Wayang!

First published June 2011.

I have just opened this show and despite broken foot we all got it up & hung! I say' we' because without my wonderful husband, son & daughter, plus great pal Gwynn who stapled all the swiftlet mobiles together, and of course Siti, our lovely maid who very patiently cut out all the vinyl swiftlets, this show would not have happened. Mark Hall kindly lent me his wonderful documentary photographs of heritage buildings to use in the show.

The broken foot was a bit of bad luck but it forced me to spend more time in the studio working. I also learnt that in George Town, there is nothing to entice the disabled to wander around- it is unbelievably difficult on crutches! This has got me thinking too....

'Wayang!' means 'Show!' in Malay. The biggest show to me is George Town itself- and it changes each day. This collection of artworks and small installations are personal comments on my feelings about George Town, and in particular, my frustration with the whole swiftlet farming issue in George Town, and increasingly, in the whole of Malaysia. 

I called the show " 'Wayang!' A Decorated Gallery" because all the works together do look so very pretty. This is the whole point...George Town, UNESCO World Heritage Site, precious for both tangible & intangible heritage, looks totally gorgeous when you are a visitor.

As a full time resident, however, there are underlying problems and these are really insidious things and will creep up on us because of lack of enforcement and implementation of a bigger plan to maintain this site so that it remains intact for the future benefit of all of us here- the people of George Town in particular. This slow & invisible 'creep' is so very hard to reverse. 

The swiftlet farming issue is really mad. The population of these birds, already at unprecedented levels, is increasing all the time, and with 173 swiftlet farms in heritage houses turned into artificial caves within the 1 square mile of the World Heritage Site here, we are just waiting for the tipping point to hit us. Illegal extensions to heritage buildings, damage to heritage buildings, noise, smell, threat to public health & safety...what are the authorities waiting for? These farms have to be closed down. 173 chicken farms full of feces and birds and noise would not be allowed. 

Living right in the middle of the heritage zone everyday life is fascinating and I do love all the pluses this city provides. It is a truly inspiring place. My notes attached to the pieces, comment on some of the people I see praying everyday, on recycling, on the ban on plastic bags in the state of Penang, on our attitude to heritage and old things, on what I love about George Town that is under threat, and on my very mixed feelings about the whole UNESCO listing. It is not all good! A massive rise in mass tourism destroys the authenticity of any place.

So yes, This last couple of years of living in the city has got me thinking and working with the Penang Heritage Trust where I sit on the council, to make this wonderful city a better place, inspire people to care for their heritage and believe in its value. It is precious! because it is irreplaceable!

We had a lovely opening with supportive friends and the show will be up until the 22nd of July 2011. Enjoy the show!

About 'Wayang!' See the link below:

http://macam2malaysia.tumblr.com/post/7343460654/an-arty-rant

 

 

Frustrated, Inspired, Experimenting

Frustrated, Inspired & Experimenting!

First published. 26 Apr 2012 (2325 days ago)   

Right now I'm trying to literally force myself to work a bit each day. In between the time I spend on the computer & working around the stuff needed with the Penang Heritage Trust, I find that the days go too quickly & I'm not doing what I love best- putting colour on to a surface & making an image!

With artist Strawalde

However, certain things have happened in recent months that have helped me make a clear decision about my work & my approach to it. Several young people, my age, close to me, have suddenly died. Not just 1 but a few....& it makes one sit up & ask a few questions. I certainly don't want to go through my life banging my head against a brick wall for a lost cause & ending up just frustrated & angry. The lack of law & enforcement & non- compliance going around our home here in George Town, & making me question the whole 'liveability' of the place, is totally frustrating & it has definitely blocked my work for the last few years I've been here. It's not what I really want to admit. George Town is most wonderful & we as a country are so lucky to still have such a fine site that captures our past histories, but it frustrates me how there seems to be no general pride for it. It'll be too late when people realise what we have now & have lost, 20 or 30 years on.....

The sudden death of a childhood friend & also of my lovely brother- in- law, just a couple of weeks ago slammed home the preciousness of life & value of family & friends, & wonderful neighbours. My sister- in -law has been overwhelmed with help & support from her neighbourhood in London. These are reminders to be with family, friends & to choose a life that encompasses a balance of happiness & satisfaction, & a respect for the planet as a whole. This in itself is inspiration.

There has also been other huge inspirations for me. Strawalde, an 80 year old German artist was plonked into one of our apartments by his agent to paint for a month. He was totally inspired by George Town & from the outside this is really easy! And he painted & completed a huge range of canvases. 

His zest for life is wonderful & the guy acts, looks, feels young! A case perhaps for an attitude & understanding that life is not to be taken for granted. He went through many dreadful hardships as a child & then as a painter in East Germany. He worked like a madman but also come down to my studio occasionally & talked to me about my work. He has told me I have to work with oils & that I should stop thinking! I would like to stop thinking about all the things that frustrate me here....so I'm attempting to take his advice!

A bit of painting everyday will lead to more painting every day & each time I work on a piece ( I have about 4 pieces on going at the same time & rotate as I work around them all.) I feel that this is definitely meditation & it clears my head! I'm a happy person at heart & I know that when I feel good I feel well.

My images now are bolder than they have been before & less 'detailed' or 'worked'. I'm trying to let my brush loose a bit & not worry about what the image looks like on a micro level. I'm liking a bit of sticking & tearing bits & texture mixed up with everything. This harks back to a student when I did lots of collage & everyone gave me a hard time for it then, & of course, to my weaving...I sort of want the paintings now to look like tapestries.

 

 I have been travelling a lot on Tiger Blue- Irian Jaya- 3 trips since Christmas & the place is stunning, the colours phenomenal underwater, the sea life totally outrageous in all ways & have had the 'absolute' experience of swimming with whale sharks- what gorgeous creatures! All of this is going on in my head & trying to get it out bit by bit is hard.

In the mean time I'm taking deep breathes when I get frustrated with the authorities..........I'll keep you posted!

Arrival in Korea

Arrival in Korea, Gwangju. First Impressions-Malihom Artist & Exchange Programme- Korea 2012

First published 01 Sep 2012 (2197 days ago) 

Malihom Artist & Exchange Programme
30th August- 10 October 2012
2 artists from Penang on 40 day exchange programmme- Rebecca Duckett- Wilkinson & Chan Kok Hooi
Sponsored by Malihom, PGT & Gwangju Arts Council

I have no expectations of Korea & to be honest it has not been a place I have particularly wanted to visit so I have come with an open mind & no idea of what to expect at all. Before I left Penang I watched a few K-pop videos which I think are quite bizaar, especially the really violent ones which are openly played on Astro & admit to really loving the repetitive beat of the songs, you can't help but sing a long & the guys are cute not my kind of guys, way too much make up & they look too pretty to cuddle up to but seriously cute.

I'm taking 2 new pieces of artwork for the International Women's Exhibition which starts at the end of next week.

Flying in over the south of Korea, about to land, was amazing. The islands & the coastline a web of inlets, small wriggly islands, quite fantastic. Then lots of soft morning clouds in amongst the mountains, hills & valleys & meandering waterways everywhere. All this, with the clouds hanging & misting above & amongst the landscape made it look as if we were coming in to land into a great bluey ink oriental scroll painting. We descended into Incheon Airport, right over Gwangju, our destination, & all around there was the wonderful manicured cultivation, a bright clear agricultural green so well organized in sections that followed the contours of the land. Inspiration already!

