Seoul Mediacity, MMCA Film & Video, Doenjang-jjigae

Photograph of: João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiv, The Riddle of the Lobster, 2016

Seoul is an energetic, exciting city, with a lot going on; commercial galleries, large museums, and many private institutions, which are run as not-for-profit spaces. Artists’ moving image can be seen at most types of space, whether government funded or privately financed.

Our first stop was at Seoul Mediacity Biennale at Seoul Museum of Art, which included moving image, installation and photographic work. It’s a curiously curated show, fragmented and difficult to navigate, with artworks intruding on others – a moving sculpture occludes a collection of photographs – and sound bleeds, making some work unintelligible.

An installation by Marguerite Humeau, an ugly yellow room with incomprehensible singing, vexes and confuses, and does little to satisfy, even the deadly black mamba venom mixed into the paint on the walls fails to grip. Other works sit in odd positions, screens hidden or in cocoons. Though there are some great works throughout the biennial, it just needs a little time and space.

One work stood out for me, João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiv’s installation of several 16mm projectors showing ordinary objects in glorious states; in one film, Chopping Fruits and Vegetables (2015), shows fruit and vegetables being thinly sliced, projected at speed, revealing the undeniable beauty of everyday food. Not perfectly installed, the fluttering of the 16mm projectors flew out to bleed over other work, but it pulsed beautifully on the lens.

Later that evening we went to the opening of MMCA’s Film & Video programme, opening with a film by Vincent Meessen, ‘One.Two.Three’, which crescendos inside a fiery rumba club after some slow-paced tension. MMCA’s deck overlooks the mountains, and we were treated to a blushing sunset. We met with Eunhee Kim, Assistant curator, MMCA Film and Video. Followed by dinner with Jangwook Lee, Director of EXiS Film Festival – a rich and comprehensive experimental film festival in Seoul – at his family’s restaurant for some traditional Korean food. Spicy bean soup (Doenjang-jjigae); the best.

Hong Kong: consulates, venues and collaborations

20151211_1341531

As the first port of call and a place of recent collaboration and partnership, I wasn’t expecting to unfold such great opportunities in Hong Kong. Had some great meetings that really contributed to the development of Both Sides Now for 2016, and interesting information on venues/activity, including an educational exchange programme, a residency and super meetings with British Council and Swiss Consulate General.

Erwin Luthi is deputy director of the Swiss Consulate General – we decided to visit him as we’ve previously worked with Connecting Spaces (through Videotage), which is a project of Zurich University of the Arts. Erwin gave us some great advice regarding places we might want to present video work at, or who could be good collaborators, in Hong Kong and Switzerland, here are a few:

Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival (SW) – Visual Art Center (HK) (Apparently inexpensive to hire.) – Hong Kong International Film Festival (HK) – East Kowloon Flyover / Energising Kowloon East (HK) – PMQ (HK)

At British Council we met with Grace Zhang and Meijing Hei, who (very usefully) let us know that only ODA (official development assistance) countries (those in receipt of development aid) will receive funds from British Council from 2017. Which gives an interesting focus. British Council will be doingshowcase of British work in Korea during 2017, where there is potential for collaboration. And then Tokyo/Japan in 2020. We were encouraged to develop a clear digital strategy if we were wanting to approach British Council to get financial support.

While in Hong Kong we managed to outline a couple of good opportunities with partners, one with Hong Kong Institute of Education – a residency for an individual, to work on a collaborative artists’ film with artists from Hong Kong; the other an educational exchange with K11 Art Foundation, to bring together artists and students from the UK and Hong Kong.

Kisses, picnics and film at Art Basel

tianzhou_chen_picnic

I don’t remember seeing much artists’ moving image at the art fairs during Art Basel Hong Kong, which struck me as a little strange, but I always feel strange at commercial art fairs. The shocking lighting, the mixture of appalling art work with some classic pieces that look like they should be in a museum. All this complemented and in contrast with the revved up, label-slicked, money-gownery striding everywhere with champagne in hand. It feels like a mockery of the art world (all that creativity and unique ideas perverted into another reason to get dressed up and go shopping for the rich), but this is a core part of that world now.

The main pillar of artists’ film at Art Basel was the Art Basel Film programme. This is the second year Art Basel Hong Kong has implemented a film programme, which gives moving image artists represented by galleries at Art Basel a platform to exhibit work that exists away from the bustling mall-like fair.

Curated by Li Zhenhua, Beijing and Zurich-based producer and multimedia artist, screenings were held over four days in Hong Kong Arts Centre’s cinema space. Seven themes were explored over the four days, drawing the films into discrete programmes of work.

As the way is with screenings, it was, for me, a mixture of excellent, fair, and not so great work. The first two films, represented by Star Gallery, were in the great category. PICNIC by Chen Tianzhou is a riotous escapade of sexually charged madness; colourful, blissed out, marvellous and delirious. Drug-induced delirium is suggested at the start, and continues throughout. It is irreverent, gripping, a good antidote to the many banal works in the art fair.

A Thousand Kisses Deep by Song Kun is a slippery, sexual film; architecture intermingles with human bodies and octopus tentacles, striving to get closer to each other, increasing in number as they desperately entangle. The film is a sensual meditation on the rapid growth of cities, and growing numbers of people living in them.

