Suhee and I are sitting in the Open Contents Lab, a co-working space in ‘Gangnam’ just now, and somehow I recall seeing Snoop Dogg dancing with a bottle of Soju last night… not sure if that was a dream or the jet lag.
We’ve just returned from Gaeguri’s natural farm where we spent the weekend planting rice by hand (a yearly tradition now, it seems).
The day before the rice planting, I had just arrived in Seoul from Turkey, and again the day before that, I was handing over the keys to my flat in Edinburgh.
Life moves too quickly sometimes.
At any rate, it’s been a while since my last communication and I own an explanation! The last few months in Edinburgh carry with them some exciting news, from shows to residencies to film showings. I’ll work backwards in time then, since that seems to be the easiest way to recall things…
Edinburgh MFA Degree Show
First, after two years, I’m happy to report that I’ve just yesterday been awarded an MFA degree with distinction from the University of Edinburgh’s “Art, Space & Nature” program. Woo! That’s a pretty big thing for me, and a pretty happy thing.
The end of May was the school-wide ‘degree show’ which saw the city descend upon the school to see what students have been up to. The experience of taking part in this was pretty amazing, if even in seeing what an attraction the art college was in this city. In just the first two days of the show, our little Art, Space & Nature studio had around 800 visitors, and a steady stream of people continued during the 10 day run of the show. The art college as a whole was buzzing with all sorts of people from locals to tourists. It was great to see people so engaged, and to have conversations with them about the work we are doing.
Firstly, the Art, Space & Nature crew created a collective piece in our street-facing TENT Gallery space called “Value is a Golden Cloud.” We painted the walls a sparkling golden hue called ‘millionaire’ and after we were done, wondered who on earth would paint anything this color…
In the center of the gallery dropped down golden strings with golden clips attached to the ends. We asked visitors to write what they value on golden leafs of paper and hang them in the cloud. People seemed to love engaging with it, writing, reading others’ comments.
Children looked especially enchanted as the golden cards spun slowly around, reflecting light along the millionaire walls. Conceptually, the work suggests ‘value’ as something which holds a seemingly solid yet always fluctuating definition through our own lifetimes.
We also each had a space to show our individual work during the show, my area consisted of a print of the What is Food: Burger and Cabbage (another print of this is currently hanging in the David Brower Center in Berkeley), and a film/postcard kiosk which showed a selection of short interviews from particularly ‘philosophical’ farmers which I have been spending time working with and interviewing over these past few years of filming and research for the Final Straw documentary.
For the show, these interviews were distilled into ‘essential’ quotes about life, accompanied by visuals. Postcards matching the scenes were made, and to my mixed elation and dismay, they were completely gone by day three of the show. How ecological was it for me to print up another 200 postcards?
In our studio’s black box room, Flavia Salvador and I showed our “Two Islands” video installation. This installation was our way of comparatively using our individual island studies from the past summer, when Flavia was on a small Scottish island of Gigha, and I was on a similarly sized Japanese island called Megijima.
The result is a film-based installation which creates a narrative both within these communities, and across their borders. In the two-channel film piece, Japanese and Scottish island dwellers both respond to questions about sense of place, family, and nature, accompanied by filmed landscapes from the islands showing across from one another.
I like to think of this work as a meditation, since people seem to sit there for half an hour or so and just take all in peace…. although maybe they were sleeping.
Some members from the Scotland/Japan Society also showed up at the Two Islands exhibition and reminded me about a sake tasting which would take place at the Japan Consul General’s residence. I took that opportunity without question, had a wonderful time chatting with delightful people and found out in a blind taste test, that my favorite sake is called “Beautiful Woman.” I think they got that one right.
The Robert Callender Residency
During the degree show, Scottish artist Elizabeth Ogilvie approached me about the work that I have on display and what I’ve been producing over the past few years. She really seemed to enjoy the direction the body of work was heading and I thought, great! Elizabeth herself is a passionate and multi-talented artist working on ecological themes surrounding rather hot topics of water and ice and it was nice to have positive feedback from her.
