Category Archives: Seoul

The Beauty of Studio Galleries

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My good friend, Jordan Miller, just aired her woes regarding running a studio gallery. I want to reply with my two cents.

First off, for the holidays, I doubt if many people buy art, especially in a city like Winnipeg in this economy. People do love looking at art… they love looking, but not just Winnipeg in particular, but the whole world in general. For someone to actually buy art, they often have to be invested in the piece or the artist already. That or they just have money to throw around at that moment. So yeah, either you have a fan or you’re lucky enough to come across someone truly compelled to buy your work.

And really this holiday, galleries and all other shops are competing against Amazon and Walmart when it comes to shopping for presents. When it comes to compelling imagery, they’re competing against the whole Internet and the world’s ADHD culture. It’s an uphill battle, and it’s a small miracle and badge on the artist every time someone buys art.

This is where I think a studio gallery has to utilize the artists it has. I think many new artists are under the assumption that once they’re in a gallery, it’s the gallery owner or curator’s responsibility to shepherd new audiences to them. To some extent, this is true. Being in a gallery brings about art enthusiasts as well as other gallery owners. But in a generally static market like Winnipeg, artists cannot expect their audience to grow if they keep on showing their stuff at the same studio gallery. To grow an audience, each artist in a collective should be introducing their friends to other artists in the collective, and thus, growing their community and their audiences. So let’s say there’s an open house, each artist in a studio gallery should at least try to invite friends to come over and see their works as well as the other artists’. “Studio artists tell me they want new people in, not just the people they know.” True. So each artist should bring the people they know and maybe they’ll buy their neighbor’s work and vice versa.

Another way to solve the “new people in, not just the people they know” dilemma is for gallery owners and artists to be sharing information regarding calls for submissions. I was once a part of an art collective in South Korea, and one thing I liked about the community is that people were sharing information and leads regarding opportunities. The organizer would encourage members to take part in shows. This encourages artists to be more productive and be part of the community. It also gives them more experience and hopefully leads them to a much better portfolio. Artists don’t have to be limited to their local community. It’s what the Internet is for. And with several eyeballs scouring the Internet for opportunities and sharing them, that should make the world of artists in a studio gallery a little bit bigger.

My friend mentioned that some artists make deals with buyers and sell work to them privately instead of going through the gallery and losing a commission. Now, there really is no way to work around this unless galleries start forcing artists to sign exclusivity contracts. But really, I think this comes down to the artists themselves. Personally, I feel grateful if a gallery hung my work and happened to find a buyer for me. That’s one person who may have never run into my work and I owe it to the gallery for making the connection. I believe artists should do the right thing and make sales through galleries rather than wait for their work to come down. Buyers wouldn’t normally care if the artist loses on commission or not. And artists, despite finances and all, should really be willing to support galleries who gave them a chance in the first place.

Now, with the two things considered: artists wondering why my gallery owner friend is not shepherding in new audiences for them and artists making private sales, I would assume this comes to either selfishness (and laziness) in the artists’ part or a fundamental opportunity missed by everyone. Perhaps the economy is bad that artists cannot afford to be generous to galleries in return, or perhaps the artists don’t realize how a small studio gallery in a city like Winnipeg could work for them.

So there you have it. If you’re an artist in a studio gallery, take advantage of your community and share resources and opportunities. Be more proactive, if not in your local arts community, then at least over the Internet. Maybe I’m biased because Jordan, the gallery owner, is my best friend, but don’t leave everything to the gallery owner or curator. There’s only so much they can do to help you.

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The Stone Angel

TravelManitoba

I remember being asked to read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence back in high school. It was one of the many wonderful books that our English teacher used to try to infuse some humanity into our young minds. I don’t remember the story much, but I do remember the parallels between the old character in the book and the ultimate fate of Margaret Laurence. It’s like she literally became one of the characters she wrote about. I really should look into the Manawaka series again.

Speaking of Manawaka, my works will be displayed in the town it was based on, Neepawa, Manitoba.  When I used to go camping and hiking with my best friend, I remember visiting there once. Here in Asia, when people think of Canada, the first places that come out of people’s mouths are Toronto and Vancouver. But when they describe Canada, they would often imagine a place much closer to towns like Neepawa.

I love big cities like Vancouver and Ottawa, and even smaller ones like Winnipeg, but it is smaller rural towns cradling close to liberated Canadian wilderness that most people here in Asia often imagine. It is in many ways romantic. I guess like me, that image is mostly from the desire to escape from convoluted concrete jungles like Seoul.