Coming into Incheon airport was a surprise. Very beautiful, but oddly. Unbelievable amount of high, really high, rise blocks that did look grey & soul-less & incongruous against the beautiful backdrop of hills, layers of high-rises along the beautifully soft horizons of the hills, but in the morning mist it all looked magical & the high-rises in the distance looked like trees along the ridges very fairyland-like in a weird way. Obviously lots of industry, incredibly wide water ways & rivers, boats all busy, pylons, pylon looking things in rows in the river mouth, huge hanger type buildings & colourful- bright orang, red, blue roofs which jumped out of the landscape. It all looked like the proportion of everything was 'just out', like those miniature landscape models set up on old ping pong tables, by railway enthusiasts, Here the 'canvas' is the amazing looking, very gorgeous natural landscape. It is in my mind, the 'Ultraman' landscape I knew from watching all the 'Ultraman' programs as a kid. I've always loved the sets in the old 'Ultraman' TV series & loved it when the Raksaksa & Ultraman would fight amongst the cities & towns, throwing it around & all about. Seriously this is it!

Landed 7.45am, Incheon Airport. Very impressive, relatively small, open, light, very organized, loads of immigration counters open & manned by women! Got our finger prints & faces scanned- these photos making us all look like criminals. Everyone was so calm, & there is a hush despite people talking, No one seemed stressed out or in a particular hurry. Going up the really high & long escalators both Kok Hooi & I commented that it seemed to actually calm you down! Signs everywhere in English, collected bags very sharply then walked straight out to find the buses coming in & the ticket counters right there. Really efficient & so nice! Our ticket to Gwangju- 4 hours exactly, was 30,900won- just over RM100. The bus was spot on time & we left spot on time at 8.10am. Seat belts, basic & practical but comfortable seats, very clean & highways all the way. The infrastructure is amazing!! 

The trip was through tunnels, forests of lovely pine, planted banks along the highways, very green, incredibly neat agricultural cultivation, views of beautiful hills, waterways, shrines, craggy pines planted as features along the highway banks, more tunnels, curved tunnels, all through the hills. They have spent a fortune here for infrastructure & the maintenance is phenomenal. Everywhere is immaculate. We stopped at the 2 hour point for 15 minutes(exactly) & the highway stop was spotless, the toilets spotless, the people all very friendly & nice despite language barriers, signage all in English. Not a tourist in sight!(except for the 2 of us).

Arrived Gwangju bus station at 12 on the spot & were met by Director Moon & Chris the co-ordinator. We walked through the mall & right across to the other side of the highway, not a step anywhere & then put the luggage & ourselves into 2 cars & went off to lunch-FABULOUS!! Cross tabled on the floor & very busy little rest. Fresh fresh herbs, pickles, kim chee, delicious pork rib soup & delicious pork pieces. Wonderful chili sambal & the herbs have fragrant, wonderfully perfumed flavors. We were much revived after this!

Off to the Asian Arts centre. An old middle school now being turned into this Art centre. The typhoon that went through certainly has taken a toll. The river has over flowed & you can see the water damage on the sides. All the plastic tunnels for vegetables have had the plastic torn off. The Arts Centre is situated in the most wonderful agricultural countryside. On arrival trees are down- chestnuts- & it all looks very neglected. It is neglected & the work is no way ready at all. No way for us to stay here as workmen are going in & out with door frames. Its pretty basic. However, the trees here are old & very gorgeous. i'm such a sucker for trees! An avenue of old firs leads us up the drive, amazing magnolia trees at the entrance of the building, their flower heads just going to seed, overgrown Pride of India looking great. Its a bit of an overgrown mess but to me this is pretty attractive.

The building itself is really nice but neglected for sure & was until very recently obviously abandoned. Floors are rotten, the gorgeously practical terrazzo staircase still covered in grime & most of the rooms totally dilapidated. BUT the people are nice & the studio where 4 artists are working is really great & more than adequate. The work is nice, each artist very different. We meet Helen, one of the artist's, from Jeju Island, & she speaks great English & gets us sorted out by helping to answer our questions.

Decision is for us to move into a hotel for 3 nights then to the Centre. I'm not convinced it will be ready but will see.

We get cracking & start the flow of juices by joining in a session of Korean Brush painting on t-shirts. It certainly gets us relaxed & it's a lot of fun. The lady in charge of the session has brought a thick black water soluble permanent paint in which she has mixed in actual gold dust & when we paint onto the T-shirts, there is a very beautiful glitter. The Korean's who have joined in the session are doing mainly images based on cherry blossom & lotus. One of the resident artists, Sung Moon, is a natural at gorgeous little fish in one wriggly stroke! & everyone wants a T-shirt with these on. I do a fish on my scarf & use the shapes of the herbs I ate for lunch as designs for my 'leaf' T-shirt.

We drink 3 in 1 Korean coffee, which is good! & Aloe juice, also good! Starting to feel a bit tired by this time but the question of communications comes up & neither of us can get signal on our phones- Maxis. It seems we are blocked & can't use our phones. So off we go to try to get a local sim card.

Impossible. Helen wonderfully drives us around for 3 hours to try to get a place to sort us out. Foreigners cannot just get a sim card it seems, we need to register, out down a deposit & then ok. I thought of buying a cheap phone.documentation even worse & I need a couple of local sponsors. We eventually find a guy who will sort us out & we wait for an hour for him to finish serving another customer. We then fill out all the forms only to find that when he inputs our info, it is stated that we are in the system but can't get a phone until the next day so Saturday & sunday, everything shuts down & we need to wait until Monday to input the necessary! Its after 6 so too bad!! 

Everyone has been so nice so far & helpful. Obviously we had Helen kindly giving her time to be translator for us & this no doubt smoothed it all out. But everywhere so far, people have been great.

Chris & Director Moon meet up with us at this point & Chris drives us to our hotel downtown. Palace Hotel. What a shocker! It has been ripped down & we are left standing in front of a totally stripped out building with no street wall. We had to laugh but even Chris said 'Something is wrong!' .Yes!!!

Anyway, we didn't freak out & walked down into the rather seedy car park to find out we had to get the elevator to the 4th floor where a very seedy registrar was ready with our keys. All pretty dodgy for sure but on getting to the rooms we find a computer but no internet, it all smells of smoke & all desperately in need of an parade. Chris tells us we will move to another hotel t'm. OK!!

We walk outside into the very buzzy streets full of young people in fitted pants, cropped at the ankle bone, wearing sneakers. The girls in high heels all very fashion fashion. Good young vibe. Packed out, fab fashion everywhere for sale & Chris takes us to a Korean resto where we have a cold radish soup, Barbecue pork, fab spicy pumpkin stew, lots of pickles & delicious dried slices of octopus. We stop of at the Angle Cake House to get on the internet & a cup of green tea. Let family know all is ok & then to a desperately awaited shower & bed. At the entrance of the hotel a huge set of speakers has been set up & a sign for a club up leading people into the ruins of the building. What a relief! The rooms are pretty much buffered & so sleep should be fine.

Turn on the telly to find K-pop, Fox & a gazillion Korean channels, channels selling stuff & a really sordid porn channel- talk about ugly & spotty porn stars! YUK! Whizzed past that fast & ended up watching some FOX CSI thing for 20 mins & then was dead to the world until 7.30 this morning! Brilliant! Had a walk already & having coffee latte & a bagel & cream cheese. Where am I?

 

Checking Out Gwangju

Checking out Gwangju! Malihom Artist & Exchange Programme- Korea 2012

First published 02 Sep 2012 (2196 days ago)   

Saturday has been good. We moved to another hotel down the road- a quick 8 minute walk with our wheelie luggage. Much better. Internet super fast here. 

The downtown area warms up relatively slowly in the morning but soon enough there are lots of people about- wandering into shops, into the games entertainment arcades from which you here delighted screams indicating fun. At first I thought there was a children's playground somewhere nearby.

Kok Hooi & I went off to walk around the area & we found the Cultural Exchange Centre. This is just 1 building in a whole complex that is being constructed now. An 'Asian Culture City in the Making'. Impressive stuff. We found our way through the underground walkway system which winds its way under the very busy roads & found a little weekend 'table' flea market type thing on the astro turf of the Cultural Exchange Building.

