Walking Through Frieze Film with Curators Sungah Serena Choo and Kim Sung woo
Sep 14, 2023
The Frieze Film Seoul 2023 program has received extensive acclaim for departing from the norm, boldly standing out from typical film programs of commercial art fairs that function more as waystations or brief interludes between gallery booths. What truly sets the Frieze Film apart was its meticulous presentation, spanning four independent art spaces in Seoul's serene Gangbuk area, away from the confines of cramped buildings. The program deliberately opted not to affiliate directly with participating galleries and instead relied on the discerning choices of two prominent curators, Sungah Serena CHOO and KIM Sung woo. Additionally, only local artists were showcased, reflecting Frieze Seoul's innovative approach to seamlessly integrate with the city's distinct artistic ecosystem and its ever-evolving cultural landscape.
Titled It was the Way of Walking Through Narrative, Frieze Film brought together the creative endeavors of fourteen artists. Guided by the two local curators, this program explores the narrativity of video art. The program emphasizes the medium's inherent affinity for “excavation,” uncovering fresh perspectives for appreciating artworks within the dynamic realm of visual arts.
Eazel engaged in an insightful conversation with these curators shortly after the launch of Frieze Film, which commenced a week prior to Frieze Seoul. During the discussion, eazel unearthed the curators' all-encompassing approach, marked by their strong curatorial finesse and a commitment to local artists and the art community.
eazel: This year’s edition of Frieze Film is on view for a longer period of time in more diverse art spaces than last year’s. Were there any particular criteria for choosing these venues?
Choo: International art professionals who visited last year’s Frieze Seoul were curious about independent spaces in the city. Despite this, independent spaces were somewhat isolated from the bigger picture as gallery events were the main attraction. This time around, we thought that it would be good to show more of Seoul’s art ecosystem through the Frieze Film program. In this context, we chose the four independent art spaces as the exhibition venues.
We specifically focused on selecting non-commercial independent spaces active in Seoul. It was important to consider those that had a clear purpose and a strong sense of responsibility towards the larger art ecosystem. Our selections all hold an important position in South Korea’s contemporary art scene. For example, Amado Art Space is among the very few spaces that have been operating for more than 10 years, and Insa Art Space has been supporting experimental art under institutional direction. Since its establishment, BOAN1942 has been a multicultural art platform that accommodates various genres. MOTHER Offline may be an unconventional choice, but it was selected due to being a community space for the younger generations in their 20s and 30s.
eazel: In total, there are various works by 14 artists in the four selected spaces: Amado Art Space, BOAN1942, Insa Art Space, and MOTHER Offline. How were the works chosen and curated in the particular spaces?
Choo: The quality of the work was important, of course, and whether the artist clearly conveyed their intention with the language of their medium or not was a big part of the decision making. Next was the space itself and the aesthetics of installation. This decision was more intuitive. Besides that, we explored the particular relationship between the artworks and the space. For instance, MOTHER Offline is more neutral compared to the other three venues, which allows breathing room between new and previous works by the artist, opening up fresh interpretations. There was also a consideration for the physical layout of the spaces and the ideal flow of the viewing experience.
eazel: For example, the four artists whose films are on view at Amado Art Space, namely HONG LEE Hyun-sook, KWAK So Jin, PARK Sunmin, and PYO Minhong, all present artworks that seem to challenge and broaden human perspectives on certain objects and phenomena. The venue itself, intricately designed as a maze of compact, intimate spaces, adds to the viewing experience as each film becomes akin to a hidden treasure that one must forage to find.
Kim: We opted to utilize the entire first floor of the art space to showcase three works by HONG LEE Hyun-sook. While these pieces were each produced at different points of the artist’s career, they remain connected through her perspective and artistic attitude that have persisted to this day. At first glance, Hong Lee's work may appear to mimic animal behavior and language, but in fact goes beyond mere imitation. Rather, the films embody an “alliance,” reminiscent of Gilles Deleuze's concept of "devenir," which means “to become.” The artist attempts to align her own body with animal behavior, forging a connection in the artwork that encourages contemplation regarding the coexistence of all life forms. This body of work shares an affinity with the pieces created by PARK Sunmin, which employ the ecosystem of mushrooms as an analogy for the interconnectedness of human existence.
