Seminar IV - Youjin Choi
Interactions and Interrelations
Eugene Hannah Park (DCW 2021)
At the fourth seminar of the 2021 DOOSAN Curator Workshop, we invited Youjin Choi, an exhibition designer at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), to talk about the changing role of exhibition design in the history of contemporary curation as well as the interactions among different agents (such as curators, designers, and audiences) by taking various exhibitions as examples.
In contemporary art, the curator’s role has transformed from simply administrative to one of production and practice, which has accordingly brought changes in the manner of curators’ interactions with artists and audiences. For instance, as can be seen in the case of Utopia Station (2003), mentioned in Paul O’Neill’s The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), as the strategy behind the curatorial elements that have mediated the design, structure, and arrangement of exhibitions began to come to the fore, the relationships between artists, curators, and audiences started to change in varying fashions. Differing components such as the manner with which an audience forms a relationship with an exhibition, the performativity of a curator, and the attitude with which an artist produces an artwork can come across in one exhibition.
Exhibition designers respond in different manners to these diversifying situations according to their relationships with artists, curators, and audiences, simultaneously visualizing collaboration. Exhibitions are either symbolic or spatial, so attitudes and formats change depending on the elements that are taken into consideration. Museum for All, Museum for Dogs (2020) was an exhibition that approached its audience in a different way. At the time, the artists used their imagination to assume the position of producers and aid in the viewing of the exhibition from the perspective of dogs, rather than act as artists focused on showcasing their artworks. This approach differs from the decision-making power of an artist involved in a solo exhibition.
Since every element of an exhibition space interacts with the audience in one way or another, an exhibition designer considers the interrelation between the interior and exterior of an exhibition based on its concept and planning. As one can see from the design of early-1990s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibitions as well as Frederick John Kiesler’s design of the MoMA’s recent archive exhibition, the exhibition designers designed the structure of exhibition alongside curators who act as producers. A theatrical environment structuralizes the spatial relationship within the exhibition. For the MMCA’s Movement Making Movement (2021), Youjin Choi took initiative in constructing the exhibition space while closely collaborating with the curator. Choi designed the space by using rear projection screens to allow the audience to view the works either from diverse standing point of audiences and placed the artists’ production tools in the middle of the exhibition space as an opportunity for visitor participation.
Another example is the MMCA’s Unflattening (2020). Choi prefers the method of starting with texts and constructing the exhibition by expanding upon keywords relevant to the space, just as simple descriptions of a scenario expand into a scene in filmmaking. Exhibition designers read research materials, project proposals, and prefaces written by the curators closely, then extract key elements and use them as the basis for design. For Unflattening, Choi selected “brutalist architecture” as a keyword that sustained the space. She took note of the structural and material properties of architecture of the 1950s and 60s, and historical moments connected to communism and socialism, and used them to consider the entire composition of the exhibition. Fulfilling the role of designer as a mediator, Choi coordinated various elements including medium of each work, artists’ intentions, audience movement, and the number of artworks and style and order of their installation.
In conversation with Choi, participants discussed how curators and exhibition designers’ approaches must change depending on each exhibition. Collectively, they were able to recognize the importance of having a conversation that allows for the reading and creating of the overall context within a relationship in which one takes initiative or shares it with others.