A third film I really appreciated was Lu Yang’s Manga-style animation Uterusman, an overview of a superhero whose superpowers derive from a woman’s genitalia, Uterusman himself being made up of the collective elements of the female reproductive system. Superpowers include: blood energy altitude flying, sanitary pad skateboard, blood chain defence, ovum light wave attack, DNA attack, pelvis chariot, baby weapon, plus more.

The film dynamically mixes in archival film of blood flowing, ovulation, birth and umbilical cord clipping, presenting female reproductive processes as super while everyday. The artist denied that she intended the film to be feminist, but confirmed that she wanted to present a character who combined male and female attributes as a way of expressing everyone is equal. It’s a very funny, challenging film, the insightful contents of which, I believe, the artist is still to become aware of.

Art Basel Film programme was a great opportunity to duck out of the kerfuffle of art fair crazy, and to take some peace in knowing that there is some good art for sale. I look forward to next year’s programme.

Washington DC, Hillyer Art Space, the capital

Cohesion - Daniel Shanken

Cohesion – Daniel Shanken

Hillyer Art Space, 15/05/14

This is my first time in DC and I’m surprised by how much I like it, the low rise buildings and handsome architecture, combined with the unavoidable sense of intrigue, make it feel warm and dynamic at the same time.

Hillyer Art Space is centrally located at Dupont Circle, it sits nestled behind hotels and embassies, right in the middle of the capital. I realise it’s the first contemporary art gallery that I’ve shown the programme at, and it feels very welcome.

The space is managed by two full-time staff, Allie Frazier (Events and Public Programme Coordinator) and Allison Nance (Gallery Director), working alongside interns to deliver the programme, which is a combination of short-term exhibitions, screenings and artist talks.

We sit in the gallery space with iced coffee (it is a warm, muggy day) and talk about the funding situation in Washington DC and the infrastructure for film in the city. It appears the main support structure for showing film in the city is via festivals, including DC Shorts Festival, DC Independent Film Festival and 48 Hour Film Project. A couple of other gallery spaces show artists’ film, but mainly as exhibited work, rather than as screenings, these are: Hamiltonian Gallery and Project 4 Gallery.

We talk about funding for the arts. DC Commission for the Arts sounds like a god-send for the city, which funds individual artists and organisations with non-project funding, received following an application to the commission. Unusually the city has a decent amount of funding, compared to other US cities. Finance is gathered by the commission through the city’s planning gain programme, i.e. by requiring new construction in the city to provide funds towards cultural activity in exchange for being given planning rights.

I have a good conversation with Allie and Allison about the possibility of working together, and I’m hoping there might be a way for us to collaborate in the future. I hope so, because the Hillyer Arts Space team and space are inspiring. And I like Washington DC – a lot.

The screening takes place in the centre of the gallery space in the evening, and has an excellent turn out; helped along, I am sure, by the free, freshly made popcorn. The films are received really well, lots of discussion ensues afterwards and I feel really proud of the programme and the artists who made the work.

Afterwards, the Hillyer guys take me to an amazing dive bar, which I am failing to remember the name of. It sold the most wonderful variety of craft beers, including banana beer, which was surprisingly very good. I’ll update with a name when I have one. Allie, Allison?

And now, home…

New York, Spectacle Theater, Brooklyn

Boys by Piotr Krzymowski on screen at Spectacle Theater

Boys by Piotr Krzymowski on screen at Spectacle Theater

Spectacle Theater, 13/05/14

This is my first time in Brooklyn, and I’m struck by certain similarities it has to Brighton, at least the Williamsburg part that I’m in. Independent bars and stores, cute coffee shops with tech heads working away, and the ‘local’ feeling of a town. It’s very heart-warming after the swarms of Manhattan.

Spectacle Theater is a volunteer-run independent space, set up by a group of individuals who wanted to get more diverse, challenging and foreign language work shown in New York. The space has windows covered in posters from current and previous shows, it looks like the wrong type of exciting might happen inside; it’s stimulating after the shiny, clean downtown spaces.

John Dieringer, one of the programmers and projectionists for the space – who has been amazing in helping me out with showing the work – meets me at Spectacle. We test the films and talk about Spectacle’s work. Incredibly, the volunteer run space does a seven day a week programme, with sometimes three screenings per day. I am stunned by this, in awe. Ten volunteers are on the programme committee and research and deliver a seven day programme, this has been happening for three and a half years. Something to be said for the sustainability of voluntary-led organisations…

We have a small crowd, but they’re ideal; including one of the Selected 4 (2014’s programme) artists, Ian Giles, who brings along some friends. Films are received well, there’s some discussion at the end and we pack up.

I go for a drink with John following the screening and we talk about opportunities for seeing artists’ film as a screening, and, as has been usual, it’s not a common practice, even in New York. Light Industry is probably the most well know, a similar organisation to the Lux in UK. I’m also referred to Union Docs for interesting work going on in the city. There is also New York Film Anthology. I was told by another New York resident that Flux Factory and Silent Barn also do screenings from time to time.

And finally, Washington DC.