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Memories of Country Whistle Stops

Image of Korea 2021 SPRING 65

Memories of Country Whistle Stops

Recently I came upon news of a high-speed rail line opening between Seoul and Andong. My hometown of Yeongju borders the northern edge of the historical city of Andong, so I’ll now be able to travel there in just one hour and 40 minutes. On a cold winter morning some 60-odd years ago, a 13-year-old boy from a poor mountain village boarded a train at Yeongju Station. That was me – my first solo trip. Many stops with unfamiliar names unfolded before me. And by the time the train reached Seoul, the sky was beginning to darken.

Just think. The very same distance can now be covered in about 100 minutes. What true change, what progress! Still, the surprise and gratitude inspired by the speed and convenience of a bullet train coexists with an underlying longing for the slower pace and sweet scenery of days long past.

© Ahn Hong-beom

The boy’s first-ever train journey set his heart racing with trepidation and wonder. The grown-up sitting next to him asked where he was going and what he planned to do there. I responded proudly that I was going to Seoul to take my middle school entrance examination. The train car was packed with passengers, seated and standing in the aisle. Whenever the train entered a tunnel, the car darkened then soon brightened again. The black smoke and soot belching from the engine car came through open windows.

The train stopped at a small country station. The auntie in the facing seat who shared her boiled eggs with me had been drooling in her sleep, but suddenly she jerked awake and gathered her things. Her back as she stepped off the train, together with a young student in a school uniform, and disappeared beyond the whistle stop… The flowerbeds blooming with various fleeting annuals like cosmos, trembling in the breeze… Such scenes became an inextricable part of my train journey.

Today, KTX trains race past small stops in a matter-ofcourse manner. Many country stations have been abandoned and demolished, having lost their purpose long ago. But some have been repurposed into cafés, diners or little museums, offering people a trip down memory lane and revitalizing these sites as tourist attractions.

Awakening from a light sleep in the deep of night, I sometimes take that young boy I once was and sit him down in the darkness of a lonely, old whistle stop. Then I turn on a faint light in each of the whistle stop waiting rooms that have flowed through the course of my life, and picture scenes from the poem “At Sapyeong Station” by Kwak Jae-gu.

“…with its windows like autumn leaves / who knows where the night train runs / calling out each moment I have longed for, I / tossed a handful of my tears into the light.”

Dureup A Precious Spring Green

Essential Ingredients 2021 SPRING 59

Dureup A Precious Spring Green

With its rough, crunchy texture and bitterish taste, dureup can be enjoyed only briefly, like the fleeting spring season itself. Prepared today in many ways in both local and Western styles of cooking, the tender young shoots of the Korean angelica tree convey the scent of the season.

Koreans love their greens. Among OECD countries, the daily per capita consumption of vegetables is highest in Korea for two main culinary reasons: one is kimchi and the other is namul, the generic name for fresh greens. Many of these can be eaten only in spring before the plants harden, or in some cases, even begin to produce poisons as they grow.

Dureup in particular can only be eaten during a very short period in spring, around the time the cherry blossoms bloom. In the southern part of the country, it is harvested in early April; in the central and northern regions, from mid- to late April. As the shoots don’t all emerge at once, they need to be harvested three or four times. These days, dureup is grown in greenhouses so that it can be eaten not only in spring but throughout the year.

Dureup is a delectable spring green harvested only briefly in April. These crunchy, slightly bitter shoots bring the taste of spring itself to the table.

Appealing Texture
Dureup has a bitter taste and a unique fragrance that’s somewhere between wood and grass. However, its distinguishing feature is its texture. Blanched dureup has both a soft and crunchy mouthfeel.

It also lacks the tough texture typical of most spring greens. The little prickles on the surface may feel a bit rough at first, but they easily break like fine string when chewed. Anyone eating this green for the first time may be compelled to keep chewing on it because of its intriguing texture.

And it’s thanks to this texture that the vegetable is eaten in a way similar to raw fish:
blanched dureup is dipped in red pepper paste mixed with a little vinegar, often served with blanched squid. The very different textures of the two ingredients go together unexpectedly well. Squid may also be replaced with slices of boiled and pressed pork.

The dureup side dish featured in “Various New Korean Recipes” (Joseon mussang sinsik yori jebeop) from 1924, Korea’s first cookbook printed in color, is remarkably simple.

“Fresh dureup, blanched and cut diagonally like licorice root added to herbal medicine, sprinkled with salt and crushed sesame seeds and mixed with plenty of sesame oil makes one of the best vegetable dishes, loved by everybody.”

If cooked for a long time, the shoots soften and taste dull and boring. Only when boiled quickly do they retain their flavor and texture. Varieties of young angelica shoots called ddangdureup (aka dokhwal, aralia cordata) and gaedureup (aka eumnamu, castor aralia) are all eaten blanched. The April 30, 1959 edition of the daily Dong-A Ilbo introduced dureup recipes such as young shoots peeled and dipped in red pepper paste and vinegar, or stir-fried with minced beef and various condiments, in addition to the abovementioned method of seasoning with salt, sesame seeds and oil.

While dureup is most commonly eaten with red pepper paste and vinegar, this sauce tends to cover the fragrance of the shoots. When pickled in soy sauce, however, the natural fragrance is enhanced. After washing and draining dry, the shoots are layered in a container, and a boiled mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in the proportion of 1:1:1:1.5 is poured over them. This is kept for two or three days at room temperature before eating, and afterwards is stored in the refrigerator. The bitterness is reduced and the woody, herbal aroma grows stronger. Eating these pickled shoots, called dureup jangajji, somehow makes you feel healthy.

Cheon Yong-ho, a dureup grower in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, has patents for dureup jangajji and dureup kimchi. His pickling mixture differs from the usual homemade proportion of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and water, and his dureup jangajji is aged differently, as well. It is ripened in three stages and, when vacuum packaged, can be kept for more than three years in the fridge. Dureup kimchi is generally made in the same way as cabbage kimchi, but with blanched dureup as the main ingredient. The fresh shoots can also be preserved in salt, ready to be eaten as soon as they are removed and rinsed.

Dureup shoots are most commonly eaten blanched. Thick shoots are cut in half lengthwise or a cross-shaped cut is made at the bottom before cooking.

Dureup rice rolls are made by placing blanched shoots on cooked rice that has been mixed with a briefly boiled solution of vinegar, sugar and salt – all rolled up in a strip of dried laver.

The taste of bibimbap, or rice mixed with various greens, is enhanced by adding the unique, strong flavor of blanched dureup.

Eaten in Diverse Ways
In some ways, dureup is a lot like asparagus. Both are shoots that grow in the spring, but they have a different aroma. Though blanched dureup doesn’t have exactly the same texture as blanched asparagus, the two are fairly similar. Dureup briefly boiled in leftover pasta water can be added to pasta with anchovy oil to create a dish that brings Eastern and Western flavors together.

Today, the barbecued beef and dureup skewers of the 1970s have been transformed into skewers of ham or crab meat and asparagus, probably inspired by the similarity between the two vegetables. In Japan, both dureup and asparagus are eaten deep-fried, as tempura.

More recently, the March 17, 2018 edition of the daily JoongAng Ilbo featured a dureup gratin recipe. Blanched dureup mixed with chopped boiled eggs is covered with bechamel sauce and baked. Similarly, modern fine dining restaurants in Seoul often serve spring dureup. Thanks to creative recipes from home and abroad, the local ingredient can delight global palates seeking the scent of the season.

Dureup has a bitter taste and a unique fragrance that’s somewhere between wood and grass. However, its distinguishing feature is its texture. Blanched dureup has both a soft and crunchy mouthfeel.

Underrated Identity
If dureup could speak, what would it say? It probably wouldn’t bother asking why it was cooked in the Italian or French way instead of the Korean way. Rather, it might ask, “Do you know how I would look if I hadn’t been cut up and served on your dining table?”

We often forget that the food we eat was originally a living thing. Though people may consider dureup shoots familiar, few have seen how they can grow to become a tree. The same goes for asparagus, so often eaten as a side with steak. Hardly anyone knows what a fully grown asparagus plant looks like.

Fortunately, even when dureup shoots are cut off and asparagus is harvested, the plants don’t die. The branches are pruned after harvesting, and if a suitable number of branches are left, the plant grows big in the summer. Left alone, the angelica tree that produces dureup shoots will grow three to four meters high.

But that makes it difficult to take care of the trees and harvest their young shoots. By pruning branches, thinning out buds and adjusting the number of stems, farmers can control the height of the tree and increase the yield of fresh shoots in the spring.

Meanwhile, if the temperature in a greenhouse rises too much, the shoots grow too quickly and lose their taste and aroma, so farmers also have to adjust the temperature and humidity day and night.

In grocery stores, consumers only see the shoots, knowing nothing about the tree they came from. So the next time dureup is served at your table, try asking yourself how much you know about it.

Gochang Seedbed of Revolution

On the Road 2021 SPRING 71

Gochang Seedbed of Revolution

Gochang in North Jeolla Province delights visitors with its fertile land and beautiful landscape, but its sunny hills and winding valleys also keep heartbreaking memories of a failed peasants’ revolt from the waning years of Korea’s final dynasty.

The high-speed KTX train departing from Yongsan Station in Seoul deposited me at Songjeong Station in Gwangju after one hour and 40 minutes. Driving with a friend who met me at the station, I found a billboard beckoning us to the town of Gochang. “Welcome to Gochang, the first capital of the Korean peninsula. Home of Mt. Seonun, beautiful all year round, and the sacred site of the Donghak Peasant Revolution.” Indeed.

Gochang is where the flag of the farmers’ revolt was first raised in 1894, when the Joseon Dynasty was falling. It is also the gravesite of the defeated peasant warriors. Next to the billboard, a banner appealed for donations: “Join in the fundraising to erect a statue of General Jeon Bong-jun.” There already are several government-funded statues memorializing the revolution and its leaders. But this time, the local residents intend to build a statue of the revolution’s foremost leader of their own accord.

The rock-carved seated Buddha by the path leading up to Dosol Hermitage at Seonun Temple in Gochang dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Measuring 15.7 meters high and 8.5 meters wide at the knees, it is one of the largest rock-carved Buddhist images in Korea. In the 1890s, warriors of the Donghak Peasant Revolution prayed in front of the Buddha for success in battle.

Beyond vast fields, the footprints of the revolution lead to the small, tiled-roof house of Song Du-ho (1829-1895) in Juksan village, Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province. I came here first because I wanted to pay a silent tribute to a revolutionary who was executed 126 years ago. The site has no front gate. A concrete column announces it as the “Birthplace of the Donghak Peasant Revolution.” From here, dreamers of a better life scattered the seeds of revolution that challenged Korea’s last monarchy. They promised each other that they would fight to the death.