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Foreigners in Local Protests

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Working in the heart of Seoul where protests usually happen, I’ve seen it so many times, foreigners looking at protests. Now, the protests in Seoul rarely get violent, so it’s a bit of a spectacle for tourists to come and see how protests are in other countries. It makes them seem like they’re seeing an unusual political event aside from the usual touristy fare. Unfortunately, protests here happen at least once a week. They usually interrupt my work on Thursday afternoons.

The recent string of protests that got the president of South Korea impeached however are much larger than regular protests. They’re bigger and are more elaborate affairs, with choreographed light shows and musical entertainment. It can be quite tempting for foreigners to come and see the protests and witness history taking place. But in such cases, there’s a very blurred line between witnessing a government protest and taking part in it.

Several people in Korea have invited me to join them in the protests, and as much a political junkie as I am, it is really not in my place to take part in a protest in a country where I am technically a guest by the government. There’s also some chance of violence erupting, and I’m sure most embassies wouldn’t encourage people to be near the protests. I haven’t heard of anybody being arrested and deported for participating in a government protest, but just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that it’s okay to do. It also doesn’t mean that the government is not well within their rights to deport any foreign visitors participating in anti-government activities. How would Canada react to foreigners coming in to Canada to protest the government? I would be thinking differently if the issues directly affected foreigners, say Canada decided that all permanent residents (landed immigrants/ non-Canadian residents) must now pay higher taxes than Canadian citizens. But many of the protests I’ve seen where foreigners are wandering into are about issues that don’t really affect them directly.

One of the protests in the past that comes to mind is the mad cow protests several years ago. Koreans didn’t want American beef imports to Korea because of suspected cases of mad cow. Now, this was all just a massive hysteria with a healthy dose of anti-Americanism, but this didn’t stop millions of people protesting in the streets. In these protests, I even saw foreigners participating. Now, I couldn’t tell whether they were Americans or not, but seeing how the country now fully accepts American beef imports with little consequences, not only are the protests a big egg on the face of the Koreans but also to the foreigners who participated. There must be better ways to bond with the locals than joining protests.

The local media however sure loves pointing cameras at visibly foreign faces during news stories. It gives events an international vibe. Perhaps that’s part of the allure. Hey, we might get on TV in Asia!

The thing is foreigners don’t have a dog in the fight, so why go against the country which gave them the privilege to visit? The one time foreigners had an issue to legitimately protest the Korean government was when they made it mandatory for all foreign teachers to pass an AIDS test prior to getting teaching visas in fear of them giving AIDS to school children. That was a horrible piece of racist, xenophobic legislation that didn’t get any protest in the streets, not from locals or foreigners. And to this day, foreign teachers are still taking AIDS tests, some of them believing the lie that it’s for their health insurance.

So what is a foreigner to do? Stay out of it. If you have to be a tourist, take a picture, and spread the story to your friends. Locals love it when their stories reach an audience overseas. Otherwise, know why you’re really here (as a guest) and know why people are protesting (It’s usually not about you).

 

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I don’t Seoul.U

Bear

One thing that irritates me about Seoul, are people’s desire to make the city a major international tourist attraction without A) examining what makes the city unique and B) examining what foreigners are actually interested in. It seems that decisions on creating tourist attractions and campaigns are based more on a committee which have very little to do with the place and the audience.

The city will be repurposing an old overpass near Seoul Station and turning it into the Seoul Skygarden, an elevated park in the middle of a busy city center. They hired international designers to create the park, thus hoping to add some international design accolades on paper. Great, just great. I work near that area. It has extremely heavy traffic and the station itself is popular among homeless people. An elevated park with cafes and restaurants will not only worsen traffic conditions, it will further displace the homeless population. That or they would just gladly hangout at the internationally, designed structure.

It’s like the designers and city planners just thought about modernity and ignored everything else. It’s already been done with the station itself. Seoul Station used to be this old building built during the Japanese occupation. Ugly history aside, it’s still a beautiful and historic building. But the city decided to build a new Seoul Station right next to it, a modern structure that says absolutely nothing. Passersby wouldn’t even be able to make out the shape of the whole structure amongst the menagerie of glass and neighboring shops.

