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K.NOTe

no.1 Okin Collective


* Kwang-Suk LEE is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Public Policy and Information Technology at Seoul National University of Science and Technology, Seoul. Lee earned his Ph.D. in Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. He worked as an Australian Research Council (ARC) Postdoctoral Research Fellow and now is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He is the author of five books, Copyleft Culture: Cultivating the Common (Seoul, forthcoming), IT development in Korea: A Broadband Nirvana? (London: Routledge, 2012), The Art & Cultural Politics of Cyber Avant-gardes (Seoul, 2010), Digital Paradoxes: The Political Economy of Cyberspace (Seoul, 2000) and Cultural Politics in Cyberspace (Seoul, 1998). As a columnist, Lee has contributed numerous columns and essays related to digital culture to Korean newspapers, magazines, and other publications. leeks2k@gmail.com

** Okin Collective is an artists’ group, which consists of Hwayong KIM, Shiu JIN, Joungmin YI, named after the Okin Apartment complex in Jongno-gu, Seoul. In July 2009, a group of artists visited one of their colleagues who lived in the complex, which was set to be torn down soon. It was during this eviction process that they began exploring the tragedy surrounding the other tenants’ situation in the name of a redevelopment project, with traces of those who had already moved out from the complex still lingering. It was also a way of looking into how the historicity, speed, and avaricious urban planning taking place in Seoul were damaging people’s lives. Thus, it was during this time when Okin Collective was formed. In the midst of the city’s redevelopment project, no space is exempt from receiving “death sentences” out of the blue in the form of forced evictions and harassing situations. What Okin Collective considers most important is not raising pros and cons on the redevelopment project, or even the specific interests of the community members, but rather in broadening people’s views and attitude about such incidents. Though the collective was started in one particular place, the activities of Okin Collective center on remembering multiple “Okin”s which continue to take place all around Seoul even after the Okin Apartments was torn down. This can be accomplished by exploring your city, being kind to others, carrying out your own research, taking part in entertainment activities, and tenderly bringing together art and everyday life. As a result, Okin Collective is still pursuing these activities which they are very concerned about. The group has had two solo exhibitions since its inception, including “Okin OPEN SITE” at the Okin Apartments, Seoul(2010) and “Concrete Island” at Takeout Drawing(2010). For group exhibitions, it has participated in “Random Access” at the NJP Art Center, Yongin (2010), “Public Discourse Sphere: Aftereffects of Neo-liberalism” at Alternative Space Loop, Seoul (2011), “The R-19 Performance Relay” at Alternative Space Loop, Seoul (2011), “Life, No Peace, Only Adventure” at Busan National Museum of Art, Busan (2011-2012), “The Forces Behind” at Doosan Gallery (2012) and more. The collective has run the Okin Collective Internet radio station [STUDIO+82] (http://okin.cc) since September 2010. okinapt@gmail.com


K.NOTe #1. Okin Collective

Okin Collective, ‘In Between the Poetic and the Political’ Kwang-Suk L EE Pro fesso r at th e Se o ul Nat ional Uni ver sit y of Science & Tech n o lo g y

Due to the fatigue that comes with the uptight living conditions of our grey city, more perseverance is required to read a single book, from beginning to end, in one sitting. Much to my chagrin, I am preoccupied with my day-to-day responsibilities more so than my academic research - despite the fact that I pursue academic studies for a living - and I find myself absentmindedly turning out writings. Recently, I came across a book entitled <Okin Collective>, published by ‘Workroom’, which is a company that assists artists’ independent publishing on a small scale. This book is written by the artist group ‘Okin Collective’ to archive its activities and data from the last 3 years. It’s been a long time since I felt refreshed and inspired: while reading over it, my accumulated fatigue was washed away, as if I had exfoliated my dead skin. It was also a unique experience to become familiar with the artists’ activity through the medium of a book instead of an actual gallery exhibition. This book is somewhat of an archive that records their trajectory from the summer of 2009 to recent days. Indeed, reading it gives us a great deal of pleasure, as it includes various reading resources and references, such as self records, articles by art critics and journalists, interviews, declarations, photo images - all of which create a more entertaining reading experience. Moreover, this book can be regarded as an experimental publishing venture because it targets a more alternative and popularized readership, whereas most independent publications have a very specified, narrow audience/reader group. Once finishing reading this book, I strongly felt that I would like to meet the Okin Colletive in person.