A media exhibition was on inside & we found large video screens showing various films(one based on the people who catch little fish in the huge concrete water sluice ways with a plastic bottle) , an exhibition of paintings, video displays on the centre itself & the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism, & a great mixed media presentation of the 'Why' they are investing so much into Culture, Sports & Tourism. Every visitor becomes part of the whole installation & as you walk through the tunnel, you 'walk' into the huge video screen that faces you & so you are confronted with own disheveled self!

I thought the way the small paintings were exhibited was great. The walls are all of metal sheet & so the works were put up at random in any arrangement that you like, with double stick tape. Really easy maintenance & it looked great as well.

We picked up a load of brochures including a Gwangju Art Guide & found an ad for the International Women Arts Exhibition I'm taking part in. Called "lights of Women' there are 110 women from 12 different countries taking part. Fantastic, so looking forward to the opening on the 7th Sept.

We then wandered around the corridor like streets of the funky downtown shopping area. This is really good fun. All young people, great to just watch them all in their outfits. Hair dye is huge here but not crazy colours & beauty product shops are every where. All the girls wear make up & have lovely hairstyles. The guys look like colourful mods, pastels, stripes & checks, funky sneakers & tight but short blazers on top. For ladies, leopard print seems to have gone loopy- its on everything! 

 

Lots of restaurants, fun little shops( that are run by the owners which have great individual style), everything reasonably priced, but you have the big retailers as well. Zara, Adidas, Sketchers, UniGlo, Starbucks(everywhere), etc. etc. We stopped off at a little resto where we could order according to picture with a set serving. Lots of barbeque or hotplate restos around the place but we just wanted something simple so this worked out great. I then wandered around checking out shops until about 3 & then went back to the hotel for a snooze & cool down.

The weather is hot but dry & in the evenings it cools down to a really lovely temperature. Very comfortable but dehydrating when walking around during the afternoons.

 

Kok Hooi who had met & spent time with the 2 Korean artists while they were in Penang(including Sung Wan Park & Ju Mi Hee, who's paintings are up at the Penang Global Tourism office, on Beach Street until 10 September), & the Korean writer, Park Chee Hyun(who archived the whole residency at Malihom), gave them a call & they all came over to meet us at the hotel. What a wonderfully friendly & generous bunch of people! They took us for dinner & then we stopped off for coffee at one the many coffee(all Starbucks like) places in the area. We had great fish with the usual herb leaves, pickles & condiments, & brown rice. The food is really good here.

This was a really enjoyable evening & it was great to meet these artists in their own environment. We used lots of sign language but I actually managed to dredge through my brain & come up with some French, spoken by Ju Mi Hee! 

I had breakfast on the 7th floor of our hotel on a little terrace that has great views of Gwangju. Today we meet up with Sung Wan & Ju Mi at 11.30am & we go check out Chosun University.

After this we meet up with Mr Moon & the Korean artists working with us this evening & it is hoped that we move into the Asian Arts centre by tomorrow. I guess we will be busy with finding materials to work with tomorrow & both Kok Hooi & myself are actually getting pretty itchy wanting to get to work!

Looking forward to another good day!

Gwangju Surprises

Gwangju surprises, Great food, Daein Market, Folk Museum, Funky artists, Settling into our studios & Cold water! Asia Art Studio/Malihom Artist Residency, Gwangju, Korea

First published 06 Sep 2012 (2189 days ago)   

It has been a very interesting & full few days. On Sunday we were shown around Chosun University & the art department there by the friendly Korean artist group. Yu Mi Hee lectures in the Art department & many of the artists involved in the management of the Arts Council, Asia Art Studio, Gwangju Museum of Art, have all come through Chosun University- ranked 3rd in Korea. We were shown into tall the sculpture workshops & thorugh the main building, which was great. 

Then taken to lunch in a local Korean rest. We were then treated to an amazing view of the city of Gwangju from the highest point of the university. 

In the afternoon we were picked up by Mr Kim, director of Asia Art Studios, with Chris & the 3 Korean male artists, & treated to the Folk Art Museum within the Biennale Complex. This is really worth a visit & you learn about everything that is traditional Korean. There are great life-size model scenes set up for you to understand how eg. a loom works, a pottery looks like, a traditional kitchen etc. Also some amazing photos of Gwangju from the 1920's until today showing the transition from a very beautiful traditional style city to the overbuilt concrete metropolis it is today. We took a look at the Biennale Hall as well.

We were then picked up & taken along to the management offices of the Asia Art Studio at the Gwangju Museum of Art, Geumnamno Gallery, in town, just beside the Art Street, where there are all the traditional Korean paper, brush & ink shops, Korean clothing stores, local craft & of course, art supply shops. We topped off the evening by being invited to a wonderful vegetarian buffet with everyone in the Gwangju Fine Arts & Asia Art Studios offices. 

Kok Hooi & I woke up early on Monday morning & went straight down to Art Street to buy some basic supplies & we got back just in time to meet Mr Moon who had come to move us into the Art studios. The streets are full of art here & hoardings are used as public gallery space. Artwork is hung, grafitti artists decorate with care. Its really very vibrant. 

 

We did a detour to Daein market so that he could show us the community Art Project there. This is a really brilliant project!

Daein Market, Gwangju. A perfect example of how art in the community is revitalizing an old, traditional wet market. I thought of Chowrasta & every other market building that is in need of a blast of fresh ideas. The Gwangju Fine Arts Association has set up a series of mini galleries & spaces for Artist Residencies. 

Local artists as well as foreign artists can apply & they are given a hostel type accommodation with kitchenette, a mini studio space from which they work & exhibit. Local artists can also be given the chance to apply for mini exhibition spaces in which they can hang their works for display or do installations. There is a small community coffee shop run by this foundation- a hang out area for all the artists in the area & the coffee is relatively cheap! All money goes back into the foundation for resident artist funding.

In addition there are special 'open workshops' set up by the funding from the government. In these are a huge selection of tools ranging from a spanner to a huge electric saw. All these tools can be borrowed by anyone using the space of the market & there is space inside or in the open corridor to make your own items eg. stools, frames, artworks. The only criteria is that the tools are returned properly. Stall holders also can use the tools to fix & maintain their own spaces.

The market is alive with artwork painted on walls, decorated lanterns made from recycled items, installations, even culvert drain covers made of lino that just cover over the open drainage grills so that they look more attractive & help stem any smell.

The market is a real mix & this has not been disturbed- so, an abattoir for pigs is right next to some of the artist studios, as are clothing stalls, fruit stalls & vegetable stalls, bed linen, hardware & vendors selling pig heads & tongues, etc. The market is kept spotless & has a plastic roofing overhead so can be used in any weather.

Every second weekend, artists & craftspeople display their wares on colorfully decorated stalls. It's a really interesting place to visit. This is all in easy walking distance of the Art Street, the downtown shopping area & the Cultural Exchange, Art centre. Its a really vibrant area.

We were also taken along to a couple of the artists studios. For me the highlight was the studio of the Korean artist Yoon Nam Woong,(his work is really identifiable & is seen everywhere in the Gwangju city area) who's subject matter revolves around the workings of the market. He has a gallery within the market & his artwork is humorous, erotic, fun & colorful�a bit like his own character.

In addition, along the subway entrances & underground walkways, there are shops selling all sorts & the Metro gallery, where the international Women Artist's show will be held is actually in & around the subway entrance escalators, so even if you don't want to go inside, the artwork is on view as you go up & down the escalators.

We had to hang around for a while at Daein Market but we met lots of the other resident artists & were treated to another fabulous lunch with some of the resident artists at the market & the management from the Arts Council.

