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A continuing collaboration fostered at the RCA

Since graduating, two RCA alumnae – Kyung Hwa Shon (PhD Painting, 2019) and Kate Gu (Curating Contemporary Art, 2018) – have continued to embrace the RCA ethos of cross-programme collaboration.

Portraits of Kyung Hwa Shon and Kate Gu
Kyung Hwa Shon & Kate Gu
They recently worked together on an exhibition which was part of Duddell’s vibrant art programme of exhibitions, lectures, talks, screenings that bring the best of international modern and contemporary art to Hong Kong, open to all art enthusiasts and spearheaded by cultural leaders.

With a background in accounting, finance and digital marketing, Kate came to the RCA to broaden her experience of curating. She now works as a producer at M+, a museum of visual culture currently under construction in the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong, where she is exploring virtuality and mixed realities, art and media in relation to digital technology, and the overlap between digital technology and society. 

For Kyung Hwa, a PhD at the RCA was a continuation of her education in fine art, building on her MFA in painting and drawing from the Institute of Chicago, and her BFA in painting from Hong-Ik University, Seoul. She is currently a Visiting Lecturer at the RCA and looking forward to an upcoming exhibition in South Korea, her home country.

We spoke to them about collaboration, public art and their time at the RCA.

Every Second In Between at White City
Every Second In Between, Kyung Hwa Shon 2018
Vinyl Stickers Installation Street Furniture
Photographer: Tim Bowditch

When did you first work together?

Kate Gu (KG): We first collaborated on my RCA graduation project – curating a public art commission in White City, London. After an open call for artist proposals, we chose to commission Kyung Hwa for a series of works Every Second in Between.

Kyung Hwa Shon (KHS): Every Second in Between was conceived over a period of eight months and was on display for over a year. The project recognised a complex constitution of an urban environment and explored the rhythmic encounter between public and urban space. I produced a total of 131 sqm vinyl fragments on building surfaces and street furniture and a digital animation that was screened in an indoor theatre.

Tell us about the recent commission, Walk with Eyes Closed, for Duddell's?

KHS: Walk with Eyes Closed was a site-specific installation created in relation to my impressions of Hong Kong.

Walk with Eyes Closed
Walk with Eyes Closed, Kyung Hwa Shon 2019
Photographer: Cow Lau

KGThe idea derived from Kyung Hwa’s research into the psychoanalysis of city spaces and the sensorial and psychic stimulation brought about by the process of walking. We wanted to create a solo show that would reveal different facets of her work, but also highlight her working process that leads to, and exists within, the relationships between the colours, shapes, materials and textiles that she chooses to use.

Kyung Hwa visited Hong Kong in April 2019, and subsequently created vinyl pieces, an animation, drawings and sculptural cubes. 

KHS: I wandered the city without a goal or destination. I followed my instincts and imagination beyond the sole reliance on vision and expanded it into bodily consciousness. 

This process was strongly inspired by my PhD research project, Stillman: The Surface of the City and the Depths of the Psyche. It explores different faces of the city through questioning subject-object dualism in order to explore a third space (between presence and absence, between the visible and the invisible, between subject and object) and the potential of a new figure, which is a non-embodied entity called, ‘Stillman’.

What was it like working together on this commission?

KHS: Working with Kate was exciting and gave me a lot of inspiration. As a curator, she is a creative and intellectual thinker and at the same time, a very trustworthy and considerate person. Working on the Duddell’s commission was collaborative; we could discuss the concept, develop the research, and solve the problems together.

KG: This project was born and built from a trusting relationship and familiarity with each other’s practice, which comes from our previous collaboration. During the whole process of Walk with Eyes Closed, we were able to stretch, invent and discover ourselves as well as this relationship. Every Second in Between was a curatorial commission in a public space, whereas this was a solo show in the quasi-public space of Duddell’s. We together took this challenge as an opportunity to push the idea of a public space, experiment with different techniques and artistic/curatorial expression, and gain a deeper understanding of our own practices. 

Walk with Eyes Closed
Walk with Eyes Closed, Kyung Hwa Shon 2019
Photographer: Cow Lau

How did the RCA prepare you for this kind of work, from the position of a curator and artist?

KG: My graduation project was a gateway into the problems of public commissions and a practical lens into the process, both of which prepared me for the challenges of this project. Overall, this is what’s offered by the CCA course—a combination of theoretical grounding, critical engagement with relevant topics, and real-life experience with the ecology and practice of curating. 

KHS: The interdisciplinary approaches at the RCA in particular in the School of Arts & Humanities allowed me to create opportunities for the exchange of critical ideas and conversation with other students studying in different disciplines. These active, open discussions were crucial in preparing me for such collaborative projects.

These active, open discussions were crucial in preparing me for such collaborative projects
Kyung Hwa Shon
As an artist, I appreciate others’ critical opinions about my practice because input from different perspectives allows me to extend my knowledge, deepen my critical thinking and strengthen my artwork with a variety of experiments. 

Can you share a particular highlight from your time at the RCA?

KHSThe most memorable experience at the RCA was working on Every Second in Between as it was my first public art project and I had such a great time with the curators. We were all from different countries and had different cultural and educational backgrounds. Such differences allowed me to open myself and my art practice up much further. 

After this project, I became much more confident to present my work in a public realm and to explore new materials and media. I also strengthened the concept of “Stillman”, and deepened my own unique notion of ‘city’ and personal artistic approaches.

Every second in between. Photo: Sam Bush
Every Second in Between

KG: As someone who started in a field other than arts and culture, I view my practice in a state of flux and constant morphing. This is what I experienced at the RCA through the exposure to multifarious cultural and art theories. Mind-opening inspiration is everywhere. 

Mind-opening inspiration is everywhere
Kate Gu
The CCA course introduced a range of practices and approaches, and suggested the inter-relationship and the interdisciplinary character of various fields. This wide exposure gave me an overview of both prominent and alternative discourses in distinctive individual fields. I graduated reassured and determined in developing my own practice in my field of interest that has a blurry boundary and an interdisciplinary nature. 

Walk with Eyes Closed
Walk with Eyes Closed, Kyung Hwa Shon 2019
Photographer: Cow Lau
Do you think you'll collaborate again in the future?

KHS: If there is another chance for me to collaborate with Kate, I would definitely say yes!

KG: It’s an amazing feeling to work and grow with Kyung Hwa, a peer from the RCA. I have no doubts that we will collaborate in the future, build new adventures, and create new dialogues.

Enjoyed this story? Discover more alumni stories here.

Find out more about MA Curating Contemporary Art and MA Painting and how to apply.

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