Calgary artist explores public space, cultural interactions

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It seems fitting, for this story, that two Calgarians, both former immigrants to Canada, should accidentally meet in Berlin, the ultimate city of intersections: bringing together cultures, ideas and urban muckraking.

"I'm interested in how a city is structured and organized and how people have a living experience," Hye-Seung Jung told me as we sat in the blazing July heat outside a funky Berlin café. 

"The overall experience of living is dictated by how a city is organized and this is related to art, as well."

I met Jung at a show in Berlin, where she was representing her collective, Dry Tide, whose members -- Christine Cheung, Andrea Weber, Yotaro Niwa -- live in Canada, Europe and Asia. Dry Tide's focus is on the dynamics of culture and of individuals interacting with each other.

The show had Jung at a table with a collection of kitchen items and ingredients for her noodle-making demo. She was backed by three screens showing herself and two other Dry Tide members eating.

"We set a time on Skype to eat together from three different locations: Vancouver, Calgary and Paris. We also talked to each other," explained Jung. "Then, we made videos by ourselves, looking at the camera pretending someone was on other side but we were eating alone."

Jung says the concept was sparked by a Korean trend in which people living alone would film themselves chowing down on a variety of foods. These videos are uploaded and people watch and "Like" them.

'We want to connect'

"It's quite normal nowadays. People always want to connect to each other by whatever means possible," said Jung of the phenomenon of Skype-eating. "It's showing what we want [from technology]. We want to connect."

That prompted a few Dry Tide exhibits, one of which took place in Paris and two more in Berlin. Dry Tide decided on noodle-making as an artistic act because the food is so common in many cultures.

"My Turkish friend tells me his grandmother makes noodles and so does my Serbian friend's grandmother," noted Jung.

 Tsukasa Yajima

Photo: Hye-Seung Jung in Berlin. Credit: Tsukasa Yajima

At the Berlin show, Jung invited members of the audience to help her -- to pour water to make the dough, knead the dough or cut it into noodles.

"It was fun!" she recalled. "One guy who helped me talked about getting a recipe from his grandma and making noodles, too. It was a sensory experience for us all."

Personal interactions are important to Jung, who notes that "you are not necessarily surrounded by the people you have established relationships with anymore." It's something she knows.

Homogenous neighbourhoods

Arriving in Calgary from South Korea in 2002 to pursue her master of arts degree, she was struck by a sense of isolation -- created mostly by the geography of the city and not necessarily the experience of migration.

"Calgary is a typical North American city. All its neighbourhoods are homogenous," she notes. "You don't feel connected to anything. There are mountains and some small towns but they also feel the same."

Coming from Seoul, with a population of 10 million, she struggled to adjust to Calgary, one-tenth the size of the South Korean capital. Jung points out that in Seoul, the neighbourhoods are worlds unto themselves.

"The centre has the old Palace and traditional houses but five minutes away is the business centre with highrises and a little farther is the university area with lots of street life and cafés."

Even more, she found that getting around Calgary was a hassle.

"Public transit isn't very good. I've never owned a car but I had to adapt to that kind of lifestyle. In Berlin [as in Seoul] you can go anywhere freely without thinking of parking because of the transit. Having a car is a burden!"

Even so, Jung is happy to be in Calgary and says the city has come a long way.

In June, along with 50 other artists, she took over the old Penguin Car Wash, which was about to be demolished by a developer who had taken over the site.

The Wreck City Collective invited the artists and performers to re-make the space for about a week, inviting the public to join events.

 Hye-Seung Jung

Photo: City of Drift at Wreck City: Demo Tape. Credit: Diane +Mike Photography 

Jung was provided two car-wash bays. She decided she wanted the public to be able to drop by and interact.

"I went around and collected these shipping pallets and created an amphitheatre for people sit in."

The Sled Island Festival was also happening and some musicians had been invited to play at the car wash as well.

The main focus of her City of Drift Conversations was to have a couple of artists, one design advocate and a community organizer hang out and chat about their ideas about art and the city, fostering an exchange with the audience.

"People really enjoyed it. Families came," said Jung. "There is a thirst for these activities, more free space for the audience to interact -- not a gallery space."

The reaction was so positive, the artist is now in talks with Son Edworthy, a local organizer, to create more public events similar to City of Drift, for Calgarians.

Jung says these will be informal and have a grassroots feel.

"We need something other than parks or cafés in which people can interact freely and without having to pay to do it."

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

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