The outcome of their vows was the so-called sabal tongmun, or “rice bowl circular,” which features 22 signatures written along the rim of an overturned rice bowl. No one could determine who signed first in the circle of names, so the instigators remained hidden.

The format mirrored a roundtable gathering in medieval Europe; the identity of the head of the group and ranking of individuals could be concealed.

This document is evidence that the Donghak Peasant Revolution was a well-planned, grassroots effort to end long years of tyranny and corruption. It includes a four-point code of conduct that essentially called for armed resistance. It urged residents to storm the magistrate’s office and, from there, march on to Seoul. Donghak, meaning “Eastern Learning,” was a homegrown academic and reform movement against Western influences represented by Christianity and imperial powers.

That the document still exists at all is practically a miracle. It was discovered by chance 53 years ago, hidden under the floorboards at the home of Song Jun-seop, a descendant of Song Du-ho. When the revolution collapsed, government soldiers who had been sent to put down the strife condemned the place as a “village of rebels,” and indiscriminately massacred the residents and burned down their houses. The circular was hidden inside the family’s genealogical record, which escaped the destruction.

The house right in front of the one where the revolution was plotted is where my friend’s grandfather used to live. My friend’s eyes began to glisten as he looked from one house to the other. Not far off is the Donghak Revolution Memorial Tower, erected by descendants of the original revolutionaries. And nearby is also the Donghak Peasant Army Memorial Tower, honoring the countless, nameless heroes who fought for change.

The first volley in the revolt was an anti-government protest in Gobu. It was a success, but the revolt was ultimately crushed at Ugeumchi, a mountain pass in Gongju to the north. The peasant warriors wielded spears, no match for the guns of the government and the Japanese soldiers who allied to subdue the revolt.

A bowl of rice sitting before the memorial speaks for the reason why those starving farmers took up their pickaxes and sickles. In those days, rice needed to be shared for the people to survive. As I looked over the vast fields, the image of the hungry farmers marching on Seoul overlapped with that of Spartacus leading warrior slaves in their march on Rome. Both revolutions were crushed.

Seonun Temple is embraced by the largest concentration of camellia trees in Korea. The camellias here bloom from late March to mid-April, adorning the temple grounds with their gorgeous red flowers and lush green leaves.

Manseru (Pavilion of Eternity) at Seonun Temple was built as a lecture hall in 1620. Destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt in 1752 and its original name, Daeyangnu, was changed to Manseru. The interior beams and rafters are made of natural unprocessed timbers.

Temple and Sea
The next stop was Seonun Temple. There, I wanted to absorb the quietude and wash away the dust in my mind. But the temple was abuzz with people who had come to see the camellia trees profuse with red flowers behind the main hall.

Seonun Temple, nestled on the northern slope of Mt. Seonun (Zen Cloud), was founded in 577 by two monks: Geomdan of Baekje and Uiun of Silla. At the time, the two neighboring states were at war, leaving many people displaced. The two monks joined forces to save the refugees and built a haven where communal life began. In this way, the temple was originally a refugee relief center. Accordingly, some 1,300 years later, the peasant army prayed for the success of their uprising in front of the rock-carved Buddha at Dosol Hermitage, about 2.5 kilometers up the slopes of the mountain behind the temple.

Leaving Seonun Temple, I headed for a beach known for its “10 li of clear sand,” called Myeongsasimni. The beach faces Gyeokpo port in Buan, and a dense forest of pine trees hundreds of years old lines the strip of fine, white sand that stretches more than one kilometer. The scent of pine in the spring breeze seemed to cleanse my senses. The wind whipping through the pines whispered like water boiling in a teapot.

Beyond the sand, the tidal flats were vast and endless. The west coast of Korea has the highest tidal range in the world. Day after day, the sea and land rotate; a spot where one stands one moment will soon become part of the sea again. The water here is so salty that people with skin trouble come to bathe in it, and those with neuralgia come for the hot sand baths. As I looked out across the tidal flats, Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598), Korea’s greatest naval commander, came to mind. It is said that when provisions ran out during the Japanese invasions of 1592-1598, he took a slice of the coast and gathered sea water there to evaporate it in the gigantic natural pot. The large quantity of salt thus produced was sold to buy thousands of tons of rice for his troops.

The barley fields of Hagwon Farm attract half a million visitors every spring. The Green Barley Field Festival is the largest festival in the region.

Small spirit poles (jangseung) serve as guideposts for barley fields in Gochang, which cover an area of about one million square meters.

As I looked over the vast fields, the image of the hungry farmers marching on Seoul overlapped with that of Spartacus leading warrior slaves in their march on Rome. Both revolutions were crushed.

Some 1,600 dolmens can be found in Gochang County, the largest cluster of megalithic tombs in Korea. Along with the Hwasun and Ganghwa sites, the Gochang Dolmen Site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.

A local farmers’ band performs in the yard in front of Gochang Town Fortress. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, performances of traditional music and dance were given here, as well as at the nearby birthplace of Shin Jae-hyo (1812-1884), a master singer and teacher of pansori, every weekend from spring to autumn.

Grilled Eels
Once you’ve stepped foot in Gochang, you can’t leave without having grilled jangeo (eels) and bokbunja (Korean black raspberry) wine. Gochang is famed for its specialty of eels caught in the Pungcheon River, right where it meets the sea. These eels are a popular health food.

Off a main thoroughfare, in a lonely spot near the fields stands a restaurant with a lengthy name: “Hyeongje Susan [Brothers’ Fishery] Pungcheon Jangeo.” This is a place that local foodies keep to themselves. It has a large garden and spacious interior.

The owner of the restaurant grills fresh eel over charcoal, applying a special marinade that contains over 200 ingredients, including medicinal herbs, grain enzymes and herb-based liquor. The side dishes on offer vary according to the season, and the ingredients are all organically grown. The restaurant’s home-brew raspberry wine danced on my tongue, making me feel stronger and younger.

Gojeon-ri Salt Village

Ungok Ramsar Wetland

Gochang Dolmen Museum

Gochang Pansori Museum

Dolmen Clusters
Early the next morning, I looked around the Gochang Dolmen Museum located in town, and then went to the village of Daesan to see the dolmens in their natural state. Every path from the village entrance to the midslope of the mountain is lined with these monoliths as the great mountain hosts a large outdoor museum of ancient stone tombs. Each dolmen is numbered – the higher up the mountain, the lower the number. I wanted to see No. 1 at the summit, but exhaustion took over. I gave up.

Sixty percent of the world’s dolmens are found on the Korean peninsula, and about 1,600 of these, the largest cluster, are in Gochang. The Gochang Dolmen Site, along with the Hwasun and Ganghwa sites, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000, recognized for its unique and varied group of dolmens that reveal changes in construction methods.

It could be said that the entire county of Gochang constitutes a cultural heritage site. In 2013, Gochang was also designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, in recognition of its beautiful natural environment and biological diversity.

In the afternoon, hobbling on tired legs, I went to see the green barley fields of Hagwon Farm. Every April, when the yellow rapeseed flowers bloom, the whole area turns into a tourist attraction bustling with tens of thousands of visitors from across the country. As I emerged from the furrows of fresh green barley sprouts, it began to rain. Just as flowers must fall before fruit ripens, beauty must be forsaken for new life to be born. Suddenly, I felt there was something miraculous about the new sprouts in the fields getting wet under the spring rain. This was a trip not for taking in new sights, but for finding a new way of seeing things.

Sharing Art for a Single Korea

Tales of Two Koreas 2021 SPRING 87

Sharing Art for a Single Korea

“A South-Facing House, Again” – an art exhibition by a North Korean refugee and her South Korean mentor/art therapist – attracted many viewers near the end of 2020. It highlighted efforts toward mutual understanding between North and South Koreans, and their shared desire for unification.

North Korean refugee “Koi” named herself after the colorful carp to mask her identity and express her newly-acquired freedom. Koi in a fishbowl rarely surpass eight centimeters in length, but those in a river can grow up to 15 times bigger. The young artist likens herself to a fishbowl variety that has now reached the “wide and free river” of South Korea.

In December 2008, Koi left her home in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, and sneaked into China, motivated by a close friend and her family members who had settled in South Korea. She couldn’t be deterred even by her own family’s warnings of severe punishment should she be captured.

After many twists and turns in China and Thailand, Koi arrived in South Korea, her “dream land,” in March 2009. She personified an old adage that says, “The newborn calf is not afraid of the tiger.” Today, she fully realizes the risks she took as a new, 18-year-old high school graduate. She says she would not attempt the journey now if she were still in the North.

Upon arriving, Koi set her sights on a fine arts education in Seoul. To prepare for the college entrance exam, she attended Heavenly Dream School, a private alternative school for displaced North Koreans in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. In 2012, Koi was admitted to Hongik University’s Department of Textile Art and Fashion Design. She was the department’s first student from North Korea.

“A Map of the Korean Peninsula Embraced by Sigma” Shin Hyung-mee and Koi. 2020. Acrylic painting on wood. 160 × 100 cm. A collaboration by Koi, a North Korean refugee, and Shin Hyung-mee, her South Korean mentor/art therapist, displayed at their joint exhibition, “A South-Facing House, Again,” held in Seoul in November 2020. It employs the mathematical symbol (sigma) to express the whole of all parts.

“Unit Harmony” Koi. 2020. Special fabric. 100 × 100 cm. This solo piece by Koi expresses her belief that many wishes for unification will eventually build one Korea. The artist says she was inspired by paper airplanes carrying notes of wellwishes.

Coincidence or Karma
While at the university, Koi met Shin Hyungmee, an art therapist, through the Young Defectors’ Christian Association. “When I first met Koi in 2013, I immediately felt that she had a very bright and positive view of life,” Shin recalls. At the time, I was participating in group counseling for young refugees, supported by the Korean Methodist Church headquarters. I knew that Koi eagerly wanted me to teach her privately. I’ve been her mentor ever since.”

The two artists created nine works for a joint exhibition held in Seoul from November 25 to November 30, 2020. The theme of the event was “national unification.” It was the second round of “A South-Facing House,” an exhibition series launched in 2008 by Seoul Women’s University and the Incheon Dongbu Office of Education as an art therapy project for young refugees. The series has showcased participants’ artistic talents in a variety of genres, including painting, textile art and installation. The 2020 edition was hosted by the Unification Ministry at Topohaus, a gallery in Insa-dong, an arts and crafts conclave in central Seoul.

The exhibition introduced Koi and her special relationship with Shin to the broader art scene. They collaborated on three of the artworks and separately produced three works each.

“A Map of the Korean Peninsula Embraced by Sigma,” one of the joint pieces, expressed the artists’ impression of Korea through the mathematical symbol denoting a sum. In an earlier project called “Communicate with Colors,” 30 refugees and 29 South Koreans came together, each creating a different color of paint based on their own view of national unification. These hues were supplemented by a “color of emotion” made by Shin and Koi. Thus, 101 colors were exhibited and later handed over to institutions involved with education for national unification.