We were then taken to open our savings accounts for reimbursement payments & allowances. Mr Kim from from the Asia Art Studio then met us & drove us out to the Studios.

 

This was interesting! In essence we had our rooms & the kitchen area all set up really well..but construction was still taking place & workmen were everywhere. The shower- outside & at the back of the building where it is quite overgrown was still without electricity & being used as materials store. The whole place has a coating of cement dust & so we did feel just a little uncomfortable.

Discussions with everyone helped reassure us. Shower would be working tomorrow & it would be cleaned up. We then went off to the E mart to do some basic shopping for the kitchen & everyday essentials. 

Things are expensive here. Just the way it is & we got back & settled in for the night. After this we knew that we would get it all sussed & any hiccups would be smoothed out.

We had a really good visit to the Biennale Hall- just to take a look at it & then to the Folk Art Museum within the Biennale Complex. This is really worth a visit & there are great displays & collections of all things traditionally Korean. Also some amazing photos of Gwangju from the 1920's until today showing the transition from a very beautiful traditional style city to the overbuilt concrete metropolis it is today.

It was just lovely though & quiet with the sound of insects, lovely little moths trying to get into the windows & a cool temperature. The netting on parts of the windows allows you to sleep with them open so its nice fresh air. We're right in the middle of the countryside so it is incredibly beautiful around here & I love the cicadas, the little tree frogs that stick to the windows & in the morning, the gorgeous little finch type birds that come hopping into the trees outside my window.

I woke really early on Tuesday morning & just got to work with the paper I had bought, did a bit of sketching & putting down a couple of ideas & was happy to achieve quite a bit. Chris, our co-ordinator/translator/companion took us off to the Art Asia office in town again so that money could be deposited into the accounts & do a bit more shopping for food & materials. It was actually quite a long day & we didn't get back until nearly 5.

Everyone at AAS came through & we can't thank them enough for sorting out things so quickly for us. Our shower was sorted, our studios suddenly ready with signs up, stairways cleaned & the 4 Korean artists moved up into the big studio next to our smaller ones. The spaces we have are great- large, open & with windows so the light is good & very comfortable. We are happy!

I cooked supper- very basic - & the 3 Korean artists who were still here working- a couple of them stayed the night with us- joined us & we had a really great evening around the kitchen table. The boys cleaned up & we then settled down. Kok Hooi & I were so happy with our shower room & I had a great nights sleep. I didn't wake up at all & woke to the sound of little birds outside my window at 7.

Have just taken a little walk around the grounds inspecting all the wonderful trees & have discovered 2 lovely looking white husky type dogs next door. Their kennels are situated under the most laden pomegranate trees I have every seen & one lazily barked at me while the other just stayed laying down & gave me a glance. Watched the garbage truck come along & remove most of the construction rubbish at the back & sides of the building. A fantastic bit of machinery, the rubbish truck has a crane arm grip on the back of it. The driver just hops on & whoosh, all the huge piles of rubbish & debris disappear & get pounded not the back of the lorry. I watched in fascination as the grip took up all the bused bits of furniture & squashed it into the back of the truck. 

Started with sketching up some of the tree shapes, leaf shapes in the studio grounds- the pines have great lines & then managed to get help to carry a table up into my studio. I set to work. Working with the local Korean paper- its more like fabric & really hard to tear. You can scrunch it up & this simply just adds to the texture. Have decided to work this first piece in layers - collage- drawing & painting, tearing out the shapes & sticking them one on top of the other to create a kind of scroll that will end up looking more like a felted work I think. It will develop as I go along & the images revolve around my first night here at the studio.

We walked down to the local village for a basic but wholesome lunch with Chris who is our brilliant assigned Man Friday & Sono, one of the Korean Artists working with us. The roads as far as we can see, are lined with padi fields & the mountains in the background. Really rural & very attractive.

At 5pm we went off to the opening of the Gwangju Art Fair where we looked round all the gallery booths(both local & foreign) exhibiting all their different artists. 

 

Then off to the opening of the Media Show in & around the Cultural Exchange area downtown. A show of videos projected onto buildings, light works, installations with video, sound & light. There's a lot happening in this town & everyone gets involved. This media show was right in the main busy public space of downtown & so everyone was taking it in.

 

I cannot say enough how wonderful everyone has been here. Helpful, friendly & really accommodating. The group of artists working with us are most helpful despite some language barriers, but they all speak a bit of English, a couple of them very well, so we are all getting along great. Chris, our man Friday is a star & he drives us around whenever we need to be somewhere, is our translator, helps us find shops or things etc. He's a lifesaver for us here as the language is a real barrier & we've noticed that the friendliness we are being treated with comes from having a connection with all the people we have met. It's not so easy when trying to deal with the ordinary man on the street although generally you can get by very happily with sign language & a bit of English. Good thing the restaurants have pictures that you can point to!

The weather has been cooler today. We had a day of rain yesterday but it has been clear & fresh. Tonight it is decidedly fresh & because its just that bit late, we are foregoing our chilly showers until the morning!

HIghlights for me so far:
The friendly people.
Daein Market.
The sound of cicadas anywhere there are trees- even in the middle of the busiest roadThe landscaping everywhere- so much planting of interesting trees.
Art Street.
The food.
The work of the artist Yoon Nam Woong
The range of insects & beetles that come to the light & window netting at night. Some of these I haven't seen in Malaysia since I as a kid, including loads of 'click beetles'. A sign of a healthy ecosystem & most probably less use of pesticides?
The fresh vegetables.
Tree frogs on the windows at night.
The Ultraman landscape in Gwangju city- weird but oddly attractive.

But now to think of doing some work!

 

Work begins! Gwangju Biennale........

Work begins! Gwangju Biennale, Lights of Women, Perfect Korean countryside, Bonfires & Kim Chee, Nature enhanced, Insects, Frogs & Typhoons. Asia Art Studio/Malihom Artist Residency Programme- Gwangju, Korea

First published 16 Sep 2012 (2179 days ago)   

We have just passed the 2 week mark & as if marking time there is a 'Bad Typhoon Warning' up for today running into tomorrow morning. We have instructions to make sure everything is locked & closed up tomorrow. So Chan & myself have decided not to go out & keep our Sunday for concentrating completely on our paintings, weather permitting.

The end of last week was busy. I was getting up early every morning & having my cup of tea outside on the steps overlooking the baseball field, sketching all the plants, leaf shapes etc. & I'd already started work on a 'gut reaction' piece using Korean papers, collage & mixed materials, but we had lots of outings as well. Last Wednesday, 5th of September, we attended the opening of the Art Fair 'Art:Gwangju-12' at the KDJ Convention Center. We wandered around all the gallery booths, many of whom had come in from around the region, & met all the Asia Art Studio representatives at their Metro Gallery booth. It was great to see the huge range of styles represented by these galleries.

On Thursday 6th September, we were invited to & attended the opening of 'ROUNDTABLE', the 9th Gwangju Biennale. 

There was great live music & dance performances, lots of congratulatory speeches, politicians & movie stars, all gracing the occasion & the rain managed to keep off for the evening outdoors. The entrance doors were then opened & the people flooded in to view the works put on show.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had all played ping pong on the stainless steel tables set up outside the Biennale Halls & one of the highlights of that day for me was to see the work of Lee e-nam at the Gwangju Museum of Art, just up from the Biennale Hall. 

His 1 piece taking centre stage at the entrance is a large white vase onto which he has projected on one side, an animated traditional ink brush painting of bamboo as it moves in the wind & as is covered in snow flakes. Its a wonderful & quite beautiful thing to view. On the other side of the vase he has projected a colorful cloud of fluttering butterflies. Although this image is pretty dramatic, it is the bamboo ink painting that I absolutely love.

We had a good wander round the biennale halls & enjoyed all the work, installations, videos put on by over 92 different artists from 40 countries. A lot of it will surely provoke a lot of discussion & questions. 