Inwang Mountain of Gyeomjae, and the demolition of the Okin Apartments Okin Collective is an artists’ group that was formed in the process of demolishing the Okin Apartments - an apartment complex that was constructed as a part of modernization project led by the dictatorial


government of former president PARK Jeong Hee. As many are aware, the Okin Apartments were built in 1969 on the site of a former shantytown. The shantytown had been demolished by the government to build a civil apartment complex that showed off the fast-paced urbanization of Korea. Also, one could take in the entire view of the Okin apartments from the Blue House, the Korean presidential residence. This is why the landscape of this region is so unique. This mass of concrete - symbolic of PARK’s legacy of achievement - stands where numerous people had been setting up home in for a long time. It was, no doubt, unsettling to witness its quaint beauty, the remnants of fast development, and the memories it contained disappear all at once, in the name of urban development. The blurred memories of life that were embedded in the nooks and crannies of the Okin Apartments were doomed to vanish alongside its structural demise, due to the very clear purpose of urban beautification (i.e. the construction of a new park, providing citizens of Seoul with an unobstructed view of nature). According to the ‘Han River Renaissance plan’ led by former mayor of Seoul, Se Hoon OH, the Okin apartment complex was designated as a green area and thus subject to demolition. If expressed in an Okin Collective-esque manner, spaces that were much like ‘hollowed out furrows’, which we usually encounter in cities and their deep wounds were about to be quietly filled in and disappear without any notice. Three artists - Hwayong KIM, Shiu JIN, and Joungmin YI - gathered to find out the ways of healing the ‘hollowed out furrows’ of the Okin Apartments and share the old memories before the demolition of the Okin apartment. During that summer, the Okin Collective planned a public program entitled ‘Okin-dong Vacance’ that ran for one night and two days with local residents on the rooftop of the near-desolate Okin Apartment complex 2. As their project garnered more and more attention through word of mouth, the media, and the internet, the Okin Collective continued to hold improvised rap performances, a local exploration program called ‘Walkie-Talkie’, and projects such as ‘Okin Fireworks’. In 2010, as the day of demolition approached, the Okin Collective organized an exhibition in a space that was practically in ruins, with the intention to remember the ‘hollowed out furrow’ that contained within it, the shackles of urbanization and modernization. Furthermore, it was meant to record the moments of the artists’ solidarity and collaboration, and to share those memories with audiences who visited the site.

While the Okin Collective’s various activities were based in the Okin Apartments for over

Okin Collective_ Okin-Dong Vacance A nonstop two day public program at half torn-down Okin Apartments complex in Seoul _ 2009


a year, some media outlets mistook them for a radical artist group who occupied the space without permission. It is inappropriate, however, to label their actions as ‘squatting’, the unlawful occupation of an uninhabited building. As a member of the Okin Collective, Hwayong KIM had already been a legal resident of the apartment before it was torn down. Two other artists had simply joined and collaborated with Kim prior to the building’s imminent demolition. To them, the Okin Apartment was just a very attractive place in which to work. It was where the beautiful scenery of Inwang Mountain seeped into the canvas of Gyeomjae, JEONG Seon1, the legendary Korean painter to create a mysterious ink-andwash painting. And it was also a meaningful site that stored multi-layered historic moments, such as the history of concrete in the era of modern development, the memories and sorrows of helpless neighbors whose lives had been camouflaged by the urban redevelopment process.

