Saturday, December 15, 2007

Portrait of foreign artist in Korea, 2007 - performance and installation by Penelope Thompson

On Tuesday, December 11, I presented the opening performance for an international group exhibition in Ulsan, Korea.
The group is called I.C.C. - International Creative Community - founded in 2006 by Australian artist Lainie Cooper and Korean artist Kim Chang han. I joined the group a few months ago, as I had not been involved in the Ulsan arts scene previously and I liked the strong Aussie connection.

The title for the exhibition is 'Impressions from Afar - A Visitor's Perspective', and it will continue at the Bukgu Culture & Arts Center, in Ulsan until December 20, 2007. All the contributing artists were asked to create artworks based on their impressions of a foreign country, so the Korean artists exhibited works based on their overseas travels to countries such as India , Australia or Africa, and the foreign artists created works based on their experiences in Korea. Some Australian ICC member artists sent over work based on their cultural exchange trip to Korea in June 2007.

For this exhibition I decided to prepare an installation and performance similar to my very first art performance in Korea (Portrait of a foreign artist in Korea') that I did in Sungsan Art Hall, Changwon in February 2004. Click here to see 2004 performance .

The reason I chose to revisit this theme is simple - being an artist for a foreigner like me in Korea is still technically illegal under immigration law. It's a Catch 22 situation - there are no visas available for self-funded artists to stay in Korea, (only short 6 month Arts & Entertainment visas for entertainers sponsored by large companies), so to live here and experience Korean culture and make art, I have to remain an English teacher, but on an E2 teaching visa I am actually not allowed to partcipate in any other activities, even as a volunteer!

There was big kerfuffle last year when some Busan teachers put on a play for the foreign community and were subsequently raided by the police, arrested, and threatened with deportation. So it came as a shock for me to realise that three and a half years after my initial artwork on this theme, as a foreign artist I am still dealing with the same immigration status issue, long working hours as an English teacher, less than ideal living conditions, and little time to make art. Although I worked very hard to secure a higher level university teaching job that promised short hours and long vacations, those conditions failed to materialise.... It seems like it's time for a new plan of action.

In my performance, I begin zipped up inside a large suitcase and emerge to the ringing of an alarm clock. I hang the clock on the wall in a prominent position.
Then, I pull out a painting from the suitcase of an Australian native bird that I painted in Australia several years ago, and brought with me when I came to Korea. This painting shows the bird extending its wings while its feet are still firmly on a branch of a dead tree.

I contemplate the painting, open a new sketchbook, and sharpen a pencil.

But a quick glance at the clock shows me it is time to prepare for my teaching job. So I put on my white shirt and formal black suit, covering up my comfortable colorful clothes, then zip up some hard black boots and proceed to teach an English lesson to the audience.

I pull out a whiteboard marker and draw an equals sign next to the clock on the wall.

I ask the "class" to guess which common English expression regarding time I am trying to demonstrate. When I stick a 10,000 won note after the = sign the message is clear - "time is money". I ask the class to practice the saying with great enthusiasm, and then my English class is over.

Returning to the suitcase, I remove my teaching costume and begin to place the clothing very carefully on the hanger, arranging it so it looks like a person might still be inside. I take the whiteboard marker and quickly sketch a self-portait of my face in the sketch book. I tape this picture to the coathanger holding the suit of clothes, and arrange the boots so they stand to attention underneath the hanging skirt.
The final touch is to add lipstick to my self- portrait.

Then with more energy, I unwrap a new large paintbrush and a tub of red paint and paint a thick line through the "time is money" - blotting out the clock, the = , and even the 10,000 won note.
I write graffiti in large red letters on the wall - ART IS LIFE!.

Finally, smiling, and with brush and paint in hand I leave the scene of the crime!

Here's the video of the performance:

Note for those in Korea:
You can see the exhibition (free entry) at Bukgu Culture & Arts Center Gallery, 1010 Saneopro, Bukgu, Ulsan until Dec. 20. Gallery enquiries Tel: 052-219-7400
Membership of I.C.C. is open to any emerging or established artists of any nationality who are interested in cultural exchange. Please contact Kim Chang Han: Tel: 018-591-3338

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Elements#2 - Goryeong International Performance Art Festival 2007

I was invited to the Goryeong International performance Art Festival in central Korea for the second time on October 20, 2007.There were several performance artists from countries including Japan, Australia, and Korea.

My performance title was "The Elements#2" - in which I made art using only the four elements of fire, earth, water and air.
This was a site specific performance and my performance area was a lovely stone sculpture set in the garden of the Goryeong Artists' Village.

At first I set up 4 glass cups, and added to each cup one of the elements - some rainwater, a burning candle, some air, and some earth from the surrounding garden.

I then proceeded to make an origami box from a large piece of paper.

When my paper-folding was complete I inflated the paper box with my breath (air).

I then mixed the earth and water together to make a painting medium.

With a calligraphy brush I painted ancient alchemical designs representing each of the 4 elements on the sides of the box.

