There are certain people who have the ability to make their presence known as soon as they walk into a room. The energy of art mediator Ahn Hye Kyoung not only accomplishes this but also warms every inch and crevice of her surroundings. Exhibition organizer, Jeju women’s film festival founder, and art gallery owner, Ahn has taken on different roles, serving as a liaison between the art world and Jeju’s inhabitants. Her passion revolves around the hope of sparking discussions about societal issues. “Art doesn’t just imitate something well,” she says. “It conveys what people are thinking. It’s a form of communication.”
Did you always know you wanted to do something art related? I actually went to Seoul for university and majored in mathematics, which is very far from what I’m doing now. When I came back after graduation I got married, but after 10 years, I started to feel really bored with just married life and being a mother.
How were you first introduced to the art world? One day a friend in my neighborhood registered to take a print class, but she didn’t want to do it alone. She pushed me to go with her and I loved it. I found that art is really awesome. Not because of printmaking, but because of the expression.
So the print class inspired you to make a career out of art? Yes. I thought a lot of people might be like me: they might not have had a chance to experience art. I started to think about the way I could communicate between artists and people. I decided I wanted to be a mediator.
Why a mediator? I felt that art could bring some kind of philosophy or idea of society. Art doesn’t just imitate something well, it conveys what people are thinking. It’s a form of communication.
Why do you think your role as an art mediator is important to Jeju? Of course these days things have changed a little, but when I first experienced art in Jeju, the art style that I saw in exhibitions was usually really boring. Artists didn’t have their own style, and many thought if they put some sort of political thinking into their work, it wasn’t fine art. But for me, art is an expression of what I think about people and society. As a mediator I try to find something in the exhibition or in the art that let people think about themselves, society or relationships.
What steps did you take in order to become an art mediator? I looked up the course I could take to do this kind of work. It was a kind of new area of study for Korea, but I found a graduate school, Chung-Ang University in Seoul. I majored in management of art and culture, but focused on making exhibitions in museums.
Were there any specific classes that influenced you? My university was the first school to have a feminist class and department. The last year of university I had a chance to take that class. It was really amazing. Even before, when I was in my second year of university, I had the chance to read a book about feminism. I went to university in 1982, and during that period of time Korean people had a lot of social limitations, politically. I thought, “I have to do something. I have to speak out.” What steps have you taken to speak out? I started the Women’s Film Festival on the island. For me, my feminist group is the only group that we can speak out. When I choose the films, I try to find a range from very mild to progressive. I’m also trying to find something that conveys women’s art.
Feminism is still not familiar in our society, especially in Jeju. People don’t want to criticize something sharply because everyone knows each other. But we need to criticize things otherwise society won’t change. If there is no criticizing there will be no rebuilding. We should shake the society.
You also have your own gallery, Art Space C. What made you decide to open up your own space? I thought if I had my own space then it would be good to make something whenever I wanted. I had three main objectives for starting the gallery: communication, culture, and creativity.
Do you feel like you’ve accomplished what you’ve wanted to do with your gallery? I can’t say it like that. I’m doing what I can do as much as I can. What if I make some goal and I achieve it right away? Then I’d be unhappy. Or if I make a goal too high, then I can easily give up. I’m trying not to do that.
And your gallery recently moved locations? Yes, we moved from Shin Jeju to Jung-ang-ro last February. I love being in Gu Jeju. The building that I’m using now is my parents’ building. It’s where I grew up from the time I was in second grade in elementary school to the third grade of high school. I have so many memories in that building and the area. I love that.
I understand you’re also involved in a project with the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa? Yes, the artist Mario Uribe and I have been working together since I was involved in an exchange project between Santa Rosa and Jeju City. We met each other through that project. During his visits he learned more about Sasam (April 3rd Massacre) and had a show at my gallery. He also wanted to let people in the US know about Sasam since the US was strongly involved, and has been pushing for an exhibition at the Sonoma County Museum. We’ve been talking about it since 2007, and it was finally decided at the end of January 2012.
How do you think Jeju provides creativity and inspiration for artists? These days a lot of artists come to Jeju for their work. Clearly you can see it. I think they are coming because they think Jeju is a good place for creativity. But I think it’s completely up to the artist and what type of art they love and what they are looking for. Jeju has a lot of issues to talk about: environment, the naval base, Sasam … there are so many things they could work on, but it’s up to their style and interests.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? I’m trying to read books as much as I can, and I also watch a lot of movies. I talk with artists and friends to try to know more about society and what the main issues are to talk about. I just keep my eyes and ears open.
Do you have a favorite place in Jeju? I couldn’t just pick one because I have too many favorite places … but these days I love to walk around the city area, but in the alleyways.
Why do you enjoy doing this? I don’t know. I just love it. Maybe because I think we are losing that part of the city, and I really want to experience it before it’s lost. Also, while I’m walking around the alleys, I can think about the people living there. What kind of life they are having right now? What kind of history they had before? What kind of life we had before we built apartments? Things like that.
How do you think art has molded you since you took that first printing class? When I went to the studio, it was a kind of place where I breathed. It was something that I could think in my mind, and I could bring out. I enjoyed how to think about how to express my thoughts into an imaginary area. It made me feel free.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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