They do this again and again. City Hall is shaped like a wave that is trying to hide behind other more interesting buildings. Dongdaemun Design Plaza replaced the old stadium which displaced many of the people who used to do business in the old structure. Now it’s a pretentious glob right in the middle of a shopping area. It houses high-end fashion shops, replacing old merchants struggling to make ends meet by hawking their wares. Noryangjin Fish Market is being modernized into a soulless department store-looking bland attraction. Fish mongers who’ve done business there for years are being pressured by the city as well as gangsters to move to the newer, modern-looking area. City planners, instead of seeing what works and embracing it, they try to modernize things into attractions that would ultimately look old and dated given five or ten years. Seoul City Hall is not iconic, neither is Dongdaemun Design Plaza. They look like poor stabs at looking modern.

It’s really is a shame, but Koreans are often misguided when it comes to capitalizing on their environment and cultural appeal outside of K-pop. Even their attempts to coming up slogans for the city and the country have been disastrous. “I.Seoul.U” is a confusing mess that would attract no one. If anything, it reflects on the need to sound modern and hip to the detriment of language and communication. As for “Creative Korea,” ironically, it looks like it was plagiarized from “Creative France.” Appropriately, it speaks to the lack of creativity and poor attempts by the Korean tourism authorities. And in both cases, I believe no English-speaking expats, people who have learned to appreciate the country from an outsider’s point of view, have been consulted for the slogans.

Mind you, other cities are not immune to this. As much as I love Winnipeg, I’ve never liked its much-beloved Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I feel for the sentiment and the purpose of the place, but it looks like structure straight out of Mad Max. Also, who would travel to Winnipeg to see a museum on human rights? At least Edmonton had the wisdom to build the West Edmonton Mall. Americans and Canadians alike would drive for hours to visit Edmonton, a city of less than a million people, just to visit the giant mall. This would never be the case with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s like city planners are actively targeting the mandatory school field trip crowd. And despite being a structure dedicated to human rights, I remember planners were quick to ignore Aboriginal concerns regarding artifacts and Aboriginal graveyards. Just like Seoul, it’s a modern ugly structure that ignores many of the locals’ concerns and would likely not increase local tourism.

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The Maple House

Maple House

I was ready to do my best Gordon Ramsey and rip the restaurant apart. The fact that the first thing I saw was a promotion for Guinness at the door didn’t do well for first impressions. The last time I checked, Guinness was Irish. I was afraid that the restaurant would be what I often found to be a lazy representation of Canada in food festivals in the Seoul. The last international food festival I went to, the Canadian stall was selling hot dogs, Budweiser, and churros. Pretty disappointing.

In any case, I kept an open mind. At the very least, I was hoping to find Canadian beer, particularly Alley Kat. At the most, I’d be surprised to see if they serve perogies. I’ m sure they will have poutine, as it is basically the go-to food that people here would often answer outside of maple syrup when asked what food comes from Canada.

Vancouver

The entrance was a good touch. Very Vancouver airport. I almost expected to see First Nations bone and soapstone sculptures. Instead of sculptures however, they had frames of Canadian cities and hockey teams.

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets is represented. Unfortunately, it reminded me of the lunacy of having a human rights museum in Downtown Winnipeg. If you want to attract tourists, why would you build a museum with such a depressing theme? “Forget Edmonton Mall! Let’s fly to Winnipeg instead and see the human rights museum!”

Jets losing

Inside on a giant screen, they’re showing a broadcast of the Jets losing to the Senators. This feels very familiar.

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The beer selection is pretty good. They have Alley Kat, which they used to serve in many bars in Seoul but later dropped by everyone. Some of the bars I frequent have been disappointing me lately with the quality of beer they serve. Either the selection of the beer on tap is unimpressive, or it’s not that cold, or they give me a headache. Maybe it’s the cleaning fluid or the nitrogen in the tanks to give it head. I don’t know. So far, from the selection alone, this looks like a good place to have a drink.

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I didn’t know that sriracha was particularly Canadian or that it would work well in a hot dog. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. Impressed.

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They had spinach dip. Again, something you don’t see in many places around Seoul.

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I tried the smoked duck with blueberry. It was pretty good. I would definitely order it again. The duck might be too rare for the locals. Duck in the country is often served on a grill and cooked to a crisp, so I’m not sure if people would like it as much as I did. I was quite surprised at how reasonable the price was considering the part of town we were in.

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They had a fair selection of poutine, but I wasn’t in a poutine mood.

