apexart Fellowship


Modris Svilans is an artist based in Riga, Latvia. He is in NYC as an apexart New York City Fellow from September 9 - October 9, 2014.

Damali Abrams is a NYC-based artist traveled to Seoul, South Korea, as an apexart International Fellow from July 1 - 30, 2014.

Posts tagged with "Joanna Ebenstein"

Seoul Days 1 and 2

So I have now been in Seoul for two exhausting, confusing, overwhelming and exhilarating days.  I have barely seen anything of the city thus far—none of the tourist or historical sites, certainly—but I have seen enough at this point to realize that Seoul is vast—mind-bendingly so. And a pretty darn fascinating place to roam with camera in tow.

I have found Seoul—at least thus far—surprisingly like America in some of the worst of ways, such as ugly utilitarian architecture, a love of pop culture and exuberant consumerism, celebrity fascination, hip youth, and a focus on personal beauty (i.e. signs on the subway for cosmetic surgery). Luckily, there are also bits of a fascinating East that manage to peek through here and there in the form of ubiquitous old-fashioned food stalls, zipping motor bikes strapped down with mysterious goods, the occasional evocatively tiled roof, and a certain difficult-to-put-your-finger-on something.

Most of all, what I have seen thus far reminds me of a much less dystopic version of Blade Runner (though the fact that its been raining since I arrived might have somethingto do with that…)

Here is a bit of what I have seen so far, with explanatory captions; please click on image to see larger versions:

This is the map for the writers residency space I am staying in. Called Seoul Art Space Yeonhui,
it is a lovely natural oasis in the heart of a very urban and forgettable district of mini-marts,
car repair shops, and cheap restaurants.  One of the Kimchi displays at the amazing Lotte Mart.
Lotte Mart had happy employees manning every booth. People here are very friendly,
even with my complete lack of Korean.
A kit for a loved on on the upcoming Korean Thanksgiving Day.
Meat is very popular here!
On the subway…
And more.
A rainy day in a more idyllic version Blade Runner.

A subway scene.
An advertisement for cosmetic surgery on the subway.
Can’t tell if the look they are going for is Western or Anime….
Click on this image to see what I mean.
Gas mask dispenser in the subway.
Detail of the gas mask dispenser in the subway.

Here is a video I shot from a kiosk on the subway.
The music you hear just happened to be playing at the same time that I was shooting this.

Another subway scene.
Don’t even ask.

At the tourist bureau today. I had been told that Korea is a hotspot for cosmetic sugary medical tourism…
And here is one of the pamphlets available there, to prove it.
Food stalls in the rain.
And one more.

Foods of Seoul Part One

Seoul Day 3 : Sunshine and History

Yesterday was the first non-rainy day since I’ve been here. Once the mists and rain receded, the city came to life. Seoul is beautifully situated, surrounded by heavily wooded mountains looking like Chinese ink brush drawings, a natural grace that contrasts fascinatingly with the headlong rush for modernity you can feel all around you. 

To celebrate the change in the weather—and as an antidote to the hyper-modernity I had been experiencing—I headed down to the UNESCO world heritage site listed Changdeokgung Palace, with its much fabled Secret Gardens.

Before and after my visit to the palace, I spent hours walking around the adjacent neighborhoods and ended the night with a night-bus tour of Seoul.

Following are some of the things that I saw; as mentioned in a previous post, please click on images to see much larger, more detailed images. Well worth it, I assure you!

Dead cicada.
Men in the park, playing the Korean equivalent of chess on a very hot day.

Many of the back alleys I traversed allowed me to see into the rear
of a variety of restaurants and shops.

“Mahabodhi Temple, the mecca of the Independence Movement on March 1st, 1911”
This temple was built by a Buddhist Monk, Zen Master Yong Sung,
who built it to celebrate the liberation of Korea from Japanese occupation.
He worked on the temple from 1911-1940. 

Don’t touch your eyes after touching the peppers!

My new favorite drink! Purchased at the Palace coffee shop.
Corn tea. Like macerated popcorn kernels, in the best of ways.

Our Secret Garden tour guide almost drowned out by the sound of insects.
This sound is ubiquitous.

Good lord! Bulgogi might well be the best food in the world.

Seoul Day 3 : Sunshine and History Part 2

A random police drill next door to the palace.

Squat toilets in the subways. Seoul has more clean,
well-marked public restrooms than anywhere I have ever been.
Even the police are cute!

Day Four in Seoul: Amazing Food, Jongmyo Ancestral Shrine, Insa-Dong, Samncheong-Dong and Environs

Yesterday I went to my favorite tourist site so far: Jongmyo Ancestral Shrine.