“The Road to a SouthFacing House I Walk with You On,” one of Koi’s individual works, was an installation piece. It evoked 50 pairs of the sneakers that she wore back in the North.

“I put a handwritten letter in each pair of shoes to say hello to 50 friends of mine in the North. The letters reflect my longing for my family and friends, and my wish for national unification,” she explains. “Many visitors lingered in front of the work. Some of them read each letter carefully and shed tears. Others left notes to say they were very touched.”

“Unit Harmony,” another piece by Koi, was crafted based on her inspiration from paper airplanes carrying notes of well-wishes.

Each of the “units” stands for a different dream. It embodies the image of one Korea built on many wishes for unification, just as all these smaller dreams together make up a bigger dream.

Consideration and Patience
“Long-Distance Running Track,” a solo piece by Shin, depicted the long and rough journey taken by 46 individuals from among the many North Korean refugees whom she still remembers meeting as an art therapist.

“Ever since I was a child, long-distance running has been difficult for me,” Shin says.

“I wanted to compare North Korean escapees’ experiences of both dangerous moments and peaceful relief along their journey toward South Korea with how runners feel during a long-distance race.”

Despite their special relationship as a mentor and a mentee, as they worked together, Shin and Koi were constantly reminded of their different values, outgrowths of the disparate environments and experiences they have had. Communication, consideration and patience were critical. They thought hard about how to integrate their two different cultures.

Koi says she was encouraged by the sheer number of visitors to the exhibition. “I had anticipated that there would be only a small number of visitors due to COVID-19, but was surprised to find out that more people came than expected. I was convinced that my talent could be used for national unification. More importantly, two artists from the South and the North were able to engage in collaborative activities rather than doing something separately. We’ve already gotten off to a good start toward national unification, I believe.”

The exhibition was initiated by Shin. “We prepared it not as a one-off event, but as a long-running program,” she says. “With this serving as momentum, we’ll play the role of a bridge so that it can develop into a bigger project and more people can take part in it, approaching the topic of North Korea in a natural manner with optimism about unification.”

Another exhibition is scheduled for later this year at a gallery run by the National Unification Advisory Council.

“More importantly, two artists from the South and the North were able to engage in collaborative activities rather than doing something separately. We’ve already gotten off to a good start toward national unification, I believe.”

. “The Road to a South-Facing House I Walk with You On” Koi. 2020. Fabric, handwriting, installation of 50 pairs of sneakers. Each of the 50 pairs of sneakers, the same type as those Koi wore in North Korea, includes a letter she wrote to say hello to her friends in the North.

When art therapist Shin Hyung-mee (left) and Koi, her mentee from North Korea, work together, their different values often surface. They find communication, consideration and patience to be critical to their collaboration.

Steps toward a Dream
Currently, Koi is studying for a master’s degree in fashion business at Hongik University and working for a fashion-related organization. In 2016, she planned and participated in a group exhibition by nine young North and South Korean artists at Common Ground, South Korea’s first shopping mall made of shipping containers, under the sponsorship of Kolon Group. Her dream is to become an influential expert in the fashion industry and the world of arts and culture so that she’ll be able to play a useful role in uniting the two Koreas.

Shin has maintained a close relationship with refugees since 2004. It all began when she met a boy from North Korea while working as a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. As an art therapist, she also facilitated defectors’ mental healing and communicated with them at Hanawon, a government facility for defector re-education. She studied fine arts at Ohio University in the United States and obtained her master’s degree in art therapy from Seoul Women’s University Graduate School.

Now, Shin is undertaking a doctoral program on clinical art therapy at CHA University. She is also preparing for various activities designed to raise awareness of the important public task of helping displaced North Koreans live a fulfilling life in the South.

Balancing Beauty and Precision

Guardian of Heritage 2021 SPRING 62

Balancing Beauty and Precision

Over the past five decades, Kee Heung-sung has produced countless miniature models of architecture – both ancient and modern, from East and West. But the crowning glory of his peerless endeavor is his exquisite replicas of traditional Korean structures.

The Kee Heung Sung Museum, located in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, about an hour’s drive from Seoul, is an intriguing miniature world. Its creator and director, Kee Heungsung, showed a talent for drawing and making things from an early age. His father wanted him to work in civil engineering, saying there would be a surge of public works if the two Koreas were reunited.

Kee was born in 1938 in Ongjin, Hwanghae Province, which is now part of North Korea. His family came down to the South shortly after the Korean War broke out in June 1950. His model-making career dates back to 1967 when, as a rookie architectural designer, he grabbed the attention of Kim Swoo-geun, (1931-1986), a pioneering modern architect and then senior vice president of Korea Engineering Consultants Corp. The company was commissioned to build the grounds for a trade fair. Kee made models with scrap material in his office. When Kim saw them, he exclaimed, “Where did this demon come from?”

That was the moment Kee’s long and successful career took off.

Kee Heung-sung looks at a miniature model of the nine-story wooden pagoda of Hwangnyong Temple, which was the largest Buddhist temple of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935). When building models of ancient structures, he does not use nails but follows traditional dovetail joinery techniques.

Unmatched Talent
His hand was deft and precise. He would be finishing a model when others were still making sketches. And so, having gained Kim’s absolute trust, Kee was promoted to team manager at age 31. In the 1970s, in the midst of the country’s rapid industrialization, he built almost all the presentation models used for national development projects. In a sense, his work bore witness to the history of Korea’s economic development.

“Back then, I was like a relief pitcher at briefings for the president. Drawings have certain limitations in explaining buildings. My models made it far easier to understand the design,” said Kee.

He worked on a continuous series of government projects, including the construction of the Gyeongbu (Seoul-Busan) Expressway and development of Yeouido, an island on the Han River that is home to the National Assembly. He worked hard day and night, taking quick naps on a cot in his office.

The skills Kee had polished in creating miniature models of modern architecture came into their own when he tackled historic buildings. The turning point came when the National Museum of Korea asked him to make a miniature replica of the legendary nine-story wooden pagoda of Hwangnyong Temple, built in the seventh century during the Silla Kingdom. This had been Silla’s largest Buddhist temple, founded to pray for the Buddha’s protection of the country, but it was destroyed by a fire in 1238 during the Mongol invasions. Kee created a fourmeter-high model of the pagoda, which was known to have stood some 80 meters tall overlooking Gyeongju, based solely on historical records.

Recalling that time, he said, “It was back in the 1980s. I spent three years making drawings of the presumed structure, consulting scholars and experts in related fields, including architects, archaeologists and art historians. Then it took another five years to build the actual model.”

Having to reproduce a long-lost ancient pagoda based on informed guesswork made this Kee’s “hardest but most memorable project.” In the exhibition hall on his museum’s basement floor is another replica of the same wooden pagoda, built for “Korean Architectural Culture: Kee Heung-sung’s World of Models,” a special exhibition that celebrated the relocation of the National Folk Museum of Korea in 1993. Kee was lauded at home and abroad for reviving the architectural glory of Silla.

A miniature model of an ancient town at the Lotte World Folk Museum in Seoul has also earned him international recognition. The gorgeous exhibit, built on a scale of 1:8 and covering an area of 1,200 square meters, recreates a vibrant town with various traditional structures, including Gyeongbokgung, the primary palace of the Joseon Dynasty; public schools (hyanggyo) and Buddhist temples; as well as hundreds of miniature people in colorful costumes.

Providing a glimpse of the architecture and lifestyle of premodern Korea, the display is a must-see for visiting foreign dignitaries. On his visit in 2002, Lu Xiaobo, dean of the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University, expressed his wishes to introduce to China “these wonderful skills that bring to life the beauty of traditional architecture.”

Kee spent two years building the miniature town, painting dancheong (traditional multicolored paintwork) on the wooden structures and baking tiny roof tiles the size of a fingernail. “I almost killed myself,” said Kee. He toiled through the project wearing a pacemaker.

“Lines are crucial in ancient Korean architecture. The curves of upturned eaves are a subtle deviation from a straight line, made with intuition,” Kee said. “Whenever I work on old buildings, I marvel at the wisdom of our ancestors. They have an elegance that can’t be matched by modern architecture. Traditional buildings are so much harder to replicate that at least five years’ experience is necessary for any novice model maker.”

In 2004, Kee served as visiting professor at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts and Design to share his knowhow and craftsmanship for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Expo 2010 Shanghai.

China Central Television covered “Kee Heung-sung’s World of Models,” the exhibition held in Beijing in June 2004, in a special program.

Known to have stood 80 meters high, the seventh-century wooden pagoda of Hwangnyong Temple has been restored in a 1:20 scale model. Kee spent three years conducting research on the long-lost pagoda and making drawings of the presumed structure, then another five years on building the model.

The balustrade along the wraparound balcony of each floor features intricate geometric latticework. The pagoda was burned down along with the entire temple during the Mongol invasions in the 13th century.

“A mere copy of the external features will not impress the viewer. A model should be both precise and beautiful.”

Museum for a Lifetime’s Work
The Kee Heung Sung Museum opened in 2016, marking the 50th anniversary of his career. The result of a long-cherished dream to showcase his works and share his knowledge and knowhow, the museum exhibits more than 1,000 models. The basement level houses the Hall of Traditional Korean Architecture, where Sungnyemun, the old south gate of Seoul, stands at the entrance, a testament to what this national treasure looked like before it was burned down in an arson in 2008. All the fine details are replicated exactly, including the columns and stairs inside the structure as well as the symbolic figurines placed along the roof ridge lines. Even the tiny convex and concave roof tiles fit together perfectly, and the meticulously reproduced rampart walls on either side of the gate show the shapes and surface patterns of the stones of which they are comprised.

“I got calls from numerous people when Sungnyemun was destroyed by fire,” Kee said. “As a perfect copy of the gate before the fire, the model was apparently helpful for the restoration effort.”

The second floor of his museum features the Hall of Early Modern and Contemporary Architecture, exhibiting exquisite models of classical Western-style structures including the old Seoul Station and demolished Japanese Government-General building. Also on display are Seoul Olympic Stadium, Seoul World Cup Stadium, 63 Square (aka the 63 Building) and Jongno Tower, as well as such overseas landmarks as the White House, Empire State Building and Petronas Twin Towers. Kee’s model of Pyongyang led him to be dubbed “the guy who moved all of Pyongyang to Seoul.” The North Korean capital’s major buildings and natural surroundings as they were in 2000, when the first inter-Korean summit was held, are recreated on a platform five meters square. Sunan International Airport, Juche Tower, Mansudae Assembly Hall, the People’s Palace of Culture and Koryo Hotel are all included, among other landmarks.

Kee’s 1:200 scale models were also instrumental in helping Korean companies to win a US$40 billion contract in 2009 to build nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates.

