Crossing Sectors, Cultures, & Continents: A Hurried Dialogue in the Digital Industrial Complex

Posted by Mr. Tom C. Borrup, Nov 09, 2011 1 comment

Tom Borrup (center) and friends

I’m writing this post on the return flight to Minneapolis from Seoul, South Korea following a whirlwind three days after speaking at an international symposium billed as: Artist, Enterprise, and Industrial Complex.

This half-day symposium was part of a larger effort by the mayor of Seoul to transform old industrial spaces into creative engines of innovation, to cross-pollinate urban regeneration, technological innovation, and the emergence of a new Korean culture.

Known as Seoul Art Space, this network of nine centers serve as catalysts to bring a growing and changing city and its emerging creative economy onto a world stage. As part of its charge, Seoul Art Space works to forge productive dialogues across sectors and constituencies--largely among people who have seen no need to converse, and who barely have a language to do so.

During the day before the symposium, I traveled with my interpreter and guide Kyuwan (pronounced, he said, like the letter Q and number one) via subway and bus across the vast city. He warned me that Koreans are always in a hurry and not to take it personally if someone pushed me on the subway. I saw the characteristic playing out at multiple levels.

Clearly the pace at which the city has been built--and is still being built--demonstrates that haste. As a city and as a culture, Seoul and South Koreans have wasted no time becoming a global economic and creative powerhouse.

Kyuwan himself provided a real and metaphorical parallel to the dialogue the Seoul Art Space is attempting to foster.

Born, raised, and educated in South Africa of Korean parents, and now living in Seoul, Kyuwan had responded to an internet ad for this interpreter assignment, having no previous connection to the arts. Somewhat of an outsider both to Korea and to the arts, he brought a unique perspective.

The nine centers of Seoul Art Space were established during the past three years. Each was designed as a combination of discipline-specific and constituency-based artist-residency centers, simultaneously serving their respective neighborhoods--a complex and challenging mandate.

Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON is the cutting-edge visual art and media center and site of the symposium. Part of its mandate requires opening dialogue between artists and business entrepreneurs, IT professionals, software designers, and others. Located in the GEUMCHEON district, this center was designated as such due to the area’s increasing identity for its concentration of high-tech industries under the banner of the Digital Industrial Complex.

Lee Sang Seon, CEO of Digital Valley News, the self-confessed organ of the Digital Industrial Complex, described it as a loosely configured framework comprised of 102 high-rise buildings (with more on the way) each containing an average of 100 IT, software, design, and related businesses.

In questions he posed to Kim Hee-young, manager of the GEUMCHEON space, he challenged her to better define the Art Space’s role in stimulating the high-tech economy. He asked whether the center was promoting product innovation or focusing on making a stimulating environment for the creative class workers--assuming these are two separate courses of action.  Later, on the way to dinner, Kim Hee-young acknowledged the pressures of her job given the varied constituencies of artists, residents, and a dominant high tech industry--along with the need to show results within the confines of mayoral election cycles.

The Chief of Culture and Arts Research for the Korea Culture & Tourism Institute, Kim Kyuwon, brought to light some challenges facing Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON and suggested it may not achieve results so quickly.

He felt it important to recognize that the center was built not only among high-tech companies, but within a neighborhood of older and working class people, including many retirees, who might regard avant garde artists and what they do as if they were a UFO.

One of the last speakers, a young man named Octamin, described how he decided to forego his dreams as a media artist to enter the workforce as a smart phone designer for Samsung. The dichotomy he presented adds to some of the barriers as if one path excludes the other. He expressed his added frustration in hoping to have a seamless collaboration between his artist-self and company engineers. Traversing this gulf is surely indicative of the challenges faced by Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON.

It was often difficult for me to capture the full meaning of each speaker through the simultaneous translations from Korean and Japanese to English. It represented another layer in the challenges of global and cross-sector dialogue, especially when the clock is ticking and the mayor wants results.

Forging meaningful dialogue across sectors and professions, let alone cultures and continents, is a difficult thing to rush. As a culture or nation of people who are in a hurry, South Korean’s may get frustrated. I just hope they don’t give up.

As my guide Kyuwan put me on the airport shuttle on the final day, and we exchanged goodbyes, he said he was glad he had gotten this assignment. It gave him a lot to think about.

1 responses for Crossing Sectors, Cultures, & Continents: A Hurried Dialogue in the Digital Industrial Complex


November 10, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Tom, what a fascinating experience. My experience in Seoul last year, invited by Artspace GEUMCHEON, was equally exhilarating, puzzling, and a learning experience. The focus then was to consider how the arts spaces which, although neighborhood situated, could be linking more effectively through "community arts" practices and projects to the people and live and work in those neighborhoods. The tension between the City's desire to implement such a direction, and the participating artists' less than full buy-in at the time, was evident. Your comment about the fast-paced evolution of Seoul strikes a chord. Thanks for your substantive reflections on the long plane ride home (possibly flying over the North Pole!)

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