A Street Art Safari Courtesy of the Seoul Urban Art Project

The Seoul Urban art Project, a.k.a. SUP is a contemporary art collective who seek to communicate through street art works in lesser developed areas of the city. They advocate an ‘open gallery’ concept to communicate with people directly, away from the conventional art gallery system which aims at a specific audience. They work in some spaces with permission but they also enter other spaces without negotiating with authorities. Artists can escape the limitations of their workspaces and galleries to communicate with audiences in open spaces. The Art is free from commercialisation and fuelled by a passion to reach a wider audience.

The project began in 2012 and concentrated over the next 2 years on 5 areas of Seoul; Buk Ahyeon Dong near Ewha Women’s University, Itaewon, Doha Troop which for military reasons is inaccessible today, Euljiro and Danggogae at the end of subway line 4.

I decided to try and cover the 4 accessible areas this weekend in this order: Danggogae, Buk Ahyeon Dong, Euljiro and finally Itaewon.  The nature of the terrain I would encounter meant some stiff walking would be needed but I was unsure how difficult this would be. I have no idea what art and if any of it still exists simply because of the pace of development in modern Seoul. Undaunted I set out late Friday afternoon with the intention of attacking Danggogae on Saturday morning.

Sometimes the best laid plans disappear into the abyss and this weekend my Friday evening overly amorous consumption of vino rouge severely dented my ambition. Rising a little later than usual the destination morphed to Buam Dong and a coffee safari replaced the artistic one! All was not lost as I have my maps and head in the right place to follow my original plan this weekend (11/07/2014).

So Saturday afternoon saw a leisurely climb to the home of the “1st shop of coffee prince”.  The CP is a 2007 South Korean television drama, based on the novel of the same name written by Lee Sun-mi. The coffee shop affords great view across Buam-dong and further afield across Jogno towards Seoul Tower. From here it’s a short walk in the shadow of the Korean military to the Baeksasil Valley; an impressive soldier paraded his physique on some parallel bars showing no fear of an imminent invasion by his North Korean counterparts.

Passing the Sanmotungi Café on the left the entrance is to the right at the foot of the hill. The valley is a pleasant respite from the summer heat and is usually peaceful on a Saturday when shopping takes president over leisure. The water levels in the stream were very low and just a smattering of Koreans families picnicked near the ruins of the old Joseon Villa. Apparently the valley is home to a large colony of salamanders, which are “an indicator species of the clean water” and ‘a protected wildlife species of Seoul.’ 🙂

At the bottom of the valley is a signpost which highlights the location of the “protected” species which is quite near the Buddhist temple retreat of Hyeonthongsa, its entrance located next to a spring that flows across magnificent granite boulders. The vibrantly painted gate usher in passers-by and one of the resident monks is always welcoming to visitors.  It’s a nice place to enjoy the last vestiges of silence before you once again  descend the trail to emerge among the usual less then salubrious housing.

Taking the bus back to Tongin-dong it was time for a nap, Saturday evening was less bohemian than Friday as my constitution had been severely compromised. After grappling with some fishy concoction and a couple of Leffe’s and G & T’s it was entirely appropriate to retire earlyish.

Sunday saw a potter around Chungmuro in search of some of that elusive street art. As I said before often its damaged, severely weathered or simply replaced by new construction but the orienteering required to find whats left inspires primitive feelings from our hunter-gatherer past. Generally most of the (2012) street art had been damaged or was no longer in-situ but that which was left was always interesting and in some instances thought-provoking. Along the way an encounter took place with a middle-aged footie-enthusiast  who somehow managed to convey to me how shit England were in this current World Cup.  He seemed to have a firm affinity with Tottenham but for what reason I was unable to ascertain. After a caffeine fix and a troll around some further streets it was time to return back to Dullju.

The real safari begins next Saturday, watch this space!

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