ROUNDTABLE "presents a cycle of process- based installations & performance works, including 45 new commissions & 15 residencies." It is hoped that "through this multiplicity of approaches, ROUNDTABLE acknowledges the impossibility of unconditional collaboration & invites us into a truly revolutionary engagement of non- hierarchical exchange toward global cultural production." 

The 6 all female curators worked on 6 sub themes: Logging in & out of collectivity- Transient encounters- Re-visiting history- Intimacy, autonomy & anonymity- Back to the individual experience- Impact on mobility. Get your head round all that!

On Friday 7th September, we all went along to the opening of 'Lights of Women' the international women artists exhibition at the Metro Gallery. 

This gallery is located in the subway station downtown & the works are clearly visible as people go up & down the escalators. 110 artist from 12 countries took part in this exhibition so there was a lot of work. All the Gwangju resident foreign artists, including my 2 pieces of work were put on show at the Gwangju Museum of Art, Geumnamno Gallery, just a short walk away. 

Lots of people, music & speeches. Strangely there was 1 male artist taking part apparently because his work is about women- a series of colorful bubble like light sculptures. Didn't quite sit completely well with a few of the women artists. I have to say I thought it strange too.

Park Joon Sun, one of the Asia Art artists was put in charge of getting us back to the Studios that night so we all ended up having supper together- Sono, Sung Moon, Sung Wan, Kok Hooi & myself. Then we went off to watch a performance put on by a very Americanised Korean girl who performed in English cutting off her Korean speaking part of the audience, which I thought was kind of strange. It was an interactive thing where she tried to get the audience to come down to the floor & take part in breathing exercises that required participants to 'touch' the body of the next person- heads on tummies type things- & then she acted as conductor as she got various groups of people to make different breathing sounds. It didn't quite work- the venue was not ideal, not everyone taking part understood her instructions, there was too much extra sound & distraction & unfortunately she didn't have the charm to pull it off completely. It was a shame & we all left early.

A short walk took us to Daein market where the Weekend Art Market- Friday to Saturday all day & through to late evening-was in full swing, all the handmade recycled community made bottle lanterns lit, stalls up & selling all sorts of art & craft, live music, food, friends meeting, portraits being painted. It reminded me completely of the Little Penang Street Market but with a more permanent vibe. 

This Art Market has a 'home' in Daein market & it is the atmosphere that really makes it- the mix of local vendors with vegetables, fish, meat etc interacting with the local young art crowd as well as the resident foreign artists from the market studios.

The mini galleries all open & everyone mixing & looking at things. Sono & Sung Wan, both had set up 'Portrait' stations. Sung Wan did your fast portrait in black ink & Sono did caricatures in colour- both really good! Later, we asked Sono how many he painted that evening- 24 caricatures. That's pretty good support from the local community & with lots of the artists doing this there seems to be enough people spending the money to make it worthwhile for them. This market takes place once a month but in September because of the Biennale, they run it twice in this month. It is a very vibrant community project.

On Saturday 8th Kok Hooi & I were taken off to the country by Park Chee Hyun & we spontaneously ended up staying the night at her house with her family & small community in Damyang- about a 45 minute drive from Asia Art Studio. 

Chee Hyun took us off to a Buddhist run restaurant for vegetarian buffet lunch. This was really lovely. The selection of raw leaves, herbs & bean & acorn curds were great. Black sesame seed soup, loads of different kim chees(of course), brown rice, cooked soya in various textures & pumpkin soup. We were then picked up by her husband, a dentist, & daughter, both of whom had just come from English tuition. We then took the drive along the highways, thorugh tunnels & past some really built up, massive termite hill developments in the sort of 'new town' areas- soul-less places I do think- & into the very green, wonderful agriculturally landscaped countryside.

In this little community of 7 houses, all within very easy walking distance of each other, there is a change afoot in the Korean countryside. 3 of the houses are lived in by people & families born & brought up in the area. 2 of them grandmas(according to Chee Hyun) & 1 of them a local born farmer & very good family friend. All other 4 houses are of families such as their own who have made the deliberate move away from the urban city & environment & into the country to live an alternative lifestyle. The man from whom's trees we picked persimmons, is married to a young Cambodian woman & has a very young son, another couple(he has made his money from owning a nuts & bolts factory) has built an amazing traditional style house out of sonamu wood & red clay, & the last family is Chee Hyun's sister in law & husband, an environmental scientist. Chee Hyun's family built the house 13 years ago & now live there full time. This little community obviously get on extremely well & they all have the same view on life. 

They get together every Saturday either in a restaurant or at one of their homes. 

We had the best luck & ended up joining them for a wonderful fish supper at a local restaurant & then back to 'Mr Nuts & Bolts' to spend the rest of the evening around his campfire, cooking ramen, freshly picked wild mushrooms, munching on homemade Kim Chees & raw eggplant from their vegetable patch, & boiling fresh eggs out of his chicken pen. 

We were still sipping on bacolli at 2am. A rice wine, 'bacolli, means 'first filter' & so, it is milky in colour because it has only gone through 1 filtration process. It is very drinkable & I think, tastes of ice cream. Mr Nuts & Bolts understood my description saying he thought it tasted of a sweet yogurt drink. It was a very special evening & we were very privileged to have been invited into this group of friends for the evening.

All the families have their collection of Kim Chee jars in the garden- full of different Kim Chees( of course), pickled roots & bean pastes. Totally delicious! 

And this little display of jars in gardens is not only beautiful but really charming to see. 'Mr Nuts & Bolts' has a Kim Chee cellar set into the side of a slope- with his wine- where jars of pickled vegetables are set on stands & kept at a constant temperature. The ladies spend their time doing natural dye projects with persimmons( grown everywhere in the area), onions & various metals & make the most beautifully subtle patchworks, curtains, bedspreads & clothing from their craft. They harvest wild mushrooms, plant vegetables & herbs & keep chickens. They paint & make things with their hands, dry flowers, craft little wreaths from found branches & leaves, & their children run between houses at any time. It's truly Martha Stewart Korean style.

The nuts & bolts couple obviously spent quite a bit of money on their house. Huge granite rocks were brought into the site which was totally landscaped to set the house on a perfect level, to give them a slope into which to set their Kim Chee cellar, & higher up, another terrace for a flat garden. 

The driveway is really attractive, large stones set in between grass- a patchwork. The workmanship & craft in their home is beautiful. The woodwork is stunning, all from the wonderful grained sonamu( a large fir) wood & the roof is of slate, workmanship again, stunning. 

Inside they have a special room for cold days with slate floors- 3 layers of 4 cm thick slate & to the side a little room where a fire is lit when it is cold. Piping runs under the floor & the smoke warms this area, the slate holding the heat for a long time. The smoke then runs through & escapes through a very attractive tall, stone 'mushroom' chimney to the side of the house. 'Mr Nuts & Bolts', his nickname amongst his friends here is Huckleberry Finn, describes his house as a 'Smurf' house. It is far more elegant than that 'Hobbit' would be more appropriate & this is the first thing that popped into my head as soon as I spotted the house. It is round, organic, very tactile, quaint without being cute, very cosy, efficient in its use of space, traditional & the quality of the craftsmanship blows you away. Huck Fin made the decision to move out of the city because his wife was always ill & he was totally stressed out. She is now a different person in terms of health & he loves it, doing all his chopping, planting, building, growing & campfire stuff, that he has gone off 'work' completely!

Chee Hyuns sister in laws place was built 3 years ago, more an American Western vibe to it but not compromising on the traditional pine & paper & craftsmanship. 

