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.