Exhibition visit: the 5th Sasapari exhibition – Map the Korea – at the Bargehouse

Every year the big group exhibition by Korean artists in London seems to get bigger and more ambitious. After a first event in New Malden in 2007, its home for the four most recent shows has been the Bargehouse by the OXO Tower, a large and semi-derelict space with plenty of nooks and crannies to exhibit. It comes with a hefty price tag to hire, which is why the exhibition only lasts a few days.

When there are 64 artists to digest, you really need a few visits to do the show justice, but there’s not the time. But here’s the memories we took away this time after a couple of quick tours of the building.

E, E and a balloon-clad visitor in their performance at Sasapari 2012
E, E and a balloon-clad visitor in their performance at Sasapari 2012

The most obvious thing that was new this year was the performance from E E which was the centrepiece of the opening night’s events – their trademark blend of Mac-controlled video and noise combined with enigmatic live performance. In a previous gig at the KCC the performers had worn traditional Hahoe masks or a yangban’s horsehair hat, while one had sported a massive phallus of the sort you might expect in Aristophanic comedy. This time, one E fiddled with his controls dressed in a mask and a black and red jumpsuit while the other E sat in a chair covered by a red sheet. A curious visitor clad in balloons came to join them (no phallus this time), while a soundtrack of excerpts from a programme about ageism in the BBC was played. I don’t think I was alone in not having a clue what was going on, but maybe we weren’t meant to. That’s the fun of events like this.

Hur Shan: Spilt sprout (2012), from the Find the Sculpture project
Hur Shan: Spilt sprout (2012), from the Find the Sculpture project (image credit www.shanhur.com)

Upstairs, the artworks had expanded to occupy another floor of the building. Many artists were familiar from previous years, and many more new artists clamoured for attention. Some works grabbed the attention, while others were designed to blend into the background. One work consisted of a roll of rubber sheet (we weren’t sure whether we were allowed to walk on it or not), while another looked like work-in-progress spread out on the floor for further consideration. And Hur Shan went out of his way to hide his work – tiny bronze sculptures painted to look like rubbish: a ripped styrofoam cup or an overturned hyacinth bulb.

Jung Yun Roh: I Am A ... (2011)
Jung Yun Roh: I Am A ... (2011) (Image credit www.jyroh.com)

There seemed to be less video work this year. Jiwon Yun had a work of street kids playing football with a sculpture of his own head (Play, 2008) – an extension of his work last year, when he displayed a series of such sculptures made of pine pollen powder, rice powder and glucose – designed to rot and decay over a period of time. Another seemed to play with the Korean obsession with fishtanks; a third had footage of New York traffic seen through a doorway while a two more focused on scribbles: an artist scrawling on his own back with a marker pen (Yoonsuk Choi, Making Ballad from Scratch (2011)), and a hand owned by someone of uncertain sexuality nervously scribbling, crossing out, then scribbling again that (s)he could be straight, bi or alternatively gay (Jung Yun Roh, I Am A … (2011))

Yun-Kyung Jeong: Infinite Garden (2010)
Yun-Kyung Jeong: Infinite Garden (2010) (Image credit www.4482.info)

There was also work to relax with – work you would be happy to see on your own wall. Joohee Chun’s work is always a favourite of mine, while Yungkyung Jeong’s work is growing on me – I like it more each time I see it: Escher-style constructions which seem to have been taken over by forests of foliage or feathers.

Chinwook Kim: Inside and Outside of Landscape 17 (2011)
Chinwook Kim: Inside and Outside of Landscape 17 (2011) (Image credit www.4482.info)

Chinwook Kim has been another frequent exhibitor at 4482. His intricate fantasy compositions recall the fairytale style of Arthur Rackham. Chanhyo Bae‘s contribution had an added macabre twist this year. His work consists of carefully staged self portraits of him in an elaborate fairy tale or period costume. His new work had him posing as Ann Boleyn, with a tell-tale scar on his / her neck suggesting that her head had been stitched back on.

Joy Jo: Portrait of Love (2011)
Joy Jo: Portrait of Love (2011) Image credit www.joyjo.com

Most of the artists mentioned above have been showing in the Sasapari exhibition for a couple of years, or even since the beginnings. It takes a while to get to notice and then begin to get familiar with a particular artist’s work. But sometimes a newcomer can catch your attention too. This year, it was Joy Jo’s colourful, thickly layered paintings which announced themselves, and I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Soonhak Kwon: History of Bargehouse (2012) (installation view)
Soonhak Kwon: History of Bargehouse (2012) (installation view)

Two other works stick in the memory: Soonhak Kwon’s large format photographs of the venue, taken before the hanging of the exhibition, captured the bleakness of the place. And looking at it when the gallery was deserted it was as if you were looking at an optical illusion, uncertain whether you were seeing a mirror or a window. Je Baak displayed a new strand of work, moving on from video. His latest works, entitled Petitio Principii, looked like a Mondrian painting trapped in a kaleidoscope.

Je Baak: Petitio pincipii (2012) (left)
Je Baak: Petitio pincipii (2012) (left)

Each year the Sasapari exhibition seems to be more slickly organised. This year special mention should be given to the design of the catalogue, into which much care and attention had been invested. When there’s so little time to get round all the artists, it’s good to have a such a well-produced souvenir to help remind you of their work.

Photos by LKL except where credited otherwise

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