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coco capitan is it tomorrow yet art Gucci
Courtesy of Coco Capitán

Gucci collaborator Coco Capitán talks her new Seoul exhibition

Is it Tomorrow Yet? expands on the artist’s text-based work, encompassing photography, sculpture, and painting

Coco Capitán’s collaboration with Gucci last year was a pretty big deal. The LCF and RCA-educated artist’s scrawled slogans graced Alessandro Michele’s designs at the label’s AW17 show – including the designer’s own t-shirt as he took his closing bow. Since then, the Italian house has released a capsule collection featuring the contemplative phrases – “what are we going to do with all this future?” and “common sense is not that common”, amongst others – on bags, sweatshirts, and vests. And, as if that wasn’t publicity enough, Capitán promoted the collection with some gigantic graffiti-style wall art in New York and Milan.

Text-based art isn’t Capitán’s only talent. She has also found critical and commercial success in photography – creating editorial work for the likes of Dazed, Vogue, and The New York Times, among others, and publishing a book, Middle Point Between My House and China.

Her new exhibition, Is It Tomorrow Yet?, which opens on Friday at Seoul’s Daelim Museum, will feature an array of mediums: her usual photography and handwriting, alongside videos, installations, and paintings, across 150 works. Here, we talk to the artist ahead of its launch. 

What was your starting point for the exhibition?

Coco Capitán: It has been a difficult exhibition from a curatorial point of view. In the sense that I was given a massive space in a museum in a different cultural context to the one I am used to showing my work. Often museums with similar characteristics to Daelim tend to focus on retrospectives in the case of solo shows. But I am too young to allow myself to think of my work in retrospective terms. So in the beginning, we had this collection of works that I have produced and shown during the last years, newer works that I have done recently but not shown and finally, ideas for new pieces to produce for this occasion especially. The challenge at the beginning didn't seem so much about producing the new works, but actually figuring out the relationship between them, structuring them in a coherent manner and figuring out the main topics behind the works.

Do you have a favourite piece from Is It Tomorrow Yet?

Coco Capitán: If there’s something I enjoy about art it’s the process of making it. In that way, all works are special, even the ones you end up hating! They all carry a particular individual story with them. It’s like choosing only a part of your life, you wouldn’t be able to do that. They are all special because of their story, the final look of the pieces has less of a personal importance to me. It's more about what I learned and lived while making them.

You’ve previously described how foreign locations have influenced your work (as in Middle Point Between My House and China). Tell us a bit about how Seoul influenced Is it Tomorrow Yet...

Coco Capitán: I am very taken by the history of South Korea and Seoul as its capital, and I'm a history enthusiast – but I am especially interested in how political change affects people's ways of living on the small scale, on the psychological heritage and their freedoms. Thanks to this exhibition I have come close to the country and had a chance to meet South Korean citizens who were happy to share with me their personal perceptions and experiences. In asking how they overcame the poverty and pain that came after such tragic wars in their history, I was told: “Our grandparents had nothing else to lose, so they were not scared of missing any commodities, which enabled them to take risks in hope for life improvement”.  

Paradoxically, even if it wasn't planned, I see a reflection of this mentality in the title of the show, Is It Tomorrow Yet?, which points out those moments in which there's only 'a tomorrow to hope for'. It also serves to remind my audience that 'tomorrow' is just a mental state and we can find methods to become more present in 'our today'.

What was your time in the country like?

Coco Capitán: I am looking forward to my return for the opening! It was amazing. Extraordinary food, temples, a lot of art to see, and innumerable zen gardens. What else could I ask for?

With your work featuring words so significantly, are there any problems with translation when exhibiting internationally?

Coco Capitán: Yes, definitely. But I enjoy this challenge, you realise how your feelings and values are so conditioned by your cultural context and try to find points in which two different cultures can converge.

What prompted the decision to work across several mediums for this exhibition?

Coco Capitán: I have always worked in different media, but perhaps kept most of the work that wasn't prose or photography locked in the studio until now with the wrong assumption that I had to build my artistic identity in only one field. To be honest, this might be more practical, but it is also boring for me. I don't intend to master the photographic field anymore, I am aware that I might not be so skilled as a painter, but art is not exclusively about skill, and I like to encounter technical difficulties and limitations and challenge them. I think the translation of meaning can be even bigger in those instances, and it resembles life more accurately. As certain as we can be, we are only given one time on this earth, and I want to try as many things as possible and investigate the process, it is not about archiving excellence in a sole medium.

Do you prefer any one medium in particular?

Coco Capitán: This show afforded me the opportunity to experiment in a range of mediums I’d never used before, such as ceramics and sculpture. I particularly like the installation works. There’s a magic to installation art, you dream something up, think of a design, think of a medium, work with people to realise your vision. Installations make any idea you might have possible, which I think is an artist’s greatest dream.

Is there anyone else you’d particularly like to collaborate with?

Coco Capitán: With the greatest: Maurizio Cattelan.

What’s next? Will you be taking the exhibition to any more locations, or are there any new projects in the works?

Coco Capitán: There is a lot going on, but you'd be surprised how little authority an artist has today when it comes to making announcements!

Is it Tomorrow Yet? opens at Seoul’s Daelim Museum runs from 2 August 2018 – 27 January 2019.