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 "Valerie Crosswhite"

Nov 4


Here I am!

Made it!

I’m getting settled in Seoul Special City, trying to shed my jet lag, and finding my bearings. I am staying at the slightly decrepit but perfectly comfortable Alps Seoul guest house in Myeong-dong area, which is central Seoul and the home of many administrative buildings and gigantic shopping malls.

It seemed initially like I had no internet service, as the cable in my room appears to have been chewed on by an animal, and my first night I spent delirious and grumpy, hunting around the facilities for a wireless signal, finding one eventually in an upstairs shoe room/foyer with a light on a motion sensor timer set to turn off after 5 seconds, so I had to keep waving my arms around to be able to see. Lack of internet seemed very strange in Seoul—a city obsessed with technology—and indeed the next day I was given the wireless code, so now I get to blog from the comfort of my heated bed. Yay!

Nov 4


Seoul Art Space Geumcheon

On my first day I was picked up at my apartment by the tireless Jeong-yoon Choi, an art history student at the Women’s University who was volunteering as a translator and chaperon with the reciprocating gallery here, Seoul Art Space Geumcheon. Together we rode the subway to the gallery to meet Na-young Yoon, who has sweetly organized my itinerary, and Hee-young Kim, the very commanding director of Seoul Art Space Geumcheon.

After going over my schedule we went to lunch, and over the course of the meal Na-young, who was at first only speaking through the interpreter began speaking to me in English. I was surprised when I first met her that she seemed to only speak Korean, because she had written me several very articulate emails in English. I think she was shy about her English—which I think may be pretty common—even though as it turns out she has spent a lot of time in the U.S.— even getting her Master’s degree there—and can speak very well and with a lot of warmth.

Geumcheon is pretty desolate compared with Myeong-dong. It seems to be in transition from an industrial area (mostly meat-packing) to more of an arts community, and I get the impression that Seoul Art Space Geumcheon is a key player in the changeover.

I came back the next day to go to a day-long symposium on “The Role of Art in the Public Domain” which was a little dry (even some of the presenters were rather charmingly dozing off onstage), but there were some highlights, such as Fram Kitagawa’s presentation on the very magical Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial of which he is the director. http://www.echigo-tsumari.jp/english/about/

Afterward I was invited to the dinner for the presenters which was a fun flurry of simultaneous translating. Also really delicious.

Here is Jeong-yoon on the right with the woman who was doing the Japanese translating.

An adorable waitress got really excited when she saw me and made me pose for this photo, which I guess she thought I would be just as excited about (okay, maybe she was right). Instead of “Cheese!” she had me say “Kimchi!”.

Nov 7


Subway System

The subway system in Seoul is impressive. All the signs are in English as well as Korean, so it’s fairly easy to navigate, plus the subway cars and stations are immaculate. Trains are frequent and quiet, and the people-watching is top-notch.

Jeong-yoon accompanied me for my first subway experience. She told me that the subway is used by everyone here—rich and poor—and it does seem pretty diverse in that regard. I commented to her on how clean it was compared to New York’s subway system, and she seemed a little surprised. Sensing an opportunity, I told her about rats scurrying over the tracks dragging half-eaten bagels and people trimming their fingernails on the train in nyc, and she was hilariously horrified.

Later, she told me that these sliding door enclosures that separate all the tracks from the platforms are a recent addition from the last several years, and that the government put them there to prevent suicides, which are relatively frequent here.

I told her that no one in New York would commit suicide this way because it would be too disgusting, which fortunately she found funny.

It seems like almost every subway station has a sprawling underground mall inside it. Shopping seems to be the national pastime.

Advertising is everywhere in the subway system—on lighted kiosks and ubiquitous LCD screens. I think this one is kind of funny. I’m contemplating it’s meaning daily.

My Tiny Seoul

Now that I’ve had a chance to settle in, I really like my apartment here at Alps Seoul Guest House.

My favorite thing about my apartment is the picture that is taped to the bathroom door of a much nicer apartment.

The toilet is really technologically advanced—it lights up, it’s heated, and it has a bunch of mystery buttons on the side console. I almost lost an eye and flooded the bathroom experimenting with what turned out to be the bidet function.

Here is my street.

My pet eels.

Here is my neighborhood, Myeong-dong.

The closest grocery store is in the basement of a really fancy department store, Shinsegae. There is a Tiffany’s branch right when you walk in, then you go down a few stairs and you’re surrounded by dried fish.

And here is my street at night.

11/11 = love!

Happy Armistice Day, allied nations!

It also happens to be my third wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, Curtis, I miss you!

Here in Korea 11/11 is Pepero day, when young couples give each other Lotte brand cookie sticks, a holiday that I imagine was invented by Lotte. Happy Pepero Day, young lovers!

And here in Seoul on 11/11 we seem to be celebrating the G20 Summit. Happy G20, everyone!

