Leslie Robbins - A Retrospective in Collaboration

MediaCity Seoul

September, 2018

When asked by the Seoul Museum of Art to join this retrospective, I questioned the significance of shipping costly artworks and re-exhibiting well documented performances to the Museum's audience. I'd found on-line many more of these 'Western retrospectives'* from better known artists than myself, and I had doubts about the works reaching the viewers and challenging them as they had done for me.

I was about to decline the offer when Dušan Barok, editor of Monoskop.org, contacted me. Dušan said he'd be participating in the Seoul Mediacity Biennale 2018 at the same time as my retrospective. While reading up on this year's 10th anniversary event, and how the "Collective" wanted to structure it, an idea was planted.

I proposed inviting Mediacity participants to (Re)create my retrospective through a series of four workshops that could be worked out in no particular order using a workbook that I'd write. In the colored tabs above you will find an overview of each workshop and the corresponding documentation, sent by the participants.

* Some earlier retrospectives on view at the Seoul Museum of Art: DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition - Journey from Sketch to Screen, Paik Nam June, Stanley Kubrick and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Leslie Robbins
Rotterdam, September 2018

A site-specific work in chalk

For anyone interested in public space and how to infiltrate it by sowing the seeds of love

Fruit, Vegetable or Flower

I chose an ancient Egyptian pomegranate tapestry. For centuries, the pomegranate has been seen as an exotic fruit by Europeans, well known in many cultures and religions for its justice, equity and fertility, and it's an object of inspiration for many an artist. But maybe a widely known, traditional Korean fruit, vegetable or flower has more meaning to you as a group. It's for you to decide.

pomegranate  image - source unknown
Source unknown

A team effort on a day with no forecast of rain.
(Suggested time span: 1/4 preparation - 2/4 drawing action 1/4 documentation)


  1. Choose a City Square that is:
    1. not grass, but is a surface with material you can easily access and cover in chalk
    2. in a neighbourhood where many people live or work, but rundown and not visually appealing
    3. surrounded by buildings where people can see your work from above
    4. within reasonable distance for travel (on foot, metro, bike, bus) from the workshop's origin
  2. Investigate the Internet, collectively decide which pattern of which fruit, vegetable or flower fits the Square best. Choose the colours you'd like to work with. To keep the artwork simple and bold, and working well when seen from above, I chose to simplify the pattern and use three colours, which I recommend for your (Re)creation unless the group thinks differently.
  3. Decide on a schedule for the day, including a time slot to meet on-site and one at the end of the day to enjoy your efforts, discuss its success or its shortcomings.
  4. While the design team maps out a pattern to fit the Square, working out the approximate dimensions and printing examples for the sketch artists to work with, a second group goes out to buy chalk, measuring tape, fruit and water. The rest of the group can travel to the site and prepare it. Clean up scattered trash or debris, using a broom, rubber gloves and trash bags you pick up along the way. Please be sure the Square's surface is fit for chalking before everyone arrives. If the site's condition is inappropriate, alert the group that an alternative location needs to be found.


  1. The group comes together on-site at a pre-designated time. The advance sketch artists interpret the design and outline the pattern while the others begin to fill in the designated colour. Invite curious passers-by to help. Make a happening of it.
  2. Document the action, venture to access a surrounding building to see how the piece works from above. Discuss the work, ask passers-by what they think of the piece on-site or from above. Send your documentation and comments in any form the team chooses to laslo@planet.nl
  3. Needs (personnel and materials)

    1. A computer with a search engine to look for patterns and city maps, and a printer
    2. A design team to scale the chosen pattern to the dimensions of the Square
    3. One or two advance sketch artists to rough in the pattern for the others to chalk in solidly
    4. An on-site prep team
    5. A team member, or scribe, to document the action. Or maybe you decide that everyone should contribute for the record?
    6. A few tape measures, lots of chalk, bottled water (for drinking and smearing the chalk), sponges to smear the chalk (optional), fruit or snacks, brooms, trash bags and rubber gloves (also optional)

A soundtrack to moving image piece

For people experimenting with new forms of expressing the repetitive scenarios of today

The 1:36 minute phone-recorded journey found below.

For small group participation. Outcomes can be produced in multiple forms of media, such as video, animation, or performance. Elaborating on or discarding some of the sound bites in the recording is also welcome.
(Suggested time span: 1/4 preparation - 1/2 working - 1/4 presentation.)


