Just over a week ago, I attended the opening reception for ArtSonje’s latest exhibition, ‘City Within the City’. A contemporary art space located near Kyunbok Palace in central Seoul, ArtSonje is surrounded by a fusion of tradition and trend. The center’s location in Sokeuk-dong felt like just the right place for the curatorial project, one that catalogues the experience of the individual within created, enforced, and imagined environments. The event was a success: a mélange of artists from various nations participated in the project, it seemed well-funded, exceptionally curated, and all in all, the exhibition wholly satisfied the veritable checklist of things a gallerygoer comes to expect from a place with such an upstanding reputation.
I could delve into detail about the activities of the evening, of the works themselves, of the interesting conversations, the enjoyable after-events, the enigmatic people that seem to find you everywhere in Seoul, but all this I will spare. I want to talk about one thing, and one thing alone, which really hit me that evening. It wasn’t on my mind whilst strolling the exhibition spaces upstairs. I had no idea of it when my attention was focused on Kim Beom’s dark Three Worlds, nor did I even feel it tickle my imagination as I integrated myself into Abraham Cruzvillegas’ appropriated Autoconstruccion.
It is quite difficult, really, (even after a week of mulling it over in the shower) to place what this feeling actually is. It is not so much a state of knowing as it is a sort of personal understanding devoid of meaning. In certain streams of modern philosophy, hell, in general, we ascertain that consciousness exists as a sort of unbreakable chain of self-awareness. But I am not convinced that I have become aware of this feeling through a gradual undulating of sentiment. Arguably, it can be sustained that this thing, this peculiar feeling, has always been a part of me, perhaps buried deep in some metaphysical crevice, and it was simply the culmination of a variety of experiences on that faithful evening that have allowed me to contemplate anew. No, I don’t buy that, either. Needless to say, all this time I’ve thought something from ‘City Within the City’ has stayed with me, but after standing that thought on its head, I have come to realize that what’s true is quite the opposite.
For whatever reason (at this point I am not too concerned with figuring it all out, anyway) and as a result of a variety of things (bits and pieces of aesthetic euphoria mixed with a tinge of intoxication and a healthy dose of camaraderie) I feel within the city. A part of it. Not a visitor, not a piece in a puzzle, but a cardboard component. The material necessity of a given space. Nay, the immaterial. Sure, that sounds silly, but think about how we often seem to mime our lives and only ever so often feel lost in the moment. I know you are no stranger to the burden of bliss and what comes after one was happy and is no longer said to be. So, entertain me for a second, and imagine too, that you are organic. It’s a strange thing to force and maybe I am naïve and all this is last year’s news, but I am not entirely convinced that this is so ordinary.
I do know that I am an integral part of the community, what with my transactions and abstractions, my annyeonghasayos and my ability to make traffic stop when I simply choose to cross the street. I used to know that I was a single person occupying a finite amount of space at any given time. But now I know that’s not all of it. As singular as I am, I feel unbounded; confined to a given area but also linked with an infinite number of connections, relations, and bonds. Perhaps I’ve always known about this feeling and understood its potential—maybe it has visited me in dreams or danced on the back of my neck—but now that it is here, standing with me in this very room, hollering over the buzzing in my head, I am not so sure I’ve ever really known anything.
It is not that I all of a sudden feel welcome here or part of something larger, but rather, I now feel that within me, within my own physical body, my own intimate environment, I contain something smaller (or greater?), something powerful and wonderful and worthy of contemplation, yet also above it. I feel like I am a destination, my appendages and organs open for exploration, dark chasms and tunnels awaiting ignition, allowing revelation, the chambers of my heart stained glass cathedral windows and my lungs bombshelters filled with grain and dust and earth. I am the city.