Curators in South Korea: Ahmet Öğüt


The explosion of the term “curating” started just a few years ago with everyone curating anything from menus to our own lives. This led to a need to define exactly what being a curator means. There is  no simple answer to that. There are lots of cross-over areas, but mainly they fall into these categories.

In large institutions with large collections, there are subject specialist curators. As the name suggests, they have expert knowledge in a specific area. It could be as broad as Indian art or as precise as Picasso’s pottery sculptures.

They often have staff who perform the traditional duties expected, such as cataloguing and documentation. This allows them to do research and organise exhibitions. Besides what you’d expect, their work also typically involves managing teams, as well as negotiating and meeting with other curators from other collections. Naturally in smaller institutions they need to do everything.

Independent curators are free to determine their own projects. They could be organising any number of exhibitions from single events to those that are part of a program or the entire program itself. 

And then there are artist curators. People expect them to break the rules and go against the establishment. They can get away with anything because anything they do is art. They may seem like something new, but there is a long tradition in the west dating back as far as 1768 when Joshua Reynolds became the first president of London’s Royal Academy of the Arts

There are various reasons for doing shows.

One reason is to bring topics to the audience. But who is that audience and what’s the best way to reach them?

Sometimes you can bring a new target group to an existing program simply by the works you choose. Other times you have to take the work to them. That may mean leaving the site entirely.

We continue our 7 part series written by participants in this year’s edition of the Konstfack CuratorLab based in Stockholm, Sweden. They recently went to the 11th Gwangju Biennale 2016, The Eighth Climate (What does art do?) in Korea. The texts originally appeared on their website.

intro by maeshelle west-davies


United to what?

United by Ahmet Öğüt is a two channel HD animation. One channel is being shown on a public billboard in Gwangju while the other channel is being shown simultaneously at Alt Art Space and YAMA in Istanbul, as well as in several other cities.

United by Ahmet Öğüt, photo Florin Bobu
United by Ahmet Öğüt, photo Florin Bobu

I first encountered United, Ahmet Öğüt‘s latest work, on a billboard in Gwangju, in the context of the 11th Gwangju Biennale, The Eighth Climate (What does art do?). It made me think. I saw it again in my hotel room in Stockholm and once more in the city where I am based – Iasi, Romania.

From the first viewing to the last one I had both mechanically and literally responded to the affirmation: United, by asking myself impulsively, “United to what?” This is actually a realization of how deeply our personal actions are rooted in cause and effect processes.

I did not think that the title referred to the fact that the gun manufacturers are united in the fight against the public sphere – as Ahmet Öğüt may have suggested. I immediately took the responsibility for action and resurrection, although always from the comfortable position sometimes given by community, from a “safe societal environment” or through distance.

The work is partly based on two tragic stories. Enes Ata was an 8-year-old child who was killed in 2006 during a protest in Diyarbakir (Amed), Turkey (also the native city of Ahmet Öğüt). Lee Han-Yeol was killed during the 1987 democratic uprisings in Korea.

United by Ahmet Öğüt, photo Florin Bobu
United by Ahmet Öğüt, photo Florin Bobu

Analysis of the subject matter of this artwork brings us to the conclusion that certain questions play an important role.

“How can we explain such terrible and tragic events?”

And/or “How can we memorialise them?” Personally, I believe such tragic events should be spoken about, but that politics and critique of ideology are the only proper languages in which they can be discussed.

Making the two events that Öğüt’s animation refers to  speak once more seems to be the artwork’s raison d’être. So, in order to decipher this speech, it is of the utmost importance that we analyse the political climate surrounding these events from a local, national and transnational perspective.

One of the leading questions of the 11th Gwangju Biennale, namely ‘What does art do?’ became not so much a general question, but a more pointed one in light of the artwork in question:

Are we – the viewers – united in murdering these two youths?

And if so, how did we do that and why?

My argument is that, in order to answer such paralysing questions, one must question both the political climate and particularities of the events that the works refers and to –to the same extent our own political climate that surrounds us as viewers. I claim that even more that just employing this line of questioning, each of us must (to the extent of his/her own possibilities) try and connect these disparate and seemingly unrelated political milieus.

United by Ahmet Öğüt, photo Florin Bobu
United by Ahmet Öğüt, photo Florin Bobu

How can we describe the local politics that surrounded these state killings and how can we connect these tragic events within some broader/ larger political sphere, be that national or international politics, to whom they are allegedly connected? What are the political claims of the artistic work and how can works of art make effective political claims without even directly entering the realm of political activism and political struggle?

by Florin Bobu

Florin Bobu (b. 1978, Tecuci) is a Romanian artist and curator who lives and works in Iași. He studied Media Art (B.A., 2005), as well as Sculpture (B.A., 2005) at ArtEZ/AKI, Akademie voor beeldende kunst en design, Enschede, The Netherlands. 

Since 2012 he has been president of the 1+1 association, a non-profit institution that aims to promote the role of contemporary artists in today’s Romanian society by strengthening their status, discussing their responsibilities and supporting artistic practices. He has also been a volunteer co-curator of Iași, since 2012.

Among the exhibitions he has participated in: 
“Best Man”, Les Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, curator Nathalie Hénon and Jean-François Rettig Sectiunea Déconstruction / Reconstruction (2008); “Videos Europa” (2009); “As You Desire Me”, the contemporary art gallery of the Brukenthal National Museum, curator: Raluca Voinea (2010); “The Vector Association at Western Front” (2011); “Cradle Count” (with Andrea Faciu), The Unanswered question. Iskele 2, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein & Tanas Berlin. curator: Rene Block (2013); ”Democracy – not quite enough for everybody”, RAM – Media Art, Http:// section – the Media Art festival, Arad (2014); The School of Kyiv – Kiev Biennial (with Cristina David, Livia Pancu and Dan Acostioaei), (2015).

Transportation in Shanghai is incredibly fast and efficient. Photo: Ana Ribeiro
Previous Story

On democracies and dictatorships - a reply

Default thumbnail
Next Story

4 simple tips to conquer (winter) mood dips

Latest from Arts