Sungnyemun was the main gate of Hanyang, the capital of the Joseon Dynasty, which largely overlapped with the old city center of Seoul. The two-tiered wooden structure, five bays across and two bays deep, stands on a granite foundation. Built in 1398, the gate was destroyed by fire in 2008 and its restoration was completed in 2013. Kee’s model is recognized as the most faithful replica of the structure before the fire.

Kee paid the utmost attention to details, including the symbolic figurines on the roof ridges, also scaled down in proportion. In traditional architecture, the animal figurines served both decorative and talismanic purposes.

An Unfulfilled Dream
Models may seem unnecessary in an age when three-dimensional images can be rendered online. But Kee said, “A model is indispensable because it enables an architect to visualize the structure before it’s constructed, and to see how it fits in with the surroundings. To convey the intentions behind the design, the model maker must follow the exact process of constructing the actual structure based on the drawings.”

The same is true for reproducing traditional architecture, which requires a series of arduous procedures: erecting pillars on foundation stones, building the framework with beams and rafters, laying the tiled roof and fitting windows and doors. “A mere copy of the external features will not impress the viewer,” he said. “A model should be both precise and beautiful.”

The hardest part of assembling models of traditional buildings is obtaining good timber. To prevent the wooden parts from cracking, Kee uses fine-quality red pine, the same wood used for actual hanok (traditional Korean houses), and assembles the parts without nails, using the traditional dovetail joinery method to remain faithful to the original aesthetics.

As of now, Kee’s museum dream has not been entirely fulfilled. He plans to open another exhibition hall in the annex behind the main museum to display works currently in storage. And yet another museum is planned to open somewhere near Songdo or Deokjeok Island in Incheon, closer to his hometown in North Korea.

“Building architectural models is a way to help restore our disappearing cultural heritage, and to predict and prepare for problems that may arise in the future. This has been my mission for over 50 years now and will continue to be so until the end of my life,” he said.


Unwrinkled Devotion

An Ordinary Day 2021 SPRING 76

Unwrinkled Devotion Coarse hands move nimbly between rising plumes of white steam. Seconds later, a rumpled piece of clothing is reborn, neat and smooth. Handing their clean, warm clothes back to his customers, an easy smile spreads across Oh Ki-nyeong’s face at his neighborhood dry cleaning shop. Oh Ki-nyeong, the owner of Hyundai Cleaning in Mapo District, Seoul, has 14-hour workdays at his 26 sq. meter shop. He is especially busy in the spring, when most households take out their spring cloths and stow their winter clothes at the same time. “Tearing off a piece of freshly baked bread with my hands; stacking a pile of folded underwear neatly in my drawer; the feel of a brandnew shirt slipping over my head, its scent of clean, new cotton – these are moments when I feel a small but certain happiness,” writes author Haruki Murakami. Every country, it seems, has a way of expressing this sort of peace and the way to achieve it. In Denmark, there is “hygge”; in Sweden, “lagom”; in France, “au calme.” More recently, “sohwakhaeng,” an abbreviation of the phrase “small but certain happiness,” has entered the Korean lexicon. Surely, the dry cleaner’s – that one place in every neighborhood alleyway that seems always to be open, emitting its white steam – must be a purveyor of the sort of warmth that transcends nationality or race. At Hyundai Cleaning, a neighborhood dry cleaner’s on Shinsu-ro street in the Mapo District of Seoul, owner Oh Ki-nyeong starts his day at 8 a.m. “When I get to work, first I organize and sort the laundry by type and then wash it. Once that work is done, I gather all the clothes that have come in for alterations and work on those. Then comes the ironing. At 9 p.m. it’s time to go make the deliveries. By the time I’ve done the rounds of the five or so apartment complexes around here, it’s usually close to 10 p.m. “Spring is the busiest season of the year. With every household taking out their spring clothes and stowing their winter clothes all at the same time, the laundry overflows. So in spring, there’s really no start or end to my workday. I’ll work until 1 or 2 a.m., ’til I pass out asleep, then I’ll get up and work again for as long as I can stand it.” There’s a lot less work these days, due to changing circumstances. In previous years, Oh would make 40 deliveries daily. Now, there are no more than 10. Still, his 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. workday remains unchanged, most of it spent standing. One elbow is deformed, the consequence of ironing with one arm for so many years. “It’s an occupational disease – no way to heal it completely, even with steady exercise,” he explains. Oh brings the gratitude he feels for his customers to every piece of clothing that he handles. Largely catering to regulars, his shop has been a neighborhood fixture for 20 years. Getting Established Oh started learning his trade in his early twenties, working at a clothing factory where he first brushed thread and ripped seams, and eventually mastered his tailoring skills. He set out to found a factory of his own at around age 30. He operated it for about five years, before becoming a casualty of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. “The number of orders plummeted, so much so that we only had enough work for two, three days a week. There was just no way to pay my employees. There was nothing to be done but shut down the factory. My youngest brother was running a dry cleaner’s in Yongin then, so I went to take a look and thought maybe I should try it, too. After all, it’s the kind of work you can do even as you get older, so long as your body holds out. “It so happened that a friend of my wife’s was also running a dry cleaner’s. My wife and I worked there together to learn the necessary skills. We worked for three months without pay, day in and day out, learning various techniques, how to run the machines, and so on. Laundry techniques are different, depending on the fabric. My experience making clothes at the factory turned out to be a big help.” Oh had some hit-or-miss learning experiences. His first location was in Guro-dong, a section of Guro District, where dress-making and textile manufacturing once thrived. Oh’s lack of experience translated into a lot of effort without much profit. Dealing with all types of people would also upset him frequently. Within just a few months, he moved into the retail section of a new apartment complex. At the time, there was an unwritten no-compete rule. With no other dry cleaner present, Oh ended up handling all 1,300 households in the complex. He lasted six months before throwing up his hands; it was just too much work. Looking for his next location, he told himself not to be greedy. “Mapo is actually my home neighborhood. Back when I was first trying to set up a dry cleaner’s, this place had no apartments yet. By the time I’d sold my second shop, though, a bunch of apartments had been built in the meantime and there just happened to be an available space, so I took it. Now it’s been about 20 years since I set up shop here.” Despite the reduced volume in recent times, the workday still isn’t easy. Ever since his wife’s health began to decline, Oh has taken over all of the daily operations on his own. Filled with stacks and stacks of laundry and packed with all kinds of sewing machines and the like, the shop is a mere eight pyeong (26.4 sq. meters). Even when there’s time for a short break, there’s no space to lie down – so he rests in a chair. New technology can help sort orders, but Oh refuses to deviate from sorting and checking handwritten tags for each order, one by one. Changing Circumstances Younger generations tend to favor easy-to-use laundry apps, or entrust their clothes to relatively cheaper and more familiar franchises. Meanwhile, as people have been going out less and working from home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic, less laundry needs to be done. And because dry cleaning work itself is taxing, it’s increasingly difficult to find anyone interested in learning how to do it. Indeed, neighborhood dry cleaning shops like Oh’s place are gradually disappearing. Once the current owners have aged out of being able to do the work, they tend to close their doors for good. Still, the fact remains that Oh is a master craftsman, doing his utmost for each and every patron. Most of the customers who seek out his shop are homemakers in their forties and fifties, long-term regulars. They express honest joy when they are handed their clothes, clean as new, and sometimes show their appreciation with small gifts of pastries or fruit. There are, of course, unpleasant customers as well. Some claim there are stains that weren’t there before. And some are simply rude without cause. “There are people who talk down to me. It’s like they think they can speak to me however they want just because I do this kind of work. Those people are the hardest to deal with. I have to be very clear that if they aren’t satisfied, it’s fine for them to go someplace else. Otherwise, it just causes me too much stress.” After so many years on the job, Oh has seen his fair share of memorable individuals, too. One forty-something customer, a man, would regularly bring in a mesh bag stuffed with everything from underwear to shirts and pants, even towels. Thanks to those still damp towels, the stench, of course, was pretty bad. Then one day, when the shop was closed, he took his whole load someplace else – only to come back later and complain that they charged far too much. “Now do you see?” was Oh’s reply. He has now learned and mastered the art of not letting people hurt his feelings. After all, if a customer is unreasonable, he can just turn them away, and the good customers that always surround him make up for it. When all is said and done, he is only sorry he can’t do more for the good customers. Wrestling with clothes all day long, it’s only natural that Oh’s sensitivity to fashion trends has become honed. When there’s an uptick in the number of customers coming in to tailor a new outfit, he thinks, “This style must be in fashion these days.” And since the proper washing technique for a garment depends on the material, it’s essential that he studies and stays informed. When he has time on the weekends, Oh visits clothing stores to keep up to date with the styles and pricing of current merchandise. Hoping against hope that these difficult times will soon give way to the return of more ordinary days, Oh lifts his heavy iron once again to provide his customers one small but certain happiness. A Master’s Efforts In the past, people wore a lot of clothes that needed to be dry cleaned. Today, there are more varieties of functional clothes, such as different kinds of sportswear. Preserving their functionality requires shorter cleaning times and neutral detergents. Clothes can be ruined if one doesn’t know the specific requirements. But to work Monday through Saturday and then spend Sunday going out to look at more clothes, does Oh have time for any other hobbies? At this, he smiles wide and pulls out a small notepad. “I’m about to complete a cross-country bicycle trek along various cycling routes. Each course has a booth, and when you pass through, they give you a stamp. For a while I went every Sunday. Go early in the morning, race on my bicycle, and take the bus back home. Taking a long course and finishing it just a little bit at a time. I only have one stretch left now. It’s a way to get some exercise and some spiritual healing, too, on my day off – my greatest pleasure.” And with that, hoping against hope that these difficult times will soon give way to the return of more ordinary days, Oh lifts his heavy iron once again to provide his customers one small but certain happiness.

