The fact that Jewyo Rhii’s exhibition has only been intermittently open to the public due to COVID restrictions seems appropriate for the Korean born artist whose show focuses on the moment of transition between the private and public spaces of the gallery. The conundrum of transposing the meaning or value of an artwork from the private spaces where it is produced to the public arena of the gallery is a main theme of Jewyo Rhii’s work. For ‘Love Your Depot_LDN’, the artist has converted the Korean Cultural Centre’s white-walled space into a functional art store, complete with modular storage racks and packing crates that mimic the interstitial space in which her work can spend so much of its time. This meditation on the status of the artist and their work in ‘limbo’ is given pertinence by being so evidently closed off as the show remains only partially visible during London’s second lockdown through the Centre’s Northumberland Street facing windows.
Visiting the exhibition on the eve of lockdown, the first video I see is a short animation: a colourful sequence of sketched images of Jewyo Rhii’s sculptures come to life, including a biomorphic blob and an array of distinctive homemade typewriters. The video is shown inside one of several opened art packing cases several which are deposited around the space, each bearing the shipping labels and identification forms that signify the institutional art world ecology. An impetus for the ‘Love Your Depot’ project was Jewyo’s realisation, when notified that her German dealer Ursula Walbröl was retiring, that much of her oeuvre was precariously scattered in storage between the galleries and institutions she exhibited with. A 2019 award from National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea gave her the resources to repatriate her work and start planning a permanent storage ‘institute’ for Jewyo’s and other artists work in Seoul. The ‘blob’ sculpture featured in Jewyo’s animation, titled ‘Undocumented Enlightening Project’ (2013), can also be seen disassembled in a crate belonging to the artist’s London dealer Amanda Wilkinson. Jewyo talked to me about the importance of this particular work’s connection to her mentor, Korean artist Bahc Yiso (1957–2004), which gives the exhibition additional poignancy and reveals how the artist remains emotionally invested in her work even when it lies in storage, in an ambiguous state.
Happily, Jewyo has ambitions for ‘Love Your Depot_LDN’ that go beyond the rude mechanical problems of art and the artist in transit. The installation is also a working space with production facilities for ‘Team Depot’: a group of young artists that Jewyo assembled following her 2017 exhibition at London’s Showroom gallery. Team Depot members feature in videos shown here, waltzing with art works from the Seoul version of the ‘Depot’ and operating the ‘Goodbye Service’: a performance of the disposal of exhibition materials from the Queens Museum in New York. Team Depot members Donghyun Lee, Jiho Park, Jisu Kim and Jonghyuk Lee worked with Jewyo on exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre and were still inhabiting the space when I visited. They plan to be there for the duration, with a programme of online activity produced in collaboration with Locus+ and Globe Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The project with Team Depot is important for Jewyo. Having spent the majority of her career outside of Korea, she is concerned by the generational gap that seems to have become a part of Korean society and its impacts on the domestic contemporary art scene. It is commendable that Jewyo is using the exhibition as an agency to challenge this situation while consistent with her works questioning of the already discombobulated existence of the artist. ‘Love Your Depot_LDN’ resonates even more so now at the time of lockdown with the new challenges facing artists and for the public life of art.