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They had Nanaimo bars which is excellent. The spelling on the ingredients for Beaver Tail might seem like a mistake, but I believe I just found my awesome rap name: Cinammn.

Mail box

The mail box is a nice touch.

The food was impressive and the price was very reasonable. I would come here for the beer, but the food and the price of the food are just icing on the cake. The owner took great lengths to make it feel very Canadian. The hockey on screen is good. It’s just too bad that Canada’s been having a pretty terrible season. I’d definitely come here again to try some of the other items on the menu, I just hope that it doesn’t get too crowded once more people learn about the place.

In a scale of 1 to 5 Body Breaks in terms of Canadianness, I give it four.

Body Break Rating

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My Package Is No Good

zoidberg

Back after the Chuseok break (that’s the Korean Thanksgiving holiday). Didn’t do much art, but I did send art to galleries for future shows. Unfortunately, one Korean postal worker didn’t want to deal with me and just wanted me to go somewhere else. The exchange, which was all in Korean, went like this:

Korean postal lady: You can’t send these.

Me: Why not? I sent packages like these here before.

Korean postal lady: You can’t.

Me: Why not?

Korean postal lady: Go to Gwanghwamun postal office.

Me: Why can’t I send these here?

Korean postal lady: Go to Gwanghwamun postal office.

Me: What’s wrong with these packages?

Korean postal lady: You can’t.

Me: Why?

Korean postal lady: Go to Gwanghwamun postal office.

Me: Good job, lady.

Very helpful. I did go to Gwanghawun postal office. Everything went fine. I explained the earlier exchange and the postal worker there had no idea why the packages were rejected.

Now, I’ve been in South Korea forever. I’m trying to learn the language, but sometimes, even when I speak the language, people don’t have the courtesy to address me like a normal person and explain things to me so I could understand. What’s the point of learning the language if people won’t even talk to you, especially a government employee? Luckily, I know exactly what “gwanghwamoon oocheh cook” means, but could you imagine if I was a foreigner who didn’t speak a lick of Korean? They would be lost, feel dejected, and have this awful story about their racist experience in the post office. And poor Timmy who is waiting for a present from grandpa living in South Korea would never receive his package.

Of course, this was just a minor incident. And just as the lady wasn’t helpful, others more than made up for it with their willingness to assist me. Unfortunately, it’s the negative experiences that often stick to memory more than the positive ones. I remember people cutting in line and not minding other people more than kind, considerate strangers. Just look at this article. I’m still writing about a five-day old incident when other more positive things have happened to me since.

I guess what I’m saying is, forget that lady! She probably doesn’t deserve it, but for the rest of the country, I really wish she go straight to hell. People like her ruin the experience of being in this country with their lack of empathy or sometimes downright xenophobia. The same is true for many countries. Most people are friendly and hospitable, but there’s a few that would ruin the whole experience for people, the asshole minority.

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Art for the People

diesel engine

There’s a law in the city that mandates the erection of public of art with the construction of major buildings in the city. It’s meant to add culture and prevent the city from looking like a jungle of right angles. Of course, not everyone is pleased with every choice of art that is erected in public, but I guess that is true with most artwork. It won’t please everyone. The statue of a proposing man below for example doesn’t really do it for me. Instead of inspiring thought, it is about as shallow as Ronald Macdonald sitting on a bench. It is kitsch kneeling for all eternity.

proposal

I believe it’s not a private commission, but Borofsky’s Hammering Man, which I see almost every day, is borne out of the same desire to bring culture out in the streets. Now this, I like.

Hammering Man

I understand not everyone likes it, but I do hope that more public art will be like this. Not necessarily as grand as Borofsky’s works, but less kitschy. Granted, there is value in cutesy and lighthearted works, but the jokes wear thin after a while… really thin if you see the same joke every working day.

It reminds me of what my old art instructor did a few years ago, when he had his students erect colorful sculptures to “liven up” downtown. Some of the works were fun, but after a while, it makes one wonder why muddy and honestly what looked like amateurish works were littered downtown. It’s like a giant dropped his old, unused toys on his way to the flea market.

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An Arm and a Leg

prosthetics

I visited an area of town where they sell prosthetic limbs. Store after store of prosthetic arms and legs.  It’s fascinating, depressing, then fascinating all over again. It’s easy to imagine people who lost limbs and how sad it must be to come to such a place, but it’s also amazing that such people could also regain some of their freedom due to the amazing technology we have these days. We live in amazing times. We have prosthetic arms and legs on window displays!

