What does it mean to be an artist working in the digital sphere? What constitutes creativity in a world where we constantly transition between on and offline? Do we ever log off? What is the potential for remote art consumption, and the significance of its physical enjoyment? These are a few of the many questions being tossed around at Cava Life, a creative agency and online platform based in Seoul.
“Our mission is to connect more artists to the public, and to promote those we believe deserve more attention,” says Sue Choi, co-founder of Cava Life. “It all started from one question: how can we make contemporary art more approachable?”
Upon entering their website, ca-va.life, users are met with a colorful array of artworks, furniture, and miscellaneous objects, from collectible trinkets to bigger-ticket buys. There is a stainless-steel chair reminiscent of butterfly wings, a waving tree made from fabric, cotton, and wood, and a pair of bulbous candles chained to each other, BDSM-style. The order they’re presented in changes with every refresh of the page, a randomization meant to highlight their diversity. “We represent over 400 artists, ranging from industry veterans with decades of experience to newcomers who’ve yet to graduate from college,” explains Choi.
The one commonality running through Cava Life’s diverse and eclectic lineup is the willingness of each creator to showcase their work online. “All of our artists are so different in style and medium, but they want to engage with an online audience,” Choi says. “We’ve had some artists who were offended by the way we display everyone’s work, because we don’t prioritize more tenured artists, but that’s 100-percent fine.”
Cava Life was founded by Choi, a former W Magazine fashion editor, her sister, graphic designer Jiyeon Choi, and architect Chidong Park. The name doubly and playfully refers to the Spanish sparkling wine, cava, and the French greeting, Ça va? They currently stock thousands of items, spanning fashion, interior design, art, digital graphics, and music, all by Korean artists for now. “We want to avoid the cringey term ‘K-Art’ though,” Sue Choi says with a laugh.“ We happen to be from Korea, but our ultimate goal is to represent artists and creators from all around the world.”
With artists increasingly experimenting with digital media, one of Cava Life’s initial challenges was figuring out how to incorporate digital art in their lineup. “We as a society spend more time than ever engaging in social entertainment, but we find that the best-performing items are still ones that serve a tactile function, like ceramics and furniture,” Choi explains. “Our job at Cava Life is to help people recognize and understand that pure aesthetic presence serves a real function in and of itself.”
At Layers, the IRL Seoul exhibition and pop-up shop Cava Life organized to celebrate its launch in 2018, computer graphics, animated images, film shorts, and music files were sold in — yes — layers. “We had the idea to break them down by their digital layers and sell them in separate pieces,” Choi recalls. “You could buy a layer of digital art and use that as a screensaver, and another layer on which to overlay your own graphics and turn it into something new. We tried to diversify ways you could consume new-media art and emphasize how it can actually be used.” This was years ahead of the arrival of NFTs, before buying art in the digital sphere became more widely accepted. “We were too early!” Choi exclaims. “We received really mixed reactions at the time. People either loved it and thought it was so much fun, or hated it and didn’t understand the concept at all.”
While operating as an online retailer, Cava Life also behaves as a creative agency, with Choi and her team providing consultation on artists’ promotion and branding. “Not all art is created to be sold, and there’s no market price on creativity,” Choi says. “Monetary exchange is not the only way art is consumed, but we do believe art exists to partake in a certain interaction, to deliver the artist’s message to someone. That’s where we come in.”
Post-pandemic, Cava Life has plans to turn their traditional Korean gaok office into an open showroom and event space for workshops and artist residencies. “There’s so much we can do, on and offline. We want to continue experimenting and discover our own true colors. And we’ll expand globally starting 2022, so you’ll see more of us.”
Below, Sue Choi on some of her current Cava Life favorites:
“CRAPPYROOM is an artist duo that physicalize the context of their work in the form of merchandise goods. They’re perfectionists who try to blur the boundaries of art and commerce. Their intentionally self-proclaimed ‘bad’ works of art are addicting and hilarious.” (WALKING HORSE, digital screensaver)
SAY TOUCHÉ is a brand founded by a photographer and musician who have no experience in product design. When I first saw their stool made with traditional Korean mother-of-pearl jagae, I had the clear feeling that we’re in the midst of this generational shift. (Jagae Stool, rubber tree and jagae)
SUN WOO’s portfolio is immediately reminiscent of ‘80s Jean Paul Gaultier. She’s a couturier with a childlike innocence, and her collections have a sense of rhythm and completion. She prioritizes portability, wearability and function above all, which makes her work even better. (DISCS GLOVE, nylon and polyurethane)
YONOO is a uniquely charming ceramist in Korea’s ultra-conservative ceramics scene. She combines true craftsmanship with a touch of humor, and her pieces have been selling out at Cava Life. (Founder/CEO Plaque, ceramic)
Corners Studio is a graphic arts studio that also specializes in risograph prints. They collaborate with a diverse range of artists from around the world, and the result is proof of the endless possibilities of graphic design. (Exercise, risograph illustration)
Jaewon Kang creates 3D modeling-based sculptures of larger-than-life balloons. Once you realize his seemingly metal works are actually extremely lightweight, you start to reflect on the essence and origin of a thing. And his sculptures are simply beautiful.” (Trippy (2020), chrome-plated ABS)