I will be celebrating 11/11 with a day trip to Busan with Nayoung from Seoul Art Space. I’m slightly disappointed about the timing because I think leaving Seoul will drastically reduce my chances of running into Barack Obama on the street (hang in there, Mr. President!), but I’m also relieved to have an excuse to escape the G20 pandemonium, which is predicted to be very pandemonious.

We shall see…

Peace Museum

I couldn’t find the Peace Museum, so instead I wandered around Insa-dong, a quaint shopping area that has big appeal with tourists because of it’s many souvenir and antique shops.

This shop had some nifty erotic pieces and lots of other things which may or may not be antiques.

I had a fun conversation with the shopkeeper who spoke enough English to ask me what I was doing in Korea, but not enough to understand “artist residency”, so I drew a picture.

Then he looked up the English and Korean for “artist” on his iPhone, and we took turns practicing our new vocabulary word. Learning is fun!

Later I met with Won-Seok Koh, the curator of Space Gallery. He told me lots about the history of the gallery, which played a crucial role in Seoul’s 1970’s avant-garde art scene, and of the building, which was designed by the “father of modern Korean architecture” Swoo-geun Kim to house his architecture firm.

I’m not necessarily an architecture junkie, but I thought this space was really wonderful—-inviting red brick with very low ceilings to make short people (something I have in common with most Koreans) feel comfortable and human. As opposed to uncomfortable and inhuman, or cold and short, or inconsequential and ant-like. Anyway, the roof garden offered a great view of the city.

After our meeting I wandered around the neighborhood a little more.

Art Marathon

I went to meet the very accommodating and thoughtful Soo-Jung Kang, who is a senior curator at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum is located in Seoul Grand Park, along with a zoo and a little theme park, and there were throngs of adorable children doing really adorable things such as hurtling toward a giant tiger sculpture outside of the zoo,

and romping around this Calder stabile,

and shopping for plastic snakes and dinosaurs along the way.

Inside the museum is a giant Nam June Paik sculpture.

After a tour around the museum, Soo-Jung and I drove to Goyang, a suburb just outside of Seoul (although we were driving for over an hour) to visit a gallery with a feminist exhibition, and see the open studios of the museum’s residency program, which featured a jazz trio and included a flurry of bows and a hemorrhage of business cards. Next we drove back into Seoul to meet her amiable and manicured friend Jieun Lee at a hilariously surreal cello & piano performance/video art piece/exquisite corpse power point presentation. Or something like that. Throughout it I was wavering between sleep and delirious laughter, but fortunately gave in to neither.

Jieun is a lawyer, and kindly invited me to a presentation she was giving the next morning to inform immigrant workers protesting at the G20 summit of their rights. (I really wanted to go, but gave in to jet-lagged sleep festival instead.) Here are Soo-Jung and Jieun.

To top off the evening, the three of us went with the curator from the feminist exhibit and some Aussie gallerists to get some dinner nearby. It was the only meal I’ve had so far in Korea that wasn’t thrilled with, but I have to give myself credit for mustering the courage to try sea worms. Finally, back to Alps Seoul Guest House—-I was so tired the helpful Aussies had to point me in the right direction.

Shaman Village Adventure

First, I went to the Seoul Museum of Art.

There was a fun kinetic sculpture in the courtyard.

Next on my schedule was the National Museum of Art, which is located inside the grounds of Deoksugung Palace. The show at the museum turned out to be a Picasso exhibit, so I rushed through it and then explored the rest of the palace.

There are several palaces in Seoul, and the ones I’ve seen are all nestled incongruously in dense parts of the city, most of which was built from 1970 onwards. Deoksugung Palace, by comparison, was built as a villa in the 15th century.

Look! I saw a red pigeon.

As I was leaving I caught the changing of the royal guard ceremony. The monarchy has ended, but the pageantry endures!

For some reason, as I was leaving a giant group of riot police was forming—the one photo I got of them doesn’t really capture it, but there were suddenly hundreds of them streaming out of police buses. The mood on the street seemed fairly calm, and I couldn’t really understand their presence there, but I decided I’d rather not wait to find out.

I was scheduled next to be visiting a nearby square, but instead I hopped on the subway and headed for Mt. Inwangsan, a sacred mountain in Korean shamanism. It’s located a hop, skip, and a jump from the Dongnimmun subway station, and it’s home to Korea’s most important shamanist shrine, Guksadang.

I had to walk through a high-rise apartment complex to reach the shaman village.

Koreans practice several religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, and shamanism—and there seems to be a good deal of overlap. Mt. Inwangsan is apparently no exception, as Buddhist temples coexist there with the shaman shrines.

There was a bit of a hike involved, but the shaman mountain was really worth it.

Here is a worshiper at Seonbawi, a strange rock formation that is known for it’s fertility powers.

And here is Guksadang, the shamanist shrine.