Being an observer and an explorer at the same time If we were to misunderstand the Okin Collective yet again, we could raise the following question easily: “Are you all anarchists?”. Admittedly, this is an assumption that is backed by valid reasons. Nonetheless, while shedding light on urban problems, the group does not employ overly political expressions. They do not aim to cater to specific art forms. In reality, they are fed up with raising up the political flag. They do not welcome any kind of labeling or anyone who dared to define their work and their group. It is their goal to dedicate themselves to their collaborative work and free their individual creative pathways. They simply aim to keep a balanced viewpoint about urban issues by maintaining an observer’s distance from the phenomena. The group is actually more interested in the public gaze and the evaluation of their work from the outside. Even when asked where they are going, they tend to situate themselves in accordance with any given situation. They state, with great confidence, that they would think of a specific region or a place as simply being a new resource for creation. While suspected as being anarchistic, the group strives to focus on sensitivity and sympathy by distancing themselves from the urban environment and site specificity, working slowly, being laid-back, hearing carefully, and observing patiently. All of this is, to some extent, correct. But there are another fundamental aspects about their activities. As a matter of fact, the only point that all members of the Okin Collective unanimously defend is to raise questions about and be involved in efforts to secure minimum human and social rights of our neighbors - especially artists - in the city. This is why the group is seen as politically radical. They have the eyes of an observer that explores the city, but also the eyes of an explorer that studies the city with great depth. They are also well prepared for the logic of real intervention and social engagement to connect each boundary

1

J EONG Seon (1676–1759) was a well-known Korean landscape painter, also known as by his pen name Gyeomjae (謙 齋: meaning humble study). He was one of the few known Korean painters to depart from traditional Chinese styles. It is reported that he frequently left his studio and painted the world around him, as he could see it. Soon, JEONG Seon inspired other Korean artists to follow suit, leaving a lasting impact on Korean art of the Joseon era. In contrast to most painters at the time, JEONG Seon was not born in a wealthy family. He was discovered by an aristocratic neighbour who recommended him to the court. Soon he gained an official position. JEONG is said to have painted daily, with a prolific output until his old age. His paintings are classified as Southern School, but during his life, JEONG developed his own style: unique brush wrinkles of bold strokes in parallels. http://en.wikipedia.org


and try a dialogue between the separated areas. In essence, the power of the Okin Collective is mainly detected “in between the poetic and the political”, if I may borrow their language. In other words, the border line between anarchism and real politics. They show the never-ending oscillation between the area of politics and the realm of aesthetic sensitivity. ‘Operation - for Something White and Cold’, the installation work and performance at Alternative Space Loop is a work that clearly reflects their artistic attitude standing between those two worlds. They retained the network of emergency from the audiences and then manipulated audiences’ acts by specific text messages, which led to unexpectedly situational performances. Although supplied with an object in the shape of a picket for the operation, the participants were waiting for the operation to commence without knowing exactly, the ultimate use of the picket. As it turns out, the D-Day was the day it started snowing, and surprisingly enough, the participants used their pickets to clean up the snow on the steps and street corners, and not to partake in a demonstration. This is a situation where the political assumptions and emotions that we usually associate with pickets are reversed. The picket shaped object is generally considered as a tool used for political expression, but it could also be used as a ‘poetic’ medium. With the picket, participants clean the snow on the street and enjoy hot street food afterwards. Their second work, ‘Operation - for Something Black and Hot’ also reveals the similar situation of our life that oscillates between two extreme edges: the political and the poetic. This time, it stemmed from the suspicion of whether ordinary and helpless people could react against catastrophic situations such as the Fukushima disasters in Japan in 2011. They soon realized that there is nothing for ordinary people to do in the situation of a nuclear disaster. Ultimately, they came up with the concept of using ‘Gi (Chi, energy)-gymnastics’ to increase self-defense skills for survival. The Okin Collective encourages us to learn to depend on each other by performing a demonstration of holding hands and looking into the eyes of strangers. We all know very well that the Fukushima disaster is essentially a human catastrophe of contemporary capitalism and that its origin comes from ‘the political’. However, it shows that we have to depend on ‘poetic’ methods such as ‘Gi-gymnastics’ as a solution, which is also reflective of our ontological circumstances. The Okin collective makes us think about the ambivalent aspects that exist underneath the surface of catastrophes.