In the basement of Amado Art Space, PARK Sunmin’s work is placed before PYO Minhong’s in terms of viewing order for various reasons. While Park's method focuses on a more physical, bodily experience of a world, Pyo’s work is an invitation to a deeply personal realm, allowing for an exploration of intimate sensations. We believed that it would be interesting if these two films could engage in some form of gestural conversation, hence our decision to incorporate some scenes and text from Pyo’s video work as an introductory installation in the space between them. This part of Pyo’s installation thus acts as a bridge connecting the physical sensations of the body to deeper emotions.
Choo: KWAK So Jin's work documents the activities of security guards chasing a flock of crows, the movements of the flock itself, and the process of developing photographs of said flock in a red-hued darkroom. The latter scene is on view at the venue in a similarly designed red room, situated midway between Hong Lee’s and Park's artworks, and functioning as a transition that allows the overall exhibition to flow in a singular sequence. This film is an examination of the visual perception and representation of the color black, depicting black birds, the photographer who separates these birds from the color black in order to record them, and the security guards who, conversely, herd black birds back into the realm of darkness. Kwak’s work offers the possibility to perceive a single subject from entirely different perspectives, a method we believe can be applied when understanding the works of the other three artists as well.
eazel: The Frieze website introduces the Frieze Film program as one that focuses on the narrative qualities of video art. The works on view at BOAN1942 ARTSPACE, made by HAN Uri, KIM Daum, LEE Eunhee, and the Moojin Brothers, are especially good at crafting narrativity through the incorporation of text in the videos.
Kim: BOAN1942 ARTSPACE presents artworks centered around the themes of residency, generations, and aging. The subjects particularly come through in the works of the Moojin Brothers on the first floor and KIM Daum on the second floor. When curating the space for Kim’s work, which addresses housing issues, we wanted to open the venue’s interconnected windows to incorporate the nearby construction sites into the setting for the film. In the end, the incoming light was too strong and created too much interference, so we had to give up on the idea.
Aside from their thematic connection, the video works shown at this space feature extensive usage of cinematic language. This is especially prominent in the works by LEE Eunhee, who explores issues pertaining to the human body and labor through digital media, and HAN Uri, who reinterprets old media. The early films by Kim and the Moojin Brothers also contain heavy instances of cinematic storytelling, thus forming a link with the other works that binds this space together.
Choo: We wanted to make full use of the distinctive structure of BOAN1942 ARTSPACE. A lot of time was spent thinking about how to effectively showcase the contexts, color palettes, and visual aspects of films in the venue’s narrow, interconnected corridors and how to manage the sound using headsets and speakers.
eazel: Insa Art Space introduces three artists – AN Jungju, Omyo CHO, and KIM Hyojae – who each explore reality and the virtual realm. They present works that stimulate the senses, and both An and Cho’s works incorporate the medium of VR.
Choo: Actually, the connection between these three artists was the focus on the body, instead of the medium itself. In the case of Omyo CHO’s work, she explores the disconnection between environments from memory and the current subjective body, based on the possibility of future technology to transmit memories to others. KIM Hyojae’s work Parkour (2021) is a story about the current generation of traceurs who, based on the performative attitude of parkour, fill the video frame through body movements in order to communicate on social media platforms like Instagram or YouTube. AN Jungju’s work heavily emphasizes physical senses beyond sight, to the point where we introduced artists who explore the body as a theme or mode of communication for this space, rather than emphasizing medium-specific connections such as VR.
eazel: We would like to hear more about the arrangement of each space. For example, MOTHER Offine features works by BAEK Heaven, JUN Sojung, and NAM Hwayeon. We were particularly impressed by the way Jun’s video harmonized with the real-life scenery behind the glass window.
Kim: MOTHER Offline looks like a typical exhibition space, but it’s not specifically designed for exhibitions. Not only that, there are many windows throughout the space. Because of this, it was possible to focus more clearly within a defined theme. We curated the space with works by three veteran artists who are fluent in the language of video and have participated in biennales: BAEK Heaven, JUN Sojung, and NAM Hwayeon. Centered around the general theme of memory, their works address both individual and collective memories as well as problems with recording and recollecting, with the intention of prompting reflection on how we perceive and remember the past from the present.
In this space, both the interior and exterior areas are connected through the windows. The light coming in through the windows was too intense, so we deliberately attached dark-tinted film over them. This was done to allow for a view of the outside scenery from within. It was deemed necessary to bring the external scenery seen behind Jun’s work into the space and connect it with the artwork’s imagery. Rather than completely covering it due to the brightness, we opted for a slightly darker tone. This allows for the viewer to experience the seamless integration of Jun’s artwork with the surrounding landscape.
