Radical Compositions: The Artlab Ecosystem
What conditions do artists need to thrive? The Artlab team shares their thoughts on co-creating the contemporary, the importance of building resilient networks, and functioning like parts of a living system.
Though much has been discussed about how artistic mediums and practices have shifted over recent years, expanding and altering to address new conversations, technologies, and ideas...
Though much has been discussed about how artistic mediums and practices have shifted over recent years, expanding and altering to address new conversations, technologies, and ideas, less has been said about how those who facilitate and present contemporary art have similarly changed shape. Whether through partnerships, exhibitions, prizes or commissions, a new generation is expanding how we encounter and understand the art of our time. To better understand this process, we reached out to the individuals behind Artlab. The result is the following conversation with Artlab’s DooEun Choi, Sophie Han, Mi Jin Hwang, Ines Jang, Jihye Jang, Juan Jeong, Taiyun Kim and Nyla Rah.
"As a continuously evolving network, Artlab’s hybrid structure allows ideas and support to flow between regions and interests, fully embracing diversity and multiplicity."
Tell us about the beginning of Hyundai Artlab. How did you determine its mission and shape?
It started as a small group of four people. After a couple years, as projects evolved and diversified, Artlab became a larger team with the purpose to initiate art partnership programs on a global scale—fostering creativity, inspiration, and new ways of thinking. Basically, we’re a group of people who delight in exploring what we can learn through art. It’s from this starting point that we lead Hyundai’s global art initiatives, including our museum partnerships around the world.
We knew from the beginning that Hyundai Motor’s participation in the art world had to be sustainable, and we wanted to shape our map of initiatives in a way that is valuable to those for whom it matters the most, and who have the most to contribute—artists, curators, experts, the audience. Ultimately, the people. With our ongoing global projects and now a digital channel, we’re continuing what we started—inspiring and broadening our understanding of the world around us through art.
Courtesy of the artist. Image provided by MMCA.
Artlab is a network of partnerships, commissions, prizes, and exhibitions. What is the thinking behind this hybrid structure?
We think of Artlab’s many initiatives like the different parts of a living organism. Rather than simply sponsoring or working with a single exhibition, institution, or theme, we attempt to account for the entire art ecosystem. Not only do our different aspects need to coexist, they need to continue to thrive. We run activities based on what is necessary for their expansion to create a sustainable structure with institutions, artists, and communities. And then of course is our transnational perspective, which also adds to this hybrid structure.
Another way to think about hybridity is diversity. We aim to connect with all the diverse layers that constitute this contemporary art world. These would include the art institutions of both established or emerging backgrounds, artists of different generations and regions, researchers from different fields, etc. We focused on the fact that each of these agents needs diverse types of support, ranging from exhibition space and financial grants, to mentorship and residencies. As a continuously evolving network, Artlab’s hybrid structure allows ideas and support to flow between regions and interests, fully embracing diversity and multiplicity.
© Abraham Cruzvillegas Photo © Tate (Andrew Dunkley)
From a curatorial perspective, what are some defining moments of Artlab’s history?
We still remember the energy from our press conference in Los Angeles. We were celebrating the beginning of our partnership with LACMA, which followed our collaborations with the MMCA and Tate, in front of Tony Smith’s sculpture, Smoke. It was a fitting backdrop: a monumental work in which the individual components are visible. Also, Smith was a participant in LACMA’s A&T program in the late ’60s. That program was reborn as the Art + Technology Lab as part of our partnership.
Another expansive project was our very first Hyundai Commission: Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Empty Lot. Exploring ideas of chance, change and hope, it planted the seed for many new ideas for our partnership with Tate.
In October of 2017, SUPERFLEX filled the Turbine Hall with their Hyundai Commission work: One Two Three Swing! For this work, swings designed for three people filled the hall and museum’s surrounding grounds. It was the first Turbine Hall commission to extend beyond the museum, and really speaks to the art’s huge potential to exist in new forms and locations.
