Emerging Space: Seoul Bongcheon-Dong, Cylinder

SuperGlue wants to co-exist with numerous artists who have not yet received much attention. An emerging space pursuing such values as SuperGlue is located in Bongcheon-dong, Seoul. This is an artist-run space, Cylinder, by artists Dooyong Ro. Cylinder has been exhibiting with various artists in various forms since its opening in 2020. In this article, SuperGlue would like to introduce Cylinder believing the value of these various arts. To this end, an interview with Dooyong Ro, the ‘manager’ who runs Cylinder, rather than artist Dooyong Ro, follows.

Cylinder, Bongcheon-dong, Seoul, Korea.

SuperGlue(SG): How would you like to introduce yourself in this interview? artist? director? I would like to introduce you by that definition.

Dooyong Ro(DY): I prefer the manager Dooyong Ro who runs Cylinder.

SG: Then, in this interview, I would like to introduce you as an manager of Cylinder. First of all, I am curious as to the reason for creating the space called cylinder.

DY: I lived for 4years in the UK before I came back to Korea in the last year. For the first two years in the UK, I didn’t do anything. I spent time drinking and hanging out with my friends and doing internships at a gallery. But I didn’t have any future plan. I concentrated on living day by day, spending brilliant time with my friends who I met in London. They are friends who call themselves alcoholics, but they are really good friends who always see the potential of a person and treat people honestly. I had a splendid time of my life with those friends. So two years passed, I applied for a master degree in the UK accidentally, and I got approval unexpectedly. So I started the master program and met a new phase in my London life. However, my experiences in the university were very different from the former life in London. Unlike my friends who treated me as person to person, I could see a secretly hierarchical structure at the university. I started to feel that I was a foreigner in earnest. I tried to break that unseen wall, but there was some clear limitation I could not overcome to some degree. So, in the university, I felt that I was marginalized as a stranger and those feelings made me so exhausted.

However, returning to Korea was not an option for me. I didn’t want to lose the inertia of the four years I had lived in the UK. So, after graduating with my master degree, I focused on solving the visa problem. Thanks to the help of my friends, I received an offer from a gallery to support my visa. So I came to Korea to pack my things, but in the meantime, Covid 19 got worse, and I couldn’t go back to London. There was no other options rather than just staying in Korea at that time. All my efforts went down the plughole. So I got a huge aftereffects from this and I thought all of the things I’ve been trying for a long time become in vain. However, the negative situation lasted longer than I expected. Furthermore, my life in Korea was not easy either. It was because of a gap in the past four years, and I felt that I could not belong to any group even in Korea. I felt a lot of fundamental loneliness at that time. That’s why I could do perfect self-quarantine in Korea. Back then, I even got so comfortable feelings when I was alone. But at some point, I kept thinking that something was wrong. Others said self-quarantine was too hard, but I led a secluded life myself, so I thought I had to do something to break this situation and make it normal.

So, I decided to run a space. As for the idea of space management, I thought that I should try it at least once since 2019. So, I have left it with the possibility that I would try to create a space someday. It’s good to create something and it’s good to see, but I wanted to challenge myself to curate it. So, I decided to make the current Cylinder space, which was originally intended to be used as a personal studio, into an exhibition space. The reason I rented a studio near Bongcheon-dong is it is close to the gym. However, due to Covid 19, the gym was also closed, and also I had no idea of what I should create as well. Besides, I was constantly paying the monthly rent for the studio. So, I built my mind to transform this space into an exhibition space and use it if it works. If it doesn’t, I simply made my mind to use it as a decent studio.

SG: So what does the name Cylinder mean?

DY: As an artist, I always needed grounds and reasons for my work, and there was disillusionment about it. So I named the Cylinder simply because I like cars and think the name is also cool. Although the cylinder has a cylindrical shape, I decided on the name with a light mind that there may be a square cylinder.

Cylinder, Bongcheon-dong, Seoul, Korea.

SG: You said you longed for a sense of belonging, but nevertheless, you did not choose to belong in some group and created an independent space yourself. It seems to be a choice that contradicts the desire to belong somewhere.

DY: Wherever I am in London or Seoul, if I feel that I do not belong in any group, I thought it’s better to make my own space in an odd location. As long as I’m in that space, whether I’m working or planning an exhibition, it’s my territory, so I thought that I can be free from interference from others. If I create a virtual group and feel a sense of belonging within a square physical place where I can stand, I will gain momentum to continue doing something. That’s why I created a space where I can create my own sense of belonging myself.

SG: What is the identity of Cylinder that was born like that?

DY: I hope Cylinder works both as an exhibition space and as a gallery. In other words, it could be a space that does both alternative art and commercial art. I would like to do various things such as biennale-style art, commercial things, and showcases. It may be easy and irresponsible to say that, but I don’t think there is any reason why I can’t be done like that. I am a person who does not have confidence in myself, but I have confidence without reason that I can do various things in Cylinder. So this year seems to be the time to establish the identity of Cylinder in some way.

SG: So, how did the first exhibition at Cylinder come about?

DY: I decided to make a cylinder, watched a degree show online, and contacted the artists I liked. One of them was a Greek artist, and I was lucky enough to be contacted with her and to proceed with the exhibition with her agreement. So I planned the first exhibition and started the space construction. However, the floor was flooded due to poor construction. But no one took the responsibility. Due to the floor construction, the planned exhibition was distorted and I was repairing the floor myself. I thought everything wasn’t easy. Meanwhile, I got a call from artist Wonwoo Lee. He was knowing that I was making exhibition space, he suggested that he wanted to do the exhibition at Cylinder. However, the floor was so messed up, I couldn’t guarantee it. So I told him to come and judge by looking at the floor. He said that he would proceed with the exhibition after visiting the space, so the first exhibition at Cylinder was planned finally. After many twists and turns, and fortunately, the first exhibition was born.

Torque1/ Gear Shift, Exhibition Poster, Cylinder, 2021. Courtesy of Dooyong Roo.

SG: I wonder how the exhibitions after the first exhibition were planned. In particular, the exhibition based on degree shows from Jaegyun Lim, Jonghwan Lee, and Eunbeen Jung was personally impressed.

DY: Of course, I knew it was lucky to get a good result in the first exhibition, but I thought that Cylinder had received recognition as a space earlier than I expected. So I came up with a 2021 year plan to get this space to properly work. So I planned the February exhibition, and I made my mind to deal with the degree works of the graduates. Perhaps my experience as an artist was the biggest factor. When I had the BA degree show, it was very regrettable that my artwork was only used once and then thrown away without any value. So the exhibition with graduated artists at Cylinder is an exhibition reflecting my personal experience.

Jaegyun Lim, Jonghwan Lee, Eunbeen JungTorque1/ Gear Shift, Cylinder, 2021.

SG: It sounds so perfect and impressive. So, do you plan on doing this project on a regular basis?

DY: Yes. I have a plan to continue this talk series. Perhaps the reason I hope to continue as an annual program is because my autobiographical experiences as an artist are reflected. In fact, when I graduated in 2014, I received an award. But there was no place for the exhibition. Everyone said that the work was very good, but no one suggested to do an exhibition with me. I was young back then, so I believed those words straight out. Of course, I received an award, and my work was purchased by the university, but there was no way to verify that my work was actually working in the scene or not. Artists who are graduating from university these days may feel these aspects as well, and I hope to continue the project with the feeling of supporting a little bit in those areas. Usually, graduation exhibitions are held every year around December, so I will choose an artist I want to work with at that time, go through the planning stage for a month or two, and do it regularly around February every year. The maximum number of artists that Cylinder can accommodate is three, so I will continue the talk project for graduation work every year within that range.

SG: Your experience as an artist seems to be reflected in running Cylinder. Nevertheless, what is the difference between an artist and a space manager?

