(Written on the plane back from Seoul)
Today was going to be a busy one. Having made the appointment before realising that my flight, although leaving on the 2nd, was actually just after midnight on the 1st (which meant I was actually leaving a day earlier than I had thought), it was the fullest day you could imagine before heading for the airport.
First thing, after packing and checking out, I headed straight for the National Museum of Korea to buy some books on Korean ceramics. It was closed yesterday so today was my last chance! Last time I came to visit I was in a rush to make another appointment so had not time to check out the literature, and given that researching Korean ceramics was one of my main reasons for coming here, I feel some reading material would be a good thing once I’m home.
So, books in bag, I headed off to meet KyungWon. I must say I did spend a fairly large percentage of the day on trains. Seoul is massive, and getting around on the train takes a good while wherever you are going, and Icheon is actually a town well outside of Seoul. So we caught many trains and taxis today!
Icheon is actually one of the three ‘pottery towns’, Sugwang-ri, Sindun-myeon, Saeum-dong, and, together with Yeoju, it is equivalent to the 6 pottery towns that make up Stoke on Trent.
It is also home to Gyenog-gi International Ceramic Bienniale, one of the most famous ceramic events on the calendar. As a result, there is a massive site with several huge buildings that have been constructed over the past 10 years to house the Bienniale, the Permanent Collection and three temporary exhibition spaces. It also has a residency programmes for emerging ceramic artists housed in two well equipped, spacious buildings.
Jung Eun Han was the focus of our visit and has a studio there as an artist in residence. I was drawn to Jung Eun’s work when Kyung Won included her on the list of suggestions for the show – actually it is farily unforgettable, given that she makes large ceramic seats in the shape of bananas and quirky faces.
She showed us around. The two exhibitions I saw were excellent and I recognized many familiar artists from around the world whose work is in the collection and was part of one of the temporary exhibitions, Painting in Clay. What a luxury to be able to go through the archive and just pick world-class pieces to show as part of an exhibition.
I quizzed Jung Eun about how the residency programme works here. The main building for AIRs it turns out is quite tightly controlled and rather restrictive. It is extremely competitive to be selected, and seems to be a good place to start off after graduating. The emerging artists have one year and are paid a small stipend and have free studio space and firings. The main sticking point is that they are expected to be present from 10-6 every day and they are working in a situation where visitors can stroll past and watch – gives me a slightly weird feeling of being on display, perhaps? The artists who stay on for another year (Jung Eun is one) have much more freedom to do what they want and have really great spaces in a different building. Again, free firings, which is fantastic and low rent.
The best thing about this place must be when the Bienniale happens. I can just imagine how it must come alive with amazing art and artists, events, visitors. The whole complex is full of evidence of a rich ceramic tradition. Be nice to be there for that sometime. Even better to be in it!
After that several more trains back into Seoul and then a farewell dinner to say goodbye to Won, who has been a most excellent and conscientious host and has really gone out of her way with typical Korean hospitality in taking me to meet so many artists and exhibitions and ceramic institutions over the past 3 weeks. Next time we meet it will be in Brighton!