Throughout everything we do, collective understanding and sustainable partnerships define our work. Over the years, as we’ve launched different initiatives, we began to understand Artlab as something that goes beyond borders. We’re not here just to pin ourselves to several spots on the globe, but to offer something expansive, inclusive, and flexible.
© SUPERFLEX Photo © Tate
Why does Artlab focus on the intersection of art and technology?
It seems natural for us to seek the points where art and technology meet, since both are searching for the same thing: a better understanding of our reality and our future. Our art and technology-related projects explore how creatives bring a whole new perspective to technology. Technology is no longer a tool; it is now our living environment. The convergence of art and technology enables us to examine the present, reflect on it, and plan for tomorrow.
Is there a common denominator between your programs and partners?
The common denominator goes back to the same question we’ve been asking ourselves since day one. How do we build a sustainable art ecosystem? We’re here to support many creative minds who raise questions about our conditions, and we have always encouraged our partners to challenge and influence each other throughout.
What we share with our partners is a passion and willingness to pursue new ways for supporting art, artists, and art audiences. There are so many artists who, with just a small bit of support and attention, could bring so much to the world. And then there are the people and communities who have been underserved by the art world. Everyone should have equal opportunities to the uncountable values and advantages art can infuse to our lives. Artlab and our partners are aligned on these missions and share this collective purpose.
© Max Lakner/BFA.com
Why is it important for Artlab to exist in both digital and physical spaces?
We live in an era where there is no boundary between digital and physical space. Our art initiatives are centered on expanding access to the arts; therefore, it is imperative that we have digital platforms. The experience of the arts, on the other hand, is frequently intertwined with aura and tangibility; thus, a physical encounter is crucial. Moreover, engagement with local communities to open our minds to their ways of understanding is increasingly becoming an essential component in our contemporary landscape. It’s important for us to connect digital and physical spaces organically.
Artlab tries to capture the best of both worlds, accompanying the audience’s overall journey of encountering art and the artists. Artlab’s digital and physical spaces reinforce each step of an organic cycle of appreciating art and encourage you to initiate dialogues both online and offline. Especially during this era of pandemic, this is crucial.
Photo © Guilaume Valli
"We’re here to support many creative minds who raise questions about our conditions, and we have always encouraged our partners to challenge and influence each other throughout."
What do you hope to provide to audiences?
In an era of uncertainty, critical and creative thinking have been essential. The arts, as the origin of these ways of thinking, determine how we navigate the present and the future. They provide emotional and inspirational experiences that enhance our awareness of planetary conversations towards our shared future.
Through the expansive and inclusive activities of Artlab, many people can expand their understanding of the world. We hope people utilize our activities as a lens for new perceptions of their everyday lives. We hope that you find a work that truly resonates with you. That’s what we’re trying to provide.
© 2012 Hannes Koch, Florian Ortkrass, and Stuart Wood, photo © Jan Bitter
Can you share your thoughts on upcoming opportunities and challenges for art spaces around the world?
More and more, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, many lines that seemed very clear have been blurred. Art spaces are places where we can reflect upon this new reality. In order to transcend the traumas and ruptures of recent years, we need to build many moments of honest confrontation to prepare our future.
Our hope is that even in these confusing times, we can always go back to art and relax and feel safe. Art is changing, too, but it’s one of the few areas that demonstrate values and things that are absolute and unconditional: the importance of love, caring about other lives, the values of openness and newness. Art always pulls us back to the basic values in life and helps us to not get lost.
Finally, it’s crucial to shift towards a transnational way of thinking. This type of mindset explores the exchanges and the connections that go beyond the traditional boundaries. While this will be an opportunity for art spaces, it will at the same time certainly be a challenge. We will need to find the balance between looking forward to what’s next, while at the same time taking care of those who need the services and solace of art today.
Courtesy of the artist and Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam.