Seeing the world in the details

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Seeing the world in the details

Emil Goh recently masterminded a one-night stand at Pop’s DVD Bang in Hongdae.
He and a co-curator brought together five other artists ― three from Korea and two, like himself, from Australia ― and rented six rooms to exhibit their video work under the provocative title “One Night Stand.” In Goh’s room, he showed a video in which he used splitscreen to fuse the French film “La Femme Nikita” with its English- and Cantonese-language remakes.
Goh is fascinated by the details that distinguish one culture from the next. In the six months he’s spent in Korea, he’s reveled in the tteokbokgi stands, the jjimjilbang, the “weird motels for students where they take themselves out of their homes and study for one year” (that is, gosiwon), the dog cafes, the wedding halls, the love motels and the DVD bangs.
After half a year here, Goh still hasn’t gotten enough. He bursts with phrases like “It’s amazing!” “Oh my God!” and “Fascinating!” when he talks about Korean life.
Take Pop’s DVD Bang, which he calls “the Rolls Royce of DVD bangs.” He’s so taken by it that he’s showing off pictures from the exhibition on his Macintosh iBook. “They even had bass speakers in the seats,” he says. “In the seats! Amazing!”

It’s a recent Wednesday, and Goh, 38, is hanging out at Factory, a gallery in Samcheong-dong. The gallery is hosting “Entroducing,” a small exhibition of several of his videos and photographs.
Photos of urban life in Sydney and Tokyo hang on the walls. On a screen hung at the window is projected a video he shot in a loft apartment in London. Two young women who’ve been wandering around the neighborhood stop to watch. When one of them hesitantly steps in, Goh looks up and says warmly, “Hi, come in!”
Of Chinese descent, raised in Malaysia and Australia and educated in London, Goh has been traveling the world documenting urban life. Korea is his latest project. “Korea seemed so mysterious, purely by the fact that there’s no information about it,” he says.
He came here last fall to participate in the Ssamzie Space Studio Program, with the help of the Australia-Korea Foundation and Asialink, an organization that sends an Australian artist to Asia every year. Committee members at Ssamzie Space, a gallery near Hongik University, chose Goh for his insights into cultures and what they saw as his potential to be inspired by Korea. Since he arrived, he’s been documenting life here, particularly in Seoul, while meeting other artists and curating joint events.
Artistically, one of the details of Korean life that have interested him has been the “couple look” ― the fact that young couples in Korea often dress to match. It fits in with an international project he’s been doing, depicting “fashion twins,” whether friends, family members or couples.
His exhibition at Factory includes one photo from his “Couplelook” series, shot on Jeju island. “The 3 Modes of Couplelook” is a single photo that captures three couples ― one couple wearing almost identical clothes, the other wearing the same style of shirt but in different colors, and a third who aren’t dressed to match at all. Goh said he waited in one place for three hours to capture this moment, calling the result a kind of “wildlife photography.”
Another of Goh’s ongoing projects, titled “Between,” is a video series that depicts home life in various countries. He stations a camcorder at a window and sets it to slowly rotate, capturing a panoramic view of what’s happening inside the apartment, as well as glimpses of the view outside.
Goh says this project has been harder to complete in Korea, because so many young adults live with their parents, who aren’t necessarily eager to have their lives videotaped. “In Hong Kong or Australia, I was shooting every other day, sometimes every day,” he says. “It’s a bit awkward in Seoul.”
A popular piece at the Factory show is called “Bldg.” One summer night in Australia, Goh left his camera aperture open for 16 seconds to photograph birds that were flocking around a skyscraper. The result looks like a digitally enhanced photo of random white scribbles over a building, speckled with white dots. He says he likes “the things people see for a split second, those ephemeral moments we see from the car somewhere, or passing somebody by on the street. They delight us for a second and then it fades from our memory. I like to document those moments.”

Goh is now back in Australia, preparing for exhibitions in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur. One of the Sydney shows will include video from the “Between” series shot in Seoul; at another, he’s bringing works by three Korean artists, Sasa, Meena Park and Suejin Chung. He’ll be back in Korea in June, and again in August for the Busan Biennale, where he’ll show “Remake (Ring)” ― a project similar to the “La Femme Nikita” one, splicing together the Japanese, Korean and American versions of the horror film “The Ring.”
As an adult, Goh has spent an average of two years in each place he’s lived. He’d like to compress that time frame further ― perhaps live in a different city each month. But he doesn’t describe himself as bohemian. “I don’t know what that means anymore,” he says. “I’m mobile.”
He’s been making maps of the neighborhoods that have interested him; in Seoul, that has meant a map of Hongdae. One detail he treasures from Seoul is what he calls “the Hongdae art girl in winter.” These are art students in the neighborhood who, on winter days, he’d see wearing fur-lined jackets over their blue painters’ smocks.
“Independently, they mean nothing, but in combination, watching dozens and dozens of these students, it’s a weird uniform of a neighborhood,” he says. “... How would you know that if you’re not Korean?”

by Joe Yong-hee

Emil Goh’s exhibition “Entroducing” closes Sunday at the Factory gallery in Samcheong-dong. For information, call (02) 733-4883 or go to
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