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The NON artist: Chan-Sook Choi

Conceptual artist Chan-Sook Choi is on a mission to connect the city’s Asian art scene. As the brain behind pan-Asian and intercontinental artists' platform NON Berlin, which hosts a handful of exhibitions yearly, we find out what drives her.

Image for The NON artist: Chan-Sook Choi

Photo by Lydia Goolia. Chan-Sook Choi founded with her architect husband, Ido Shin, Asian contemporary art platform NON Berlin in 2014.

Little wooden palm trees, bags full of clothing tags and a Green Tea Matcha Kit Kat packet – Chan-Sook Choi’s Kollwitzkiez artist’s atelier is a treasure trove of influences. Choi came to Berlin bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in 2001, eager to study under her favourite artist Rebecca Horn at the Universität der Künste Berlin. Eighteen years later, Berlin and its surrounds have undeni­ably weaseled themselves into the 39-year-old media and perfor­mance artist’s work. Her video piece “The Promised Land” features Brandenburg theme park Tropical Islands as the star of an explora­tion into artificial utopias. “Berlin is an ideal city to create art in,” she says, sitting on a long, recycled-looking couch which offers a reprieve from busy work. “Seoul has more energy… but somehow Berlin has more of a common network between the artists.” And Choi has made it her mission to connect the city’s Asian art scene. Together with her husband, archi­tect Ido Shin, she founded the Asian contemporary art platform NON Berlin in 2014. Located on Christi­nenstraße in Mitte, the initiative puts on a handful of exhibitions a year dealing with cultural identity and spurring discussion about the concepts of East and West, Asia and Europe. The name, which in Chinese means “to discuss”, also serves as a negation: “not Berlin” – a reminder of how the works shown are not limited to this city’s art scene. Choi herself has spent more than half her life in Germany, but feels closely connected to Korea – and her partly Japanese an­cestry. For her 2010 film Re-Move she embarked on a journey from her home country to Japan to re-trace her grandmother’s migration, who was Japanese and moved to Korea with her Korean husband after WWII. To track the cross-border route, she was following a photo album that her grandmother had kept. “It was somehow a miracle,” Choi says reminiscing about the trip. “Although she was no longer with us, I could feel strongly that my grandmother was happy about my visit.” And Choi was and still is happy to travel: upon receiving multiple grants from prestigious galleries and theatres in Germany and Korea, she’s back and forth all the time, especially since she assumed the position of associate professor in the Art and Technology Department of Seoul’s Hanyang University. And her family life? Apart from her black-and-white Bolonka doggy “NON Gae” (“gae” meaning “dog” in Korean), she and Ido are soon expecting their first child. It will be a German citizen with Korean parents and a Japanese great-grandma.