A wonderfully efficient house again inside, with very clever use of loft type windows that allow light & views into all the rooms. The pine wood here is stunning, different species giving very different grains but all with a lovely honey calm colour. Chee Hyun's house was designed by the same architect 13 years ago. Double story, efficient spaces, wood & windows, easy spaces. I love the dining areas where there is just low tables & every one sits on these smooth silky wood floors. Chee Hyun writes documentary stories about living in the countryside, & places of interest. She goes on the radio to talk about her lifestyle & those with a similar ideal. There seems to be a real move away from an urban life & stress, Koreans starting to see that life is more than just sending kids to school for 16 hours of the day (really!) & more about quality family time. I guess this is happening all over the world in various degrees. Richness & happiness is about a lifestyle, not about the money you manage to store away. Certainly this group of people seem to be having the greatest fun & life is all lived through persimmon colored glasses- it is this lovely subtle orange colour that seems to make the whole countryside around this area glow.

There is talk of building a guestroom or 2 & they asked us if we thought anyone would be interested. Of course! Certainly I feel the guests we get at Tiger Rock & China Tiger would absolutely love to experience the Korean countryside & culture. It is a real eyeopener in many ways. And there are now plans afoot for this group to come visit Penang & visit Tiger Rock!

Chee Hyun welcomed us into her home & we had warm showers( the first so far as it was only cold freezing butt firming showers at Asia Arts as the heater had konked out!) for the first time. Bliss! Clean pajama clothes & a great night's sleep. Chee Hyun made the most beautiful breakfast for us all- Weekends are home cooked breakfast days for her family.

Bone marrow soup with anchovies( good for hair & skin), smoked fish, fresh salads, pickles, home made kim chee & bean pastes. A delicious spread. 

I then helped with their puppy who's face had been munched by by 'Mr Nuts & Bolts' dog. I held him as he was given his antibiotic injection- poor guy!

We were then taken off to Soswae Garden. First built by Yang San-bo in 1503-1557 of the middle Joseon Dynasty, this lovely garden harmonizes with nature in the traditional Korean style. Basically it is totally landscaped but designed to look like a natural fantasy garden.

Even the river course was changed to bring it into the gardens along cascading water falls. It has been changed over the years & just recently restored into the garden it is today.

The bamboo gardens are stunning, it is peaceful, tranquil & very enchanting despite the rain & I would love to be able to see it change through the seasons. In the winter it must be particularly magical. 

In this area, under the mountains, the weekend brings in many people who walk, enjoy the country side & come to enjoy the real natural beauty of the place. Traditional houses & traditional style buildings are being built or restored a little to take advantage of the business- restaurants & shops- these visitors can bring. 

We also visited an amazingly sprawling public park around the dam- unfortunately my camera battery ran out & I couldn't record any of this area. It does all look like a traditional scroll landscape painting with swirling clouds, mountains, water, cascading waterfalls, willow trees, majestic pines, herons, pretty birds & ladies with parasols.

Chee Hyun returned us to Asia Art studios at about 8 on Sunday evening & Kok Hooi & myself have been working quietly in our studios since then. The Korean artists come in & out of the studios as they wish, often staying late in the night, or staying over night & it has been really nice as we all eat together & take turns cooking & preparing meals.

Sometimes its as simple as instant noodles but other times, ingredients are brought in & cooked. It is really great sitting down with everyone in the Studio & getting to know each other over these meals. 

Joon Sun cooked a lovely chicken dish- Dak dori tang- Sung Moon bought the chicken, Sono brought in his mum & grandmothers kim chee & anchovies with peanuts, & both Kok Hooi & I have been cooking up meals as well. Its been a lot of fun. 

We have not been starving at all & the food all round has been great. 

We have discovered that in the village- just a 10 minute walk down the road- there are several little restaurants & we pop down there occasionally too. 

The supermarket there is adequate for bits & pieces & a few snacks, milk, yogurt etc but no fresh veg.

Park Chee Hyun popped by the studio on Friday & whizzed us out to Homeplus, a great big mega store & we stocked up on green veg & basics. Chris, our co-ordinator turned up at the studio on Thursday with - I kid you not- 2 buckets of Kim Chee in plastic bags. That was all sorted into containers on Friday by ladies from the GMA office. Thank goodness too, as the smell of Kim Chee is not altogether the most pleasant & even the milk in our open carton in the fridge was becoming tainted with kim chee flavouring.

Yesterday Kok Hooi & myself took ourselves off on the local public transport & went into town. We managed to get on the bus & to the subway station & right into the downtown area. It was easy-peasy. The buses are clean, spotless, as is the subway & there are electronic signs on the front of the bus that give you the names of 'this stop' & the 'next stop' in Korean followed by English. We had about 20 minutes on the bus then 20 minutes on the train. Majorly efficient! 

We went along to Art street, marked with its granite paving & had a great time buying Korean paper, inks, scrolls, cards, fans anything we can paint on & then for change, had lunch at Burger King! 

Then a quick detour to Daein market where we walked through the fish section- absolutely brilliant- & to a wall paper shop I had spotted last time. I got myself a lovely roll of thick Korean paper with specks in it & I'm hoping to mount my paintings onto this, Sort of like a more modern day scroll. 

I have been totally inspired by my time here, by the everyday scenery- which I think is stunning, by the insects that come in to the lights at night, the flowers, the countryside & even the food. 

I cannot go on enough about the countryside here. It is very 'pretty' & everywhere on the road side verges there are pretty little flowers. 

Outside peoples homes are the odd flower pots & in the streets there are planters with very brightly colored pretty blooms. They provide images in my head, sort of like kids drawings where colours are a bit too gaudy & the flowers a bit too bright. 

Like those sunset paintings you see on the beach. They look unreal until you actually see one of those sunsets & realize that a natural sunset can be gaudy after all. These little images I have stored in my head also help me understand- I think- why a lot of the everyday paintings done here or those you see in houses or restaurants, are brightly colored & often very 'pretty' with flowers or scenes that look kind of gaudy. Its explains the taste & style they are attracted to- it is a direct reaction to their landscape & what their eyes & mind have come to understand & accept. Then.... there are little clumps of weeds that look just like paintings..subtle, delicate & simply gorgeous! 

I have also fallen in love with the old traditional paintings on scrolls here- the few I saw in the Folk Museum. I can't get them out of my mind. This has all resulted in my new paintings here being a sort of image diary of my time here so far. I have completed 2 paintings- 'Before I go to sleep at night', & 'My night time visitors'. 

I'm working on another now which is a self portrait in the Korean countryside & I have already sketched up 4 more paintings which I hope to complete as well. I have to admit that it is lovely just being to spend the day painting without having to go off on some sort of errand or job. It also changes the way I work & the style. I'm not afraid of detail here as I have the time to spend putting it in a bit more. I'm also so in love with the handmade papers & the inks. Paper has always been my favorite medium. I've always struggled a bit with canvas & acrylics, although I keep telling myself I do need to try oils (& I will after I get back to Penang). Collage & texture has always been what I've been naturally attracted to, so I'm really enjoying working quietly here with all these materials, just reacting to the surroundings & experiences I'm having here.

Good news. We have hot water here now so no more need for the mind prep every morning before I brave the cold shower in the autumn weather! Typhoon apparently coming in this evening. its very cool & calm at the moment, doesn't seem like anything is on its way at all. We'll be painting our way through it all hopefully.

Full Circle - Penang - Gwangju - Penang - 2012

Full Circle- Penang- Gwangju- Penang

First published on 05 Nov 2012  (2129 days ago)

It's been nearly a month since I got back to Penang & I am still thinking everyday, of my time in Korea. 40 days has had quite an impact on me! And I believe, it has all been extremely positive mentally & physically, body & soul. I couldn't have done better if I'd spent 40 days at some snazzy spa..& I really mean that. I also learnt a huge amount from the whole experience. 

