Corner at Mipo

From a conversation between Ryu Byong-Hak, Curator of the Sea Art Festival Biennale Busan 2006, Korea, and Oliver Kruse 11/2006

Ryu Byong-Hak: Oliver, your work is part of our project »Public Furniture«, a project that is concerned with the kind of art that can be integrated into everyday life, into existing structures, as a walk-in sculpture. How did your work in Busan come about?

Oliver Kruse: My aim is to achieve a heightening of the notion of site-specificity. I want the work to be really bound up with the surrounding space or environment to which it relates, like a parasite, like mistletoe that grows in a tree and cannot exist without its host. Corner at Mipo evolved from a series of earlier works, such as Zwischenraum or Josephinenstr.15. It was in these works that I had already begun to digitize spaces. The interventions incorporated into these virtual spaces were then reproduced by computer-controlled robots and introduced into the real room or space.

R.B.-H.: What made you choose the location at Mipo for your work here in Busan?

O.K.: The shore is an interspace. It divides the landscape into water and earth. It is where the constantly moving, inaccessible surface of the water meets the firm, manmade ground. My interest lies in the tension that exists in the space, the interspace, between the different qualities of these realms. It was at Mipo that I finally found the optimum conditions for a work in this in-between space of tension, not least because the prerequisites in terms of urban planning are much more favourable than on the opposite beach, which has been designed through and through. Mipo revealed itself to me as a naturally evolved part of the city bordering a popular, heavily populated beach. It is a part of the city that belongs to people who lead simple lives, fishermen and traders. Mipo‘s link with the tourist beach and its large hotels is by way of its small harbour with the restaurants and excursion boats. Moreover, one has a wonderful view from there of the coastline and the city. And so it was that after a great deal of searching I found this corner at Mipo as the perfect place for a kind of observation platform.

R.B.-H.: In dentistry there is the term Inlay, which I think very aptly describes this intervention. It fits exactly into the site-specific structure of the surroundings.

O.K.: I wanted to work – in terms of both content and space – with the existing materials there, that is the say, I had this quay wall and the ledge below it – on which the work now stands – accurately measured during my last visit and then I digitally reconstructed the site with a 3-D program. This is indeed the very place where the dynamically moving surface of the water meets the solid, static ground of the shore, which has been artificially levelled with concrete. That is the tension that interests me. So I decided to work with a set of volumetric shapes that move to and fro just like the waves and at the same time mesh with this place on the coast. During my last visit to Busan, Lee Sangseop and I searched for, and found, a firm that would be able to realize the project. My intention was to digitize the three-dimensional forms, have the corresponding concrete formwork installed on the site and then have the concrete placed in one monolithic pour. And despite the difficult position on the water‘s edge, we succeeded! My first idea was to produce a labyrinthine structure with a kind of railing, but this would have given rise to constant problems with entrapped water. I then kept simplifying the work until it ultimately took the form of several solid, interpenetrating hemispheres with a walk-in core area. Located on a ledge slightly below street level, these hemispheres seem to have frozen in their rocking motion, establishing a link with the adjacently moored fishing boats and ships that rock gently to and fro on the water.

R.B.-H.: But there is also a link with the surrounding landscape.

O.K.: I wanted to relate to the famous Korean group of 5/6 islands which the work faces. I liked the 5/6 concept very much: the group of islands is so called because you can sometimes see 5, sometimes 6 islands, depending on the weather conditions and the tide. I therefore also worked with 5/6 hemispheres that penetrate not only each other but the place, too.

R.B.-H.: How did the work evolve? Did you make any preparatory sketches?

O.K.: The work was three-dimensionally so complex that we had to use a computer program for volumetric addition and subtraction. I didn‘t begin with sketches but with a concept that was tried out straightaway on the monitor. It is interesting to experience the transition from simulation, from virtual reality, to the actual reality of the work as a built structure, as a full-scale work of architecture. If you approach the work from Mipo, you will see only the »tip of the iceberg«, because the largest part of the work is on a ledge located below street level. Only when you come so close that you can look round the back of it do you see the structure in its entirety. Indeed, the entire work was not constructed in the usual way from complicated drawings, elevations and sectional views but entirely from threedimensional data. We sent a file by e-mail to Korea containing all the data necessary for the construction of the work.

This is the crux of my interest: a thing is a thought gained. It is in keeping with this notion that we developed digital strategies that made the transition from virtuality to reality possible. They also enabled us to learn to think things differently … to invent things differently. Translation from the virtual world of thought into the actual world of things becomes easier and furthers the process of mutual interaction.

R.B.-H.: How do you see the work here in Busan, in the context of the Biennale?

O.K.: What is important for me here is not just to create a temporary structure for the limited duration of an international exhibition, but rather to create a work that can enter into a possible dialogue with the people living in its surroundings and offer them a new space that adds something to their existing situation.

R.B.-H.: What problems did you encounter when realizing the work?

O.K.: As I see it, the realization of such a work is very much like that of a work of delegable architecture. The work was designed with three-dimensional means and built according to this design. As in the case of a work of architecture, several options for its location in the urban environment were discussed beforehand. Once the location had been agreed upon, the work could commence. It was then carried out quickly and precisely.

R.B.-H.: How do visitors react to your artwork?

O.K.: That‘s a question I‘d like to throw back at you, as you have been able to view it together with various people. What I would wish for is that this work become a new place in this quarter of the town, a vantage point, a haven of rest, an island on the mainland. At the opening, in the middle of all the interviews and the usual discussions about art – and money – I overheard the owner of the neighbouring restaurant, who had nothing to do with the exhibition, say: »I think it‘s a work of philosophy«. During the eighties, in Hombroich, Erwin Heerich used to say: Art is an intervention in reality. And Matta-Clark, whose work I very much admire, also contributed to the use of architecture as a material in the sense of an artistic intervention. It is this standpoint, the understanding of art as an intervention, no matter how temporary, that I find wonderfully interesting.

R.B.-H.: Most of the people did not immediately recognize Corner at Mipo as an artwork. It is precisely this moment that interests me about your work. I think your work can be described as radical art. As a curator, I would say that radical art is the kind of art that does not appear as art. For example, a radical work of art provokes the question Where is the artwork?, although the viewer is already standing right in the middle of it. The Swiss art historian Oskar Bätschmann defined contemporary artists as »exhibition artists«. In Mipo, the defining framework of »exhibition art« has been transcended, opening the way to a new meaning of art in society. Today, I think, the radical contemporary work of art stands as a doppelgänger between art and object.

O.K.: Whether object or art, the work must also be an intervention in life »outside« the art world. Corner at Mipo takes in the surroundings and the people, both physically and inwardly. It is about an experienceable threedimensional reality that is also expressed through architectural means. The aspect of how we read the work is complemented by a physical experience. The platform invites you to walk onto it and sit on it, to cast your eyes over the ocean, enjoy the view. In a conversation we can only come close to this perceptual experience, but the actual experience in this interspace between water and land cannot be expressed in words – they come later, as a result of the experience.

Translation: John Brogden