30 May 2010
by Clare Cumberlidge
Clare Cumberlidge reports on her trip to Korea during the installation of Happiness for Daily Life.
In 2009 I was invited by the British Council to co-curate the British contribution to Experimenta, Lisbon Design Biennial. Under the theme, “Its About Time”, the Biennial aimed to explore and question the response of the design community to the proposition that time and resources are running out. Our proposition was that resources are not running out, rather we need to think about resources differently – what they are and how they can be used. One of my original curatorial concepts for Lisbon was to create a Village Café, created by designers who share an ethos of resourcefulness and generosity.
The Village Café couldn’t happen in Lisbon but Yoonjoe heard about the idea and asked if we could create a café for Gongju, a small town in South Korea. The local resources of any place are a mix of the cultural, historical, vernacular and material. One of the most exciting potentials in Korea was to work in partnership with the Korean National University for Cultural Heritage and the local regeneration partnership. Working with these partners gave us an opportunity to create a social and cultural public space which would marry the design sensibilities of the UK with the rich craft traditions of Korea.
In selecting the designers for Happiness For Daily Life we wanted to work with people from different disciplines and different stages of career, but whose practices utilize and communicate local resources. As a curator my practice is to commission people to do something new. Happiness for Daily Life offered each designer this opportunity – either in process or product.
Visiting and working in Korea was amazing. It was fascinating to leave the city of Seoul and travel through the country, first to the University where we met with Linda and Fabien and got first site of the work they had made in collaboration with the students and professors. Fantastic richly coloured and decorated outdoor furniture by Fabien, raku plates and cups and beautiful hybridised cutlery from Linda.
Then on to the small town of Gongju. We were relieved to find the venue so prepared, the original images of the space had shown us a plasterboard clad, damp and dark interior with windows blocked and ceiling collapsing. Michael’s instructions to strip back and reveal the historic structure had created a stunning interior, the bold gesture of the table and the simple structure of the café counter looked fabulous. Another highpoint was the arrival of Antony’s fabric, which sang with colour as we opened it out along the table.
The rest of that week was spent on installation, searching the local market for materials and skills, working with a seamstress to sew the material for the lighting, looking for coat hooks, getting the poster framed. The accomplishment of everyday tasks gave us a real insight into Korean life.
As the curator, Happiness for Daily Life was a wonderful project for me; the café looked amazing, the designers all achieved the blend of cultural tradition and contemporary sensibility which we wanted to explore, the whole project depended on very real cultural exchange. It felt good to provide such an amazing catalyst for the potential relationship between culture and public space, and to know that all of us involved in the project from the UK had gained enormously from our experience. All of us have come back loving Korea, the kindness and attitude and culture of the Korean’s we met and worked with, the insight into the culture and traditions of the country. We can’t wait to return.