This space features varying heights for the video installations, as well as screens of different sizes. Each artwork was installed in a manner that they do not interfere with each other’s field of view. Viewers can both individually appreciate each piece as well as understand how the artworks as a whole are connected. For example, Nam’s artwork was chosen to be projected onto the largest wall due to the strength of its narrative delivery.
eazel: This year’s Frieze Film explores narrativity in visual arts, particularly within the medium itself. In two-dimensional media, especially painting, narrativity is often expressed through depictions of scenes or through the arrangement of overlaid images, such as collage. How is narrativity expressed within film?
Choo and Kim: In visual arts, film tends to deal with its own materiality within the language of imagery, dealing with elements such as the slipperiness of narrative, collisions between sequences, and the material understanding of each visual image. In light of this, though a narrative may exist, the causality can be unclear and may not progress linearly, and sequences can continue to deviate. These slips and turns contribute to the distinctive narrative quality inherent to film.
Within the visual realm, this narrative quality is not limited to conveying language. It extends inside and outside the screen, slipping and reattaching. Elements of text, sound, and image work separately and simultaneously to create this narrative character in film.
eazel: Thinking back on what you said, in the realm of visual arts, video work often involves nonlinear causality or non-verbal modes of delivery. Why do video art within visual arts approach creating narratives in this way?
Choo and Kim: When it comes to painting, it’s difficult to describe all the expressions within a canvas with words. Visual language clearly encompasses sensations beyond language as text, that is, the senses. It can convey what cannot be communicated by a text-oriented language. We can say that video art is composed of not just a single screen but sequences of multiple screens, both inside and outside of the screen.
KIM Daum’s recent exhibition at Primary Practice (dazzled & muddled, Jun 16 - Jul 29, 2023) consisted of four video segments. Notably, several unseen and unspoken elements exist, which may go unnoticed as they connect between each video projected on the wall. Although it is Kim’s unique methodology, each video in the exhibition should be understood in terms of connection and interaction. The sensation created in the chain of videos, which seems to be lost, can be a form of language, and viewers sense the narrative nature of this work through sensory experience. This is a part that is not recorded in language but can be understood through the senses. This is how visual language operates.
eazel: Frieze Film explores the narrative aspects of video works within visual arts by drawing upon the archaeological concept of "excavation.” Can you provide more insight into your choice to incorporate this concept?
Choo and Kim: We decided to include “excavation” as a methodology for storytelling in this edition of Frieze Film because it goes beyond a verbal concept. It is about modification, evolution, and continuous connections. The excavation of a single image can lead to other images, unearthing different aspects. It is also important to consider the process of excavation from the perspective of the viewer, who experiences the artwork(s) through the exhibition.
Furthermore, aside from the thematic exploration of narrativity within the medium of video, this program functions as a broader form of excavation by introducing Seoul's independent spaces. It encourages viewers to move between four different exhibition venues located throughout Seoul to discover different aspects of contemporary Korean art. We thought deeply about the structure of the exhibition for this purpose, and our curation of the program has been heavily influenced by this idea. We believe that there is much meaning in viewers piecing together these scattered fragments, conducting their own excavations as they navigate Frieze Film.
eazel: Lastly, we are curious about what specific aspects each of you focused on while co-curating Frize Film. How was the overall collaboration between you two?
Choo: In my previous projects, I’ve mainly curated exhibitions that involve interactive media. While film can be considered a somewhat challenging medium, I chose to focus on the medium itself based on my background.
Kim: As for me, I am more interested in visual culture than media theory. Of course, when discussing the language of film, the medium cannot be ignored, but I focused more on the surrounding principles of the medium and the nature of contemporary images while selecting works.
Choo and Kim: Maybe it’s because our perspectives were different, but the overall process of selecting works, choosing the space, and coordinating opinions went quite smoothly. Collaboration allows participants to cover overlooked aspects of each other’s process. Since we already knew of our different styles of curation, we made an effort to respect the individual values that we sought to convey through the planning process. In curations like this, compromise can be unavoidable to stave off trouble, but we were able to trust each other through many aspects of the process. In that sense, this year’s Frieze Film was overall a smooth experience.
Sungah Serena Choo presently holds a position as a curator at the Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul. Meanwhile, Kim Sung woo runs Primary Practice, a curatorial and experimental art space located in Seoul.
Frieze Film was exhibited from August 22 to September 9, 2023, and more information about all the artworks by the artists can be found here.