Laure Mafo Under The Spell of Pansori

In Love with Korea 2021 SPRING 177

Laure Mafo Under The Spell of Pansori Not everyone is lucky enough to know exactly what they want in life. Laure Mafo does. She only had to hear pansori once to know that she had found her vocation. Without hesitation, she decided to move to Seoul, where she now hones her skills in this genre of traditional Korean vocal music with the hope of performing it all over the world. When Laure Mafo worked for Sam-sung Electronics in Paris, she dreamed of buying a house and turning it into a daycare center filled with children. Until she went to a performance of pansori. “It was amazing. It was like falling in love,” she recalls. Mesmerized by the traditional Korean narrative song, she found herself smiling through the performance and thinking, “This is good, really good. I think this is for me.” After the performance, she approached the singer, Min Hye-sung, to ask her about learning pansori. Min, who had sung an excerpt from “Chunhyangga” (Song of Chunhyang), based on a famous love story between a noble boy and a commoner girl, said Korea was naturally the best place to start. Impulsively, Mafo, who had studied business administration in college, asked, “If I go to Korea, would you teach me?” In 2017, after two years of preparations and convincing her family and friends that she wasn’t crazy, Mafo arrived in Seoul. Min had warned that 10 years would be the minimum time it would take to train. But to ease her mother’s worries, Mafo told her she’d “try it for just one year.” Although she was not particularly adventurous, Mafo had no apprehensions. “I just had this feeling,” she says. As promised, Mafo began lessons under Min, a designated successor to the art of singing “Heungbuga” (Song of Heungbu), one of the five main pansori works and a designated piece of Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Heritage. There was much to learn. Since storytelling is central to pansori, understanding the lyrics is crucial. That made learning Korean and written Chinese her first step. Laure Mafo’s pursuit of becoming a pansori performer requires not only arduous hours of learning the techniques for the musical storytelling genre, but also intense Korean language study to understand the lyrics and sharpen her pronunciation to native level. Practice, More Practice Before COVID-19, lessons, practice and occasional concerts and television appearances filled Mafo’s days, usually from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. She feels that she has to work twice as hard as others; articulating lyrics can be a struggle, let alone understanding their meaning. For proper pronunciation, she once practiced a single phrase for a week with a pen stuck sideways in her mouth. “I may not be able to sing like native Koreans, but I want to be a professional,” says Mafo, 36, who possesses a deep, resonant voice. In her fledgling career, a memorable moment came in 2018 when she sang at the Élysée Palace in Paris to mark the summit meeting between Korean President Moon Jae-in and French President Emmanuel Macron. But the Cameroonian-born French citizen regards another performance in 2019 as even more special: she performed at the Korean Embassy in Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon, with her teacher and other masters. The audience included her family members as well as local dignitaries. “My mother didn’t really watch me perform,” Mafo says. “She watched the other people to see how they were reacting. She was really proud.” The story of each song and the underlying messages entice Mafo. Her favorite is “Heungbuga,” which conveys a folk tale about a poor but good-hearted younger brother and his greedy older brother. “It’s about family. Every family has its own problems. Mine too.” She also believes in the message that being good brings its own rewards. Her ultimate goal is not only to master “Heungbuga” but to perform the entire threehour-long piece, hopefully all over the world, and also to teach pansori to children. She wants to help children express themselves through this music in the way it has helped her. “In Paris, I was depressed a lot of the time. I don’t know why but I couldn’t express my feelings,” she says. “But when I sing pansori, I feel like my mind is really clear. One day, I also want to teach my own children this beautiful music.” This takes Mafo back to thoughts of her mother. She speaks to her mother every day, and every time, her mother asks if she has found a good man. Each time she answers, “Not yet.” As an honorary ambassador for the Korea-Africa Foundation, Mafo likes to wear a hanbok reflecting both her Cameroonian roots and her adopted Korean culture. She combines a jacket featuring a unique Cameroonian design with a red, traditionalstyle skirt for the formal Korean dress. Pandemic Year The year 2020 was especially difficult for Mafo. No performances were allowed and her visa didn’t permit her to take another job outside the arts. She’s trying to reach out to audiences online through her own YouTube channel, “Laurerang Arirang” (meaning “Arirang with Laure”), and her teacher’s channel, “Bonjour Pansori,” where she translates her teacher’s lessons into French. But no performances means no income. Still, Mafo considers herself lucky. The landlady of her boarding house has been very supportive, waiving the rent and taking care of her needs. She even presented Mafo with a hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) for her stage costume. Mafo calls her “eonni,” meaning “big sister.” She still finds Korea’s “polite” forms of language and relationships baffling from time to time, but otherwise says her experience in Korea has mostly been rewarding, thanks to good people. Her teacher is here and friends that she knew in Paris helped her with basic tasks such as finding a place to live and opening a bank account. She misses French delicacies like raclette cheese and éclairs, but has found her own Korean comfort food – ox bone broth soup, a popular hangover dish that she loves even though she doesn’t drink. Not all was gloomy in 2020; Mafo realized her cherished goal of gaining admission to the prestigious Korean National University of Arts. She was overjoyed, though worried a bit about “being a student again and having to translate everything.” But her real concern is how to pay the tuition. For the first time in her life, she says, she finds herself financially strapped. “When I perform on stage, I want my audience to see me as a pansori singer, not a foreigner singing pansori.” No Looking Back Still, Mafo says she has absolutely no regrets. Only once did she question her choices. It was during the first of her twice-a-year intensive pansori training camps, the so-called san gongbu (literally “study in the mountains”). “I thought I would die. We started at 5 a.m. and practiced all day. Practice and eat, practice and eat,” she recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ But afterwards it was like, ‘Wow, my pansori has really improved.’” She admits the mountain training camps have been crucial in acquiring the proper voice and intricate techniques. For Mafo, singing pansori in French is another challenge. Sometimes she performs in a mixture of Korean and French, which she finds more difficult. “When you sing in Korean, the techniques are different,” she explains. “It’s like a story when I sing in Korean, but in French, it’s like a song. I’m working on the French side, so that it’s more like a story in French, too.” In whichever language, she seems to crystallize her hopes into the statement: “When I perform on stage, I want my audience to see me as a pansori singer, not a foreigner singing pansori.” This year, she hopes to start performing again. She also aims to master “Heungbuga” and move on to a lesser known piece called “Sugyeong nangjaga” (Song of the Maiden Sugyeong). It’s a love story and is carried on today by only a handful of singers, one of them being Min Hye-sung. “One day, if just one person has the same feeling I had when I first heard my teacher sing – if only one person would say, ‘Wow, I want to learn that too,’ then that would be amazing,” Mafo says.

Hobbies and Pastimes Move Online

Lifestyle 2021 SPRING 59

Hobbies and Pastimes Move Online In 2019, small groups sharing hobby-related activities became popular in Korea. Young adults in particular bought into this “salon culture.” While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted in-person gatherings, undaunted hobbyists are still staying connected. Embroidery is a popular selection on Hobbyful, an online learning platform. Hobby and pastime sites have mushroomed as the COVID-19 pandemic forces people to limit social interactions and spend more time at home. © hobbyful Lee, an office worker in his 30s, relishes sniffing and tasting wine. The pleasure doubles when it’s done alongside other wine connoisseurs. In 2019, he joined a small club of wine enthusiasts to broaden his knowledge. The club, consisting of a dozen men and women in their 30s, met every Friday evening in Mapo, a commercial-residential district along the Han River in Seoul. Each week, the members quickly moved from small talk to sipping and discussing varieties of wines. Lee once dreamed of flying to Switzerland to indulge in a good bottle with tasty cheese. He has yet to visit the Alps, but spending time with other wine aficionados proved to be an engaging alternative. Besides, there was the bonus of socializing. The members of the club were in his age range and there was a good gender balance. Everyone looked forward to ending their workweek with fine wine in a warm, amiable atmosphere. Then COVID-19 erupted. “Nobody knows when we can meet again,” Lee says. “If this is a dream, I just want to wake up soon.” Amid pandemic-related curbs on social interaction, Lee’s wine tasting hiatus has lengthened and memories of the club are growing dim. Even in 2021, he still can’t do much more than sip wine alone and perhaps watch offerings on Netflix. At times, he does even less; he admits to spending time simply sitting absentmindedly on his sofa after his workday. Home baking attracts wide attention among online learners. Online hobby lessons are geared toward a broad range of hands-on experiences with arts and crafts for self-enrichment and home application. © CLASS 101 Fans cheer for their teams during a Korean Basketball League game between Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus and Changwon LG Sakers, held on September 20, 2020. Unable to attend games in person due to COVID-19, fans gathered in small groups to watch them online together during sports seasons. © Yonhap News Salon Culture Lee’s wine club was among a myriad of groups organized around shared interests in 2019. This so-called “salon culture” included a wide scope of interests, with people in their 30s being especially active. Reading, movies, travel, cooking and music were among the top activities for these social communities. In April 2019, Embrain Trend Monitor, a local market researcher, conducted a national poll of 1,000 people aged 19-59 to gauge their participation in social activities. Among the respondents, 906 said they were engaged in a regular activity, and 26 percent of them said their activity entailed “meeting a multitude of unspecified people with the same interests and hobbies.” That cohort was less than half of the number of respondents who said their social activities primarily took place with former classmates or coworkers, accounting for 67.6 percent. But other responses suggested that salon culture was gaining traction. Some 290 respondents stressed the need to take part in gatherings that focus on hobbies or interests. Travel is, by far, the activity that people would like to share most with others: 73.5 percent of respondents said they wanted to join travel clubs. Next came sports clubs (18.1 percent), foreign language clubs (15.9 percent), volunteering clubs (15 percent), film clubs (14.3 percent), and reading or writing clubs (14.1 percent). This seems to have something to do with the social phenomenon of individualization; more and more personal relationships nowadays revolve around “me,” and “my” hobby and interests are important preconditions for interpersonal connections. Although interpersonal warmth and body language are difficult to convey via virtual meetings, opinions flow easily. Many members still rate their participation as “interesting” or “useful.” Online Gatherings COVID-19 upended the new trend in social culture but many enthusiasts refuse to become disconnected. Video conferencing adopted by workplaces to cope with social distancing has transferred equally to non-work purposes. “We’re going to keep our club alive with Zoom, an online chat program,” one book club announced. The Seoul-based club made the announcement to their 67 members through an app dubbed “Somoim,” meaning “small gatherings.” It followed the government’s tighter lockdown controls in the capital region late last year. The club’s idea was to have members meet online to exchange their book reviews. A similar format is also being employed by writing clubs, which ordinarily see members gathered at a table to share their prose. One Seoulbased writing club with 234 members set up meetings through Google Meet. Although unfamiliar with virtual meetings at first, the participants soon adapted to their new environment , sharing online the stories they had written. Other social gathering platforms for hobby enthusiasts include “Munto,” “Moonraedang,” “Trevari” and “Frip.” They call themselves “social salons.” Trevari, a book discussion platform, is an old hand in the online social community. It opened in 2015 and currently comprises about 400 book clubs with some 6,000 total users. Most of the members read a book and join four meetings per month. Although interpersonal warmth and body language are difficult to convey via virtual meetings, opinions flow easily. Many members still rate their participation as “interesting” or “useful.” Frip is a social platform for a variety of hobbies and leisure activities, such as cooking, pottery making, mountain climbing and DIY, among others. Cooking club members not only prepare dishes, they demonstrate best practices for maintaining proper hygiene and preventing COVID infections. Offline activities are inevitable for cooking clubs that require special utensils and food ingredients as well as a kitchen. Sports clubs like those for mountain climbing and trekking are complying with the ban on private gatherings of more than four people. Under these circumstances, some cooking and sports clubs conduct programs both on and offline. Meal kits are delivered to members at home, while activities such as a hike or long swim are shared online with other members. COVID-19 lockdowns of gyms have forced people to exercise at home. They have a wealth of new athome workout programs that can be downloaded onto their smartphones for easy reference. © LG Uplus A Private Experience I decided to take part in an online class myself. I had zero knitting experience but that didn’t stop me from ordering a tea mat knitting kit from Frip. I was confident that I could quickly knit a tea mat by watching an online instructor. However, frustration soon arose; the instructor’s hands moved too quickly for me to follow. After fumbling my spool of yarn and knitting needles several times, it dawned on me that in-person classes would be a much better way to learn how to knit. My plan to enjoy a cup of coffee set on a pretty mat I’d knitted by hand unraveled with me hardly getting a stitch in. I concluded that I’d do better to buy a tea mat. Other beginners could feel similarly frustrated, but the threshold might not be as high for non-novices. As for me, I’ve stowed my yarn in a drawer for a post-pandemic, offline class.