DY: In appreciating the same artwork, there is a clear difference between observing my own artwork and observing the works of other artists. I guess I have a good sense of aesthetics. However, it is not easy to apply a good aesthetic sense to my work. Sometimes the senses become dull, sometimes too sensitive. So it’s very difficult to complete my artworks. Knowing these difficulties, there is a belief that Artist-Run Spaces can stand in the position of artists a little more and represent them. Honestly, I’m still not sure if Cylinder is such a place or not. However, I have a strong desire to operate the cylinder as a supportive formation for the artists. Because I felt too much of a sense of failure when working as an artist myself, I want to stand on the side of the artist even a little bit more for the artists exhibiting in the Cylinder at least.

SG: I am curious about the criteria for choosing artworks and artists for the exhibition. In particular, what is the difference between introducing foreign artists to Korea and Korean artists abroad? Do you have any standard for it?

DY: It’s simpler than you think. It does not try to catch any standard and intuitively judges whether the artwork is good or bad. I believe in momentary intuition when I see the artwork. Therefore, it is easier to choose artworks from foreign artists than choosing works from Korean artists. Of course, since I lived in the UK, the artists I like, and the artists who are more easily networked are related to my days in the UK. However, it prioritizes whether the artist’s attitude toward the work is sincere or not. As long as the artwork is good, I think the story about the work can be created with the trust between me who run the space and the artist. So, I only focus on the artworks.

SG: So what about Korean artists? Is it different to see Korean art from the outside and from the inside of Korea? Some say that Korean art is still selected from a Eurocentric viewpoint abroad, and some say that these days it is different from before. Do your experiences in the UK affect the choice of Korean artists at Cylinder?

DY: When Korean art is introduced abroad, I always get the feeling that Europeans who believe that they have something evolved are introducing Asian art as something of an inferior thing. Especially, I have felt that feeling a lot as an artist in the UK. So, I think a commercial approach would be a way to break from the Eurocentric and introduce Korean art freely. That is why I prefer artworks that deal with such emotional lines with universal stories of people regardless of region. So, rather than talking about Korean history while emphasizing natural-born Koreans, I would like to introduce artists who tell a more truthful story even if they just talk about general things. Or, even if it contains a Korean narrative, I prefer artists who hide it in a very secret way or tell a lighthearted story in a pleasant way. I think we need to express it in a lighter way.

SG: So what is Cylinder’s goal?

DY: There is a meme saying that it comes to bring tension to the loose Korean hip-hop scene. That is the main keyword for me these days. There is a part of Korean art that is standardized, so I want to give a crack in that part. There are many different aspects to art. Therefore, it is necessary for artists and the public who likes art to perform activities and appreciate in the slot they like, but it is questionable whether Korean art currently contains such a variety of slots. Some like ornaments, some like landscape paintings, and each has its own preferences. From the point of view of an artist, there should be an environment where they can experience the variety of work they want in the slot they want, and from the point of view of the public, they should experience the work of the slot they want in a variety of ways. However, Korean art is more unified, especially when it comes to introducing Korean art abroad. So I want to bring a little tension to the loosed atmosphere with Cylinder. (If this is possible)

Poster of Kim Minhee's Solo Exhibition, Cylinder, 2021. Courtesy of Kai Oh

SG: I support that possibility. Finally, what are Cylinder’s next plans?

DY: The next exhibition will be an exhibition that expands Cylinder’s identity in earnest. For this, Kim Min-hee’s solo exhibition is planned for June. And in time for the exhibition, Cylinder goes to the Preview Art Fair held at Blue Square in Hannam-dong with artist Minhee Kim. As I said earlier, this year seems to be the time to establish the identity of the cylinder. So goodbye!

SuperGlue sincerely supports the possibility of Cylinder to bring a tension to the loose Korean art scene. Please pay attention on Cylinder and the manager of Cylinder, Dooyong Ro.