These traditional symbols are based on the form of the triangle - a point-up triangle for fire, point-down for water etc.

To end the performance, I took fire from the candle flame and burned the box to ashes, and doused the smouldering remains with water - thus completing my use of the elemental quartet.

You can watch a 5 minute video below:

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Goyang International Sculpture Symposium, Korea - 'The Beauty Myth', opening performance

On October 2, I was invited as a foreign artist to make an opening performance for the 3rd Annual Goyang International Sculpture symposium. Goyang is located in the north-western part of Korea, close to the border with North Korea. The city is newly affluent and has set out to provide a special focus on culture and arts for its citizens, including an enormous and beautiful lakeside sculpture park. This sculpture symposium invited many renowned Korean and international sculptors, who spent 2 weeks creating large permanent sculpture works for the lakeside park.

I chose to perform 'The Beauty Myth' again here because of the 'body as sculpture' aspects of this performance art piece. This performance was similar to previous performances of 'The Beauty Myth' , except for a new ending. I had been researching images of the goddess in different cultures and I had been intrigued by Kali, the dark-skinned Indian goddess of power, life and death.

The ferocious energy of Kali seemed to be the perfect counter-balance to the passive stillness of the white-robed statue woman in the first part of the performance. So when the woman tires of performing as the "beautiful object" and goes within,
she gathers all her repressed energy and emerges as a wild, black-clad, empowered woman. She wields a knife in one hand and the blonde hairpiece like a severed head in the other. This symbolizes killing off the old self, and cutting the ties that bind her to the old ways.

To end the performance she silences the ringing alarm clock with a single thrust of the knife, to show that she has conquered time.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chungju International Performance Art Festival, Korea

On Wednesday, September 12, I travelled to Chungju City to take part in the Chungju International Performance Art Festival.

The venue was a traditional old Korean building and there were many schoolchildren in attendance as there was also an art competition for the students to paint or draw the performance artists.

My performance was 'The Beauty Myth', which I had previously performed in 2005 at the Seoul Experimental Art Festival. This performance shows an image of a woman passively waiting to be rewarded for conforming to society's ideal of beauty.

Her style combines elements from classical sculpture of female form, the traditional white wedding dress and modern fashion magazine ideals of beauty.

She is watched by a man who gives her gifts of balloons, which she blows up but which burst or fly away. In this way the artist is questioning the real value of rewards received by women for conforming to the ideals of the “Beauty Myth”.

Finally, the woman chooses to emerge from her restrictive costume, and the performance of 'The Beauty Myth' is over.

After the performance the schoolchildren pulled out their sketchpads and paints.

There were hundreds of children painting or drawing their favorite performance artists for the art competition.You can watch a short video of the children painting here:

The "lady in the white dress" was a popular subject!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

'Treasure' an artists' book by Penelope Thompson

I recently finished an 'artists' book' for an exhibition in Australia - the annual BOOKS.07 'works of imagination' invitation exhibition held at the Noosa Regional Gallery, Queensland, Australia. The theme for this year's exhibition was "the search for the impossible".

I chose to explore the universal human search for treasure and I created a small treasure chest with many compartments. Inside the compartments I placed different objects such as coins, maps, pearls inscribed with text and these became the "pages" of my book.

My artwork may not resemble a book at first glance, but when we consider the dictionary definition of a book is "a collection of pages, bound or unbound, contained within a cover so as to form a material whole" it is most certainly an artists' book (which may sometimes be called a bookwork).
The title of the work is simply treasure 'Treasure' and it is intended to be handled as an interactive artwork that progressively reveals its meaning to the viewer.
The first level consists of an antique world map with the "X" marking the spot of treasure - on a mirror, so the viewer will see a self-reflection within the treasure map.

The second level contains gold coins, each inscribed with a word. Together these coins spell out the proverb "all that glitters is not gold".

There is also a small folded parchment - which includes the words "seek and ye shall find".

Then, upon opening the third level - the viewer will discover a string of pearls each bearing a subtly marked word; "Be", "here", and "now" repeating in order over and over again - like prayer beads.

You can see a short video of the "Treasure" chest being opened and closed below.
Treasure - an artists' book by Penelope Thompson

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Lake of Dreams" performance - 'Right time' Performance Art Festival, Goryeong, Korea

On June 16 I was invited to Goryeong in central Korea to do an outdoor performance. This new performance was entitled 'Lake of Dreams'.

I commenced by walking across the grassy space dragging a black box tied to me with a hemp rope. Jangling temple bells hung from my shoulder and I played a single breathy note on a flute.

With ritual-like movements I set up a traditional Korean table and placed various small, symbolic objects on the table top.
I folded a Korean 1000 won note into an origami paper boat and then poured water until the table top became like a miniature lake, with the objects submerged and the money boat floating.

Three rounded stones were stacked in the center of the 'lake' like an island or a traditional Korean Buddhist stone cairn.

I played a single note on the flute, making the wind from the instrument cause the boat to sail around the lake.

Finally, I walked away playing a melody -
leaving the box and the objects in the lake behind me.