Happy Friday evening from on-site campus, another day spent in the temples of academia. This morning I woke up happy and content, rolling around in my freshly washed sheets and marveling at how utterly relaxed and blissful I feel from those few extra hours I was able to catch after a long (but surprisingly short) week of readings, meetings and hours of raging hunger. It was a good week. I had anticipated it, as I scheduled meetings both professional and casual that I had not done in a long time. I understood Maslow’s theory on needs. I get a high from being with good people, no matter how quick my thoughts and emotions traverse from aloneness and loneliness. It is raining outside, and I see my quirky literature professor going home with his blind dog. He is wearing a at that has a hole on the top, exposing his gleaming head. People are strange and wonderful. All I can say to describe this moment is in hues of baby blue.
I’m in a rut. I’m at that stage in life where all the Ted Talks and inspirational speakers on Youtube are adamantly trying to convince me that I’m at the most exciting and wonderful period of my life, where anything is possible if I just believe. Unfortunately, I am having a really hard time believing them, let alone myself.
Last night, I finally met up with a childhood friend after an entire year has passed us by. In the small bossam stall in the crowded streets of Hongdae, the air saturated with noise, smoke, and heat, we spilled the messy happenings of our lives. During this time, she decided that she wanted to drop out of college, plastered her body with Harry Potter tattoos (which I am quite envious of) and learnt how to be a bartender. I, on the other hand, went on an exchange semester in Australia, and learnt more about myself than ever before in my life. All that travelling and relying on myself made me come to a conclusion that I definitely don’t want to be living a life in my major, because just thinking about my future in the field made me lose all motivation for living. I face entering my final year of college with so many decisions and plans of action that are eluding me every step of the way. Meanwhile, my boyfriend finally got his break after years of trying, and got the internship of his dreams, in one of the best motor companies. He says his experience has disillusioned him about the corporate life, seeing his coworkers’ faces sag in the myriad of cubicles surrounding him. In all these various facets of life, I believe we are faced with the same amount of uncertainty and angst, each a little envious and in awe with the life of the other. Increasingly, people are becoming more realistic and vulnerable on social media, in between the festival and foodie pics, they are professing deep anxiety and confusion over the futures.
Confession: I am contemplating a life in art. I know that nothing fascinates me more and gives me more joy than delving into the creative–reading, writing, watching, dancing, and feeling. Sadly, this big decision comes with a price; that while it has no price it furthermore has no monetary value. My dreams of becoming a curator/art historian/writer and editor all require that I pursue a Ph.D without the guarantee of any financial stability. It is a dream that makes loved ones frown and be concerned about the future, my future. It concerns me because I don’t know if the money, time and effort that I am going to be pouring into this future will ultimately lead to my demise, especially when I could have done something else. But deep down, my heart tells me that anything else is not my authentic self, anything else would be any other life but mine.
I am so incredibly blessed that I can even consider this kind of alternative future, and that my parents are completely supportive. I imagine that it is incredibly rare to have parents that actually push you towards such an uncertain future, but this is because they hold me with high esteem. Mother believes that I have a sixth sense when it comes to art, and it is ridiculously hard not to take it to heart. Their level of pride and confidence when it comes to my capabilities is astounding, and I wonder if my worries are an unnecessary complexity where I am talking myself out of something that could potentially be, and ironically not by others.
Earlier this month, as I was projecting the boundless opportunities offered by summer break, I was genuinely excited to have a summer where I could be unapologetically myself and live a creative life. I feel that no matter how much you work, and no matter what kind of life you project unto others, it is just difficult to convince yourself that you are enough, and that you have done something of worth. This month, I dived into a mini exhibition held for my mom, which proved to be tough work but a lot of fun and insight. It allowed me to see the business aspect of the art world, as we were unexpectedly invited to see the behind the scenes of a modern gallery. The entrepreneur is also the one that convinced me that there is an opportunity in the arts, and surprisingly confirmed all my thoughts that I dismissed as just dreams. Since then, I’ve been reading and researching things about living this creative academia. It is both liberating and disheartening at the same time, but I guess these are the doubts that everyone is feeling at this point in our lives. Most of all, I don’t want to waste the opportunities I have, or riddle myself with doubts. I don’t want to be my own biggest enemy. Then again, I don’t want to be my own downfall either. Does anyone else have these doubts? I’ve been asking so many questions on online platforms and on quora, but in the end other people cannot make my decisions for me. Either way, life will go vehemently on without me. I just need to buckle down and decide.
For the past four days, I volunteered to help my mom take a shot at selling her Zimbabwean art collection at the annual Home and Lifestyle Exhibition held in unison with the Gyeongyang Housing Fair. This exhibition, alike many others, are hosted in key cities around the country such as Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Jeju and others throughout the year. It hosts a variety of creative products, from traditional hand held mirrors embedded with mother of pearl to extravagant tech that guarantees turning all food waste into liquid form. I’ve attended many of these events, but got to understand the behind-the-scenes of running our own booth. I thought this would be interesting for anyone wondering whether this is the step to launch or propel their business in Korea to the next level.