As the UNESCO Website describes:
Jongmyo is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. Dedicated to the forefathers of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), the shrine has existed in its present form since the 16th century and houses tablets bearing the teachings of members of the former royal family. Ritual ceremonies linking music, song and dance still take place there, perpetuating a tradition that goes back to the 14th century.
Jongmyo is UNSESCO-designated twice over, both for the site itself and for the music that is used in the fascinatingly ornate ceremony which still takes place here each June, which is a UNESCO declared “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” 
After Jongmyo, I explored, per my itinerary, Insa-Dong, Buckchin Hanok Village, Samncheong-Dong and the outlying environs. So many lovely neighborhoods here, all tucked away…

As always, click on images for much larger, more detailed versions:
Jongmyo Ancestral Shrine, whose current structures date back to the early 17th Century.

Lunch: A pancake made of scallions, octopus, and shrimp, chosen by
pointing to a photo on the wall. Seriously delicious.
A lovely old man who spoke excellent English and had worked as a translator
during the Korean War. We talked for quite some time and I realized to my intense shame
that I have no knowledge of the Korean War.

Fried fish for sale.

Lots of odd proprietary museums here. This one is The Owl Art & Craft Museum.
A private collection of all things owl in an overstuffed room.
Your $5 admission gets you a cup of tea or grape juice and a chat with the proprietor.

Off to the Myogaksa Templestay Program

Here is what I will be doing for the next two days. Wish me luck!

Myogaksa’s Templestay Program
Myogaksa runs two kinds of Templestay programs: an overnight program and a daylong temple cultural program called Laying Down My Mind. The best feature of Myogaksa’s Templestay program is being able to get a taste of traditional temple life, even while still in the city. At this neighborhood temple, leave the chaotic world behind and experience Yebul (chanting services), Seon Meditation, Communal Work Period, 108 prostrations and the power of noble silence. In particular, there is the unforgettable experience of looking down over Seoul at dusk while ringing the great temple bell. In the early morning, try taking a walk in the nearby Naksan Park. It is a great way to reflect on yourself and turn your attention within. According to your age, personal preferences, and how much time you would like to spend here, we have a variety of programs available for everyone, including video presentations, making lotus lanterns, and taking a walk through the Cheonggye-cheon stream park.

General Schedule

Day 1

  • 2:30pm - Filling out application & preparing for Opening Ceremony
- Assigning individual lockers & distributing name tags 
  • 3 pm - Learning temple etiquette 
- Opening Ceremony & Introduction of Sunims

  • 4:30pm - Making 108 prayer beads

  • 6 pm - Evening bell-striking & evening Buddhist ceremony
7 pm - Dinner
8 pm - Meditation with the title ‘Laying Down My Mind’

  • 9:30pm - Sleep

Day 2

3:30am - Getting up & Preparing for Predawn Buddhist service
4am - Bell-striking & Predawn Service 
5am - Early Morning Meditation 

  • 6am - Taking a walk in Naksan Park

  • 7am - Breakfast
8:30am -Group Work (Cleaning the temple)

  • 10:30am - Tea Ceremony & Closing Ceremony
Image sourced here.

Seoul Folk Flea Market and Environs

Lucky me! When I arrived an hour early for the Myogaksa Templestay Program, I found myself unwittingly right across the street from the epic and expansive Seoul Folk Flea Market. I spent many pre- and post-templestay hours exploring, photographing, and, on a few occasions, buying.

As always, click on images to see much larger, more detailed versions.

Shop front.
Police presence.

Lunch. Iced noodles. Seriously delicious. But then, so is everything I have eaten thus far!

Myogaksa Templestay Program Report

The Myogaksa Templestay Program was pretty amazing, and also challenging in a variety of ways. I liked the warmth, simplicity and humor of the nuns and Zen Master. This really surprised me; Nothing at all like the stern seriousness of Christianity and Judaism! And I responded to many (though certainly not all) of the tenants as explained to us by the wonderful nun Yu-Yu (sp?), who used examples from Kung Fu Panda and The Lord or the Rings to illustrate many of the principles she described. It was also nice to meet so many English speakers who had been living in Korea for months or even years—mostly in the office of English teachers—and swap observations.

Also, when I met the Zen Master—who observed our pathetic attempt to meditate for 40 minutes at 5 AM—I realized something that probably all Star Wars fans already knew: Yoda is a Zen Master! I guess I’m the last one to figure that one out.

Our sleeping quarters, converted with blankets and feather beds.

A shrine to the many, many countless Buddhas.


The Templestay visitors. Mostly English teachers, of which
there is a veritable industry here in Korea, as I learned,
supporting new graduates attempting to pay off loans.
The bell we rang at dawn and evening.