Becoming a bridge between the splits After the demolition of the Okin Apartment complex in 2010, the Okin collective has resided for a while in the exhibition place called ‘Takeout Drawing’ in Hanam-dong. They conceived the idea that they would collect and share the voices from their neighbors while staying in this region, a region that was quite different from the roof of the Okin Apartment complex under the Inwang Mountain. They chose the form of the internet radio to talk about civil life with unknown audiences. The Okin Collective seems to be capable of using high technology resources with the help of outer collaborations, while keeping an analogue sensibility. While strengthening the accessibility of radio via the internet, they serviced podcasting for the audiences. Their radio channel was entitled, ‘STUDIO +82’. As it referred to Korea’s


national telephone code of ‘82’, this Okin radio channel could cover the whole nation and expand across the entire globe.

Okin broadcasting is different from the highly political characteristics of European community

radio channels or pirate radio channels that hijack the public radio frequency to work with local communities. They work with core issues such as gender problems, independent production, social right, surplus and multi-culture - all of which are driven out to the periphery of Korean society. To develop those issues, they adopted the form of inviting experts of various disciplines, artists, and members of the social minority and speculating with them about ways to recover basic human rights. ‘STUDIO +82’ by the Okin Collective hoped to play a ‘bridging’ role between separated areas such as labor, the arts, human rights and women’s rights, all of which have not been connected with each other. In essence, this radio station functioned as a study room where people tried to explore and understand the main areas that most people were unconcerned with and indifferent towards. Through this medium, one could find the shared areas of interest and hear from each other. Passing through the days of the Okin Apartments of the Inwang Mountain, the spirit of the ‘Concrete Island’ exhibition in Hannam-dong was carried over to the Okin radio station. Early this year, the Okin Collective made an installation object by transferring the radio program entitled ‘Hear the ground sing’ to the exhibition space of the <Wave> exhibition. They ultimately intended to reveal the interrelationship between art and medium as well as utilizing the radio station as a medium itself. The day before recording the radio broadcasting during the exhibition, their installation work is transformed into a studio. To welcome the guests for broadcasting, the floor of the space, gleaming from the floorshining machine, receives the full-on spotlight. Although the light and glaze of the room seem to stop and fall asleep, it symbolizes that they are always well prepared for real broadcasting ventures. On the day of broadcasting when guests are invited, their installation object creates an invisible but numerous network, which reaches out infinitely beyond the exhibition space. In other words, various comments on the problem of the arts and living conditions, and the social condition of the living, create several opinion flows outside of the exhibition space.

For the last couple of years, the Okin Collective has built up a good cycle of creation that runs

on occurrences in development sites, exhibition curating, and radio broadcasts, which has no distinct inside/outside. They are trying to find their own way to survive as an artist in Korean society or within a city. I look forward to yet another meaningful form of artistic creation that will result from their sincere and constant efforts to develop creative ideas while wandering about like nomads and never staying in one place too long. There is still one thing that seems missing. It seems to me that the Okin Collective generally tries to maintain a certain distance from the audience. It might be derived from the fear that their work of injecting ideas to the public could be misunderstood as a pseudo ‘public’ art. However, if this sort of mentality stems from practical reasons related to the implementation of the artwork and not from ideological reasons, it is still necessary to engage in conversations with unnamed audiences, much like they did in their experimental project ‘Operation‘.