It also got me wondering at how people get into the prosthetic manufacturing business. Whatever choices in life could’ve led people to devoting their skills and talents to making arms and limbs. And how did it all begin? How do people go up and just decide, “you know what, there’s a lot of money to be made here. Let’s start a prosthetic limbs store!” In any case, however they got there, I’m jealous at what they do. At least they wake up in the morning knowing they’re making someone’s life be better. They’re helping people walk or regain the use of their arms again. Not many people can claim to change lives on a regular basis as much as these people.

Unfortunately, to get there, I had to pass by a little hidden red light district. Afterwards, I had to go through an area frequented by homeless people. Under the certain conditions, my little stroll yesterday could’ve driven me to depression.

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Winnipeg and Awesome Art Communities

cheese_tunnel

One of the things I really miss about Canada is the art community. In Canada, I believe the art community is democratized, where many galleries primarily make money through selling artists’ work. There are pros and cons to this approach. It might limit what the galleries show, only exhibiting what is currently trendy or commercially viable (like Hong Kong galleries, in my opinion). But it also puts all artists in an even playing field, where making and exhibiting art is not a rich man’s hobby.

In the second day of my trip, I visited quite a few galleries in Winnipeg. Many of them were open to new artists looking to exhibit. Reading through some of the bios, I see a lot of people who were self-taught and many who were exhibiting for the first time after (or in the midst of) careers in other fields. The galleries, like many I apply to in North America, will screen works, review proposals, then work with artists. I’m not sure to what degree sales fit in the equation, but as an artist, I don’t see a big financial investment on my part outside of the money spent framing and shipping works to galleries.

Now maybe it’s just my limited experience as a foreigner, or perhaps my lack of Korean language skills, but from what I see in Korea, galleries tend to make their money off the artist first. Selling the artists’ works is just a secondary thought. With real estate prices skyrocketing, galleries in Korea would cover their expenses first by billing artists exorbitant gallery rental fees. The fees don’t cover promotion. Like many galleries in North America, it is usually up to the artist to drum up audiences for their shows. (I don’t think many gallery owners cared about my CV.) Now, the advantage of such an approach is that as long as the gallery fees are covered, the artist is free to explore new ideas. This makes the scene rife for Dadaist approaches like Marcel Duchamp’s fountain. If anything in the gallery space is considered art (as long as the gallery fees are paid), does that not make any object a possible art piece and any person a possible artist? Rent a gallery, challenge the system, and go crazy. Explore!

I would like to think that that is what’s happening in Korea, but sadly, it doesn’t work that way. From what I’ve seen, art here is a rich man’s game. Many people don’t live off of their art. They’re often independently wealthy and art is a hobby they can afford to pursue. I remember a friend of mine who met an artist whose works were currently being exhibited in the Seoul Museum of Contemporary Art. They became friendly and he bought one of the artist’s works. It was a small and affordable painting, not like the ones he had in the gallery. To his surprise, the artist got a bit teary-eyed and was touched by the gesture. He said that he was the first person to ever buy one of his works. He was the first person to buy the artist’s works.

Now how could a living person be in the Seoul Museum of Contemporary Art and not even sell one piece?

Our guess is you go through the art school/scene in Korea, rent galleries for a few shows, know a few people, then hopefully build enough of a reputation to get yourself in a major gallery. Building up a CV would require a lot of money in this country, something that most artists cannot do.

In Canada, or in North America, it’s much different. Sure, a person can throw money at galleries and have their works shown, but there’s also a more honest, albeit harder and more humbling approach: apply to galleries, listen to their recommendations, apply again, and keep on applying until someone finally pays attention. I’m not saying the Korean system does not exist in Canada. I’m sure it does, and I’m sure that’s how many galleries work, but what I don’t see in Korea too often are galleries willing to take a chance on artists and not have a massive pay wall to have their works shown.

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I found this in my sister’s basement. A bit of a blast from the past. I miss art school. I miss lugging around a tackle box full of art supplies and being surrounded by artists. To my surprise, some of the paint is still good! The whole thing is now donated for other artists to use. Supplies are expensive. Recycle or donate your art supplies, folks.

Another blogger who loves Winnipeg. http://straightondetour.com/how-i-fell-in-love-with-winnipeg/

 

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Octopus Love

Hentai

Back in Seoul. Kinda busy catching up, so here’s a quick image.  It’s a tad small here so go to the larger image. Here!

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