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!