‘The World’s Saddest and Most Beautiful Arirang’

Interview 2021 SPRING 54

‘The World’s Saddest and Most Beautiful Arirang’ Installation artist Choi Jeong-hwa isn’t particularly pleased about being called an “artist.” With a self-identity akin to a “designer,” Choi considers flea markets and traditional street markets to be more artistic, in many ways, than any art museum. Nah Youn-sun (standing), music director of “ARIRANG, The Name of Korean vol. No. 8,” an album that explores contemporary interpretations of the most famous Korean folk song, works at a recording studio. At left is geomungo player Heo Yoon-jeong. © Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation Rather than impeding the musicians, working remotely on the album prompted deeper concentration into one another’s input and the overall sound. To Nah Youn-sun, “Arirang” is a song that motivates a restart in trying times. Watching Nah Youn-sun on stage, one gets the feeling that the singer is a unique and peerless instrument. The melodies that flow over her audiences are both delicate and keen, seeping into the heart of each listener. “Momento Magico,” “Asturias,” “Breakfast in Baghdad,” “Hurt” – all are opportunities to experience the ingenious music that Nah can craft with her vocal chords. Recognized as one of Europe’s foremost jazz singers, Nah regularly commands stages at the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and possesses numerous accolades, including an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture. Since signing with German record label ACT in 2008 and then with American label Warner Music Group in 2019, Nah has made her superlative presence felt. Rather than American blues music, it seems to be “Arirang,” Korea’s best known folk song both at home and abroad, that constitutes the main artery of this Paris-based jazz vocalist’s musical influence. “When I sing a sad chanson, I’ll find myself singing it much, much sadder than the original version,” she once mused. “You know the way of Koreans; when we lose someone close to us, we cry as if the world has ended. In a way, that’s the sensibility I’ve brought to my songs.” Nah’s seventh and eighth albums, titled “Same Girl” and “Lento,” respectively, both included versions of “Arirang.” Nah also sang a rendition of the song during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This time, she’s taken on the role of music director for “ARIRANG, The Name of Korean vol. 8,” an album structured entirely around the folk song, which historically has had a slew of variations. Thirty-five minutes in length, the album includes six brand-new versions of “Arirang,” each a collaboration by artists from different countries, such as a piece by gayageum player Park Kyung-so [Kyungso Park] and British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and another by geomungo player Heo Yoon-jeong [Yoon Jeong Heo] and Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick. What’s different about this version of “Arirang”? Well, as you know, we all had a particularly difficult year last year because of COVID-19. Musicians, producers, agencies – we all found ourselves in dire straits as live performances more or less disappeared. Still, there wasn’t a single one of us who said, “It’s over.” Instead, the catchphrase going around was, “Stay creative,” or “Keep creative.” I learned a lot from this positive attitude. I didn’t want to sing some bright and cheery “Arirang” of contrived hope. I spurred us all on to try and make the world’s saddest, most beautiful “Arirang,” capturing today’s world as it actually is. Everyone agreed and threw themselves into that task, and ultimately, the process of making this album was quite therapeutic for us all. What type of musicians did you want to work with? I wanted musicians who were open to collaboration, and who would be able to grasp what “Arirang” really is. Andy Sheppard, for example, had already worked with Park Kyungso once as part of England’s “K-Music Festival.” Mathias Eick and I have actually toured together as a duo, so I know he’s a truly multitalented instrumentalist. Trumpet, contrabass, drum, piano, even electronic instruments – he can do it all. [Through her years of frequent tours across Europe, Nah has played a key role in establishing “Arirang” in jazz repertoire. For example, in their 2017 album “Good Stuff,” Finland’s Iiro Emil Rantala (piano) and Sweden’s Ulf Wakenius (guitar) included a track titled “Seoul,” which built on the melody of the Miryang regional version of “Arirang.” Beginning in the early 2000s, Wakenius became deeply familiar with renditions of “Arirang” from Miryang, Jindo and Jeongseon while working closely with Nah.] How do foreign musicians perceive this Korean folk song? Well, first they tend to really like the melody itself. I actually played all the various regional versions of “Arirang” for Samuel Blaser, the Swiss trombone player who collaborated on “ARIRANG-19” with the duo CelloGayageum. He was so struck by them all that he said he was overflowing with inspiration and sent me a veritable stream of reinterpretations. Where do you think this power comes from? I consider it to be a power inherent to minyo, or folk song. And for foreigners, of course, it has a kind of novelty. It’s like coming across an entirely new type of music, so it can spark really strong interest. “Arirang” has simple bones, but there’s something singular in its rhythms. This makes it possible for each musician to try out whatever interests them the most – and all the more so when it comes to jazz musicians in particular. After all, if a jazz musician feels a hundred different things, they can express them a hundred different ways, one by one. They’re quite interested in irregular time signatures with 5 or 7 beats. This album was made remotely. Did that cause any problems? The situation was such that we were all physically very distant from one another and the pandemic made it impossible for us to get together. So we started with the Korean musicians, each creating and recording their new interpretations of “Arirang.” Then they sent that – either direct- ly or through me – to their musical collaborators abroad via email, internet messenger or SNS. And then those far-flung musicians would listen to the file and send back their own instrumentation. Naturally, this wasn’t an easy, one-step affair. We repeated this process many times, reworking each piece back and forth until everyone was satisfied with the result. But other than the time difference, it was just like any other collaborative songwriting process. For a few of the pieces, I did the final mastering myself. How was 2020 without your usual travel? Well, I’ve never been able to spend so much time with my parents. Before, my home in Korea was almost like a hotel where I would stay for short stretches before leaving again. To be completely honest, I dealt with some depression and anxiety, too. Out of nowhere I’d be struck with thoughts like, “How far have I actually come in this life?” I’m rather sensitive, and the situation as a whole really pained me. Some people around me advised that, in times like these, social media can be a good tool, but I never actually acted on that. At the start of the pandemic, instead of listening to music, I just focused on cleaning, organizing and spending time with my parents. When I started listening to music again, I essentially rediscovered the music of Europe. Somehow, every album felt like the soundtrack to a movie. I’d felt exhilaration before when listening to Stevie Wonder or Herbie Hancock, but just sitting in my own home and slowly listening to all these albums in their entirety, it came to me how music, too, can tell one long, full story. This kind of arc is something one always considers, of course, when sequencing a track list, but this became an opportunity for me to really understand on a deeper level how important that can be. It was also a period where I really felt anew how much actual healing power there is to be found in art and in music. Directing this album, I told everyone, “Don’t make these songs short. Make them as long as possible, say every last thing you want to say.” The artists who collaborated for “ARIRANG, The Name of Korean vol. 8” are: (from left, first row) geomungo player Heo Yoon-jeong, drummer Michele Rabbia (Italy), saxophonist Andy Sheppard (England), Gyeonggi minyo vocalist Kim Bora (Korea); (second row) accordion player Vincent Peirani (France), geomungo player Heo Yoon-jeong, flutist Joce Mieniel (France), daegeum player Lee Aram (Korea); (third row) pansori vocalist Kim Yulhee (Korea), gayageum player Park Kyung-so (Korea), trumpeter Mathias Eick (Norway) and percussionist Hwang Min-wang (Korea). Not pictured are Korean duo CelloGayageum and Swiss trombone player Samuel Blaser. © Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation “‘Arirang’ has simple bones, but there’s something singular in its rhythms. This makes it possible for each musician to try out whatever interests them most – and all the more so when it comes to jazz musicians in particular.” It seems this album could be a nice accompaniment to activities like yoga or home workouts. Sure, that might be nice, too. You don’t necessar- ily have to be fully focused as you listen. It’s pleasant music for doing the dishes or puttering around the house, or maybe even doing nothing at all. Though for people who have the time and space, I also recommend going deeper and listening with full concentration. Then it can feel almost like taking in the narrative arc of a feature film. What are your plans for 2021? I’m in the process of preparing my second album with Warner Music. It will be my 11th album overall and I expect to start working on it soon in New York and L.A. We plan to actually get into the recording studio in April. I’ve been considering returning to acoustic tracks, but nothing’s decided yet. I’m looking forward to a new format of music. And if the COVID-19 situation improves enough, there are around 10 performances across Europe that we have booked in March. I sincerely hope that this year has happier days in store for all musicians, artists and people.

