Sunday, August 28, 2011

The National Folk Museum, Seoul, Korea

Photos from my visit to the National Folk Museum

A screen depicting stacks of books, from the 1700s if memory serves

Diarama of traditional exorcism for curing smallpox

An epic funeral bier, decorated with many Kokdu dolls

Food for the ancestral rites

Traditional Korean Rites at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui

Last Friday night, my lovely hosts at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui performed a traditional Korean ritual in order to bless the new year, appease some spirits seen wandering about the grounds of the residency--which I learned had once been an important and much contested battlefield during the Korean war with many bodies still buried beneath! eek!--and show me what a traditional ritual looked like, knowing my strong interest in this topic.

In addition to the staging of the ritual (see above)--which included a real pig's head, wine offerings, ritual readings, Buddhist-like prostrations, and otherworldly shamanistic drumming and singing--many of the art and writer residents, including myself, were asked to give a brief reading. Afterwards, we had a drunken feast--with much flowing of Makgeolli, my new favorite drink!--that went long into the night while the feral cats attempted to eat the pigs head, the owls hooted, and the mosquitos bit.

Really lovely. Thanks to my kind hosts here for putting this together on my behalf. Incredibly kind and much appreciated!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Yesterday in Seoul: Culture Station Seoul 284

Yesterday in Seoul I visited the very exciting art space Culture Station Seoul 284.

This project takes as its launching off point--and its home!--a controversial reconstruction of a western-styled train station built in 1925 under Japanese occupation (1910- 1945). The new culture station housed within aims to aid in the processing of complex national memory through art and culture by providing a space for art and performances that, as the brochure puts it, "take on themes of history and the present, humanity and culture, restoration and rebirth, preservation and extinction, and original form and modification." 

The reconstruction is fantastic, and the space is vast, labyrinthian, and open to meandery exploration. Beautifully reconstructed period rooms--from former VIP waiting rooms to one of the first Western restaurants in Seoul to the epic entry hall--provide the context for a wide variety of contemporary artworks, produced as site-specific pieces responding to the themes, ghosts and histories evoked here. My favorite pieces included a 9-screen film installation about Korean Shamanism, a video where a man got into costume and became a tree, and an enigmatic ghostly plant which filled a side chamber. There was also a very effecting temporary exhibition of Yonhap International Press Photo Awards which featured documentary photography related to the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), "which include freeing people from extreme poverty and hunger, making primary education available to all and eradicating preventable diseases."

Deputy director Sewon Oh took my interpreter Ahhyung and I on a tour, including behind the scenes views. It reminded me in some ways of New York's PS1, but seemed more overtly directed towards history and memory, which really appealed to me. A really wonderful and exciting project; I look forward to seeing what develops there.

Here are some views; as always, click on image to see much larger version:

The former restaraunt, one of the first western restaurants in Seoul

The former VIP waiting room, for kings and princes

Eerie art piece in a small chamber filled with water

The orignal chandelier

Original fixtures from the archive

More original fixtures from the archive

Traversing backstage

My interpreter, Ahhyung, going down the stairs

Sculpture of a famous rebel who fought the Japanese occupation throwing a bento-box bomb

Back to the market to buy a new camera lens