In his seminal text, The Politics of Friendship, Jacques Derrida delivers a strange and provocative address: “O, my friends, there is no friend.” Directed toward Aristotle, the phrase recalls the myriad ways in which all oppositional ‘couples’ of Western philosophy and political thought – namely, friendship and enmity, private and public life, authority and subordinate – have become dizzyingly unstable. And the only way to find stability, and ingrain it in politics, is to establish a “future of friends”, a radically new system of a deeper and more inclusive democracy.
This frame of thought stands as the jumping off point for SongEun Artspace’s latest group exhibition, 'Delfina in SongEun: Power play', which, through humour, subversion and provocation, explores the future(s) of friendship and the structures it permeates. Beyond any innocent or whimsical views of friendship and friendliness, the exhibition looks at the complex relationships between individuals, institutions and the state, highlighting and further emanating the unique art-centred relationships that the Korean gallery and London’s Delfina Foundation propagate.
Jaebum Kim & Lantian Xie, "Party", 2018, installation, portable stage, detritus, deck of Uno cards Variable dimensions. Image courtesy of the artist and SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation.
Describing themselves as “a house – or more appropriately, a home where over 300 artists from around the world have been hosted in residence over the last eleven years in partnership with SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation, Mondriaan Fund and other international organisations”, the Delfina Foundation keeps at its core the notion of cultural exchange, of leaving one’s home to live, work and share ideas in another place. This group exhibition is a collaborative endeavour, adapting SongEun’s annual programme of country-specific exhibitions which invites a series of guest curators. This year, Delfina’s director, Aaron Cezar, has been asked to curate a show that considers his Foundation as an autonomous domain with its artists as temporary residents. Ten former residents have thus been invited to participate, featuring solo and newly commissioned collaborative artwork.
Ala Younis, "Tin Soldiers", 2010-2012, book and exhibition project, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation.
Derrida’s work reminds that there are problematic links between friendship, control, citizenship and democracy. According to the philosopher, the power that is at play in different relationships calls for a perpetual rearrangement, whether this relates to individuals, institutions or the countries they call home. As such, 'Power play' demonstrates the different strategies that artists use to interrogate friendship and its political configurations. Between the personal and the communal, man and nature, artists and their audiences, nations and their inhabitants, the exhibition probes into the volatile and ever-shifting intricacies that make up contemporary ‘friendships’.
Jungju An, "Harmony at the Arch (Marble Arch in London)", 2018, single channel video, 3'5". Image courtesy of the artist and SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation.
The show features Soyoung Chung’s site-specific installations, Island for fishermen and Island for Women. Implementing bronze, video, acrylic and paraffin wax between the two, the artist questions the “politics of space” and what she calls history’s “indeterminacy”. Island for Women, for example, features a series of fragmented wax sculptures made from volcanic rocks and buoys. Installed within a transparent cubicle structure, the figures represent a three-dimensional map of the sea and depict how perceptions of nature can be easily manipulated by humans and their personal agendas. The artist states: “I had this idea by looking at one distant rock on the sea – it seemed to change its position little by little everyday due to the vastness of the sea and the tidal difference; yet, it seemed to move like the moon seems to follow us in the sky. Maybe this altered perception would explain the gap between the current geo-political reality and the mythical world of Ieoh-do – or more broadly, our own lives”.
Soyoung Chung, "Island for Women", 2018, acrylic panel, paraffin wax, 150 x 150 x 94 cm. Presented with support from Gapado Artist in Residence, Hyundai Card. Image courtesy of the artist and SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation.
Along a similar vein, the installation and performance work of Bona Park questions familiar social systems by shedding light on the systems of labour within them. Her piece Good Neighbors thrives by generating confusing and uncomfortable situations, “upending the boundary between art and daily life” and calling for a mass re-definition, and re-distribution, of power."
Stemming from the recent protests against Yemeni refugees in Korea, Good Neighbors explores the social rigidity that is created by hierarchical relations. Approaching the installation-performance, audiences first encounter an invigilator, resting their chair and surveying the exhibition; but rather than playing a passive role, the attendant has been given the power to decide when to hide or reveal additional elements of peace. While the work attempts to shift the familiar power structures that exist within galleries and museums, it is only temporal, revealing the fragility of prescribed social orders.
Bona Park, "Good Neighbors", 2018, installation and performance, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation. All rights reserved.
Inside the exhibition, viewers are also confronted by Shezad Dawood’s single-channel video, Towards the Possible Film (2014). The piece departs from friendship and power dynamics in the traditional politicised sense, opting, instead, for a study of parallel universes – and “the sparks that fly when worlds collide”. The video opens with two alien astronauts materialising on a red, rocky shoreline. Blinded by the light and feeling their way around the “sensory contours of this strange new landscape”, they are confronted by the harsh, unsuspecting glare of the local inhabitants. The slow, tense standoff between the visitors and those who “belong” to the space evoke pivotal moments in history when isolated civilisations make first contact with their colonisers.
Shezad Dawood, "Towards the Possible Film", 2014, single channel video, 19'29". Co-commissioned by Delfina Foundation and Film Video Umbrella. Image courtesy of Shezad Dawood and LUX, London. Image courtesy of the artist SongEun Art and Cultural Foundation.
At once starkly critical, playful and grim, 'Delfina in SongEun: Power play' is a collaborative effort to re-negotiate the terms of friendship, to call out the inherited systems of hierarchical bias, to dismantle the unfavourable histories of oppression and to rebuild sociable, professional, ecological and geographical relationships without hindering preconceptions.
'Delfina in SongEun: Power play' is on display from 30 August to 1 December 2018 at SongEun ArtSpace, 6 Apgujeong-ro 75-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06011 Korea.
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Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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