Car Camping Resets Leisure Travel

Lifestyle 2020 WINTER 56

Car Camping Resets Leisure Travel Car camping is a popular leisure activity that allows for cheap, spontaneous getaways so long as you are willing to sleep in your vehicle. It is growing increasingly popular amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing. A car camper stays by the side of Lake Chungju. Car camping allows for simple relaxation away from formal camping grounds, which often have a waiting list for permits. © Lee Jung-hyuk “First, push the first-row bench seat forward as much as possible. Then, fold the second-row bench seat in the same direction,” instructs a YouTuber as he points to the inside of his sports utility vehicle. In less than 30 seconds, he creates a new floor inside of the car. Next, he measures to make sure his mattress can fit. Two meters long and one meter wide. All set. “Any man can feel comfortable in this space,” he says with a smile. “It can be cozy if you travel with your girlfriend.” This video, uploaded to YouTube in July 2019, had more than 100,000 views as of this October. Car camping is to “bivouac in a car.” It’s a style of camping that involves only a few camping essentials, adjustments and a willingness to accept less comfort and fewer amenities. The approach isn’t only appealing to budget-minded travelers; others may appreciate how reservations and various preplanning tasks can be skipped. Membership in Car Camping Club, Korea’s biggest online community of car campers, jumped from about 80,000 in late February to some 170,000 by early September. The outbreak of COVID-19 may well have contributed to the two-fold increase in membership. Car camping helps people escape the emotional and mental stress of coping with the pandemic and being outdoors is conducive to social distancing. One female YouTuber has attracted more than 400,000 viewers with a single video on car camping. She said that for those who want to enjoy spending time alone, there’s nothing like the kind of leisure it provides. Last March, as Korea was tightening its grip on COVID caseload and social distancing became the new norm, an episode of “I Live Alone,” a popular reality show on MBC TV, featured a young actor and a member of a boy band car camping at a seaside park. After the episode aired, “car camping” popped up on portal site lists of search keywords and postings with enthusiastic responses were uploaded to social media. Hundreds of thousands of results can be found if you search Instagram hashtags for “car camping.” The inside of a sports utility vehicle outfitted to suit a car camper’s taste. A sleeping pad is essential. After that, the interior can be as austere or decorated as the camper wants. © Kim Nam-jun SUVs are preferred for car camping because they have wide interior space. Owners of regular passenger cars may fold back their seats and tolerate a cozier fit. © gettyimages Car campers can be on their way at the spur of the moment. They can park their car practically anywhere they want to linger, unbound by a formal camping ground or recreational forest. Plus, they don’t need any reservations. Get Up and Go Spontaneity and ease are the main features powering the growth of this car-oriented leisure culture. Car campers can be on their way at the spur of the moment. When their workweek ends on Friday, they can suddenly decide to drive to a scenic locale and enjoy fresh air the next morning. They can park their car practically anywhere they want to linger, unbound by a formal camping ground or recreational forest. Plus, they don’t need any reservations. Traditional camping with tents and an array of equipment hasn’t lost its appeal. But that means there’s also a long wait to get into a registered camping ground. Securing a time slot amid the high demand naturally requires the kind of planning and commitment that car campers avoid. Most car campers prefer seaside or riverside parks installed with public restrooms. There are plenty of car camping sites with such facilities. But an increasing number of these public places have started to restrict access because of problems that can arise as a result of unrestricted camping and cooking. In some cases, many car campers have converged at the same time and damaged the environment. There are also other drawbacks. For example, air mattresses aren’t as comfortable as standard mattresses, so car camping may not be ideal for sensitive sleepers. Another potential sleep-related problem is ensuring a flat surface. In 2020, regulators allowed passenger cars to be converted into camping vehicles, but it isn’t always easy to find a uniformly even surface. And, of course, car camping isn’t an attractive option for anyone who simply must start their day with a morning shower. Car campers also have to be prepared to cope with weather extremes as it can be risky to keep their air conditioner or heater on for a long time. Consumer Market Niche The car industry and outdoor equipment brands have the answers to mitigate these discomforts. SUVs, a longtime favorite for accommodating both passengers and equipment, are preferred because in addition to giving campers open space for sleeping, they provide protection from weather. But sales of pickup trucks have increased sharply, too. They rose from some 22,000 units in 2017 to about 42,000 in 2018, according to a report by the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association. In the same two-year period, the value of the domestic camping industry grew around 30 percent from 2 trillion won to 2.6 trillion won, or about US$1.8 billion to US$2.3 billion, according to the Korea Agency of Camping and Outdoor Activity. Analysis of sales data for the June-July period by online shopping mall SSG.com shows that sales of car camping tents (which can easily be attached to the back of any vehicle) and air mattresses soared a whopping 664 percent and 90 percent, respectively, from two months earlier. Sales of iceboxes, another essential camping accessory, increased more than tenfold. According to superstore Lotte Mart, sales of camping chairs and tables rose 103.7 percent, sleeping bags and air mattresses 37.6 percent, tents 55.4 percent, and camping cooking utensils 75.5 percent during the same period. Of course, the amount and quality of equipment required comes down to what individual campers need or want. Much depends on the desired level of comfort. Some car campers simply need a few prepared meals and a bottle of wine to declare that they’re ready to go. Still, there’s always the temptation to upgrade for a little more convenience on the next outing. One male YouTuber admitted that he quit going on car camping trips just because of his excessive passion for high-end equipment.


A Disturbing Testimony of Truths about ‘Comfort Women’

Books & more 2021 SPRING 56

A Disturbing Testimony of Truths about ‘Comfort Women’ A Disturbing Testimony of Truths about ‘Comfort Women’ One Left: A Novel By Kim Soom, Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, 224 pages, $19.95, Seattle: University of Washington Press [2020] During World War II, the imperial Japanese military set up a system of brothels intended to reduce incidences of wartime rape. Although these so-called “comfort stations” were supposed to be staffed with voluntary prostitutes, the vast majority of the women who worked them were either taken by force or tricked into sexual slavery with promises of well-paid factory jobs or other ruses. The women victimized in this way came to be known euphemistically as “comfort women.” Although Korean literature has been telling tragic stories of the Korean people throughout the modern era, comfort women have largely been ignored. This book by Kim Soom is an exception. The first novel to present the experiences of comfort women in such a raw and unflinching manner, it tells the story of one survivor who has never gone public with her experiences. When she learns that the last known comfort woman is nearing death, she is forced to look back over her life and decide whether she will continue to live in fear and silence or finally tell her story to the world. The novel is not for the faint of heart or the delicate of soul. In contrast to the designation “comfort women,” the pain, humiliation and degradation to which these young girls and women were subjected is portrayed here with no hint of euphemism. The very act of reading is traumatic. The story weaves back and forth between the present, in which our now 93-year-old grandmother lives in a desolate neighborhood slated for redevelopment, and the past, in which the then 13-year-old girl is taken by the Japanese while gathering marsh snails for her starving family and forced into sexual slavery in Manchuria. And yet it quickly becomes apparent that these are not merely flashbacks; our protagonist does not merely think back to the past, she relives it on a daily basis. While the seven years she spent at the comfort station may have long since come to an end, the suffering and trauma of that experience have never truly left her. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this novel is how it straddles the line between fact and fiction. As the creative work of the author, it is indeed a novel. But it is peppered with over 300 footnotes, providing sources from actual testimonies of real comfort women. How then, should the reader approach it? Is it a work of fiction or a work of history? It is in fact both, and as such, it is a testimony to the power of fiction to convey painful truths. Readers, even those already aware of the suffering of the comfort women, will likely be shocked by what they find here. But confronting this truth is the first step toward healing. Lovely Words and Pictures from Grandparents Looking Back Life Was Beautiful: Drawings for My Grandchildren Illustrations by Grandpa Chan (Chan Jae Lee), Words by Grandma Marina (Kyong Ja An), Translated by Sophie Bowman, 304 pages, $20.00, London: Particular Books [2020] When Grandpa Chan and Grandma Marina met at university in the 1960s, it was like something out of a storybook romance. She had written a poem for a poetry and painting exhibition, and he had been randomly assigned to illustrate it. They connected through their art, and this seed blossomed into a love that led them to build a family together. They were living in Brazil when, in 2015, their daughter and her family decided to move back to Korea. Their son, who was living in New York, suggested that his father start drawing again. Mirroring how they had first met all those years ago, Grandma Marina wrote words to go along with the pictures, and these they uploaded to their Instagram account, “Drawings for My Grandchildren.” Today, the art and words of this couple have gone from screen to print. The book is loosely organized around the four seasons, separated by brief interludes such as Grandpa Chan’s trip to the Galapagos Islands with a National Geographic team or memories of his youth. The themes covered range from the grandchildren themselves to dinosaurs, other animals and the beauty of nature. Not surprisingly, there are also quite a few meditations on getting older and even on death and loss. Grandpa Chan’s drawings are colorful, expressive and inspiring, while Grandma Marina’s words manage to balance an almost childlike innocence with years of wisdom. Together, they are greater than the sum of their parts. English-language Website on Early Printing History Jikji World www.cheongju.go.kr/app3/jikjiworld/content/eng_main/ index.html Cheongju: Cheongju Early Printing Museum This is a new English-language version of a website dedicated to the book commonly known as “Jikji,” the oldest extant book printed with movable metal type. It predates Gutenberg’s Bible by 78 years and was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2001. The website contains a trove of knowledge about the medieval Buddhist text itself, including bibliographical information and details on the technology used to print it; an extensive discussion of the history of metal type printing in Korea; and an introduction to the Cheongju Early Printing Museum. The virtual reality experiences of the museum itself unfortunately do not appear to be working at the time of writing, but if you’ve ever wanted to know more about “Jikji,” the information here will satisfy your curiosity.

