An Artful Dodge to Seoul


After a cerebrally challenged week in Chungju I needed an escape to Seoul. Saturday morning I headed out to Seoul Grand Park and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. En route the street sweepers were out in force and the majority of seats on the metro platform were coated in sojued citizens. Those who were compos mentis on the train were either watching Korean drama on their phones or glued to text books. In 2009 a competition was held to re-design the urban oasis that is the Grand park but thus far the plans have not borne fruition.

Arriving at the park the weather was not celebratory, it was overcast and dull. The Seoul Grand Park was shut down in March after bird flu was detected in a dead Bean Goose in Gwacheon. I spotted no dead geese and so made my way around the lake and up the hill towards the museum. For some bizarre reason its impossible to skirt the lake shore by walking, access is prohibited by miles of hazard tape and a myriad signs. Are they afeared of mass suicide? On the left sits Seoulland an Amusement park constructed at the time of the Olympics in 1988; its like a classless miniature Disneyland faded and uninspiring. Outside families took pictures of their kids in bespoke finery reminiscent of the American child talent road shows.

I reached the side entrance to the sculpture park which was sealed off with the by now ubiquitous safety tape. Perhaps I was in some bizarre Doctor Who episodes where the sculptures have come alive and committed seppuku? Undaunted I passed the km traffic jam of visitors and climbed the hill to the entrance where the cacophony of noise was too great to measure in decibels or for that matter on the Richter Scale. There was some kind of educational event about to progress, no doubt the alarming behaviour would continue into the lecture theatre as it does into most of my classrooms.

I’d come to view the Architecture of the Wind exhibition which showcases the relationship and unity between architecture and art as explored by Itami Jun (1937-2011), a Korean architect in Japan. Comprising the Itami Jun archive donated to the museum and family collections, this retrospective exhibition encompasses his architectural world of over 40 years, extending from his earlier works in Japan in the 1970s to his Jeju projects of later years. This exhibition conveys the spiritual eyes of the architect engraved in his architecture as well as in paintings, calligraphy, and other collections, presenting artifacts of artist’s life that cross the border between Korea and Japan embracing architecture and art.

“No building that truly moves the heart can be created without reflecting life and a strong foundation. Placing the warmth and life of humanity at the base of a work… How will can you perceive the tradition, context and essence of a region, and how will that be conveyed in a building that is to be created? The important thing is to listen to the language spoken by the topography of the land and the ‘voice of the wind’.” – From Itami Jun, Architecture and Urbanism 1970-2011)

The exhibition’s title refers to a project on Jeju Island to which Itami devoted his later years. Itami had said he considered Jeju as his “spiritual hometown.” He built the Biotopia complex on the island, a complex of buildings that blend into the natural environment.

His work in the complex includes the PODO hotel, which has a curved roof inspired by “oreum’’ or Jeju’s volcanic cones. His Church of Sky resembles a boat floating on the water, with the elegantly shaped roof portraying the ebb and flow.

It is an exhibit well worth visiting.

As I left I logged a call from FOBY and we met for lunch at Seoul Station; at Bennigans we ate a gargantuan taco shell holding an almost complete iceberg lettuce and some delicious spicy chicken. After subjecting ourselves to the Black Hole of Calcutta that is Myeong-dong we strolled back to Jongno late afternoon. FOBY had time for dinner so we ate a traditional pork loin barbecue at our favourite spot just 2 minutes from exit 6 of Jongno-ga station. as FOBY headed home I picked up some vino and headed back to the hotel to first do some reading and secondly watch the EPL.

Sunday morning I strolled past the always interesting Blue Dye Barbershop through Danui-dong and hit the subway for Gangnam and the Opera Gallery where an exhibition on American Icons was due to close that day. “The Great American Icons’’ featured Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, the forerunners of American Pop Art together with a group of contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst. The exhibition highlighted the way in which the 60s’ pop icons of capitalism and mass production have become the timeless artistic inspiration for 21st Century contemporary artists from both Eastern and Western cultures.All the exhibits were for sale, including  a couple of Hirsts Butterflys, starting around $12,000 and rising. A colourful start to Sunday was followed by a jaunt to Seoul Arts Centre.

Despite extensive re-modelling for new exhibits I popped in to see the `Sensitive Object of Consolation` by World Design Leaders : Steampunk Art exhibit.  What a gobful? You may say but the Urban Dictionary describes Steampunk as “a sub genre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes”. I’d simplify to Victorian science fiction and futurism. So who are Steampunks heroes? Well, HGW and JV are the ones who spring to mind and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang contains Steampunk, What others see as junk or scrap parts, Steampunk artists transform into something new and expressive, be it an original creation or a modification of a modern convenience.

The ambitious Art Donovan inspired exhibition, for which he wrote nearly all the descriptions and catalogue materials, features an entire gallery dedicated to Donovan’s steampunk lighting creations and sketches. This is supported by rooms with pieces by other steampunk-influenced artists from France, the Netherlands, China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Australia and the United States. The works on display include painting, sculpture, graphic design, fashion, motorized vehicles, jewelry and digital art.

From here it was goodbye Seoul and hello to Dullju!

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