the artist’s idea and the space. This is why I suggested following quote for the project “the region from a different perspective, the presence of History, memories and statements of the individuals”.
The project belongs to a special category in the art context, and I decided to add the adjective “radical” in order to expand and develop towards the independent and alternative art scene and art industry.
The process of creating a work is constantly influenced by a changing world, contrasts and contradictions, connection and exchanges between different art forms as well as social spaces. The interaction between people and their social environment is represented by the artwork.
The goal of this project is to discover the interaction, which is made clearer and more direct through the exchange and meditation from all sides of the artworks.
In this context, I understand the process of creation of a work as a radical and extreme state and offer a possibility to observe it from different perspectives.

KP> The artists you selected, Donghwan and Haejun Jo, an artist duo (father and son), discuss the modernisation of Korea with a father and son perspective. Why did the duo come to Berlin to work and exhibit?

SK> As I explained earlier, the project focuses on Berlin. In this experiment, we explore the fact that these populations, both Korean and German, have endured geographic separation; in Korea still in effect.
During their stay in Berlin, both artists worked on drawings, based on various German statements, which they collected. The drawings can be divided in 2 themes. In the Berlin experiment, they approach the German separation as well as the one in Korea.
The drawings recall the times of West and East Germany, before and after the Wall came down, as well as the different lifestyles in North and South Korea and the speculation about the future of the country. Next to the drawings, several interviews with Germans sharing their experiences of a split country, explore ways in which the reunification could work in Korea. This remembrance also works as an indirect study of the German reunification process.

KP> So far, both artists have created drawings based on statements about the history and political situation of Germany and Korea. The artists have integrated magnetized drawings Oral Statement Drawing (OSD) and show an uncompromised view of modern Korean History. The works can be understood as historical on one hand, because they connect to the past; on the other hand, they may also be interpreted as individual and personal experiences. How do the personal experiences of the artists connect to history and what is the meaning and relevance of the statements concerning Germany in this context.
What can be said about the connections between the German and Korean memories? Are there parallels? The Korean peninsula is still dominated by a “cold war” environment and the political and economic situation is permanently influenced by the military threat.

SK> The artist Haejun Jo has explained that the OSDs are based on notes he made regarding certain personal occurrences and incidents. They should be considered as expressions of just that, namely personal stories rather than historic facts that would be presented in a history book. The impressions and perspectives reflect different time periods in history, as experienced in the mind of an individual.
Through stories and narratives of individuals having lived during this time, the artists approach the democratization movement that took place in East Germany during the 80s. It is a more sensitive and vivid approach than the “official version”, as presented by the Stasi-Museum for example.
Personally, I heard of the Korean separation through the mass media. I then learned more about the situation by attending a conference at a German university, studying documents regarding North Korea and by reading accounts made by German citizens.
The Freie Universitaet Berlin has courses on the political and economical system of North Korea, as well as on Korean literature and language. German students are interested in learning more about North Korea and many social and cultural exchanges have taken place between the two countries. Through these studies, we can clearly see how history is formed on memories. The historical reconstruction process is reinforced by the fact that not only Germans but also South Koreans can interpret and study the separation of the Korean peninsula.

KP> It is fascinating how father and son work hand in hand and that the stories sometime converge. The critical observations of the father (Donghwan Jo), made through his son’s eyes, give historians insights and possibilities to interpret the son’s critical view. Does Haejun Jo’s work focus on his father’s experience?

SK> This time, the son produced OSD’s in Berlin, based on German statements and connected to his father’s story. The statements were then sent to the father (Donghwan Jo) who finalized the OSD’s. In the previous project, they worked with the opposite approach.
As Haejun was working in Berlin, the team decided to bring his father to Germany, in order to collect stories of people all around the country and to create a so-called Re-documentation.

KP> The exhibition takes place at the DNA Galerie where several Korean cooperations have already taken place. Why did you choose this gallery?

SK> The DNA Galerie is situated in the center of Berlin and presents a fitting showroom for our project. The gallery is known for its experimental orientation and well established here.
As I was working on the conception of the exhibition, I contacted the director of the DNA Galerie per mail, presenting the project, and he immediately responded. Donghwan and Haejun Jo participated both at the Gwangju Biennale in 2008 and at the Istanbul Biennale and are worldwide renowned artists.

KP> Over the past few years, several “Creation Studios” were launched in Korea, focusing on international exchange. “A Radical Place” is non-institutional experiment. I can imagine that you and the artists currently explore additional themes and possibilities for future international exchange programs.
What are you plans?

SK> For this project, I have mainly focused on 2 points. I have supported the artists and their production and so-called classical work organization. I also selected the artworks and tried to involve as many Koreans currently living in Berlin as possible. In my view, arts and culture are strongly connected to the university and I have focused on education.
One of my goals was to also reduce the cultural differences between the Koreans living in Korea and the Koreans who came to Germany in the 70s. To conclude, I would say that I have been working on the production of an experimental art form, its publication, documentation and conservation. My goal is to create a network with the Berlin universities like Freie Universitaet Berlin.
It is important to develop and extend the Korean arts and culture in an international context, and to cooperate with diverse cultural institutions. With the publication and documentation of this first edition, we have a good base to explore and connect with the artists. The final product will be published for public distribution at the “Report Exhibition 2013” in Korea.
As for my personal ambition, I would like to explore transmedial art on the contemporary scene and the relations between the Korean society and culture. If given the opportunity, I would also continue to coordinate international exchange programs similar to this one.

Translated from German, by Maud Piquion