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The Road To Seoul

LSI Magazine's Teodora Lyubomirova reports on the South Korean transfer of immersive art exhibition Beyond The Road

From virtual events replacing postponed festivals to fully-fledged musicals for which crew members ‘joined’ the production remotely, live event creatives have had plenty of unexpected challenges to contend with recently. But in these trying times, exciting partnerships have also been forged, such as between the new Alt.1 Gallery in Seoul and the creators of immersive exhibition Beyond the Road.

A multi-sensory show based around UNKLE’s concept albums The Road Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, the exhibition’s first incarnation took place at London’s Saatchi Gallery in the summer of 2019. Created by James Lavelle (UNKLE) and A Right/Left Project (Colin Nightingale and Stephen Dobbie, both long time associates of experiential theatre company Punchdrunk), Beyond The Road marries music and visual art - including installations, sculpture and film produced by artists such as Warren du Preez & Nick Thornton-Jones, Danny Boyle, Alfonso Cuarón and Polly Morgan - immersing visitors in an evocative listening and viewing experience. Having received an extended run and a host of positive reviews from both press and public, the exhibition was primed for a transfer; the question was, where?

“In 2019, I met producer Juyoung Park of Ms. Jackson and invited her to experience the show at Saatchi Gallery,” opens Nightingale, one of the project’s creators. “She loved it and spent over three hours in the space. In some follow-up conversations, she asked if there would be interest in bringing the show to South Korea - but at the time, we were more focused on a potential transfer to the US. Then COVID hit and those plans went on a permanent pause.”

But with galleries operating well in South Korea during the pandemic, Juyoung got back in touch with the team at the end of 2020. The new Alt.1 Gallery in The Hyundai Seoul flagship department store was selected as the most suitable venue, with an opening slated for early summer 2021. “We were hopeful that would still allow time for the global COVID situation to settle and that it would be easier to travel for the install,” says Nightingale. “But it became clear that we’d still have to do two weeks of quarantine on arrival, so we took a stripped-down group of four rather than six people from the core creative and technical team.”

Lighting designer Ben Donoghue of Flare Lighting, alongside Nightingale, Dobbie and sound designer Salvador Garza Fishburn all travelled to Seoul to realise the installation alongside the local production team and contractors. “UNKLE’s James Lavelle wasn’t able to travel out due to COVID restrictions, so Stephen and I were in regular remote contact with him,” says Nightingale. “Also supporting the project from the UK were designers Julie Landau and Jenna Jardine, who worked on the London show, creating some of the bespoke artwork.” Shipping deadlines meant physical artwork had to be created well in advance, whilst film could be adapted as the shape and timings of the show were being finalised. Several works and installations were also created onsite, through a great deal of discussion and collaboration with the international and local Korean artists.

“Our show presented a complex set of challenges in terms of build, rigging and technical infrastructure, which tested - and in some cases, set - the limits of the new venue,” says Donoghue, adding that the team had to overcome some of the unique challenges associated with working adjacent to an otherwise largely retail setting.

“The venue were incredibly accommodating and supportive of the project as there is such an appetite for engaging, immersive work like Beyond The Road in South Korea. No gallery space can house work in absolute neutrality and will, by nature of its architecture, materials and infrastructure, lend something unique to the overall audience experience. Though both Alt.1 and Saatchi are white gallery spaces, they are both quite distinctly different environments. The top floor of Saatchi, with its vaulted ceilings and roof trusses, presented interesting architectural forms and shapes; the more modern Alt.1 offered more overall volume within which greater contrasts between the different spaces’ height and size could be created. Whereas a series of central vividly coloured rooms in the Saatchi presentation, which became the beating heart of the experience and were created and designed in response to the gallery’s own architecture; in Seoul, these rooms were recreated and remixed in a new layout as they were so integral to the piece, though without the same architectural constraints.”

With sound integral to the experience, audio partner L-Acoustics worked with local suppliers Klausys and Seoul Sound to realise the brief. Sound designer Salvador Garza Fishburn explains: “The aim is to deconstruct the music to its different constituent elements and reimagine each song in a multi-space, multi-channel setup. You can listen to a different mix and arrangement of each song in each space, some spaces having multi-channel surround designs, which at the same time interact with the other spaces. Because of this, it was important to have flexibility and independent control on each speaker. The final design of the audio system involved outputting 78 channels from Reaper as a DAW in the L-ISA processor and L-Acoustics amplifiers. The amplifiers then fed 98 speakers in total.”

Of his lighting design, Donoghue says: “The lighting in the show is an integral shifting presence, at once masking and revealing; comforting and disturbing. The lighting fixtures play an active part in the overall sensory experience, rather than remaining purely incidental or an element to be ignored by the gallerygoer. Here, the fixtures are very present, as much so as the artwork itself; both atmospheric and architectural. As such, it was important to achieve parity with the London design in terms of fixture type and, to some extent, placement.

“The artwork and installations throughout are warped and animated by the lit environment; the usual soft white gallery spotlighting making way for, at times, trippy, unsettling, saturated lighting treatments, thus uniting the disparate visual elements. The interaction of coloured light and painted finishes creates some extraordinarily vivid transformations.”

Martin MAC Aura XB fixtures form the bulk of the experience lighting, chosen for their high output, compact size and backlight effect that delivers interesting colour contrasts. Astera TitanTubes are also used prominently (controlled via sACN from the grandMA2 system).

Lighting supplier Highlight “had the challenge of wrangling the complex lighting system with both performance and conventional exhibition elements into the gallery space, and their attention to detail in conjunction with the construction and rigging teams was excellent,” says Donoghue.

Video throughout the exhibition is run from a QLab 4 system, triggered by timecode from Reaper, with content output through five Epson EB-1755U 15k lumen WUXGA laser projectors. Further film content on three conventional screens, including a vintage CRT television, is run from Brightsign HD224 players, triggered from QLab/timecode over UDP.

And even though the installation wouldn’t have been possible without the means of remote communication, being together on location was key, says Donoghue: “With language and interpretation challenges, face-to-face communication proved to be so important. Despite all the months of remote planning on Zoom between the UK and Korea, it was felt by all the team that being together in the same space was critical, making the whole process infinitely more pleasant and productive, allowing us to be spontaneous and reactive as we crafted the experience by feel.”

Beyond The Road is running until 28 November at the Alt. 1 Gallery, The Hyundai, Seoul

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