A Year to Move, Ponder, Grow

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A Year to Move, Ponder, Grow

A studio is more than a space where artists splatter paints. It's a room which they fill with pin-ups on the wall, where they keep their favorite collections of books and CDs, drink endless cups of coffee, read and listen to music for nights in a row. Artists literally spread their inspirational materials around them in their studios. In that sense, the place is often a "symbolic" space for an artist's creativity rather than a physical one.

Visitors to studios thus have the luxury of appreciating artists' creative impulses in a short period of time. It's different from the experience of viewing a static piece of artwork on a gallery wall; the studio is more like a kitchen. You can witness the different ingredients and also their coming together into the final product.

Artists who have just moved into the Ssamzie Space for the artist-in-residence program face a spoonful of ambivalence and a plate of great expectation. The first comes from being officially recognized in the country - the Ssamzie residency is a program in which the gallery provides a studio space for emerging experimental artists. In return, they have to present an open studio for the general public after the year-long residency. For the Ssamzie's third round of visiting artists, the open studio will be in December. A total of 17 artists will participate in the program, including three from other countries who will join for a four-month stay.

Eleven artists have already taken up residence, and are in the process of stretching new canvases and getting ready to work. Each studio is about the size of an average bedroom and a very cold one at that. Almost every artist has brought along his or her own portable heater to fight the cold, which seems to be intensified in these empty spaces.

They have plenty of things to say through their work and though some of them say it quite poetically while others do it with political intent, the one thing they have in common is that their works speak specifically for the place and the time which they occupy.

A quiet-spoken artist, Jang Ji-Hee, shares her studio with two others. The space is rather sparse and contains a video monitor, two Macintosh computers and jumbles of books, videotapes and few sketches on a desk. Look around as hard as you want, but you will not find a paintbrush.

Ms. Jang is a video installation artist. She decided to change mediums from painting to video few years ago because she thought the audio-visual elements in video made it easier to interact with the public.

"When I was painting, I always had this preoccupation with explaining my work. I didn't think what I produced fully reflected my ideas," she says, noting that she no longer feels the need to include lengthy statements about what she does.

In a recent exhibition in Paris, Ms. Jang installed five video monitors on top of a vending machine in a school cafeteria. They showed images of different fluids, such as mayonnaise, syrup, melted chocolate and ketchup dribbling out of the artist's mouth in slow motion. The images were so captivating that the artist's colleagues complained to her about the discomfort they felt when they were viewing them. The rejection of food, representing fear and frustration about one's self, was both provocative and sympathy-inducing.

"There is a bed too," interjects one of her studiomates, Yu Bi-ho, while Ms. Jang is showing me around the studio. He points to the other side of the room. Behind a portable wall lie leftover noodles from the night before. The three video artists - Kang Eun-soo is the third - share this space and will be presenting a joint project in December.

Also participating in the residency, Mr. Yu spends almost three nights a week here. Presenting works that contain serious social messages, his video stills depict computer-generated images of men in futuristic uniforms. Raising questions about group violence, the artist frequently overlaps his images with sounds of men in military training.

"I often find that the experience of looking at video work is similar to that of looking at clouds in the sky through a window," the artist says while talking about his childhood days in the countryside. "I remember vividly the fading colors of the television screens when color television first came to Korea. I am still nostalgic about television." In fact, this wistfulness comes through in his work. His heavy-duty video mixes present a surprisingly poetic sense of imagery.

There are two other video artists on the same floor. Kim Ji-hyun, whose work so far has dealt with the silent victims of domestic violence, joined the residency along with Yun Ju-kyung, who explores other feminist issues.

Nothing fits the romantic idea of an artist's space more than Kim Kyung's studio which is full of the fresh odor of lacquer. Ms. Kim is one of the only two painters at the SSamzie, and that's not unusual. On the same floor is Yu Seung-ho, an artist who paints landscapes, which close-up are seen to consist of parts of Korean alphabets.

Ms. Kim says she sits in her empty studio for hours, going through her palettes and making lists of the pigments. She makes notes in her sketchbooks of the colors that she accidentally finds gives them names. These lists are her life's treasure. She also has a long-time friend as a neighbor in studio 505 next door. Lee Mi-hye, whose work deals with the performance of "making holes" in different sites, is Ms. Kim's former classmate at the National School of Art in Germany. The two often exchange cigarettes and have overnight discussions whenever they run out of creative ideas.

Installation artist Jung Yun-doo, who recently exhibited his eccentric body of photographs titled "Boramae Dance Hall" at the Gallery Loop, is also in the group along with Kim sang-kil, another photographer, whose works deal with time and place.

All the artists say they spend hours staring at the white walls, trying to find ways to translate their thoughts into visual images. The studios are still clear and bare at the beginning of February, but perhaps it is their emptiness that will drive these artists to create.

by Park Soo-mee

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