There was a small group of women praying and talking inside, and one of them showed me around the tiny, mysterious shrine. There were some paintings and food offerings, and my friendly guide taught me the proper way to pray, talking all the while in Korean and blithely unaffected by the obvious fact that I couldn’t understand a word she said. After a few minutes we left together and she leaned a large dried fish against the wall by the door.

Insadong & Jogyesa

I went to Jogyesa, a Buddhist temple in the heart of Seoul. It was very crowded and for whatever reason all the worshipers were women. The service was in full swing when I arrived, and I felt a little self-conscious about being an interloper, but I mustered the confidence and situated myself on the floor in what turned out to be an aisle. I hadn’t been able to find a spare prayer cushion and I was trying to get comfortable on the hard temple floor, when a sweet lady sitting behind me offered me one of hers. The two women directly in front of me noticed that I was being stepped over by everyone coming in to the temple, and they graciously shuffled their neighbors around to make room for me. The prostrating started, and the lady to my right took it upon herself to show me how to bow properly, although I couldn’t keep it up for nearly as long as she did. I felt so unexpectedly welcomed, it was really wonderful!

There is a smaller adjacent temple that was dramatically less crowded.

Afterward I went to the neighborhood of Insa-dong, a quaint area with lots of shops and restaurants.

These teenagers interviewed me for a school project.

Before I left New York I read a book about Korean culture that was for the most part really insightful, but in the section about clothing it said that Koreans usually dressed very formally, wearing suits even when not at work, except for an artist, who might have a beard and wear a beret. Hilarious! I assumed it was just a stereotype the author had about artists, solidified probably from never having met any actual artists. But then I saw one! A real life artist donning a beret…fabulous!

I went to the Mokin Museum, a diminutive yet marvelous museum devoted to totemic art. Very inspiring.

It also boasts an amazing roof garden.

I lost ₩10,000 at the races

Relax! That’s like, nine dollars.

In Korea, apparently, the racetrack is a non-sleazy place to bring your little kids for a Sunday afternoon outing.

Which I am in support of! When I visited the Seoul Race Park there were the requisite throngs of old men with racing forms chain smoking and chomping ginseng gum, but I didn’t notice any real debauchery such as vomiting in trash cans à la Belmont Stakes. So I say, go for it, Mom and Dad!

In preparation for my day at the races, my husband Curtis gave me three key words for picking a winning pony: Nightshade, Pumpernickel, and Lapis Lazuli. Armed with this information, I arrived at the track and made my way to the optimistically named Lucky Ville Grandstand, where there is a translation service for foreigners who need help placing bets. After I was given a racing program in English and a quick tutorial, I scanned the list for connections to my keywords, but nothing was clicking. But! I did see a name I couldn’t pass up: Golden Cat. The odds against Golden Cat were long, which appealed to me, so I bet it all on him to win, place, or show.

Golden Cat finished 7th, but I’d do it again.

Nayoung and I go to Busan

Tae Kwon Do Palace & the Owl Museum

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Forest Life

Seoul reminded me of New York in many ways, one way being that any brush with nature is pretty exciting stuff. It wasn’t on my schedule, but no one in hell was going to keep me from visiting Seoul Forest to feed the “wild” deer. No one!!!

As soon as I got there I rented a bicycle and started cruising around. The “forest” is really just a park, but it was a lot of fun.

It felt a little like I had the place to myself.

These are sika deer. No touching!

Somewhere in the park is a vending machine that sells boxes of deer kibble, but I couldn’t find it. Fortunately, this nice and adorable couple offered me some of theirs, otherwise I might have cried.

Once I got my wildlife fix, I took off on my bike again. I rode past a truly weird sculpture garden that seemed like it was from a dream.

I took this goofy shot of myself while riding the bicycle—not easy! If you’d ever seen me try to ride a bike, you’d be even more impressed.

Hanok Fabulous

Traditional Korean homes are called hanok, and although contemporary Koreans have generally moved away from the hanok and toward the cement high-rise apartment building, a few people still live in them and others serve as a Colonial Williamsburg-type lesson in Korean heritage.

Namsangol Hanok Village was pretty neat, despite the fact that no one was walking around in traditional clothing or making horseshoes.

I remember something like this at the Enchanted Forest in Maryland.

I was really startled when I realized this was a napping person and not a mannequin.

In the distance in Namsan Tower.

After my stroll through Korean history, I went to Dongdaemun Market, and immediately wished I hadn’t (so I left). Dongdaemun has over 20 malls and 30,000 shops, and stays open 18 hours a day so Koreans can go clothes shopping at any waking hour. Being a diminutive 5’3”, Korean clothing malls were pretty amazing (everything fits!!!!) but the crowds were absolutely unbearable—much, much worse than anything I’ve experienced in New York. Plus, you’re not allowed to try anything on first (what’s that all about, Korea?)