There is a tried and true Irish myth-lore that goes “when you want to be the career-man then you will find a ladder in your travels… at the top of the ladder will be a noose.”
On Friday night, April 15 at Laughing Tree Gallery along the up-top on the dung slope drag of Haebangchon, another expat in Seoul culture project was launched: Concrete Experience. It defines itself as,
Concrete Experience is a journal of contemporary photography and creative writing, published quarterly and aimed at pushing innovation in the way we think about the world around us through carefully curated interactions between diverse approaches to a common theme.
Three cheers to that as I dropped a business card from BestCheapAirTravel into page 59 of Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and closed it.
Laughing Tree Gallery is a fun place and the hosts of these art soirées always spread out cheese and wine to whomever shows up. Inside the small gallery the company keeping was not the expats in Paris of, “The Lost Generation.” I didn’t chat with “Spider Kelly” about boxing, nor with “Robert Cohn” about very poor first novels. There might have been a “Lady Brett Ashley” on hand, though she was not much of a drinker like the original was. There certainly was more than one “Frances Clyne”—a manipulative status seeker in the hot-house, but not one broken tooth prostitute with charisma in the gallery. And yet at the end of the night, I didn’t have as dreadful a night as could have been banked on.
In the following days I promised myself that no matter how much of a usual suspect expat production Concrete Experience is, that I would not stain the review page with the word “pretension.” In fact before seriously opening Concrete Experience, I wanted to be in the most favorable disposition to the whole art business so I downloaded Oscar Wilde’s, “Lecture to Art Students.” Here is a passage:
Now, as regards the relations of the artist to his surroundings, by which I mean the age and country in which he is born. All good art, as I said before, has nothing to do with any particular century; but this universality is the quality of the work of art; the conditions that produce that quality are different. And what, I think, you should do is to realise completely your age in order completely to abstract yourself from it; remembering that if you are an artist at all, you will be not the mouthpiece of a century, but the master of eternity, that all art rests on a principle, and that mere temporal considerations are no principle at all; and that those who advise you to make your art representative of the nineteenth century are advising you to produce an art which your children, when you have them, will think old-fashioned. But you will tell me this is an inartistic age, and we are an inartistic people, and the artist suffers much in this nineteenth century of ours.
Of course he does. I, of all men, am not going to deny that. But remember that there never has been an artistic age, or an artistic people, since the beginning of the world. The artist has always been, and will always be, an exquisite exception. There is no golden age of art; only artists who have produced what is more golden than gold.
I get this—I think.
Now this editorial on art, below, from page 06 of Concrete Experience by the projects’ curator Andy St. Louis:
Complete and perfect objectivity, of course, is a pipe dream for all but perhaps a very select few across the millennia of recorded time. History, they say, is written by the victors, which is of course why Ancient Greek and Latin continue to be taught in primary, secondary and undergraduate institutions, even in a world where they have no practical value whatsoever. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were, no doubt, bestowed with some great minds, but one cannot help wondering what other great
thinkers and theories must have been simply wiped off the proverbial slate, particularly at the hands of the world’s first Western Empire. So that writing—written language—is a tool of preservation of one’s own ways of life and cultural legacies (often posited as superior to others’) as much as it is about remembering.
I get this too—I think.
For whatever reason I wanted to go to something in the new expat artists journal that was in fact art; so to page 12 of “Concrete Experience” and a poem by Gwen Atkinson. At least I think it is a poem by her. Her name is the by-line under Reconstruction of a Translator’s Note. But at the bottom page where the poem ends it reads:
Intertextuality/erasure poetry, spring boarded from “Translator’s Note.” P.89, in At the sky’s Edge, poems 1991-1996 by Bei Dao; translated from Chinese into English by David Hinton. New Directions Books, bilingual version, 2001.
This I am quite sure that I don’t get, but here are the first 8 lines of the poem that somebody wrote and springboarded and translated:
Like rain clouds you saw.
Overhead on a dark day.
Gov. compelled to suppress.
Individuality. The mysterious space–.
There might be something here or there might not be. In fact I must be in some rarefied space that only art can manifest. So put a feather in the cap for the makers of this journal Concrete Experience vol. 1. For the next publication I’ll have to empty my reading list to fully experience what is happening here: for one thing there are a lot of pictures too.
In the meantime it is back to “The Sun Also Rises.” My expat comfort zone, of “The Lost Generation”: “Jake Barnes” who rarely speaks about himself, “Robert Cohn” who has ideals about expat life even after publishing a critically acclaimed novel, and of course “Lady Brett Ashley” who to me seems like an overrated-dame. “Spider Kelly” is now out of the novel but the bullfighter Pedro Romero is on his way in sooner or later. Hey I’m only up to page 59.
CONCRETE EXPERIENCE vol. 1 is available in Seoul at the following retail locations:
Here is Oscar Wilde’s essay: Lecture to Art Students.
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” can be found wherever people walk upright.
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