▲ Archive of do it exhibition. Provided by Ilmin Museum of Art.
A typical modern art exhibition is held for a limited period and in a specific setting. Artworks are usually unable to leave the museum or the gallery where they are first exhibited, and are made by professional artists. This spurred curator Hans Ulrich Obrist to question the conventional expectations of art exhibitions. The short lifespan of an exhibition as well as the barrier it creates between the artist and the audience were avoidable stereotypes for Obrist. He imagined an exhibition that can go on forever and can happen anywhere on Earth. This is how the do it exhibition began. After being held in numerous cities in collaboration with artists from all over the world, do it has finally arrived in Seoul.
It all started in a Parisian café named Café Le Select in 1993. Obrist was having a conversation with artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. They discussed the format and lifespan of exhibitions, pondering the differences between an exhibition and a music piece. “[We talked about how exhibitions] go maybe to two or three places, and then they will be dismantled; whereas music pieces like operas can be reinterpreted infinitely for centuries to come,” recalled Obrist in an interview with Artsy in 2013. This is how the idea of do it came about. It is an exhibition composed of instructions made by artists. The instructions play the role of a music score or a script in the process of structuring the exhibition. Original ideas for the artworks come from the artists, but they should be made by other individuals from the city where the exhibition takes place. In other words, there should be no original artwork. After a do it exhibition is over, the works used in it should be disassembled.
do it in Seoul
Ilmin Museum of Art is located across from Gwanghwamoon Plaza, the political epicenter of the nation. It has witnessed dynamic changes in Korean politics. Particularly with the memory of millions of candles illuminating the streets last year, the social context that Ilmin Museum of Art and its exhibitions have is unique. The curator of do it2017, Seoul has written, “In this historic moment where all generations have shared a common experience, the art world of Seoul is paying attention to participative and attentive actions.” In this sense, do it 2017, Seoul is a fitting exhibition that provides an open platform that can communicate the diversity and dynamics of the nation’s cultural, social, and political circumstances.
The exhibition is spread out across three floors of the museum. The first two floors exhibit the specific artworks that follow instructions of artists, and the third floor displays a detailed timeline and explanation of the do it exhibition. The artworks encompass various mediums, including paintings, video clips, sculptures, and drawings. There will be something for everyone’s interest.
Korean artist Kim Beom’s “Fried Mobile Phone (2012)” is one of the most interesting pieces in the exhibition. In his instructions, Kim suggests the most effective method of frying a mobile phone using eggs, flour, and oil. On one wall of the exhibition space, there is a huge mind map of all the variables in the process such as the types of phones, different flour companies, and various salt companies. There are millions of potential combinations and the interpretation is up to the audience.
Behind the Scenes —do it Builders
In March 2017, Ilmin Museum of Art recruited do it builders, an amateur team who brought the instructions to life. They consisted of ten non-professionals from various fields such as performance art, programming, and design. Many were still students and were simply intrigued by art. The selected ten collaborated with artists and curators to creatively interpret and redefine original instructions to correspond with the current Korean social and artistic context.
▲ Picture of do it builders. Provided by Ilmin Museum of Art.
Alison Knowles’s “Homage to Each Red Thing (1996)” was one of the artworks that the do it builders created on their own. To follow the instructions, they had to divide the exhibition space floor into squares, put one red thing in each square, and completely cover up the floor. They discussed every minute detail, from the size and variation of the squares to the type of red objects to put in the squares. The exhibition floor was soon filled with private red objects of do it builders like college diplomas and t-shirts.
Furthermore, Ilmin Museum of Art opened an online platform that accepts reconstructed art from the public. Anyone can do it. Anyone can read the original instructions and create their own interpretation. When the result is submitted, it is displayed on the official website. This platform reflects the amateur spirit of do it, the spirit that emphasizes individuality and autonomy. Through these efforts, do it 2017, Seoul expanded the concept and physical space of public participation in arts.
One of the drawbacks of this exhibition is that knowledge of and literacy in arts is required to understand and appreciate the exhibition. While there will be some who are not willing to engage, the exhibition is worth the effort. It is an updated version of 20th century avant-garde art. The specific format of the exhibition has a precursor in Yoko Ono’s book, Grapefruit (1970). It is not just a collection of miscellaneous things made by a bunch of amateurs.
There are numerous exhibitions that promote themselves as introducing a new paradigm or a new era of modern art in the 21st century. Mostly this is simply hyperbole and audiences have been fed up with hollow claims. However, do it 2017, Seoul is an exhibition that truly deserves the label. It is an exhibition that pursues a new paradigm through public collaboration in this open-source, innovative world. Simply put, it is an exhibition that urges people to do it, whatever it may be.
Title: do it 2017, Seoul
Organizer: Independent Curators International (ICI), Ilmin Museum of Art
Venue: Ilmin Museum of Art Exhibition Rooms 1, 2, and 3
Period: Friday, April 28 to Sunday, July 9
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00A.M. to 7:00P. M. (Closed on Mondays)