UKYA South Korea Diaries

From 14-28 November UKYA Staff Michelle and Tina, accompanied by UKYA Ambassadors Liz and Matthew are travelling to South Korea to open up new dialogues and explore potential projects and collaborations. Whilst in Korea they will explore the creative landscape of the region and aim to find appropriate partners, artists and festivals so that we can deliver a showcase of UKYA work in Korea in 2017, and host a showcase of Korean work at our National Festival: Nottingham 2018. Here you can follow the team's updates as they discover arts and culture in South Korea.


The UKYA party with Artist Ambassadors  Liz West and Matthew Atkinson arrive safely in Suwon as guests of ABE. After checking in and enjoying a super lunch, the delegation headed off to Art Space Noon, a self-generated venue which had six spaces each showing the work of Korean artists which have been selected by the directors from sourcing works on the internet. Art Space Noon was the first non government funded space in Suwon, converted from one of the directors homes, such was his passion for supporting young artists to stay in Suwon, and it has become a creative hub for the city. The space also hosts international residencies of urban artists predominately from South America. UKYA left a memory of our visit as we all were asked to complete a picture which will be used to cover the walls of the space as it continues to grow.

This was an interesting session as we learnt about how spaces have been set up in other cultures and how it supports artists to develop their work, creating a legacy for the city.

The last part of the day was spent at a traditional Korean BBQ which was hosted outside the studio of Jeung Lee, a sculptor who is interested in subverting the norm and works out of a half moon sphere on the out skirts of the city. We enjoyed food and Korean beer and soju!....a potent local liquor, and all got to know about K pop!


The morning was spent learning more about the heritage of Suwon by enjoying a traditional martial arts show in the Suwon Fortress. Following lunch we were invited to speak to a group of 12 young korean artists about UKYA, and Liz West and Matthew Atkinson also shared their work and role as Ambassadors. We were then able to hear all about the work from the artists as each artist presented images and spoke about their ideas. We were joined by Bernd Halbherr who is Associate Professor of major Sculpture at Chung Ang University and who will be supporting ABE and UKYA with our joint collaboration. The range of work we saw was amazing and many of the artists were using technology in new and fresh ways. The work was so intrinsic to the Korean Culture and showed a new vision of what they saw their future way of living might be; they were politically connected and much of the work was sparked by both domestic and international affairs and events. We certainly came away feeling that a shared platform of UK and Korean work and collaboration would be invaluable to all artists who participated.


UKYA’s Business Development Manager – Tina Smith headed off on a solo mission to Seoul to meet with the Creative Director of UK/Korea 2017-18 Creative Futures and the Arts Manager for the British Council in Korea.

“Following a long but straight forward journey on the subway from Suwon to the centre of Seoul I arrived for the meeting with an hour or so to spare. Just walking around the streets near to the British Council offices there were numerous galleries dotted around showing both very modern and traditional art. In the space of an hour I’d walked past the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Sejong Gallery, Artside and visited the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum which was buzzing and was exhibiting the work of Nick Knight.

The British Council offices were tucked behind a huge bank head quarters. During the meeting we talked about the UK/Korea 2017-18 Creative Futures programme and lots of exciting partnership opportunities arose – including opportunities to meet with and link with the Seoul Marginalised Theatre Festival and the Seoul Fringe Festival Network. We also discussed how UK Young Artists could link with their Art in Public Space 2017 project.... all of which will be followed up and hopefully provide opportunities for UK artists.

After a quick wander around Deoksugung Palace which was full of bright red autumnal trees and also houses the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art; and a stroll past Cheong-gye-cheon which is currently hosting the Seoul Lantern Festival, I returned back to meet my colleagues to share the exciting leads that had come out of the meeting with the British Council....”

Back in Suwon, Michelle Bowen and artist ambassadors Liz West and Matthew Atkinson were meeting with the Suwon Cultural Foundation where we were able to meet with the General Director and Representative Director where they shared the proposed ABE collaborative project which was very well received. The Suwon Cultural Foundation are very keen on supporting a platform where Korean and UK artists can both show and share work. Some other interesting opportunities arose from the meetings for Liz West whose work they are interested in showcasing as a public realm commission and she was offered a potential show at the Suwon Ipark Museum of Art (which is also a potential venue for a UK Young Artists delegation showcase October 2017). So it was a pivotal day in moving conversations forward and UKYA feel very confident and positive that UKYA will return with artists in 2017 and welcome Korean artists to the East Midlands in 2018.


Our last day in Suwon with ABE before heading into Seoul on Saturday. Today saw us head out of town to an extra-ordinary place for emerging artists to develop their practice, the Gyeong-ggi Creation Centre which is situated close to Ansan. This former college now hosts 40 artists in its own grounds, with canteen, huge live work studios and workshop facilities on site. Here the creatives which include visual artists, writers, curators and performers can develop their practice whilst learning from others, mentoring and opportunies to present and show work as well as engage in public programming and education.

We met several artists in their studios and heard more about the residency programme which is typically one year and of course about their own work.  From here we visited the Gyeonggi-ggi Museum of Modern Art in Ansan which is a new building on two years old. We met one of the curators and toured the two shows, 10 masters and a wonderful show which celebrated ‘space’. Sadly on this site is the memorial hall to the 295 mainly school children who lost their lives at sea when MV Sewol capsized, an issue which for Koreans still feel very raw.

The space with the photographs and mementoes for the lost souls was heart-breaking and makes you realise how quickly life can be taken away. After battling Korean traffic we were back in Suwon and visited a lighting factory, the owner of which is a patron of the arts and interested in supporting Liz West with a commission should this move forward. 


Day Five

After travelling over to Seoul and getting settled into the city, we were ready for our next part of this mission. Monday morning we were met by Jinny who was a representative of the Superior Gallery and she took us over to the Gangnam area city (made famous by Gangnam Style) where we met with the Director of the Art and Culture Division at the gallery headquarters and main space, Kim.

We enjoyed the show which was a selection of Korean Artists working in the USA. Following a working lunch when we discussed the opportunities for collaboration and a UK Young Artists show in 2017 with a focus on Applied Arts.

It was onto our first bus journey for a meeting at Gallery Monotone an analogue photography studio which has a master/apprentice arrangement, which are much more common here than in the UK.  


A free day today and we all went to the four corners of the city to see and learn more. From the bustling market to the Zaha Hadid designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza, this is a city where you can find anything! 


On day seven the director of the Superior Gallery was kind enough to show us the contemporary gallery and we saw some interesting work at the PKM gallery Hyundai, Kukje Gallery and a wonderful new photography show by Erwin Olaf at Gallery K.O.N.G as well as many others.

Laura Evans