Up the hill to the park for our early morning walk!
Many of the parks here have lots of excellent gym equipment.
They are always in use, usually by older folks.
Also lots of older folks hiking in the parks.

Our nun explaining a walking meditation.

These pillars contain relics of former Buddhas.
 A piece of the body is removed before cremation and preserved in these monuments. Breakfast! That white mush was an amazingly ambrosial potato salad
with apple and vegetables. Delicious.

Today in Korea…

Dongdaemun Market

Family planning propaganda at the Seoul Museum of History

From a scale model of Seoul at the Seoul Museum of History

The Korean National Police Museum

My friendly English speaking pharmacist today

Prosthetic limb shop window.

On the bus
At my desk with my corn tea

Kokdu Museum, Seoul

A few days ago, I paid a visit to The Kokdu Museum, a small and charming museum here in Seoul devoted to kokdu, or traditional Korean painted wooden figures created to accompany the deceased on their treacherous journey through the afterlife. These figures would be placed—by the dozen, as it appears—on the ornate traditional funeral biers which carried the deceased. From what I understand, all of the pieces on view in the museum were created in the late Joseon Dynasty, which dominated Korea from 1392 – 1897.
The kokdu figurines, as the museum text explains, are other-worldy creatures intended to assist in the deceased in their transition through the afterlife. Some are guides, some protectors, some entertainers. They help to “soothe and calm our bewildered emotions while traveling the path of bereavement…” so long as the deceased “still remains in the area of between the ‘already’ and the ‘yet.’”

A funeral bier

Details of the funeral bier

Diagrams of the biers

The figures themselves

Also, dragon and goblin heads are place on the front and the back of the bier. The are intended to frighten evil spirits and signify the circularity of life and death.

There was also a wonderful miniature diorama depicting a funeral procession.

There was also a really terrific temporary exhibition up entitled ”Afterlife, The Journey to the Other World.” As the wall text explained:
The exhibition “Afterlife, The Journey to the Other World,” was derived from traditional Korean belief, called Siwangsasang, which described that the deceased must go through ten after-death trials about his/her previous life. 
Among those ten were seven commonly known trials, and people counted those days accordingly and had a memorial ritual on the 49th days of death. 
Joseon dynasty was a strictly Confucianist era which greatly valued filial duites. Other religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shamanism were able to retain their power because Joseon people saw a great deal of filial duties in ancestral rites. 
By studying Joseon dynasty (1392-1910)’s religious movement, we’ve learned that all these different religions and cultures melted in together and brought our culture a cultural synergy, which is known as the Medici Effect. 
It is very interesting to learn how all these different religions and cultures combined and developed a new cultural nuance on the subject, the other world. 
As mentioned earlier, this exhibition is based on these cultural influences regarding the other world and the afterlife. This exhibition was also greatly influenced by “With God,” a web cartoon that depicts this other world as an interesting and realistic place. 
With “With God" and KOKDU MUSEUM’s old antiquities, this exhibition also introduced augmented reality technique and media art so that visitors can experience a mixture of art and science throughout the show.

This exhibit allowed visitors to travel through the afterlife, meeting each King of Hell via a video screen (see below) and being informed of both what traits he would judge you on and what were the possible punishments. Each stop on the journey was illustrated by traditional artworks depicting these Kings and their punishments as well as images from the cartoons.

Me with the first King of Hell

A map of the after world

Punishment by one of the Kings of Hell

Thanks very much to Professor Choi Tae Man of Kookmin University for recommending this museum to me!

Yesterday in Seoul: Culture Station Seoul 284

Yesterday in Seoul I visited the very exciting art space Culture Station Seoul 284.
This project takes as its launching off point—and its home!—a controversial reconstruction of a western-styled train station built in 1925 under Japanese occupation (1910- 1945). The new culture station housed within aims to aid in the processing of complex national memory through art and culture by providing a space for art and performances that, as the brochure puts it, “take on themes of history and the present, humanity and culture, restoration and rebirth, preservation and extinction, and original form and modification.” 
The reconstruction is fantastic, and the space is vast, labyrinthian, and open to meandery exploration. Beautifully reconstructed period rooms—from former VIP waiting rooms to one of the first Western restaurants in Seoul to the epic entry hall—provide the context for a wide variety of contemporary artworks, produced as site-specific pieces responding to the themes, ghosts and histories evoked here. My favorite pieces included a 9-screen film installation about Korean Shamanism, a video where a man got into costume and became a tree, and an enigmatic ghostly plant which filled a side chamber. There was also a very effecting temporary exhibition of Yonhap International Press Photo Awards which featured documentary photography related to the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), “which include freeing people from extreme poverty and hunger, making primary education available to all and eradicating preventable diseases.”
Deputy director Sewon Oh took my interpreter Ahhyung and I on a tour, including behind the scenes views. It reminded me in some ways of New York’s PS1, but seemed more overtly directed towards history and memory, which really appealed to me. A really wonderful and exciting project; I look forward to seeing what develops there.
Here are some views; as always, click on image to see much larger version:

