'Take Your Time' at Tongyeong's first triennale
TONGYEONG, South Gyeongsang — Korea’s shipbuilding industry has been teetering for a while now, heavily affecting cities like Tongyeong.
Tongyeong’s Shina SB was one of the world’s largest shipbuilding companies back in its heyday but filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Its factory site, office buildings and large cranes remain abandoned in the city, an eyesore for its citizens, until today.
On a recent weekend, people filled the unused office building of Shina SB in the port city’s Donam-dong, “taking their time” to enjoy the Tongyeong Triennale’s main exhibition “Take Your Time.” There was a blockage, especially in the staircase, as people slowly meandered up the stairs.
These people were enjoying the detailed work of the curator — Daniel Kapelain — and his media artwork titled “Elevation” that is installed on each staircase from the first floor to the top. As you slowly walk up the steps, you can hear the chants of mantra of Ven. Hyon Gak, Abbot of the Zen Center Regensburg. The monk recorded the mantra under the dome of the Befreiungshalle in Germany especially for Kapelian’s project.
Tongyeong City Government said it decided to inaugurate Tongyeong Triennale, an art festival that will encompass visual, media and craft art, from this year, in an attempt to shift toward a new industry — arts and culture.
Some may think it’s an odd shift for a port city that has been known largely for its fresh oysters and the dwindling shipbuilding industry. But Tongyeong is actually home to many of Korea’s established artists such as world-renowned composer Yun I-sang, novelist Park Kyung-ni, painter Jeon Hyuk-lim and poet Kim Chun-su.
The city has been slowly transforming into a city of arts and culture. Twenty years ago, it established the Tongyeong International Music Festival, which has now become a major classical music festival in Korea. In 2013, it restored the “12 Gongbang,” a cluster of traditional workshops that existed during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Tongyeong’s small hillside village Dongpirang has now become a major tourist attraction thanks to its beautiful murals. And this year, the Tongyeong City Government decided to inaugurate the Tongyeong Triennale.
The first edition of the festival, which kicked off on March 18, is themed “The Sea, The Seeds.” It’s a large-scale event that turns the whole city, including several of its islands, into an exhibition space until May 8.
“Tongyeong is a city of artists. It connects stories of the seas, the islands and the inlands. It’s a city where beautiful nature and industry coexist. But Tongyeong is going through a time of difficulty as its key industry shipbuilding is dwindling. We need to shift toward a new industry and there’s no better one for Tongyeong than arts and culture,” said Secretariat of Tongyeong Triennale’s organizing committee Kim Ji-in.
Kim said this triennale will mark the beginning of “that shift.”
For the main exhibition, French art director and media artist Daniel Kapelian took the helm. Kapelian currently works with Korea’s design studio OMA Space. His latest project was “Korea: Cubically Imagined” at the Unesco Headquarters in Paris, which featured BTS, award-winning film “Parasite” and the Korean alphabet hangul, in virtual forms.
“The main exhibition ‘Take Your Time’ began from this artist Robert Filliou’s quote, ‘Art is what is making life more interesting than art,’” said Kapelian. “Because in life, we need art and we believe in art for that.”
“Take Your Time,” explains Kapelian, is an “invitation to take a break, to take it easy, to press pause just for a moment in these agitated times. People have difficulty keeping their focus, it’s difficult for us to stay clam and a lot of people have been stressed with Covid. We are in constant interaction with the internet and the omnipresence of realtime information. So it’s very difficult to fix this disruption with ourselves and with nature. This exhibition is a call to contemplate, to elevate our minds and to reconnect with ourselves and nature.”
Kapelian made full use of each of the six floors of the abandoned Shina SB office building. He invited 35 artists from 11 countries to present their works, “ranging from crafts, fine art, virtual reality to NFTs (non-fungible Tokens),” he said.
“This exhibition is more of an immersive and sensorial experience rather than the usual art show format because we want to offer a kind of a meditative approach to art,” Kapelian said. “We want to give you time — time to explore, time to concentrate and time to be focused on what you are doing. This unused six floor office building is an unusual space to experience art. So we decided to take this challenge and turn this into a Blackbox and gave it a nickname — the spaceship — inviting people to travel into a different dimension for a while.”
The exhibit starts from the first floor with Dutch designer Maarten Baas’ newest work titled “Confetti Clock.”
“The artist is giving on the video within the clock a real time for 24 hours. He’s sweeping the confetti on the screen to give you the real time. It’s the newest of his famous ‘Clock’ series, expressing an ironic and a poetic feel on present time being swept minute after minute,” said Kapelian.
OMA Space artist Jang Jiu’s “Infinity” is another artwork that’s very immersive and meditative. A circular object attached to a rod on the ceiling rotates slowly and your gaze falls upon it naturally, watching it turn, blank minded.
“The circle piece in everlasting rotation over the spiral represents a supernatural motion that keeps our universe moving continuously,” said Jang. “Infinity is a meditation timepiece, an invitation to breathe, to walk around it, to let ourselves be a part of this cosmic flow and to let our mind be dissolved into eternity.”
As visitors go up the stairs, artworks that “shape the future” will be presented, like “Value of Values” by Maurice Benayoun. In this interactive neuro-design piece, visitors are invited to sit down and wear a special head set that will scan your brain waves. Visitors will be able to experience how their brain can directly control the monitor and design a shape. This uniquely designed shape will be turned into an NFT on a special blockchain and visitors can even print their own shapes in different sizes.
“Every visitor who come to the exhibition will own an NFT at the end with their own shape,” said Kapelian.
Aside from the main exhibition, there are three special exhibitions — a Craft Special Exhibition “Hands to Art” at the Tongyeong City Museum, Jeon Hyuk-lim Special Exhibition at the Jeon Hyuk Lim Art Museum and Ottchil Special Exhibition at Ottchil Art Museum.
Three of Tongyeong’s small islands — Hansan Island, Saryang Island and Yeonhwa Island — are also exhibiting artworks.
For more information, visit tongyeongtriennale.org/en.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]