Everything there agreed with me, especially the bit where I didn't have to go around doing anything else except paint & breathe in the atmosphere of the place! I worked solidly for hours on end in the studio during the week & at weekends we had new friends & colleagues kindly show us around what they thought was special in Gwangju. It was marvelous to be painting everyday.

 

Food, drink & bad breath
The food in Korea completely agreed with me. I felt good, I felt energetic, not once did I feel uncomfortable after a meal & I was never hungry. Part of this is I'm sure, the fact that I kept to a fairly rigid routine. Tea or coffee for breakfast with an apple at 7'ish am. Tea or coffee break at about 10am. Lunch about 12.30( we cooked at the studio during all weekdays & a couple of weekends). Tea break about 4.30 & then supper at about 7.30 to 8pm. 

Rice was had at pretty much every meal, as was Kim Chee. I was told that Kim Chee was good for the digestion as it contained 'good' bacteria, a bit like yogurt, & I now totally believe this. I never actually had bad breath from it, despite the name of one of my paintings, & I noticed that not 1 person I met or spoke to had bad breath. Strange thing to notice you may say, but here in George Town I often have major garlic breath after a meal & certainly I notice it on the breath of many people here! Garlic in Korea seems to be eaten raw, thinly sliced & in moderation, as a condiment, not as an ingredient as such. 

Meat was eaten in moderation, fish more often but there was always fresh salad & herb leaves with the meal. Lots of preserved vegetables too & steamed root vegetables & beans. Instead of one large dish of one type of food per person, the norm is to bring a wide selection of small dishes to the table & everybody helps themselves delicately using stainless steel chopsticks. Stainless steel chopsticks, a stainless steel spoon with a long handle & a bowl for rice is your full table setting. The stainless steel chopsticks make sure you don't gobble your food down. They don't seem to shove food into their mouths from the side of the bowl. You may get an extra little side dish for putting bits on.

The style of cooking was also significant. Meat is cooked on a hot plate after being marinated, or it is cooked as a stew with gravy. Soups are extremely popular. Fish can be fresh or preserved, or raw. Free range(only) chicken gizzards can be eaten raw too! Typically all the small dishes get served first at once with rice. Then the central dish- normally a hot pot of some kind- is presented on to the table. Rice is served to you in a hot stone bowl- it looks a bit like the granite pounding bowl we get here. You scoop your rice into your bowl & then fill the stone bowl with hot water which softens all the rice stuck to the bottom. At the end of the meal, you eat the rice porridge formed in the stone bowl on its own. It has a surprisingly nutty & comforting taste & I believe totally that this rice porridge is partly responsible for keeping your tummy settled after each meal. It is very comforting.

Every meal in every restaurant is completed with free coffee- mild, creamed & just slightly sweet. You serve yourself from a small vending machine. I was also charmed by the routine in many of the restaurants, especially the larger ones, Buddhist or vegetarian, of having to take your empty plates to the counter, tip rubbish into a container & separate your cutlery from your dishes in readiness to hand over to the dishwasher. At the temple we went to & had lunch, you have to take your dishes & wash them up. It was also considered bad form to not finish all the food you placed on your plate. I loved this & it made total sense to me. Like Buddha in the Diamond Sutra- you eat & then wash your bowl.

There were 3 things I didn't like or wouldn't eat. I thought the preserved 'kenyip' leaves were horrible( but I loved the fresh ones). I refused to eat the cicada chrysalides & the still moving chopped up bits of raw octopus.

I have never drunk so much coffee. We only had water, coffee 3 in 1's( the brand, Maxim, of which I have been delighted to have found here at the Korean mini-mart at Island Plaza!) & green tea. I bought the only brand of black tea I could see at Homeplus( essentially Tesco) & everyone at the studio expressed great surprise when I put milk into it. They had never seen this before. We weren't inclined to buy any other beverage. There are coffee shops every 2nd or 3rd shoplot along every street. They are called 'coffices' with names such as 'Express Olic', 'Pastabucks', 'Cafe D'lunch' & theres about 250 of them in Gwangju. They also serve tapioca lattes which are yummy! They are all comfy, eclectically decorated, cosy places to be & everyone hangs out in there. Starbucks is around too.
The weather was perfect. Autumn. 23 to 24 degrees during the day, down to 18 or 19 at night. Fresh air, no pollution in the countryside. I slept like a baby most nights at the studio, solidly, waking up in the same position I had fallen asleep in. The mattress was on the hard side & we had traditional bedding of a quilt for the top of the mattress & a quilt for a cover. The night was full of the sound of crickets, no compressors, no traffic, no nightclubs- dark & silent. The sound of birds in the morning was my alarm, lots of wonderful insects & tree frogs, little mongoose's running around the countryside & the show that is autumn taking place right where we were. The roadside verges changed each day, the trees started to change colour, the rice fields changed from green to golden, & the mountains were a constant steadying backdrop. These are all utterly beautiful in Gwangju. I couldn't have asked for a better place to be for me. And both Chan & myself felt that we had really lucked out with the location of the studio.

Ancient history, outrageous work ethic & lots of surprises
There was so much about South Korea of which I was clueless. It has a population of around 50 million & is approximately a third the size of Malaysia. It has an ancient history which is mind boggling, going back to the Stone Age. And let me tell you, they worked as hard then as they do today. 40% of the worlds dolmen stones(goindol) are on the Korean Peninsular, an estimated 35,000 of them built in the First Millennium BC! Get your head around that! You can just imagine even then, the people of Korea were working long hours chipping at these giant granite stones. They had to be. There are so many of them scattered about the countryside! They are compared to Stonehenge, 'dolmen' meaning 'stone table'. Large granite stones were erected & placed on 'foot' stones, looking like a giant table, or above ground as a four sided chamber, or a pit covered with a slab. On our little trips at weekends I kept seeing signs for 'Stone Age Site' & I was thinking 'Huh?' each time I saw one. I need to go back to actually see them.

In Korea today all around the countryside you will see tumuli, little earth mounds perfectly shaped & covered in grass- small family gravesites. A family can purchase a bit of land anywhere & erect these mounds for their dead. They also place large granite tombstones either on them or near them, the modern dolmen stone. They are scattered all over the countryside & these tumuli definitely hark back to an ancient time & the practice of using earth mounds to mark a gravesite.

Then there is the ancient petroglyph of Bangudae. Rock art depicting an intense whale hunting scene, so detailed the type of whales can be identified, the type of nets the fishermen used, even the details of the hunters clothing, their faces, shape of boats, wild boar, tigers, an amazing work of art. There are 200 individual motifs chiseled out of the rock by people at the start of the Bronze age at around 2,500BC. I for one, in my ignorance, had always associated dolmen, tumuli & ancient Stone Age cave art with Europe.

We had been taken to a couple of Temples. Unjasa & Seonunsa. At both there are mesmerizing ancient stone carvings of Buddha. At Unjusa I was immediately reminded of the Easter Island statues & so turned to Google to do some research. The first of the Buddha statues at Unjusa were thought to have been made at approximately 57BC. (The Easter Island statues started from about 1000BC.) It was from here that I started a bit of research on Korean ancient history & I have been totally fascinated & awed by it.

Koreans are the most homogeneous race on the planet. There has not been much interracial mixing at all & this can really, to me, explain a lot of things. The fact that they generally behave the same way, are so proud of the fact that they are Korean, behave in a very 'closed' manner, seem to be exceedingly rude at first glance, eat the same diet & food, & speak only Korean( although this will change rapidly as English is being taught in all the schools now). Everywhere you go you get the same thing, there isn't much range. In many ways, their diet & way they eat their food harks back to ancient times too. All their produce seemed to be at the height of freshness & of the highest quality & they are totally into natural, organic, healthy, free range etc. They give you the health reason for eating every single thing; if you eat this food with whatever condiment, it would do something healthy for you. They are very in touch with their food & ingredients, they haven't had the numbing experience of fast food to screw up their taste buds or their knowledge of where food comes from. The average life expectancy of men is just over 79 years & women just over 82 years. I'm sure this will change with the market now open to the US & the rest of the world. Fast food is coming & will change everything! 

