Category Archives: Exhibit

xyZ City, workroom

As I’ve noted in the past, I’m a bit of an urban planning geek. It comes from my grandfather who was involved with local government. I find the urban space endlessly fascinating. A proper city is always in a state of flux. Blink and the city changes. This interest is reflected on my bookshelves and my personal photographic archive. I dig cities.

It’s no wonder then that I was drawn to workroom’s xyZ City, though I’m not entirely clear what the book is. An illustrated treatise? An exhibition catalog? An exhibition in book form? There is no English text, so I’m left with the title, layout and photographs themselves to decipher it.
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Five Views From Korea @ Noorderlicht Photo Gallery

The Noorderlicht Photogallery will be showing Five Views from Korea February 8th through April 13th. Work from Seung Woo Back, Jaegu Kang, Insook Kim, Suntag Noh and Xuezhe Shen is brought together to examine “the discomfort and nagging feeling of an unending cold war since the division of the Korean peninsula.”

From Guest Curator Sujong Song:

Every day, the papers are flooded with news heralding tension on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps because they are in the eye of the storm, but the people living in the southern half are largely skeptical of an outbreak of war. The feeling closest to fear they experience is annoyance, as if they’ve been reminded of a particularly stubborn splinter that might never be removed. Guest curator Sujong Song presents with Five Views from Korea five projects from photographers, which are the result of these frustrations felt in everyday life by this reality.
‘Ultimately, these are narratives regarding five perspectives on either the nations tied to the divided Korean Peninsula or the identity of those who live within the countries’ influences. Invisible ideologies attempt to control us in whatever way possible, while we struggle to overcome that restraint. It is the things unseen that dig most deeply into our everyday lives, irrevocably bore into our skin.’

On this blog we’ve looked at some of the photographers included in the exhibit, and reviews of books that include work of at least one of the others are in the works. This looks like an interesting show. Too bad I won’t be able to get to Groningen to check it out. Hopefully there will be a catalog or accompanying book available.

More info.

Nakgol Project, Architectural Photographers of Korea

The city of Seoul holds an annual Seoul Photo Festival. In 2012 the festival’s theme was “A Thousand Villages, A Thousand Memories.” Given my interest in the ways that urban planning, urban infrastructure, daily routine, memory and image making intersect this show was hard to resist.

The intermingling of professional works with personal snapshots was handled with aplomb. Rather than reduce the personal work by elevating it to professional stature, these private documents were treated as vernacular ephemera and presented as such. In fact, while there was much good professional work in the exhibit, the tight spaces that the Seoul Art Museum’s first floor was carved up into made its presentation cramped. In comparison, the vernacular snapshots held up very well in the small rooms.

Among the standouts in the 2012 show: Dueg Young Lee’s satellite composites (or aerial photographs?) of Seoul street grids; Se Kown Ahn’s photographs of the excavation of Cheonggyecheon; Ki Chan Kim’s black and white photographs of Seoul in the early 80’s full of fun and energy; and Han Chungshik’s documentary photographs from the 70’s. The Dream Flower Factory and Union of Workers for Producing Non Waste community projects were also wonderful. (I’m a year late in noting all of this as now even the 2013 Seoul Photo Festival has concluded…)

There was one standout, in particular, for me: the Nakgol Project by the Architectural Photographers of Korea. This was an unassuming, slim, softbound book of rough halftones. The book was presented in the show as a book: one could flip through the book itself, mounted to a shelf, or follow the book’s spreads mounted on the wall. The book’s dense, tightly composed photographs depict Nakgol, an area of unlicensed shacks in an isolated hilly Seoul neighborhood, as it existed in 2001. The photographs are like an extension of Yong Kim’s photos from the 60’s (not his advertising work) or Han Chungshik’s photos from the 70’s, both of which were earlier in the exhibition.

The photographs in the catalog are dated 2001-2002, though the book appeared to have been published in 2001. Between 2002 and 2006, the neighborhood (which one might also have described as a “squatter settlement”) was redeveloped into a series of apartment blocks. Having witnessed the extreme rate of change in Seoul, this book reads both like a document meant to save the memory of the place and as one meant to hasten the process of redevelopment. The book preserves the place while simultaneously presaging its doom or rebirth depending on one’s particular vantage point.

