Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pomp and Circumstance

It seems that its been nonstop since checking into the hotel. after a fitful sleep I woke up at 6 (after waking up at 2, 4, 5 and finally decided 'fuckit I'm getting up') and was met at 9:30 by Kyoung-ho Ahn, the director of the American Hardwoods Export Council. He is a very friendly talkative guy (the Koreans are much more friendly, compared to the Japanese, in my book) and it was about an hour drive to Kintex, the convention center. His english was very good and we had a fun conversation, in fact so much so that he missed the turnoff to Kintex. (he had never been there before).

As soon as we enter the building (huge, about the size of the Anaheim Convention Center) we are greeted by a bevy of beautiful suited Korean women, given flowers to pin to my non-lapel and directed to a waiting room.

I was probably the only woman in the whole group and realized to my horror that the ritual of business card exchange is de rigueur here - and me with my handmade cards made of recycled gallery announcement cards with my address printed on self stick labels and slapped on the back looked SOOOOO cheesy. The humiliation of returning the favor of an offered card was repeated for the next three days.

Suddenly the bevy of beautiful women (bbw) begin to herd us all out of the room to a staging area, and there an audience is waiting. We were to stand behind a rope like barrier and take our places. To my right is the podium - the chairman of KOFURN is giving a long speech in Korean, introducing each one of us, upon which we step forward and bow, and everyone claps. As time goes on the claps become sort of weary.

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Then the BBW step forward with trays of white gloves and gold plated scissors, a very unexpected presentation, so I am awkwardly trying to put the gloves on while holding the scissors under my armpit. I received NO prompting or itinerary or schedule so I am completely winging it at this point. So I finally get the gloves on in time to take the scissors and hold it, poised to cut the ribbon (not the rope) and at the count of three we cut the ribbon.

Then the BBW begin to usher us into the convention hall, where apparently there were scheduled introductions by various booths. We went quickly from booth to booth - no scraggling behind, I was shooed ahead by a bbw to move forward. At one booth there were these heated stone beds, the bedframe was low, with a slab of granite and evidently there is a heating element under the stone and I guess a thin mattress type of thing goes over this. It must be a little on the hard side but I would guess that some houses in Korea are as cold as the ones in Japan. Just when I think its over and we are free to look around we are herded by the bbw to an escalator, all of us, to a restaurant on the top floor, hosted by the director of KOFURN.

So we are all at this long table, and again, the director begins speaking and introducing various people (I at this point realize I am the only girl at the table) and they begin to toast.

(to be continued)

I can’t remember where I last left off but I think I was talking about the Chinese lunch and there are about 5 or 6 courses served, one at a time and individually served, as opposed to the large shared platters that we are all mostly familiar with. I was pretty hungry for some reason so I ate just about everything. This particular Chinese food was not particularly remarkable and some were suspect but I felt that it was best not to ask what it was and just dive in. One dish was particularly hard to eat, in that first of all it was hard to pick it up with chopsticks, and impossible to impale. It was VERY SLIPPERY and even I got it to my mouth it nearly slithered out of my mouth. Is it still alive?? It looked like it was chopped up. Didn’t really taste that good either, and the worst texture of anything that I had to chew. Come to find out later that it was sea cucumber; I had heard some gross story about those things from Michael Hurwitz.

After lunch we went back down to the convention area and I was able to look more closely at the booths. The most interesting work was actually in the student booths; I took a bunch of pictures of some of the work, which shows the range of what was there. Hongik obviously had the most creative body of work although the most garish booth design. Apparently Professor Choi insists upon the RED theme that I thought was unattractive. I asked him a few days later why he used this theme color and he said he wanted to make sure their booth stands out. Well in that regard it is true you don’t forget their booth very easily.

Again I saw the prevalence of square/geometric shapes in nearly all the student work – a reliance on geometry as a base for design – with the exception of the Hongik work. The work from Hongik definitely utilized more creative forms and seemed to have an organic bent, even with their plywood work. In some of the other booths there were some unusual pieces, such as a figure of a girl on her back, her legs forming the chair. It was pretty weird even by my standards.

As for the other areas, there were the typical Victorian themed pieces along with the mundane office designs, and the traditional pieces; there were what seemed to be antique booths, some of which were quite nice. There were low beds or platforms similar to the Chinese furniture I had seen at the Peabody a few months ago. There were these strange beds with stone bases with these electronic consoles – apparently these stone (looked like granite slabs) surfaces are heated and have nothing more than a pad of some sort. It was explained that elderly Koreans prefer this sort of sleeping surface.

There is also the Korean Furniture Society, started and headed by Byung Hoon Choi - seems that Professor Choi is the 'Wendell Castle' of Korea. I am impressed with his efforts to bring the forefront of studio furniture to the public eye in Korea. Through the course of my trip I was able to meet several individuals who were in this exhibition.

Suddenly it was decided that we would go to Professor Choi’s studio, to my delight. Jinwoo (Lupina) Kim drove, and Alessandro, Kyoung-ho and I drove about 30 minutes further north to the studio. What appeared to be a pretty small structure was deceptive – the interior was quite spacious and the lower floor was the studio, with several works in progress and tons of wood slabs. Byung-Hoon uses both wood and stone, and a bit of steel. It appears that he has a studio guy working for him and i seems that he has quite a bit of his work made for him. His work is reminiscent of Noguchi, and it is pretty clear that he emulates Noguchi – his studio seems to have been modeled after Noguchi’s Long Island space to some degree. Upstairs was his gallery and offices, and perhaps a kitchen/living area which we did not see. I was shocked to see a piece that was similar to one I had made for the UCSF campus - I know it was completely coincidental – he had never seen my benches and I had never seen his. Strange.

The only downside to the visit was that the studio assistant has a dog that he kept chained outside the studio, it was kind of dismal – he/she was a sweet dog, looked like an akita/shiba-inu but was apparently some sort of Korean dog, I remember seeing pictures of one. But the poor thing was starved for attention and very dirty.

After the studio visit we headed home. I was exhausted.