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No Space, Just a Place: Eterotopia
Daelim Museum, Seoul
Over the past half a year, the world has invited us to question our own relationship to it and more indirectly to space, to redefine what the personal and private sphere mean as well as to question the paradigm of the world’s political and ecological systems and how they relate us — and, conversely to imagine what alternate realities to all this might look like physically, mentally and metaphorically. The newest Gucci art project, ‘No Place, Just a Space: Eterotopia’ at the Daelim Museum in Seoul — initiated by Gucci Creative Director and A Magazine N°16 curator Alessandro Michele — couldn’t be more appropriate with its challenge to contemplate what these alternatives might be.
The exhibition proposes a definition of an eterotopia, a term borrowed from philosopher Foucault’s concept of an ‘other space’. These ‘other spaces’ are neither good spaces, the utopia, nor bad spaces, the dystopia, but rather sit in an alternative where ethics, aesthetics and humans interact and relate to one another in new — and possibly enjoyable — ways. Curator Myriam Ben Salah invited Seoul’s ‘cultural producers’ from ten independent spaces across the city’s diverse artistic landscape to ask their artists to question and engage with the ‘other’, Their perspectives diverge from the dominant discourse and look to the experience on the margins of society, queer dialogue and exploration of self-expression. Ben Salah also engaged five international artists, not a part of Seoul’s artscape, to offer their perspectives on these themes and to create conversation with local voices. Here Ben Salah explains the exhibition’s development and how ironically fitting its timing is.
BLAKE ABBIE How did you connect with Gucci to start this project?
MYRIAM BEN SALAH I met Gucci’s creative team while I was collaborating with artist Maurizio Cattelan on a project he organized with the brand in 2018 in Shanghai (The Artist is Present). Gucci was also in dialogue with Kaleidoscope, the magazine that I’ve been editing, about collaborations. Then I had the pleasure of meeting Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele in Paris over dinner and got to hear more about his vision and his outlook on creativity. The fact that our paths had crossed multiple times made sense to me as we share a certain taste for going outside the beaten path. He is a punk poet and thinks with the same freedom as an artist and that’s refreshing within the fashion industry. Anyway, the team from Gucci reached out to me to collaborate on this project in Seoul because of my curatorial background working across geographical areas and disciplines, and that’s how it all started.
BA Was Seoul selected prior to your involvement? Did you spend time in the city working on the project?
MBS Korea was sort of a prerequisite as the brand was interested in knowing better and interacting with the cultural scene there. It seemed clear to me that, as an outsider, the most relevant thing wouldn’t be to do something about the Korean scene but really with Korean cultural producers. While researching art practitioners in Seoul before my first visit there, 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. 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 realise the importance of these structures within the local art ecosystem. I only had a chance to visit Seoul once on a research trip but working with local curators gave me a better sense of the scene and was key for the project.
BA How did you work concurrently with Alessandro Michele to develop the theme?
MBS The exhibition is a reflection around 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: a place to build a different, desirable future with new ways for humans to relate to each other and to their surroundings. Alessandro Michele’s work is imbued with elements that relate to that definition; his work for Gucci has been putting the ethical and aesthetic value of the relationships between genres and gender, the urgency of self-expression and an ageless anthropological manifesto at the forefront of fashion. It was interesting to confront his vision to my own ideas about the potentialities of art in terms of social and ethical progress.
One thing that was crucial to developing the themes was also to work with the five artists that I’ve invited to reflect on these same subjects and to propose projects that play both with the near future (which, by definition is an alternative space) and fantastic mythologies that are also an alternative to reality in a way. Meriem Bennani, Olivia Erlanger, Cécile B. Evans, Martine Syms and Kang Seung Lee, all their immersive interventions playfully question the narrow perspectives of normative dominant discourses through an exuberant visual imagery and imbued with humour and magical realism.
BA What was the process of selecting the independent art spaces?
MBS 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.
BA How did you follow along or guide them in the process of building their spaces?
MBS I think the challenge was to gather in one place spaces that are usually scattered throughout the city — each with their very own identity, program and vision — without compromising their uniqueness. We wanted to allow these spaces to exist together, in a cohesive exhibition, without becoming a single entity, while maintaining the idea of multiplicity. We worked with an extraordinary firm of Italian set designers, Archivio Personale who deeply dived into all the projects that we received and thought about the way they could interact within the space of the Daelim Museum. I think we wanted to create dialogues between the projects, visual layerings in the space as well as conceptual interactions between the projects.
BA Looking at how the world is still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, the themes you explore in the exhibition are exceptionally timed, especially with the ability to view the ‘other’ digital space.
MBS I have to say that the pandemic truly shed a new light on the exhibition as many of the subjects that we’ve been dealing with these past months was embedded in the reflection around the show. Experiencing the exhibition from the digital space that is a eterotopia par excellence is quite ironic. Thorough documentation was planned of course, but the 360° digital experience was prompted by the current conditions of being condemned to view art from our computer screens. I truly hope we will be able to be around artworks in physical spaces soon.
‘No Space, Just A Place: Eterotopia’ is showing at the Daelim Museum, Seoul, until July 12, 2020 — or visit it virtually here.
MYRIAM BEN SALAH is a curator and art critic. In charge of special projects and public programmes at Palais de Tokyo from 2009 to 2016 as well as editor-at-large for Kaleidoscope magazine, she’s recently been appointed Executive Director and Chief Curator of The Renaissance Society (Chicago).
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