Exhibition: Refugia: Sound Projects by 11 Women Artists
Artists: Jia Chang, Eunji Cho, Shiva Feshareki, Yang Ah Ham, Christina Kubisch, Seulgi Lee, Young Joo Lee, Tania León, Ye-eun Min, Jeon Mirai, Éliane Radigue
Alternative Space LOOP, 20 Wausan-ro 29 Na-gil, Seoul
Curator: Ji Yoon Yang
The universally accepted mainstream is perceived by the public as reasonable and rational, but at the same time, it entails exclusion and violence against marginal things. Due to these two-sided reasons, attention to marginality in dealing with contemporary art mainly stands in a position questioning and opposing the prevailing conventional ideas. This kind of art, including voices of antagonism to the mainstream, has been expressed in as diverse forms as the various themes of society reflecting the past and contemporaneity. For example, it occurs in various ways through the artist’s nationality, origin, gender, and the narrative of the art, form, and materiality. These resistant movements in contemporary art begin to appear more clearly and prominently when the rupture of the times begins to emerge and it happened in 2021 too. 11 women artists gathered in Seoul to question the 2021’s pandemic situation with their sound artworks. Through their artworks, they give frameworks to diagnose the current crisis with the relevance of capitalism and the patriarchal system. Refugia, held at Alternative Space LOOP in Seoul, is a project of 11 international female artists displaying the power in the ecological circulation of sound art despite the apathy toward sound art from the mainstream contemporary art scene.
The word refugium refers, in population biology, to a location of a relict population of animal or plant species, where abrupt climate change has led to dwindling populations if not near-extinction. Refugia is a public art project that brings together the sound art of eleven women artists from around the world. The project distances itself from Western mainstream values that have dubbed nature the Mother of Humanity or equate women with nature and speak of earth’s so-called femininity. In gathering the creative work of women artists in one place, we question the capitalist patriarchal system that has suppressed women’s creativity and creative participation in all areas of society.Ji Yoon Yang, Curator’s Writing of Refugia: Sound Projects by 11 Women Artists, (Alternative Space Loop, 2021)
In particular, there are two striking types of minorities in Refugia. Such is the existence of sound art that has been recognized as a periphery in the contemporary art field and female artists who have been marginalized in the patriarchal social system. The appearances of these two beings observed in Refugia are quite similar in their situation where they are located in the art field and society.
Sound culture today has been overtaken by industrialized popular music, and in this context Theodor Adorno’s concept of a “culture industry,” written off by some as no longer relevant, may offer a fresh perspective on the current situation. Adorno wasn’t slighting popular art when he advocated for high art, he was issuing a warning of the potential ills and destructive power of mass-produced commercial products peddled in the guise of art. Once passionate analyses by the intelligentsia of popular music’s power to resist and its radical potential—as exemplified by “rock spirit” or the spirit of rock n’ roll—have fizzled out over the decades, and the current landscape seems to confirm the prescience of Adorno’s warning. The fact that sound art continued to evolve and flourish all the while, despite the disinterest of and marginalization by the arts world and by industry, may be proof of the potency of ecological cycles. Sound art has consistently dismantled such Western modern mainstream values as evidenced in histories of music comprised entirely of male composers or by an overemphasis on mechanical rationality. Despite a lack of mainstream institutional acknowledgment, sound artists have endeavored to create new noise that disrupts the prevailing status quo.Ji Yoon Yang, Curator’s Writing of Refugia: Sound Projects by 11 Women Artists, (Alternative Space Loop, 2021).
Furthermore, Ji Yoon Yang highlights that the project is an attempt to imagine a civilization that supersedes the existing system which is capital-driven, patriarchal, and focused on technologies of exploitation and accumulation, in favor of one that reaches beyond capitalism towards the feminine and to technologies of coexistence and sustainability. In this respect, the collaboration of 11 women artists and sound art in Refugia is quite interesting. The questions arising from the collaboration of these two marginal beings provide us with a more fundamental consideration of the universal cycle. For this reason, Superglue chooses Refugia to provide readers an opportunity to experience this collaborative sonic exhibition inheriting the question of the universal order of the world.