Members of <Curating in Asia> are ... Nathalie Boseul SHIN Nathalie participated in the Art Stage held in Singapore from 22nd Jan. till 28 Jan. Now she is in talks about developing a curator exchange program with the Kuenstlerhaus in Bremen, Germany. nathalie.boseulshin@gmail.com

Shankar BARUA Shankar has been preparing for CeC 2013 and has almost finalized its set up. With regards to RIA #002 (in Guwahati), he will be focusing on evolving it as an experimental creative lab & residency program, while working on obtaining diverse funding sources and winning supportive alliances. shankarbabaa@gmail.com

Juri CHO Juri started up her own curatorial office, <The Binders> with another young curator in central Seoul, with the support of an angel investor and core helpers. She is focusing on building up a creative network between creators, institutions and audiences while developing various independent projects and doing research on the brilliant ‘binders’ in Korea. jurimillercho@gmail.com

Myungji BAE Myungji has been busy with preparations for Coreana Museum of Art’s special international exhibition “Media Performance”, which will be held in April. The exhibition focuses on various types of media artworks that deal with dance as their main theme. myungjibae@gmail.com

Natsumi ARAKI Natsumi has been busy with the preparation for Mori Art Museum’s 10th anniversary exhibition “All You Need is LOVE: From Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku” which will open on April 26. This is a very ambitious exhibition that will focus on love in artworks, ranging from modern masterpieces to newly commissioned works by contemporary artists. natsumiao@gmail.com

Jeongsun YANG Jeongsun is curating the exhibition related to “Imagination of Contemporary Art” (February 2 - 8), leading 21 students from Ewha Women’s University. griets@naver.com

Jae Hyun KANG JaeHyun has been busy setting up Savina Museum of Contemporary Art’s new exhibition “Artist’s Portfolio” which will open in March 2013. The artworks in this exhibition will attempt to tell the hidden stories in the participating artists’ lives. kjh0963@hanmail.net

Jung Hyun Anna PARK As editor of AliceOn (www.aliceon.net)- which is a webzine, magazine, and cable TV platform that introduces new media artworks and cultural phenomena- JungHyun is covering art issues such as art activism and craftivism, and open source technology. obeamo@gmail.com

Alessio CAVALLARO Alessio was recently appointed Executive Producer and Co-curator of ISEA 2013 (www.isea2013.org/isea2013), a major international festival of electronic art and ideas that will take place in Sydney, Australian June. Among other involvements, he is developing opportunities for collaborative projects with Korean and Australian artists. alessio391@gmail.com

Soo Youn LEE Soo Youn is preparing for “MMCA Collection”, one of the new museum’s first exhibitions, with Seoul National University professor Young Mok Jung. The exhibition, open to the public on November 12, 2013, will present the history of Korean art and the museum collection. Also, she is writing a short essay on the young Korean artist Minja Gu, which will be included in the catalogue for “Korean Young Artists”. The show will be held on March 11, 2013 with nine young Korean artists who are recommended by the MMCA curators. sooyounlee107@gmail.com Hyejin KIM Hyejin has been accepted to the art theory MA program at the Korea National University of Art. Currently, she is in Germany to visit exhibitions and art school open studios. In February, she will be revamping the website for “Monday Curators” with an archive project and an art school community network plan. layla.hyejin@gmail.com

Yeong Min Adriana KIM Yeong Min is currently teaching English literature to young North Korean defectors and Somalian war refugees. ymkim3@gmail.com


K. NOTe is a monthly digital publication that aims to introduce Korean artists and curators to overseas audiences. Much like an exquisitely interwoven Korean ‘Knot’, K.NOTe hopes to become a medium that creates strong ties and solid knots within the contemporary arts scene by publishing e-notebooks of Korean artists and events that are worthy of ‘Note’.

K.NOTe #1 is made in collaboration with… Gwangseok LEE Juri CHO

(text)

(text translation)

Suntag NOH

(cover photo)

Yeong Min KIM, Jung Hyun Anna PARK Taejung KIM, the flat

(design)

Special thanks to... Total Museum of Contemporary Art The Binders Article, a journal of contemporary art

(news editing)

#1_Okin Collective  

http://okin.cc/

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