Art house in Gangnam: Renovated and weedy

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Art house in Gangnam: Renovated and weedy

An ordinary house with a small garden is not exactly a typical hangout for young and trendy seekers of cutting-edge events.
But tucked behind the glitz and glare of Gangnam’s bustling alleyways is Project Space Zip, a relatively new gallery conceived as a challenging space for installation works. The house unfolds like a maze behind its plain steel gate, hidden amidst the hip boutiques and trendy wine bars lining Garosu-gil, the street that stretches between Apgujeong-dong and Sinsa-dong in southern Seoul.
The odd location of the house, a Western-style residence typical of 1970s architecture, can easily confuse first-time visitors.
That is precisely what attracted Choi Du-su, a well-known Korean artist who lives between England and Korea. Mr. Choi wanted to create a new intriguing space while saving an old house that would have otherwise been torn down and commercialized in a typical way.
“Private homes from my youth were all turned into apartments and shops. I wanted to look after this one house and keep it from becoming some Korean barbecue place,” he said.
The artist found it especially hard to watch familiar buildings being demolished, “not because they were old and could not be used anymore, but because they were no longer acceptable style-wise, due to fast changes in what was vogue in Korea.”
Thus Mr. Choi’s “Zip,” which means “house” in Korean, is literally a three-story home that was left behind in the area. In its preserved state, the cement floors are kept bare; walls are stripped of any wall paper, and the rooms have no doors. The lawn at the entrance is sparsely covered with grass. The place looks more like a deserted mansion than a home, but this minimalism can work as a space for some cool art shows.
Project Space Zip provides a somewhat challenging space for the capital’s young artists to unfold wings of creativity and reach for new highs of conceptual art.
Since its opening in 2002, Zip has organized 15 exhibitions, clearly aiming to be cutting edge, and suggesting new directions in expression.
The last exhibition called “Show Me the Inner Self” featured artists of various artistic genres, from electronic rock music to acrylic paintings to fashion, and drew the most fashionable crowd in Seoul.
Currently showing until Sept. 13 is an exhibition titled “Plant Container” by Koo Seong-youn, a Korean artist. The exhibition delves into the relationship between man-made spaces and plants that invade those spaces.
The exhibition shows 10 large photographs depicting ivy plants overflowing their pots and surrealistically overtaking their environment. The ivy crawls insidiously above a window, up the wall and to the ceiling. Next to the photographs, a short video clip is projected on a wide-screen TV in one room. Several rooms in the Zip display realistic-looking installations; the aura is weirdly foreign as each ordinary looking room is covered in aggressive plastic ivy.
Mr. Koo, who studied Indian philosophy at Dongguk University, and photography at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, says that this portrayal nature contains a double meaning: nature is both barbaric and primitive, but can provide enjoyment for modern people. Through the images of potted ivy, the artist wanted to remind viewers that “plants are powerful and fearful entities that deserve respect.”
“However, the most difficult part of displaying my work in Project Space Zip was creating an exhibition that brought coherence to this large and complex space, without being boring,” Ms. Koo commented on the show’s opening day.
The curator of the Zip, Son Mi-ran, agrees. “Artists often tell me that this space is big and challenging to work in, but that it allows them to use more creative instincts and flexibility as well.”
When asked about an ideal museum for artists, Mr. Choi mentioned the Tate Modern Museum in London. “I envy the fact that culture can be a source of beauty and money at the same time, and that it is possible for them to export [England’s] culture.”
He dismisses the idea that Zip is an “alternative space” as the local media and critics claim.
Ms. Son believes that the Zip creates a sense of imbalance ― a plain house located in the heart of glitzy Gangam that offers cutting-edge forms of expression.

by Cho Jae-eun

The exhibition, “Plant Container,” is running until Sept. 13. Admission is free. Project Space Zip is at 543-14 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu. It is open from 11 a.m. until 6 a.m. daily. The nearest subway is Sinsa station on line 3, exit 8. Walk straight and make a left turn at the J-Tower building at the entrance of Garosu-gil. The Zip is located opposite Cafe Bloom & Goute. For more information, call (02) 3446-1828 or visit the Web site,
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