Later that day Elizabeth phoned me, offering me the Robert Callender Residency for Young Artists Award which will take place partly in Japan next summer, and partly in Scotland in two years. What!? Before leaving Scotland last week, I visited Sea Loft (photo below) for a meeting with Elizabeth and confirmed that I would accept the residency award. It will offer a month residency and exhibition at Contemporary Art Space in Osaka, Japan in 2015, and a similar month at Sea Loft in Fife, Scotland the following year.
The award, commissioned by Lateral Lab, is meant to support each year, one graduating artist from Edinburgh College of Art as well as one from Japan. It happens in the name of Robert Callender, a longtime professor at ECA and an artist who was deeply concerned with issues of our environment during his lifetime. It feels like a tremendous opportunity was given to me, and I absolutely look forward to all of it. More updates as it comes nearer!
Final Straw Screening
Taking things further back, Suhee and I showed the rough cut of Final Straw to faculty members from across the larger University who have been involved with the process at various points, as well as a few artists and students who are working within environmental subject areas.
The positive feedback was great, and far more than we had hoped for at this early stage. Here are a few of my favorites from the comment cards:
“A fascinating journey about how natural farming can connect humans and the rest of nature… some very moving words via interviews”
“I feel excited about approaching food (and life) with greater patience, simplicity, and understanding!”
“I feel like going to a park and eating something outside with my girlfriend”
Work and Residency in Korea
Finally, this brings us here, back to South Korea, where Suhee and I are now preparing final edits of the film, trying to arrange an amazing soundtrack, and also looking at possibilities for a touring schedule for the Final Straw film in the USA and Korea this year.
This also means that I’ve met Suhee’s parents for the first time ever, a rather frightening prospect for me as I have heard stories (and direct lectures) about Korean parents and their wishes for their daughter’s futures — these wishes rarely include a relationship with a foreign homeless artist with no money.
When I left their home today however, the grandmother came out and told me how happy she is and how much she loves me. Well. That’s a good sign, right?
Our work will take place in Seoul this month, and during July and August, we have been accepted as artists in residence at a place called Jageun Jip (Small House), in Daejeon which is an hour or so south of Seoul by train. The residency is kindly being supported by an amazing woman who has taken great interest in our project, so thank you to Gwi-jung Lee for your support!
Through all of this, I feel so very fortunate. First, to live in a world where I can peacefully pursue higher education at all, but also to have had so much support from so many people at all stages. True to the ‘natural farming’ idea, Suhee and I feel that if we are on the right path, we will meet the right people and encounter the least resistance; if we ‘feel’ what we are doing moreso than we contemplatively ‘think’ what we are doing, if we use our ability to tap into our intuition, the path opens much easier. We’re getting better at this, slowly.
My intention the past few years has been 1) To learn about how social and environmental issues can be tackled at the only place they can be truly mended, at the root, and 2) To start propagating and collectively building on this learning using creative means.
I have to say that the Art, Space & Nature program offered a great space to do this, and by space, I mean freedom to explore and the direction and resources to assist this in happening. The experience also offered an amazing opportunity for six individuals from five different countries to work alongside each other for two years, all of us with very similar goals and ideals yet with wildly different practices and approaches. I believe there is an immeasurable amount of value in that, anywhere, in any profession. The chance to work alongside fellow MFA students Flavia Salvador, Javier Vidal, Jonathan Hemelberg, Stephanie Ghetta, Sara Ocklind, and our tutors Ross McLean, Donald Urquhart, and Chris Fremantle, is one I am very grateful for.
For me, the MFA degree means that, even if there are no definitive answers, what I have found is a definitive focus, worked at that focus, and come away with new knowledge and a body of work which has started to edify my experience in the world. With continued work, I hope this focus will be one where I can investigate and accomplish meaningful projects both personally and collaboratively, far into the future.
So, here’s to the far future… and hopefully more blog postings in the not so far future. That’s one thing I certainly haven’t gotten better at, regular blog postings. I’ll try.