The first time I had a Korean meal put in front of me in Gwangju, the day we arrived, I immediately thought it looked like a hunter gatherer meal, as if someone had gone out & collected bits of this & bits of that, herbs, leaves, roots & then prepared a meal from the days pickings. In many ways I believe that this style has its basic roots in their ancient history. They have not changed that much in their traditional habits but have managed to modernize the process of producing food so efficiently to suit modern times. 

The Koreans all make their own kim chee( there are kim chee jars on the city balconies), preserve roots & vegetables, eat a lot of fresh leaves & herbs, octopus, raw fish, & they eat all the bits & innards of the animal so it seems that none of it is wasted. All over the country & city people are planting things, in little planter boxes on wheels, on their balconies & all the road side verges have edible leaves growing where you can pick them. Rice, sweet potato, yams, pumpkin, pumpkin leaves, potato leaves, roots, seeds, grains, beans, fresh raw leaf vegetables, stems, mushrooms of every shape & size are the base of their diet & then fish or seafood & then meat. I admit that any market you go to anywhere in the world has the look of having been hunted & gathered, but there is something here that really feels hunted & gathered despite the fact that I know a lot of it has been grown on mass. In the countryside you see little old women walking around with little bunches of various leaves they have neatly picked to take home to cook. I for one, could really get into this! South Korea has just over 16% arable land & with this they produce a surplus of rice which I was told gets sent to the North. The agriculture is so manicured & tidy & groomed its amazing. When you view this manicured landscape you do indeed 'see' the amount of work that has to go into this beautifully stunning production. Like the artists, the farmers are making sure you see their labour.

I went to an amazing butcher where the shop was large, with lines of refrigerators & they had packaged up various meats & cuts ready for the customer. Some had been marinated, some not, portions were ready for 1 person to 20 people. The butchers were at work behind the counter carving up the best looking meat I have seen for years. It was wonderful! Once you purchase your meat, you get given the herbs & fresh leaf vegetables for you to eat with your cooked meat at mealtime. It was a local meat Ikea & I was smitten. Hunter gathering gone modern. I want this where I live!

However, there is nothing ancient or old fashioned about them. Their work ethic, their top priority of making sure their kids get a University degree( to an extreme point where kids spend from 7am to 11pm in class & tuition), is hugely important. The infrastructure is phenomenal- highways & tunnels absolutely everywhere, ring roads & a definite green belts around the city. Even the national parks are manicured & the temples elegant, sophisticated & completely unpretentious. The government makes sure property prices are kept to a level where everyone can afford good housing & there are developments which are customized for young newly weds; smaller, cheaper. There are developments which are sold with no design in place. You put down your name & your deposit & once the apartments are all sold, all the stakeholders meet with the developer & surveys are done to take note of what their customers want- sound proof floors, a gym, indoor swimming pools, 3 bedrooms, outdoor park, are they families? are they single? do they own pets? This is all surveyed & only then does the architect get to work to custom build around the needs of the buyer. Apparently it is these developments that are popular & the developer is trusted because the government will come after you if you don't deliver. Rules are enforced, speed limits are noted, there is CCTV everywhere which everyone says keeps things so safe. Everyone leaves stuff in their cars & on the windscreen wiper of pretty much every car there is the drivers mobile number so that he can be called to move his car in areas where you can double park. Stores & cafes & clubs can play music to attract passers-by's but the speaker systems are designed so well that you only hear the music when you are directly in front of the premises & it fades as soon as you walk by. How brilliant is that? Complaints are attended to by police & acted upon & you can complain about noise, pollution, dogs barking, disturbance, you name it. The police act. There is definitely a respect ( or maybe fear) for uniform & the police do look intimidating- you don't want to cross them.

There is the tendency to go to extremes. Kids spend little time with parents as the parents work so hard or the kids spend too much time in extra tuition, language class, violin lessons etc. There is definite high work stress & this is released with the consumption of alcohol. Men & women drink a lot & once drunk become very uninhibited. There are hotels that are not staffed by anyone & like a vending machine, you push cash into a machine at the door with the green light & you have access to a room. No name or registration required. The cleaners come in at a specific time. This is your check out time & your secrets are safe. They have great names like 'Space Emotion Hotel'. When you go hiking, it is absolutely necessary to get the right gear. Wish I had bought shares in the Korean branch of 'North Face' clothing. It is uniform for anyone going hiking up & around Mt Mudung & the parks. It's a bizarre sight, everyone dressed the same in florescent colours, chunky boots, pull on hats & carrying mountain walking sticks on a tarred road. Apparently 'North Face' became a real bullying brand-name & students who did not possess the 'it' North Face jacket were bullied & ridiculed. There is also the issue of age = a superiority complex. However as a visitor, all this did not affect me directly but I did find it fascinating.

Religion? Christianity wins out, about 29% of the population, but Shamanism is practiced by many & of course, Buddhism is there too. Shamanism, if that doesn't hark back to the ancients, what does? And I was flabbergasted by the information that 'Militant Christians' were burning down the ancient temples, including at Seonunsa where the most stunning traditional wooden & paper temple building has been re- constructed. I was also struck by the number of American missionaries who popped up in all sorts of guises.

Absolutely everyone Korean I met & worked with was incredibly generous & kind, & it would have been lonely & a very different experience without them.

Ok. I know I was only there for 40 days & I know that I saw just the surface of things but I was mega-ly impressed by the Gwangju that I saw. The language barrier & the need for diplomacy when dealing with problems are the 2 issues that can cause some difficulty for visitors but these are issues that can be worked through. I was so surprised to have simply loved it all so much. I wasn't really expecting to at all. The whole experience was a huge privilege & in Penang I have the Malihom Artist & Exchange program to thank, & Penang Global Tourism to thank for having called me up to participate. In Gwangju, the Gwangju Museum of Fine Arts Programme & the Asia Art Studios in Gwangju, well, I can't thank them enough for having presented this opportunity to me.

All I want to do is paint!
Ever since I came back to George Town I have been unable to pick up a paintbrush. I have fallen straight into the same routine of impromptu meetings, rushing off for emergency meetings, been swamped with the daily routine of work on the properties we rent out & have been thrown back into the frustration of the annoying knowledge that nothing has much changed in George Town despite all the hard work that has gone into the NGO work that I & so many of us do. Non- compliance, lack of enforcement & the obvious lack of civic mindedness here is particularly frustrating now because I have just spent quite a long time immersed in a place which seemed to take these things seriously & is seriously planning its future. Gwangju is also an opposition state, & is roughly the same size as Penang. However, it does receive funding from its Federal Government for things like arts. It was so refreshing to see money being put into the arts, to see so much planning ahead for the future of the city, to see that a goal is set & then worked on. The Gwangju Authorities have produced an amazing booklet on the 'Big Plan' for their arts & culture. It is impressive & the massive construction site that will be their arts & cultural city centre is in full swing in Downtown Gwangju.

I loved the various art museums - renovated old colleges, small modern practical spaces for small exhibitions which keep people interested & moving about the city to view artworks & installations. 

I know I got lucky. The exchange program that I got slotted into was perfect for me as a personality. Maybe someone else would not have enjoyed it so much. My fellow Malaysian artist, Chan, felt the same way. We loved the remoteness of our studio, we loved the countryside. I personally loved the fact that I could paint to my hearts content & that in the end we had targets to meet. And so once again, this experience has reinforced in me the decision that I have to make. I just want to paint! I now have to make that happen here in George Town!

Interview with The Culture Trip