The Mundane Becomes Abstract

Art Review 2021 SPRING 67

The Mundane Becomes Abstract Installation artist Haegue Yang, internationally active from her bases in Berlin and Seoul, interprets everyday household objects in varied ways. Her latest exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and ntemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul highlights the ongoing expansion of her genre-defying boldness as she muses on new questions. Haegue Yang explores the potential of mundane objects such as laundry racks, Venetian blinds and light bulbs as her motifs – and has been remarkably successful in doing so. In one of her seminal works, “Salim” (Korean for “homemaking”), presented at the Korean Pavilion for the 2009 Venice Biennale, she created a kitchen out of steel frames, fans and yarn. Yang’s multimedia installations typically consist of standard household objects that have been transformed for a variety of new possibilities, often set against digital wallpapers with graphic design. Disconnected images are interwoven in a complex way; critics say they find the high image density difficult to take in all at once. She responds that abstruseness characterizes her works. Her latest exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, “MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2020: Haegue Yang – O2 & H2O” (September 29, 2020-February 28, 2021), is no exception. What first greets visitors is a huge piece, “Silo of Silence – Clicked Core.” With its inscrutable title, the 11-meter-high installation takes the form of a large mobile composed of Venetian blinds and lighting fixtures. Dark blue and black blinds revolve in their respective orbits. Visitors can freely appreciate the exhibit from afar and from underneath; the impressive size and colors moving in slow motion create enigmatic spatial experiences. Haegue Yang poses at the inaugural Taipei Dangdai art fair, held at Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center in January 2019. © Sebastiano Pellion Di Persano / Courtesy of MMCA “Silo of Silence – Clicked Core.” 2017. Aluminum Venetian blinds, powder-coated aluminum and steel hanging structure, steel wire rope, revolving stage, LED tubes, cable. 1105 × 780 × 780 cm. KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art in Berlin invites one artist every year to present a single artwork in the 20-meter-high Boiler House, a typical post-industrial site. This cylindrical, moving installation by Hague Yang was exhibited from September 2017 to May 2018. © Jens Ziehe / Courtesy of Haegue Yang One Object, Varied Interpretations The Venetian blinds used here are the same as those featured in Yang’s best-known work, the “Sol LeWitt Upside Down” series, which can be seen further inside the exhibition hall. Created out of white blinds, it has strong minimalist features, as can be inferred from the name of the American artist in the title. Regarding the Venetian blinds, Yang said that some people may perceive them as an Asian material and others as a Western material. Depending on individual perspectives, then, some may be reminded of Asian bamboo blinds whereas others might associate them with a Western office space. Evident in Yang’s other works is the artist’s same intention to show how an object can take on altered meanings in different contexts. A view of “Ornament and Abstraction,” Yang’s first solo exhibition in Latin America, held in Mexico City’s kurimanzutto art gallery in 2017. The works on exhibit are: “The Intermediate – UHHHHH Creature Extended W.” 2017. Artificial straw, powder-coated stainless steel hanging structure, powder-coated stainless steel frame, steel wire rope, Neoseul, Bupo. 580 × 750 × 60 cm. “Big-eyed Tongue-tied Mountains beneath Solar and Lunar Orbs – Trustworthy #315.” 2017. Various security envelopes, graph paper, origami paper, and sandpaper on cardboard, framed, self-adhesive vinyl film. 11 parts. 86.2 × 86.2 cm; 57.2 × 57.2 cm; 29.2 × 29.2 cm. “Sol LeWitt Upside Down – K123456, Expanded 1078 Times, Doubled and Mirrored.” 2017. Aluminum Venetian blinds, powder-coated aluminum hanging structure, steel wire rope, fluorescent tubes, cable. 878 × 563 × 1088 cm. © Omar Luis Olguín / Courtesy of kurimanzutto Mixed Boundaries Most prominently on display in Gallery 5 is a group of sculptures entitled “Sonic Domesticus,” which are built of artificial straw, plastic ropes and brass bells. The brass bells lining the surface of these sculptures create an initial impression of exotic living organisms. Gradually, one can make out the shapes of irons, computer mice, hairdryers and pots. While she attempts to define differences between East and West in her works built of Venetian blinds, here Yang appears to probe the boundary between animate and inanimate objects. Hairdryers take on the form of a crab; two computer mice stacked on top of one another resemble the body of an insect; and irons are adjoined to evoke a pair of scissors. The pieces stand on wheels and produce sounds when moved. The wall to the right of these sculptures features four types of handles attached in nonagonal formation, apparently designed for a similar effect. The artist clearly wanted to demonstrate how contexts change the meaning of objects: doorknobs attached to the wall lose their original function of opening a door. Some may say that this is a familiar strategy dating back a century to the Dada artists. Long before Yang crossed two irons to create a shape reminiscent of scissors, visual artist Man Ray created “Cadeau” in 1921. He attached a row of nails to the bottom of an iron to nullify the object’s function and meaning. Going back even further, Yang’s work recalls Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 piece, “Fountain,” a urinal brought into a museum. There is no doubt that a marked trend in today’s international art scene is to freely draw inspiration from ideas dating back to any era in art history. This may lead one to naturally search for Yang’s own unique voice in borrowing ideas from conceptual art. From exploring the boundaries between East and West, and animate and inanimate objects, the artist seems to be moving toward questioning the divide between real and virtual, and between genuine and fake. At “MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2020: Haegue Yang – O2 & H2O,” held from September 29, 2020 to February 28, 2021, Yang displayed new forms of art, including her voice replicated via artificial intelligence and a digital collage on banners. (Left) “Genuine Cloning.” 2020. AI (Typecast), Haegue Yang’s voice, speakers. Dimensions variable. Technology by Neosapience. (Right) “Five Doing Un-Doing.” 2020. Water-based inkjet print on polyester banners, ad balloons, eyelets, steel wire rope, hanji. Dimensions variable. Graphics by Yena Yoo. © Cheolki Hong / Courtesy of MMCA In this series of works, Yang created hybrid vessels by adjoining or crosslinking mundane items such as irons, hairdryers, computer mice and pots. “Sonic Domesticus.” 2020. Powder-coated stainless steel frame, powdercoated mesh, powder-coated handles, casters, black brass and brass plated bells, red stainless steel and stainless steel bell, metal rings, plastic twine. From left: “Sonic Domesticus – Scissor Pressing.” 208 × 151 × 86 cm. “Sonic Domesticus – Blow-Dry Crawl.” 155 × 227 × 115 cm. “Sonic Domesticus – Clam Tongs.” 291 × 111 × 97 cm. “Sonic Domesticus – Pot Atop.” 224 × 176 × 122 cm. Reality and Abstraction That voice is perhaps clearest in a new form of art that Yang introduces in “Five Doing Un-Doing,” a collage of digital images on banners; and “Genuine Cloning,” a collection of speakers that transmit an AI-generated voice. In her own words, “Five Doing Un-Doing” is “characteristic of loud graphics and overblown typography resembling political propaganda.” On the five banners are written the names of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) symbolized by the colors representing the five cardinal directions (blue, red, yellow, white and black). The bottom of the banners is adorned with tassel-like shamanic paraphernalia created using traditional Korean paper, hanji. This installation in particular appears highly relevant to the title of the exhibition, “O2 and H2O.” Yang says she keyed in on how oxygen and water, both ubiquitous elements of everyday life, are coded as O2 and H2O. Thus, she explains that she has abstracted reality into five elements in her own way. “Genuine Cloning” is an installation of speakers hung between the five banners. The speakers play Yang’s voice, cloned using AI technology. From exploring the boundaries between East and West, and animate and inanimate objects, the artist seems to be moving toward questioning the divide between real and virtual, and between genuine and fake. Between Berlin and Seoul Born in Seoul in 1971, Yang moved to Frankfurt, Germany in 1994 and graduated from Städelschule, the State Academy of Fine Arts. Since 2005, she has lived and worked in Berlin; in 2014, she set up an additional studio in Seoul and now travels back and forth between the two cities. In 2018, she made headlines by becoming the first Asian woman to receive the Wolfgang Hahn Prize, which honors contemporary artists. Last year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, Yang’s works were exhibited in many venues around the world. She presented six dynamic sculptures in an exhibition titled “Handles” (October 21, 2019-February 28, 2021), commemorating the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York; and “Strange Attractors” (October 24, 2020-September 26, 2021) at Tate St Ives in Cornwall, England. The MMCA Hyundai Motor Series is the museum’s annual event held in support of major artists. This marks Yang’s first solo exhibition at the MMCA.

Variegated Views of the World: What Lies Beyond?

Books & more 2020 WINTER 54

Variegated Views of the World: What Lies Beyond? Variegated Views of the World: What Lies Beyond? ‘What Makes a City?’ By Park Seongwon, Translated by Chung Hwa Chang and Andrew James Keast, 188 pages, $16.00, New York: White Pine Press [2019] Reading Park Seong-won’s “What Makes a City?” is a unique experience. Each of the stories in the collection could easily stand on its own as an individual work, but taken as a whole they paint a much larger picture. The collection feels like a carefully woven spider’s web, with various threads that cross and connect. The most obvious connections are characters from earlier stories that reappear in later stories, but there are other threads as well. One that runs through nearly all the stories is that of incessant rain and rampaging water, brought on by the rainy season or a typhoon. If, as Carl Jung states, water is the most common symbol of the subconscious, then these stories are constantly being threatened by floods of what lurks beneath the surface of the mind. This may be why the truth feels as if it is at our fingertips and yet ever beyond our reach. Perhaps, as one doomed character claims, the true meaning is not to be found in the words we read because words only serve to distort. Another thread that runs through these tales is the author’s meditations on writing, or artistry in general, and its capabilities (or lack thereof). There is the young girl trapped in a nightmare who writes a dark fairytale to justify her sacrifice as necessary for the greater good; the self-proclaimed science fiction writer of the future who begins his masterpiece with the Bulwer-Lytton classic, “It was a dark and stormy night”; the artist who finds himself alone in his disagreement with a critic before he is forgotten by the art world; and a writer trying to write a love story and instead ending up with an uncomfortable tale of a fugitive. There is also the theme of dreams and freedom, embodied in the fathers who think of time as a cage to imprison people (or again, in the unfortunate little girl). What would it mean to escape time? Would this open the door to true freedom? Or would it, as society claims, simply mean insanity or death? These are just a few of the impressions that remain after reading, like landscapes frozen in flashes of lightning. It is impossible to capture the whole book in a few short words, and any attempt at summarizing the various plot lines would be equally pointless. But the overriding impression is one of a multifaceted view of the world. By shifting between characters, sometimes even in the middle of a story, the author allows us to see people and events from different points of view. This may prompt a question: which of these perspectives is the right one? Which shows us things as they truly are? It is only upon further reflection that we ask the deeper, more important question: are any of these perspectives truly the “right” one? Or are they just variegated rays of light in a dark and desperate world, guiding our way forward toward a destination beyond what we can see? A Fresh Approach to Exploring the Korean Wave ‘Pop City: Korean Popular Culture and the Selling of Place’ By Youjeong Oh, 238 pages, $19.95, New York: Cornell University Press [2018] This is one of the latest works to examine the Korean Wave, or hallyu. However, its unique approach and perspective set it apart from the general body of literature on the ongoing Korean pop culture fever. In short, it looks into the intersection of and interaction between the culture industry and urban practices, resulting in the “selling of place” – the commodification of physical locations by giving them affective value. The author seeks not so much to uncover the causes of the Korean Wave as to determine how it is reshaping the nation. The book splits the Korean Wave into two parts: the first corresponds roughly to the first decade of the century and was driven by TV drama series, while the second corresponds to the second decade and has been driven by popular music, or K-pop. In the first part, the author looks at how administrative decentralization after the advent of democracy caused local governments to turn to commercial promotion of their respective regions as momentum for development. In the second part, she discusses how K-pop idols are created and how they help sell local hotspots, such as the Gangnam and Myeong-dong neighborhoods of Seoul. Much has already been written about the Korean Wave, but Oh’s study stands out because it roots the Korean Wave in physical locales; while it is certainly concerned with the phenomenon of the Korean Wave itself, it also probes how this phenomenon in turn changes the land that gave birth to it. This monograph will be useful to anyone interested in hallyu from an academic perspective, and fans of Korean TV dramas and pop music may also appreciate it as an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the cultural products they so love. An Elemental Nature Shared by East and West ‘Karma’ Black String, CD €17.50, Munich: ACT [2019] The band Black String consists of geomungo (traditional Korean zither) player Heo Yoon-jeong [Yoon Jeong Heo], daegeum flute player Lee Aram [Aram Lee], janggu percussionist Hwang Min-wang [Min Wang Hwang] and guitarist Oh Jeong-su [Jean Oh]. The band’s name comes from the word hyeongeum, literally “black string,” which is another name for the geomungo. The geomungo is the most aristocratic and conservative of Korea’s traditional musical instruments, and so inherently characteristic that it is hard to modify in any way. Moreover, it is incompatible for playing the common Western musical scales. But in Black String, the instrument leads a jazz band, certainly signifying an interesting change. What made it possible for three traditional Korean instruments to work with one lone Western instrument? The discovery of an elemental nature common to East and West: namely, spontaneity. After their first album, “Mask Dance,” which won the Songlines Music Awards in the UK in 2018, Black String released their second album, “Karma,” under the German jazz label ACT. Among the nine tracks on the album, the first two, “Sureña” and “Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” depict a dreamlike, exotic world through stirring rhythms. Even the remake of Radiohead’s “Exit Music,” which has been covered by many famous artists and would not be expected to lend itself to anything new, reveals a unique, avant-garde sound. In a time when borders between countries are harder to cross due to the coronavirus pandemic, Black String’s music seeks to break boundaries and send a message of “cultural solidarity to overcome the crisis.”


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