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Exhibition visit: Disruptive Drinking and Creative Curating at the RCA

Sunae Kim shows off one of her punch bowls
Sunae Kim shows off one of her punch bowls

When you’re invited to a session of disruptive drinking, it’s hard to refuse. And that was what was promised in Sun Ae Kim’s invitation to her stall at the Royal College of Arts Biennial Research Exhibition. Disruptive? Well, there were certainly some surprises.

Some of Sunae Kim's drinking vessels
Some of Sunae Kim’s drinking vessels

First of all the exquisite ceramic vessels we were offered to drink out of. Some of them simple and restrained; others which sat beautifully in the palm of the hand, the texture of the pottery like an eggshell demanding that you gently rub your thumb against it as you sip your soju; some richly glazed punch bowls; and some extravant fantasies which weren’t really made to be drunk out of at all. Full of holes and slits, these were inspired, said Kim, by 18th century English drinking vessels designed for drinking games: the idea was to drink as much as you could without getting soaked by all the leakages.

Beer jelly
Who could refuse this offer of beer jelly?

If the vessels were surprising, the drinks were even more so: a semi-sweet, semi-bitter beer jelly, floating in a shallow foaming measure of the more liquid stuff. A confection of which Heston Blumenthal himself would be proud, and it worked very well in one of those simple straight, upright goblets which would serve as minimalist egg-cups. Other drinks on offer were, of course, soju, plus a punch designed for sharing.

Sunae Kim's soju cups
These very generously sized soju cups cried out to be picked up and turned around in your hand. And used.

And the research element? Sunae is obviously a very talented ceramicist, but her business card describes her also as a Thinker. When not working at her potter’s wheel she is researching into university drinking culture in the UK. “Didn’t we all do that?” you might quip, but there is a seriousness to her researches, and a practicality which arises from them – witness the cultural references in her playful leaking bowls. Definitely disruptive.

Hyukgue Kwon with his curation of donated objects
Hyukgue Kwon with his curation of donated objects

And the other side of the exhibition space, Hyukgue Kwon was exploring another element of disruption, trying to create order out of chaos. His project was to curate an exhibition out of objects donated completely at random by friends and acquaintances.

Hyukgue Kwon's display
Hyukgue Kwon’s display

A French oboe nestled snugly in its case, in front of which was carefully placed a claw hammer, now indelibly linked to everyone’s favourite Korean film, but beside which was a DVD of the restrained and yearning In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai.

A respirator mask on an oboe concerto...
A respirator mask on an oboe concerto…

A respirator mask was placed on a score of the concerto assembled for Evelyn Rothwell, one of Britain’s finest oboists of the 20th Century, by Arthur Benjamin – a concerto which itself was a curation and arrangement of themes from 18th Century composer Domenico Cimarosa.

The score on one trestle table was balanced by the instrument on the other; a builder’s tape measure rising vertically out of a German textbook was balanced by a dressmaker’s tape measure carefully laid on the boundary of the space; and small rolls of balanced precariously on the edge of a shelf or on the edge of a table.

Oboe, hammer and DVD together in the arrangement
Oboe, hammer and DVD together in the arrangement

To create a harmonious and interesting composition from such disparate elements is no mean achievement. But this is an exercise in disruption: and to challenge the curator even more, he will be inviting guest curators to rearrange the same assortment of objects into a completely new display every day or so – a meta-curation, if you like. So if you come back in a day or so, you’ll see a different exhibition, fully in harmony with the disruptive theme of the RCA’s project.1

Disruption, the RCA Biennial Research Exhibition 2013, ends on 27 January 2013.

  1. And if you come back next year, I’ll have got myself a decent pocket camera. My apologies to the artists for the graininess of these photos. []

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