With 30 years of experience, this event boasts an average attendance rate of 180,000 persons. There is an entrance fee of 10,000 won, but they have the option of reserving a ticket for free beforehand. The bigger firms use this as an opportunity to showcase their exhibition design with elaborate and flashy architecture, case in point:
(This particular shop was all about the pictures and promotions of–can you guess what? Shampoo!)
However, there are still a good number of smaller shops that sell their products in a more straight forward and simplistic manner. There are shops selling handmade jewelry to cosmetics and chocolate. Even if you’re not particularly keen to sell, if you are familiar with the fleamarkets and open market styles, this may be an interesting event reminiscent of those days when you can just walk up to the different stalls, have a chat and be hopefully jostled from your everyday surroundings and gain some home decor tips. Speaking of which, they host different seminars and conferences during the course of four days, where you may listen in on talks of brand design, sustainable and eco-friendly living, and other seminars for free. Unfortunately, most of these talks are held in Korean, and have yet to provide English translations due to the fairly limited attendance of foreigners (or perhaps, vice versa).
This particular event is held over four consecutive days, with 2 days extra before and after for setting and wrapping up. They give you the whole day before to construct either your own booth or hire another company to do it for you. Because of this, the day (and air) is filled with dust and people panting heavily as they carry furniture and other goods across the huge hall. The hosting company conveniently failed to provide air conditioning on that day, and we had to move, unpack and organize items in the middle of Korean summer. When you apply to be a participating company, they are literally providing you with a standard 3x3m stall, and come to install lights, plugs, and a white box that you can use for some displays. Luckily, the plastic walls dividing shops are pretty durable and you can mount things onto it with a drill. We ended up drilling a painting, a light and a huge mirror so I’m guessing most other things are good to go.
Most of the preparations must be done beforehand. Bring your own tools and posters and marketing strategies. However, COEX has a lot of handy shops nearby, and you can pick up last minute supplies like tape and plastic chairs from the Daiso on the B1 floor. They will require marketing material a week before the exhibition itself, which they will disperse (though unseen by myself still). Another pro tip is packing a large piece of fabric that you drape over your products once you’re done for the day. It indicates that you have closed, and gives you some privacy when you leave the building.
If you don’t manage to complete everything in the day, it’s okay to do so the following day. However, because you share a wall, drilling it on opening day may not be seen favorably. You may still reorganize and set up your goods as there are not that many customers on a Thursday morning.
Our mini exhibition/shop was wedged between a sink company, a facial exfoliating device company and a handmade arts and crafts store. Overall the neighbors were amiable and you grow a little fond of them by the fourth day, buying each other’s products and breaking bread with one another. However, deciding to partake in this exhibition requires some critical contemplation, especially if you are a relatively small company. While I’ve heard that smaller businesses in the arts pair up to split the booth costs, I am skeptical that many of them were even able to break even during the four days. The bigger companies, like the one above have no problem in fronting ‘advertisements’ as their main priority, even without reaping in the money. On the other hand, many of the smaller shops that were selling towels can hardly sell enough to even fathom covering the 3000,000 won booth fee (very rough approximation of 3000 dollars). Even our booth, which had a higher average price could barely breakeven. On that note, this exhibition, while catering towards companies that offer products as big as beds and storage containers, many of the consumers are within a demographic that are more frugal with their money. This is not the exhibition for you if you are looking for people that are willing to part with their money, even if it is for high quality art. Many are there, including myself in previous occasions, to have a feast for the eyes and have a little chit chat rather than to make an investment. While there is a considerable peak time on Sunday with last minute customers, I just don’t know if there 5~6 days is worth the effort. Through this experience, I felt fully the hardships of entrepreneurs, even with products as brilliant and futuristic as sinks that dissolve food waste into liquid form. They’re just not there for it. On the other hand, we were lucky enough to invite a gallery owner to see our booth and negotiate some business, but this was due to a friend network rather than an amity birthed by the exhibition. It’s really your call, but I strongly recommend that you prioritize your market research and consider what the primary goal of your business/exhibition is. In our case, we definitely chose the wrong market.
However, I had a good experience. I had my very first taste of a small exhibition beyond the confines of my home. I did not realize the time was passing as I shifted products, displayed and rearranged the sculptures here and there. While it was a strenuous process, especially since it was done by the three of us only, unwrapping each of these products and finding an aesthetically pleasing composition took up the whole evening. I felt all the better after it.