  1. Introduce yourselves to one another and briefly explain your interests and profession.
  2. While watching the sound and occasional light scenario together or in small groups around different computers, laptops or phones, think about how you would like to bridge the pre-recorded narrative into a moving image piece and choose the approach and medium you think best fits your ideas. It's a familiar, exploited narrative so there's no pressure here to make art. It's meant more for play and experimentation.
  3. The technical participants in the group state their first thoughts about solving the mystery, what medium they think would best support their idea, and what skills they need help with. In this way, the rest of the participants know the available technical frameworks that the moving image pieces will take and can then state their ideas and choose the group they'd like to work with. For example: An animator may value having a writer help work out the story line, while two animators might find it exciting to weave their different styles together. Video makers may need performers, text writers, filmers, recording artists, editors, etc.

    When workshop group numbers are imbalanced, I'm sure there are members who are always ready for a challenge and can glide easily into another group.
  4. After you've formed your groups, decide on a schedule for the rest of the day, allowing enough time to render. Send your documentation (files or links) to laslo@planet.nl. Also allocate time at day's end to present each other your results.
  5. Action
    Break into groups, upload the soundtrack to the computer or laptop you're using, and after discussing and agreeing on a storyboard that will bring your own interpretation to life, start creating.

    Don't hesitate to ask the other groups for assistance where needed.

    The group comes together at the pre-designated time for a semi-casual group critique.
    Discuss technique and discuss your results with a critical eye. Learn from each other.


    1. participants' laptops or a couple of computers with the appropriate software
    2. video camera, phone, microphone, and appropriate cables to capture footage and record sound
    3. attributes for performance

An activist artwork derived from a text

For those who need to visualise words to understand them

If you've ever known the feeling of getting caught in the grip of great writing, when a phase or sentence may keep floating back into your thoughts until you do something with it, this is the kind of experience we’ll seek out during the workshop. In literature, that is a good thing, as the writers intended, but the task today is that you think back to a text that you don't like recalling, a text that you believe unjust.

For small group or individual participation. Outcomes can be produced in the media with which you feel most comfortable working: drawing, collage, animation, graffiti, graphic design, video, paint, etc. Multiple reactions to one particular text are possible.
(Suggested time span: 1/4 preparation - 1/2 working - 1/4 presentations)


  1. Introduce yourselves to one another, briefly explaining your interests and profession.
  2. Decide on a schedule, including time to locate and share your texts, choose work groups - create - and meet at the end of the day to show each other your results and discuss.
  3. Begin gathering texts and highlighting the phase or sentence that has you concerned. If you have a text in mind, write it down with enough background information to give context to your idea for an artwork. Some of you may already have the original article saved on your laptop, or search for it on-line.

    Should no text come to mind, don't force finding something. Maybe a text presented by another participant moves you enough to want to either join his or her workshop group, or recast the same text yourself.
  4. Read your text[s] out loud to one another and state the medium you'll use. Discuss whether you'd welcome the chance to work this out with others, or feel the need to solve it alone.


  1. Get to work.
  2. Send your texts and results to laslo@planet.nl.

The group comes together at the pre-designated time for the presentations. Ask yourselves whether or not they capture what you were seeking.


  1. participants' own laptops or a couple of computers with the appropriate software
  2. materials of choice or materials that are available

Example texts

Volkert van der G. on a hunger strike against the light in his cell
de Volkskrant - ANP 13 July 2002

The suspected murderer of Pim Fortuyn*, the 32-year-old Volkert van der G., has started a hunger strike. His lawyers say he's protesting ongoing camera surveillance in his cell and that a light stays on all day and night -- actions apparently meant to break him, according to the lawyers. Van der G. hasn't given a statement yet. Over Amstel prison also ruled that he spend the night from Thursday to Friday in solitary confinement, and this was allegedly only in order to pester him. Last week Justice department Minister Korthals posted an emergency ruling enabling the continued use of security cameras in G's cell. This was the day after the prison committee decided that the cameras must be removed.

* Pim Fortuyn, political assassination victim, was a Dutch politician, sociologist, author and columnist. Fortuyn, who received his Ph.d. in social sciences, was from 1990 to 1995 Professor at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam.
-19 February 1948, Driehuis - 06 May 2002, Hilversum, The Netherlands.

Leslie's remarks
On the day I completed the piece, Volkert van der G was 52 days into his hunger strike. He was still under 24-hour surveillance, and many a lawful right granted all other prisoners were denied him. His hunger strike lasted 70 days until he felt assured his demands would be met. Once he began eating, his lawyers made sure that all promises were met.