Especially, due to current safety restrictions affecting offline exhibitions, Refugia is accessible through three different platforms. Firstly, according to the social distancing guidelines, only a small number of people were able to visit the exhibition venue through the online reservation, and this reservation was fully booked with the high popularity of Refugia. Other platforms are following the public radio broadcasts on TBS Radio or enjoying the exhibition on the official Youtube channel of Sound Art Korea. The international readers of Superglue can appreciate the works of Refugia in the attached link of Sound Art Korea channel in the article accompanied with program schedules of the exhibition. I highly recommend following the program schedule and fully experiencing the sound project brought by these 11 female artists.
The international artists taking part in Refugia, as well as being exclusively female, have consistently addressed this global crisis through their work and methodology. Readings, soundscapes, the composition of noise, and DJing are some of the ways in which they share their most recent work. Artworks having particular significance in the history of sound art by Éliane Radigue, Tania León, and Christina Kubisch are exhibited along with the latest artworks from internationally emerging artists. Among them, two artworks, Tania León’s Horizon and Empty World by Yang Ah Ham, are artworks that illustrate how and what this sound collaboration exhibition asks a particular universalism. In Horizon Tania León accuses the irrationality of the prejudices she has encountered while working as a non-Western female composer through her sound artwork. This work shows how male-centered universalism, which is prevalent throughout society, has prevailed in the field of music culture. Furthermore, Yang Ah Ham’s Empty World deals with the question of the industrial society formed by human greed for fossil energy. Both artworks provide frameworks to how 11 women artists in Refugia want to diagnose the global crisis in the current pandemic situation as problems arising from existing universal ideas.
Tania León is a composer and conductor based in New York. She says she always had to face prejudices about her gender and race. “It’s not uncommon for a woman of my skin color to conduct serious music. I had to be twice as good as the male conductor, to be recognized.” León composed Horizons for the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg, and it was conducted by Peter Ruzicka at the Hammoniale Festival in July 1999. In August 2000, the song premiered in the United States at the Tanglewood Music Festival, conducted by Stefan Asbury. The artist creates compositions that combine various genres, including Latin American music, jazz and gospel music, with contemporary technology. Born in Cuba, León’s music incorporates Cuban culture, dancing is a daily routine. She compares the development of her song to riding a bike, and says that movement, not rhythm, is a major component of her composition. In her music, rhythm and development are linked to physical movement. León’s composition is completed in the way with contemporary grammar, technical perfection, elaborate vocabulary, and dense rhythm layering.
Yang Ah Ham lives and works in Korea, Turkey and the Netherlands. Her interest lies in developing an art practice as a mode of social criticism. She focuses on individual lives and alternative social systems through her own experience in different societies. Unlike solar energy, which seems unlimited, fossil fuel and the greedy competition to control its limited supply have caused major socioeconomic conflicts in modern industrial society and finance. However, if this socioeconomic realm continues to expand and ultimately converge with the boundaries of the ecosystem on the outside, society can no longer exist in this exhausted world. This present moment calls for a shift in values, from external growth to internal growth that allows for coexistence.
In this way, the artists of the Refugia project ask questions about universalism that has prevailed in various places in the existing society. They actively use the media characteristics of sound art that have been marginalized. They create the movement of sound through collaboration and connection through technology. This is a counter-question to the current patriarchal-based capitalist civilization, and it will be the pursuit of symbiosis to change it. Although contemporary art is expressed with various themes, it is indispensable to be accompanied by questions about stereotypes prevalent in society. And there are artists who continue to do it because they feel that they have to ask questions, not because they have any qualifications. Refugia is an exhibition focusing on the sounds of 11 artists who constantly ask questions about those fixed things. And it is an exhibition that recognizes sound art similar to them as a movement beyond its popularity as a medium and awakens the value of inquiry that it has.
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