Curator and writer Myriam Ben Salah unfolds the new exhibition held at the Daelim Museum—a location part of the Gucci Places network. Sponsored by Gucci, the multi-layered project aims to support the rich cultural landscape and contemporary art scene in Seoul.
Tell us about the concept behind the exhibition, how did ‘No Space, Just a Place’ come to life?
The exhibition is a reflection about the idea of the “other space”, the eterotopia. It seems that our current times are urging us to propose a new definition of what an “other space” might be, not only physically, but also mentally, metaphorically: a place to build a different, desirable future with new ways for humans to relate to each other and to their surroundings.
Through social media and fast communication it seems like anyone could be anywhere, anytime —at least in the world as we knew it up until recently. This potential ubiquity undermines the capacity of thinking “outside the box” as it fosters a type of uniformization. A metaphorical utopian space, that is to say a space that is other, separate from all the spaces that we know, is necessary to form new types of thoughts, new relationships between humans and towards the earth.
The exhibition reflects on these elements. It takes the model of Seoul's alternative art spaces to reflect about the bigger picture of what it means to build an alternative narrative.
How is the exhibition intertwined to Seoul’s contemporary art scene?
Before visiting Seoul for the first time, I asked for a lot of advice from friends and colleagues on who to meet and what to visit. Very quickly it became clear that there was a thriving scene of independent art spaces run by artists or curators, that were positioned as an alternative to the main institutional and/or market driven art world. Independent and alternative art spaces are historically underground venues that populate store fronts, lofts, warehouses, and other places abandoned by the mainstream. They usually promote work that is politically engaged, experimental, and more concerned with artistic debates than commercial viability. I had the pleasure of meeting artist and curator InYoung Yeo who became a curatorial consultant for the project and who was key in making me realize the importance of these structures within the local and international art ecosystem. Working with these spaces also allowed me to reflect on a wider, and more metaphorical definition of an “alternative” or “other” space.
The exhibition project unfolds through two intertwined endeavors: on the one hand, together with InYoung Yeo and Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti (associate curator on the project), we worked on selecting different generations of Seoul based independent art spaces that had a practice particularly focused on emerging forms, artistic debates and the building of a local community of thoughts. Each one of these spaces made a proposal with several of the artists they collaborate with and support, responding to the overall theme of the “other space” (eterotopia) and dwelling into the understanding of otherness, the exploration of minoritarian identities and the imagination of new political and aesthetic relationships. Boan1942 for example is showcasing a multimedia installation by artist Ryu Sungsil, who tackles the relationship between neo-liberalism and the indigenousness of Korea. Post Territory Ujeongguk is presenting an installation by Kang Woohyeok called “Lunar Real Estate '' speculating on the possibility of owning land on the moon—a literal other space— exploring the ambivalent contradiction that thrive within utopian enterprises. These are two of many exciting projects that will be on view. In parallel, I invited five artists to present immersive installations dealing with the same themes. New York based Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani for example, will reenact her work Party on The Caps, a video about the imaginary inhabitants of CAPS, an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where refugees and immigrants “illegally” traversing oceans and borders are interned. All these artistic interventions playfully question the narrow perspectives of normative dominant discourses through an exuberant visual imagery and imbued with humor and magical realism.
What is ‘Proxenia’ and how is it relevant to the project?
In ancient Greece, Proxenia was a social convention through which an important citizen of the city would host foreign ambassadors in order to create cultural exchange. Proxenia is a key value that unfolds as a thread through a number of projects initiated by Gucci. I think it is particularily relevant in this specific project as Gucci is both a guest (of the Daelim museum in Seoul—a location part of the Gucci Places network) and a host (inviting and supporting 10 independent spaces from the city) to enhance exchange, dialogue and cultural collaboration.
What does ‘No Space, Just a Place’ mean to you?
The exhibition is very important to me first of all because it allowed me to meet and work with incredible cultural practitioners. But it also quite a singular experience because it happened at a moment of great uncertainty for humanity, which, in a way prompts even more reflections about alternative modes of being, of consuming and of taking care of our surroundings. Art has the ability to create a point of friction between avant-garde ideas and mainstream distribution. In this sense, art is always one step ahead in terms of social progress or political thinking; it has the ability to coopt ideas that are perceived as “marginal” and to bring them into public consciousness. So I'm happy that this exhibition exists just for that, to plant a seed and maybe create debate, dialogue.