I realized I should probably document my glorious vacation as well as I can, for posterity and all that jazz. So: a belated account of my first day in Gwangju!
After an afternoon to rest up and dry off in my motel room, Day 1 of the Glorious Vacation was spent on a museum binge. The Gwangju Museum of Art, The Gwangju Folk Museum, and the Gwangju Biennale (some kind of international art exhibit; apparently there are Biennales in other cities but Gwangju is the first I've ever heard of one) are all next to each other, so I hit all three in one go!
The first one was the Gwangju Museum of Art, which I think I accidentally snuck in without paying the 500 won entrance fee. My bad! The three main exhibits were: a variety of Chinese artists ranging from standard to kind of modern/avant garde; three kinda weirder Chinese artists; a Zainichi (Japanese of Korean descent) artist named Lee Ufan who is THE MOST BORING ARTIST WHO EVER ARTED. I still don't get modern art, you guys.
A whole gallery full of that. I just...what? It would be neat wallpaper or fabric, but framed art? Seriously?
The best part of that exhibit was the little biographical placque about the fellow who donated most of these
I LOVE KONGLISH, YOU GUYS. I love how dramatic and pseudo-poetic this sounds in English because I can pretty much guarantee this is a word-for-word translation, with only word order changed (for the sake of grammar). Occasionally when Jong-min translates snippets of Korean subtitles in American news stories back into English, they sound more or less like the above—and it's not because Jong-min speaks weirdo quasi-archaic English.
There were some really cool art pieces too, that appealed to my more conservative, representationlist tastes. I really liked one that included a link to their blog right in the painting. How Andy Warhol of them!
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to get a Chinese-speaking friend to translate it for me.
Here's the painting in particular that I liked:
Someone can earn all of the gold stars by telling me what the character in the painting means/represents!
Alas, finding anything else online seems to tax the limits of Google Image Search. They will just have to stay burned in my memory forever! (Because I forgot to put my memory card in my camera, d'oh!)
I wandered outside the art museum and followed the signs to the Gwangju Folk Museum. I love the Folk Museums in Korea, they're kind of tacky (and frightening, if you include some of the badly-stuffed animals....somehow weasels get the worst of it) but they're still pretty neat. I love old school museum dioramas and a Folk Museum is always, basically, a giant diorama. The best part was a display of all the different traditional Jeolla dishes, which was adorable and also kind of redundant. If I had to summarize the provincial cuisine in four words, those words would be: PICKLE ALL THE THINGS.
Also (and I'm glad I still had my notebook with me wherein I noted the most hilarious/interesting/appalling things) there was a mat made from human hair. I can't imagine reclining on a cushion lined with hair from my own head, but then people shed SO MUCH it would be a waste not to use it for something "back in the day."
I still had plenty of time to kill before typical museum closing time, so I decided to cough up the 14,000 won (expensive, considering the last two museums were 500 won each) for the Biennale. It was a mix between really cool concepts and a bunch of hyper-academic nonsense. There were two installations in particular that I really liked.
The first was by a Mexican artist named Pedro Reyes, called "Imagine." I guess it would qualify as performance art? He collected like 1,200 unused weapons and, working with a whole team of people, turned them into musical instruments, The installation had a couple of the instruments on display, as well as a couple movies running simultaneously: one being the construction of the instruments and the other being performances on the instruments. They did a pretty cool version of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and, of course, "Imagine." Here's the guys just jamming out:
pedro reyes: imagine - musical performance from designboom on Vimeo.
The other one was called "The Shoes Diary: Adidas Tragedy Series" by Agung Kurniawan, from Indonesia. He did a small series of reconstructing Adidas shoes (there's a pretty big Adidas factory in Indonesia, apparently?) to make them really uncomfortable (in addition to painting designs) and had people wear them. The discomfort was to remind the wearer of all the trials and tribulations that political/civil rights activists go through. He expanded it for the Biennale; his whole space was set up to look like a shoe store, and a TV in the corner played a video of his original demonstration of the piece back in whenever. There were a few different violent political activism incidents made into a different shoe (Gwangju, of course, was one of them; Libya, China, Egypt, and Cambodia were included as well). Both the shoes and their box were altered, ie the Chinese sneakers had the outline of a tank.
I GUESS I LIKE THE COMMODIZATION OF TRAGEDY AS WELL AS A CLEVER WAY TO REMIND US COMFORTABLE RICH PEOPLE WHAT THE COST OF OUR CHEAP DISPOSABLE GOODS IS. Or something.
There were four massive galleries in all, so by the time I left it was near closing time and also definitely very dark. After a long, uncomfortable bus ride back to my motel, I scrubbed off in a jjimjilbang and had some ramen. Back at the motel, I had the worst time falling asleep because OMG ELECTION NIGHT OMG OMG, it was like going to bed on Christmas Eve except that you might end up with a whole truck full of coal instead of any presents. But hurrah, my anxiety was unfounded!