‘Publicly Speaking’ explores private spaceImagine yourself walking in the middle of the city in your pajamas. You wouldn’t feel comfortable, faced with the stares and pointing from people who feel their public space has been violated. But what is the reality of the concept “public space”? Is it just physical space where people share time and location? Or is it an abstract place existing inside people’s minds?
Dealing with such a tricky concept, the Ssamzie Space gallery in Hongdae provides an intellectually intriguing exhibition, “Publicly Speaking,” featuring eight diverse forms of work by six young emerging artists from Korea and Japan. Co-hosted with the Arts Institute Tokyo, a non-profit alternative art organization, the exhibition is Ssamzie Space’s 5th annual international exchange ― previous collaborations since 2001 were with galleries in New York, Paris, Dusseldorf and Brisbane.
Public art is a vibrant area of Korean contemporary art, according to Shin Hyun-jin, the curator of the Ssamzie Space gallery. Last year’s “Anyangcheon Project,” which transformed Anyang stream into a nature-friendly public art gallery, is a good example. In general, public art is defined as art presented or performed in a public place.
“We want to push forward the boundary of public and public space,” Ms. Shin said, adding that the concept is versatile, depending on the artist’s perspective. “It doesn’t have to be related to the space itself. For example, Korean people’s thoughts and values can be defined as Korean public space.”
In that sense, “A Word,” a photograph by Taiki Tamamura, shows an interesting way of defining public space. “I have always been interested in communication between people because I experienced difficulties in communicating while I studied in the United Kingdom,” he said. He took a photo of a memo on his door, written by a Korean gallery curator in English, and presented it as evidence of communication.
“A hallway is a public space; therefore, the memo should not be too private, but also it should contain enough information. Such a subtle line between public and private space represents the characteristic of this exhibition,” Ms. Shin said.
To Kazz Sasaguchi, Korean traffic signs on the street provided the inspiration for photographs such as “One Way” and his video work, “Ride Share.” Mr. Sasaguchi and his fellow artist Hiroharu Mori collaborated on the video work, which features two different kinds of “aliens” on the street: a newly licensed driver and a Japanese tourist. “We found that these two have an interesting similarity,” Mr. Mori said. “They are new to Korean traffic signs and rules. They are beginners.”
Park Kyung-ju, who has dealt with migrant issues for over five years, found the definition of public space in the perception of the general public. Ms. Park went on a performance tour with an immigrant worker from Bangladesh, Kim Titon, and presented a mock election campaign. “Surprisingly, people were so supportive to Titon,” Ms. Park said. “I found that people are beginning to accept migrant workers in their mind and space.”
Inspired by her experience as an outsider during her stay in Germany, Ms. Park delved into migrant issues and recently established an Internet broadcasting company for migrants in Korea. She is also planning to find out the Japanese reaction to this issue by holding a mock election poster featuring foreign migrant workers in Japan.
Ham Yang-ah’s video work, “Fear-free Seoul,” featuring several people in their pajamas walking on the street, questions how comfortable a person can feel in a public space. Ms. Lee, a student at the Korean National University of Art, who participated in this performance, said, “I felt like I expanded my private space to a greater level. It was just so much fun.”
by Kim Soe-jung
The exhibition runs through July 16 at Ssamizie Space in Hongdae, and from Aug. 12 to Sept. 11 at Wonder Site in Tokyo. Admission is free. The nearest subway station is Hongik University station on line No. 2, exit 5. For more information call (02) 3142-1693.