Artists turn an old teahouse into a sample of suburbia

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Artists turn an old teahouse into a sample of suburbia

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Dabang is one of those words that is hard to translate into other languages. Although it most closely translates into a “tea room” or “coffee house,” Starbucks is definitely not a dabang. The dabangs of Korea’s past were more private than the open, well-lit cafes we see nowadays. A lot of them also catered to certain crowds of musicians, novelists and artists. One such place was Sarubia Dabang.
“This space used to be a gathering place for many literary personalities in Korea during the last few decades,” said Lee Kwan-hoon, the curator for Project Space Sarubia, a gallery that is on the spot where Sarubia Dabang used to be. The gallery now serves as a small exhibition space for up-and-coming artists in Korea.
However, like the old dabang, the gallery caters to a particular group of people who have the same artistic approach and vision. The gallery ensemble consists of 11 members, with Cha Myeong-hee, a lecturer in the art department of Seoul National University, serving as the gallery director. As an alternative space in the heart of Insa-dong, Project Space Sarubia is nothing like the usual white cube galleries surrounding it. In fact, the space is covered in cement and looks and smells like a deserted basement in a factory warehouse. With its bare and almost primitive space, “we do a lot of exhibitions by artists who are experimental, almost avant-garde, in their concepts,” Mr. Lee said.
One such artist who was drawn to the atypical space is Hyojin Annika Kim, who is showing her installation titled “Autochthonous” in the gallery until June 9. Her work is of a typical North American deck built to fill the one-room gallery. The word autochthony is usually defined as “originating where found.” In the case of this work, the artist uses this definition or concept to question the function of a deck, which is usually seen in the context of the outdoors and attached to a home, when situated adrift in an interior space. Furthermore, she experiments with the cultural boundaries and differences that relate to a typically suburban, North American structure in a small gallery in Korea. The work is a reflection of her 12 years of experience in the suburbs of Vancouver, where she resides and works.
Kim, who was born in Korea and immigrated to Canada with her family during middle school, has had two prior exhibitions in Korea. She is, therefore, no stranger to “cultural autochthony.” “Culture is a hybrid. As I’m a floater, I look at things from a different context,” she said, while explaining the concept behind putting this deck, an unfamiliar structure to most Koreans, in the middle of central Seoul.
Kim said she particularly paid attention to the texture and smell of the wood that was used to build the deck: western red cedar. As visitors walk into the gallery, a strong smell of trees will be present along with the actual deck.
“As this wood oxidizes and reacts to weather, the sensory elements will be fulfilled,” she said. Every piece of wood was sanded to make the deck a more authentic representation of a North American deck.
Visitors can roam freely around the deck.
“With this, I hope the audience can experience and interpret this deck through their own associative and indirect means,” she said as she stroked the floor of her indoor deck.


by Cho Jae-eun

“Autochthonous” shows through June 9 at Project Space Sarubia in Insa-dong, northern Seoul. Admission is free. Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The nearest subway station is Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 6. For more information, call (02) 733-0440

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