Kinetic exhibit at a mellow bistro

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Kinetic exhibit at a mellow bistro

In the heart of Itaewon, the French bistro Le Saint-Ex is low-key and homey, hidden just up a short alley from the bustling market. Created five years ago by Benjamin Joinau and An Sang-ju, the restaurant is a casual social center favored mostly by French expats and their friends. “I wanted to make a space in Seoul that was authentic, where it did not turned into a ‘business,’” said Mr. Joinau, a native of Bordeaux.
This laid-back attitude was apparent during the opening party at Le Saint-Ex last Sunday afternoon for Michael Hurt’s photography exhibition. Mr. Hurt is a regular at Le Saint-Ex, and he recounted numerous dinners with friends and dates. During the interview, Mr. Hurt and Mr. Joinau paused to wink playfully at people who came to give congratulations and support.
The exhibition, titled “In Transit” features 26 photographs of Seoul, which the photographer wishes to portray as “wild [and] fast-paced with many faces.” The collection mostly consists of snapshots taken in streets, which are given a documentary-like feel. About half the exhibition is in black and white, and the rest is in color.
Using a Canon T-90, an older manual model, Mr. Hurt aimed to capture everyday life in Seoul. “What might seem mundane and ordinary to Koreans can be fascinating and special to foreigners,” he said, pointing at some wide-angle images of passengers dozing off in the subway or frowning at heavy traffic.
“To me, going to the Korean Folk Museum or Gyeongbok Palace is not the entire ‘Korean’ experience. The things that look the most Korean to me are in everyday life. That is where I find a sense of motion, a sense of beauty.”
Mr. Hurt’s interest in Korea started from a young age. Having a Korean mother and an African-American father, he became interested in the lives of minority groups when he was living in Ohio, his home state. He went on to Brown University and majored in History and American Studies. In 1994, he wanted to experience life in Korea and accepted a scholarship from the Korean Educational Committee, which got him a job teaching English at a high school. However, he wanted to pursue his interests in ethnic studies, and subsequently enrolled in graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. This is where his interest in photography and documentaries blossomed, as he took classes given by famous documentarians such as Ken Light. Since then, Mr. Hurt has returned to Korea and held numerous jobs, including lecturing in the Korean Studies program at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
When asked if he would rather be a photographer or a scholar, he answered, “Both titles have the same meanings for me, and that is ‘observation.’ I love to observe people and the hidden meanings they carry. So I would like to pursue both realms.”
Social art events like Mr. Hurt’s photography exhibition are held often at Le Saint-Ex. “The events bring liveliness to the place,” says Mr. Joinau. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants in France, which serve also as venues for interesting exhibitions and events, and I wanted to open that sort of space here in Seoul.”
The Sunday event was rather low-profile, attended by guests speaking French, Korean, English and other languages. Most were friends of Mr. Joinau and Mr. Hurt, who feasted on French pastries, pies and wine until 10 p.m.

by Cho Jae-eun

The exhibition is running until Sept. 25. Le Saint-Ex is open daily from noon to 10 p.m. The nearest subway is Itaewon station on line 6, exit no. 1. For more information, call 02-795-2465.
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