While it is advertised that the wrap up time is till the Monday after, we were surprised to see that most of the shops were packed and ready to go by Sunday evening following the exhibition. It dissolves into more chaos than the original set up, with some hoarse screams here and there as peoples’ frustrations go through the roof. This is another frustration that I had with the exhibition hosts–they do not seem to care for the participating companies. I say this because they offered no airconditioning the entire set up day, and immediately switched it off at 6PM when everyone was packing up. Everything had to be done in the excruciating heat and humidity of the Korean summer. This struck me as a disgusting capitalistic ploy, where all the smaller companies paid high sums to participate, slave away for four days everyday as they try to break even (sometimes located in farway and unfortunate areas with little customers) and immediately discarded as soon as they are away from the lime light. This was particularly disheartening to see, as some shop owners looked like they were on the verge of tears by the end of the show.
This is my personal experience and view on the Living and Lifestyle Expo, which transformed into the Home and Lifestyle Expo held in COEX. I felt like this was an interesting insight to the shenanigans, and especially interesting for those who do not have access to such information in Korean. Atleast, you know a little more and can perhaps have a little more sympathy for the sullen faces you may see at one of these exhibitions.
In 1997, art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto declared the ‘end of art’ upon seeing Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. This inflammatory claim highlighted the concerns of modernism and the blurring between art and non-art. What Warhol demonstrated to Danto was a complete satisfaction between the two definitions. In fact, Warhol’s art was so inwardly directed and subjective that its definition had become philosophical.
Andy Warhol’s art thrived within the Artworld, as he highlighted motifs of high consumerism and mundane repetition in objects. He demonstrated ideas through transforming an ordinary, mass produced and neglected can into art. The decision to call Warhol’s product art was the end of art, because he believed that the Artworld determined the value of the product, through members knowledgeable on art’s historical context. With the multiple interpretations and emotions conveyed by the dichotomy of art and non-art, the significance and continuation of art and the job of the Artworld was halted. However, the Artworld is spontaneously distorted and recreated, and cannot be dissipated by the threat of multiple meanings. What Warhol demonstrates is not the limitations of value determined by the Artworld. Instead, he ushers in a new era of pluralism—of multiple meanings and open ended questions still formulating. The Artworld becomes a larger platform of creation and reception, and is fundamental to the recognition and preservation of the art piece.
Seeing the moon made me emotional more than usual. I usually see it just before it enters its zone, just as I end mine and come home. I’ve been thinking a lot about art and meaning and purpose in this life, and I saw this moon. Here it was, a slice of a thing, small enough to be as insignificant as a discarded nail clipping. And here it was, being celebrated by people like me. Never wavering, carelessly bold, and still perceived with awe no matter how full or broken it was. They say we are born of the same moon dust. That means I should consider myself with such awe and unbridled love.
I found myself lying, face drooping into the slopes of my pillow, weighed down by all the things I should probably be doing and the things I wish I was doing. My uneven posture and tense legs strain from clenching and releasing early this morning from when I was taking my driver’s for the second time. Later, I struggled to cover the rose of my frost-bitten cheeks with multiple layers of foundation. It still shone through, a harsh and unapologetic bloom.
I tend to find myself fleeting from one place to the next, eagerly checking off the menial things off my diary for comfort. Put money into the bank. Check the dates for performance. Get some groceries–especially some salad. I should really get into that. I then crash into bed when they are done, feeling strangely unaccomplished and disconnected to my self.
I picked off the pieces of my body, the mangled individuals cast here and there over the bed. Recollected myself, and gathered together a self that can writes. I try to make meaning of the empty space. No matter how many times I try to keep my desk clear of the clutter, my pens and books with stickers and orange peels litter the top, and stay there until someone else enters.
I see a message pop up from my friend. We find solace in each other. There are friends you meet in blurs to pass messy nights with, and others with whom you reach out for in the darkness, meandering the unknown hills and edging around the crevices. I talk again about my feelings. She returns the same. I feel that there are many of us out there tonight–we are not lost, but just waiting for the winter to pass us over.
I wrote a poem. I’m at a crossroads in life, and no doubt overwhelmed. Enjoy.
Clearly, your feet have not dipped past the ivy crusted rims
Feeling the soft tickling of forgotten mosses,
They’ve meandered through the clattering shells clinging
To rounded flowers opening and closing before you.
They have not waded between the fluid roads revealed and at end
In the sky wandering round and straight in their wondrous Milky Way.
Where have you rested your head, those days you believed it was softened moss?
Whose breath did you let caress your face, what purple did you make your shade of nightingale?
They turn round eastward, towards instinctively home
The auburn sky is ablaze and you are there,
But still teeming, seething and afloat.
The chasms spread before, thinly sunk into worn crevices,
Peeling skins off of the age old trees and the heaven dense auras
The valleys and its hidden villages are to be pillaged
Only by those ravenous in the mouth.
A donkey bears the laden fruits of your search
And together you make it to the hole
Where you bury the hatchet, and leave the memories under
The skies fondle a home in the murky waters below.
Your sister is both there and already in the wind,
Faces sunken, but never lost.
Well done, the deed is done.
Whatever you have seen,
The losses you have carried,
The tragedies you have committed in both your name and others,
The slandered will rest easy tonight.
When the night falls, and you offer your soul to the pits,
You are free, and free of burden.