Exhibition Design: Physical Work, Intellectual Work


A friend commented recently that I look a little healthier, a little more in physical shape. While in Korea, I did do a lot of hiking. I climbed up to Sanghwangbong at the top of Mt. Gayasan, near Daegu, which is 1430m up, and then up to Guksabong at the top of Cheonggyesan in Seoul, which is 538m up.

But most of my new physical fitness came more from working for some two weeks on the Gwangju Biennale. Although when I first moved to Beijing, the work was very much intellectual and computer-based, as soon as I got to Gwangju, it was immediately physical. The Biennale Hall features multiple ramps and only one elevator, so a “quick check” of the topmost gallery entailed a 5-10 minute walk from our office at the ground floor , depending on your pace. And while we had professional shippers and construction crew to help us, we often would have to transport materials ourselves. At one point, some of us were even carrying bags of concrete until we found a wheelbarrow.

Now that I’m re-adjusting back to Beijing life, I’m focusing more on writing and research projects, and it’s back to intellectual, computer-based work again. But I’m finding that I miss the physical work of exhibition setup and design. The excitement of the first shipment (depicted above is the receiving day for our shipment from Beijing), the hectic running around to organize the materials, even the dust kicked up. It’s a healthy mix, as the work is physically demanding but also intellectually demanding. And the greatest gift, of course, is not being stuck to a chair and a computer all day.

How can more work be adjusted? How can we find meaningful intellecutal work while encouraging physical exercise? In creative fields, film production and industrial design often involve many hours of real physical labor. Some of my favorite memories are from carrying tripods and loading up cameras in south Texas producing a film that we’d spent months preparing for. But after that burst of energy, we also had time to sit down and edit the work, finetune it in front of a computer.

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