One might consider this book in relation to Se Kown Ahn’s photographs of Cheonsgyecheon’s “re-development.” The Nakgol Project depicts an “old” Seoul about to be replaced with a modern Seoul, which in this case means a developed Seoul. In Ahn’s photographs, the process is reversed: the concrete and rebar of previous decades’ development are being removed to renew an ancient public waterway. Modern in this case is what once was. I ought to note that the comparison isn’t perfect as Cheongsyecheon is very much a modern space designed and utilized with contemporary values; but, its essence and origin is ancient.

Nakgol Project is the 2012 Seoul Photo Festival’s theme in compact form. It presents multiple ways of seeing a place. We can read into it the memory of a place that once was; a living space engaged by its inhabitants; or, an opportunity to advance the city forward. It is quite an achievement.

Nakgol Project
Architectural Photographers of Korea
2001 or 2002

(I have no other information; no link to the book, no link to the APoK… if anyone knows where I can find a copy of this publication or a link to the creators, I would very much appreciate either.)

Like a Program; Kim Sang-Gil

Good photography. Dark, rough printing. Off white paper. Small design flourishes. Wonderful object-ness.

Given my predilections I ought to like this book. I don’t.

My impression is that more and more photo books being made in Korea lately are exquisite objects that mirror and enhance the photography contained within. (Next week’s review will be of one of these.) In the past, I found that many photo books in Korea were simply exhibition catalogs (often beautifully made but still catalogs). Like a Program on a cursory examination appears to be a wonderful object, and it is, but this object-ness is out of whack to the photography within and overwhelmed by the all you can eat buffet of an exhibition catalog that it truly is.

It may be unfair to judge an exhibition catalog for failing as a photo book. Oh well.

Kim Sang-Gil’s photographs limn a porous boundary between artifice and sincerity. Like a Program contains three of Kim’s projects that approach this boundary from different directions and a fourth that is about something (else). The moments in “Motion Picture” appear to be caught from life, but their captions reveal them to be staged. The subjects are models and actors between or in the midst of takes. “Off-line” depicts communities that have come together around shared interests. These interests can be as simple or shallow as brand affiliation and yet the group identity or sense of community is no less sincere than in any other group or community. “Re-model” is photographs of empty commercial interior spaces either waiting to be used or in the process of being made ready for use but that lack the qualities that actually being used will embue them with. An empty space might be intended as an office, but until it is used it is little different than an unused mall interior. The final series in the book is “Display.” This is comprised of details of building design features: a handicap lift rail; an elevator door; a revolving door; a parking elevator system. I do not know how these four photographs relate to the previous three series.

The work in the book, while having a loosely unifying theme, is too broad. Moving from one project to the next is jarring.

The choice to print all of the work in the book in low contrast black and white is odd given that Kim Sang-Gil works in color. The printing is actually quite beautiful in its way, but it is wrong for almost all of the work.

“Off-line_burberry internet community” offers the opportunity for a direct comparison between Like a Program’s grayscale printing and a color presentation. The image appears in glorious glossy color on the cover (and in the interior) of the 2009 exhibition catalog Chaotic Harmony (Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2009).The flat gray tones in Like a Program dull the image, make it boring.

The images from “Motion Picture” are similarly dulled to death by the monotone printing. These images have subtle color and a cinematic presence–which makes sense given how they were made. Looking at these photographs I am reminded of Philip-Lorca Dicorcia’s Hustlers with their seemingly natural light that bathes everything in the frame with a kind of heightened sense of being real. This heightened sense of the real is at the heart of what “Motion Picture” is about. It is a physical trace of Kim’s capital “I” Idea. Why strip that from the photographs?

This is not a knock on the photography or the photographer (though the buck has to stop somewhere). Motion Picture_inquiry and Motion Picture_the message and Motion Picture_hand clapping are all weirdly wonderful. Off-line_burberry internet community, Off-line b&w sneakers internet community and Off-line_the sound of music internet community are likewise beautifully bizarre. I imagine that large prints from Re-Model would have an amazing presence on the wall. This is good work.

This is a knock on the book: There was obvious care made in the design and printing and yet somehow the design choices are mismatched to the content. The design and printing are good (in and of themselves at least); the photography is good; the combination is not good.

If one has nothing nice to say, we are often told, say nothing at all. Ah… Well. I don’t think my writing this criticism of a book published eight years ago will put any kind of dent in Kim’s reputation. I’m just some dude and he’s an internationally known artist. I have no ax to grind here; I like Kim’s photographs and bought the book because I wanted to like it. It is disappointing that Like a Program occupies the no man’s land that it does: it has lovely object qualities and yet is primarily an exhibition catalog.

Like a Program
Kim Sang-Gil
Project Space Sarubia, Seoul