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Laughing Tree embraces thriving expat art scene

U.S. couple open gallery, promote artistic collaboration


Haebangcheon and Gyeongnidan have been experiencing a renaissance lately as imaginative cafes, bars and restaurants have sprung up and creative events such as the DRIPAN Community Art Walk have attracted enthusiastic crowds.

One couple from the United States, Jessica and Adam Lofbomm, added to the area’s color with the opening of Laughing Tree Gallery in September 2010.

The relaxed and invitingly-lit Haebangcheon art space, abuzz with visitors to Anya Dennis’ photography exhibition “The Color of Calm,” is the first fine art gallery in the area.

“I think definitely the expat art scene has really started to boom in the last six months and I feel like we’ve been a part of that, which has been really exciting,” said Jessica, who was unsure of whether their influence had been direct or part of a snowball effect.

“It’s been a lot of fun ... it’s not something we originally planned, it just sort of happened, sort of evolved to this stage,” she added, explaining that they had initially planned to use the street-front property as a workshop but felt it would waste a prime spot.
Adam and Jessica Lofbomm. (The Laughing Tree)
Adam and Jessica Lofbomm. (The Laughing Tree)

Open to proposals from all interested artists, they said that as they operate a sale and commission system, whereby artists do not have to pay the standard 3-5 million won ($2,700-4,500) rate required by most galleries, they offer an attractive opportunity.

The husband and wife have received positive feedback so far, and have met so many people interested in creative pursuits through their work there already that they sense this is the start of something bigger.

“There are a lot of creative people that come and go in Korea but they’re so transient they don’t know what to do with their creative interests while they’re here. So people have been thrilled and sort of latched onto this space as an opportunity for them,” explained Jessica.

Embracing this, the Lofbomms run workshops. The recent metal cuff workshop, where 15 attendees learnt how to make their own bracelets from scratch, was a great success and attracted more interest than they could accommodate. Upcoming possibilities include pinata-making and African dance.

Stemming from a desire to share Adam’s large film collection, the couple also host 8mm: Art Cinema every other Wednesday. They project a film ― ranging from obscure foreign movies to documentaries ― onto one of the gallery walls.

But the gallery is just a “launching point” under the wider scope of the Laughing Tree ― a creative umbrella for all their work, named after the German translation of Lofbomm.

Their logo, a colorfully adorned tree, is representative of the various branches of creativity they hope to encompass.

Both voice actors by day, they have their own artistic specialisms. Adam, 31, who grew up with artist parents, has moved from painting to working with photo transfers and acrylic on layered plexiglass. He has just been awarded a residency with Seoul Museum of Art’s Nanji studio and will be exploring the technique further there.

Jessica, 30, is a singer but also likes to find “music in life,” recording everyday sounds and using them to create soundscapes. She has independently recorded two albums including a collection of Laughing Tree Lullabies and performed in the musical “The 25th Annual Putney County Spelling Bee” ― produced by the Seoul Players, which the couple is now on the board of.

To commemorate the gallery’s first anniversary the Lofbomms are planning a combined show. Although the details are to be confirmed, the pair see a tie between their individual projects and want to build on this for the event. “They both have this collage-like feeling,” explained Jessica.

They love to travel, but seem most inspired by Korea, the people they have met and the life they have here: “I love this city. I just feel like there’s so much opportunity here and they (Koreans) are very passionate people and they’re very inspiring,” said Jessica.

Adam had similar feelings: “It’s (Koreans) can-do attitude and sort of a belief in themselves that I really find infectious. And just looking at what they’ve done and their determination to rebuild this country in record time is always amazing to me, and that they’re willing to constantly evolve.”

And change is something dear to the couple, who believe in “reimagining the world around you” by abandoning preconceptions and finding hidden beauty or looking at things in a new light, explained Adam.

The couple looks forward to further artistic collaboration in the community and aims to introduce a cycle to the gallery ― rotating between expat, Korean and international artists ― giving exposure to all. Once they make a profit, they also want to work more with charities.

“To be involved in creative projects is very empowering for people,” summarized Jessica on the importance of creativity.

“We’re just, you know, doing stuff that we like to do and it turns out a lot of other people like it too.”

To submit a proposal to Laughing Tree, or for more information on featured events, visit www.laughingtree.com.

By Hannah Stuart-Leach (hannahsl@heraldcorp.com)
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