The former restaraunt, one of the first western restaurants in Seoul

The former VIP waiting room, for kings and princes

Eerie art piece in a small chamber filled with water

The orignal chandelier

Original fixtures from the archive

More original fixtures from the archive

Traversing backstage

My interpreter, Ahhyung, going down the stairs

Sculpture of a famous rebel who fought the Japanese occupation throwing a bento-box bomb
Back to the market to buy a new camera lens

Traditional Korean Rites at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui

Last Friday night, my lovely hosts at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui performed a traditional Korean ritual in order to bless the new year, appease some spirits seen wandering about the grounds of the residency—which I learned had once been an important and much contested battlefield during the Korean war with many bodies still buried beneath! eek!—and show me what a traditional ritual looked like, knowing my strong interest in this topic.

In addition to the staging of the ritual (see above)—which included a real pig’s head, wine offerings, ritual readings, Buddhist-like prostrations, and otherworldly shamanistic drumming and singing—many of the art and writer residents, including myself, were asked to give a brief reading. Afterwards, we had a drunken feast—with much flowing of Makgeolli, my new favorite drink!—that went long into the night while the feral cats attempted to eat the pigs head, the owls hooted, and the mosquitos bit.

Really lovely. Thanks to my kind hosts here for putting this together on my behalf. Incredibly kind and much appreciated!

The National Folk Museum, Seoul, Korea

Photos from my visit to the National Folk Museum

A screen depicting stacks of books, from the 1700s if memory serves

Diarama of traditional exorcism for curing smallpox

An epic funeral bier, decorated with many Kokdu dolls

Food for the ancestral rites

Sep 1


The Legacy of “Comfort Women” at The House of Sharing

Image of comfort women from The Korean American Experience Website.
The House of Sharing is both a museum and home to former “Comfort Women” - survivors of sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military during the Asia-Pacific War (1932-1945). 
The House of Sharing is the world’s first human rights museum centred on the theme of sexual slavery. The museum opened on August 14th, 1998 to record Japanese war crimes, to restore the honor of the victims and to function as a place of historical education.

I happened upon a mention of “comfort women”—a euphemism used to describe the mostly Korean women forced into sexual slavery by and for the Japanese military during World War II—in my Lonely Planet guidebook. It mentioned a place called “The House of Sharing” run by a group of survivors who live together on the grounds and created a museum to tell their story and to educate the public about sex trafficking. These women—now quite elderly—are famous for their weekly demonstrations in front of the Japanese consulate where they continue to agitate for recognition and apology from the Japanese government, who deny their culpability ever after an 1998 UN report found them guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their well-documented comfort women system.

I went along last Sunday to check out The House of Sharing during one of their monthly English language tours. The stories I learned there were really beyond horrific. Kidnapping and deception of young girls, rape and murder, parents hiding their young girls under the floorboards to save them from abductions. Forced hysterectomies and mercury injections to cure STDs. Throwing women into group graves to await their death if they got very ill. Girls “conscripted” as young as 12 forced to service up to 60 men per day. Pretty horrible stuff.

In this system based on a Japanese restaurant menu, available
woman are signified by a sign facing outwards; if the woman is otherwise engaged,
her sign is turned over. 

A recreation of the simple chambers where a comfort woman would do her shift.
Photos of comfort women.

More photos of comfort women.
Artworks by the comfort women as part of their therapy at The House of Sharing.

One of the former comfort women who met with us and urged us to sing with her.
She especially liked Simon and Garfunkel.
Sushi making followed.

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the comfort women, you can click here. You can find about The House of Sharing by clicking here.

Sep 6


Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan

Maybe my new favorite place. This post goes out to Betsy Bradley and her husband Eric, who (thank you so much!!!) suggested I visit the Seoul fish market. Seoul’s fish market was great, but Busan’s fish market is even more amazing. right on the sea and the oldest and largest in Korea. Plus it has natural light, making it of great interest to a photographer.
As always, click on image to view much larger, more detailed image.

The lotion peddler’s advertisements

Why a hot-pink dancing performance in front of the fish market? I never found out.
Lunch. Wow. Needless to say, did not come close to finishing it.