No Kissing Earth - Rotterdam
BK-informatie - achtendertigste jaargang - nummer 5 - 22 July 2016, page 20

'Kissing Earth,' the sculpture by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson planned for the Central Station Square, isn't going through. The Rotterdam city government has been unable to come up with the estimated 1-1,5 million euros needed for the installation and going onto to point out there was also considerable opposition to the placement of the artwork. The Square is popular as is and functions well as a waiting area. Without the artwork, the space is much more flexible and readily adaptable for Pop-ups and festivals. In 2014, the committee De Bruin chose Eliasson's proposed design consisting of two globes that touch each other in Rotterdam. Reacting to public comment in 2016, Eliasson refined the sculpture with a smaller and more transparent design. At this time, there are no plans to consider an alternative artwork for the Stations Square.

Leslie's remarks
To me, the city government not being able to come up with the funds for what was to be a pivotal piece in the cities sculptural art axis was an excuse to abandon the campaign for public art. Other major cities of the world have taken on this fight, and that led to a change of heart among most resistant residents, who have since adopted and celebrated public art works. I was peeved at Rotterdam's decision and thought if 'the artwork is in the way,' then why not solve the problem by creating an artwork that won't be in the way? And, I did.

A Tangible Archive - the Seoul addition

For anyone with an eye for wood and its by-products and who enjoy working with these materials

Society's reliability and multiple uses of wood and its by-products throughout the ages.


  1. Collect a variety of wood and wood by-products that are not sentimental to you but show how versatile the material is.
    (Suggested amount: No less then 5 objects, not smaller than the size of the included template)

    Wood items can be toys, housewares, structural fixtures, souvenirs, debris, paper products, or cloth. Choosing smaller objects to build multiples (of the same variety) is also possible, but then there will need to be enough of them to measure approx. 8 x 20 cm with a width not greater than 3cm. And they need to be of a material that can be cut and pieced, dowelled or glued together.
  2. If not already provided, bring with you the equipment and materials to measure, cut, saw, sand, glue, drill, or hammer the objects you've chosen.

For small group and/or individual participation.
(Suggested timespan: 1/4 preparation - 1/2 working - 1/4 presentation.)
If the participants were not informed of the prerequisites, then the suggested time span: 3/8 preparation - to find or buy items - 4/8 introduction and construction time - 1/8 presentation.

Preparation and Group introduction

  1. Lay out your objects of choice and photograph them to document each piece as is and as a group.
  2. Introduce yourself to the group by showing the objects you've chosen and say something about your collection. Once the group has seen each other's collections, you may want to barter or trade pieces with one another to elaborate on your mix of objects.
  3. Decide on a schedule for the rest of the day, including enough time to document your work, and a time slot at the end of the day to present your results to one another.
  4. Take the enclosed template, you will be using both the solid piece to reference the dimensions and the cutout to preview your eventual cut. Duplicate the template should you find it helpful.


  1. Begin working. For larger objects that just need to be shaped down, use the cutout template to preview your saw or cuts. For multiples, it's a question of piecing them together. Good luck. Goal at the end of the day is that your pieces seen together will leave yourself and others with a sense of a homage to the wood and the material's service throughout the ages.

    Note: If the objects you chose only had to be cut into shape, you may just have five Wooden Soldiers by the end of the day. Should you need to cut, piece and glue your objects together, it may be a project you'll want to finish at home or in your studio.
  2. Meet at the end of the day to admire and discuss your Wooden Soldiers. And if together, you see a trace of A Tangible Archive - The Seoul Addition?
  3. Document your pieces at any stage you like, and send your selection not forgetting both before and after, plus any comments, to laslo@planet.nl.

Material needs

  1. 5 objects (see Prerequisite I.
  2. equipment and material needs (Prerequisite II.)
  3. 2 templates (Prerequisite IV.)

Monoskop Exhibition Library edition

A Retrospective in Collaboration

by Leslie Robbins

Seoul Mediacity Biennale, 2018

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike(CC BY-NC-SA)

Leslie Robbins and Lucia Dossin

Jim Robbins

Thanks to
Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), Seoul Mediacity Biennale Collective; Minkyung Kim, Coordinator, Seoul Mediacity Biennale Office, SeMA; Lim Kyung Yong, The Book Society and Dušan Barok, editor of Monoskop.org.