Silicon Valley isn’t the only place in the United States that could learn from Seoul (as trumpeted by the New York Times Magazine in early June). So could New York City. Seoul, South Korea, is older by centuries than New York, but it is also younger. Devastated by the Korean War in which whole neighborhoods were demolished, Seoul had to rebuild and recreate itself after the ending of the war in July 1953.
It has since grown into one of the most energetic and compelling of global cities. It is simultaneously gorgeous (sleek skyscrapers lit up nightly in dazzling colors) and ugly (blocks of monumental concrete buildings erected to military standards to withstand bombing).
Mention “Itaewon” to anyone—Korean or expat—who has lived in Seoul for a while, and the name will elicit a knee-jerk reaction triggering some cautionary tale regarding the drunken debauchery which takes place there after sunset. Located near the U.S. Army Base, Yongsan Garrison, the maze of bars and nightclubs which comprise the hub of this Seoul neighborhood has historically suffered from a shady reputation. Night spots primarily frequented by GIs in particular are seen as seedy pick-up scenes and places where only “bad girls” would dare to venture. (more…)
You wouldn’t think you’d be able to find a replica of St. John the Divine’s nestled in the foothills of Seoul – or City College, or Columbia University for that matter. And yet you can, all arranged around each other at Kyung Hee University. This extraordinary college was the brainchild of an equally extraordinary man, Young Seek Choue, who founded the institution in 1951.
Here, in a country divided by war and a world divided by ideology, Choue sought to establish a place of learning that would be devoted to the study of peace on an individual, societal, and global level. Today Kyung Hee is one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea, and attracts scholars from around the world to its international studies programs. And yet…what’s up with these buildings?!
It may be fair to say that art actually is all about how we view the world. That art actually is all about looking at the world from a different perspective. And that it’s about having others empathize with what we see and what we perceive from every single moment of our lives. Indeed, artists keep looking for ways to better deliver how they see the fragments of life and what they mean to us. All of them aspiring to deliver those inspirations that transcend the borders of time and location.
Do-ho Seo’s exhibition at Leeum, the Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, is one of artists’ finest attempts to see the world in a different light and inspire others via ingenious perspectives. Entitled ‘Home within Home,’ the Seoul-born artist’s latest exhibition depicts his world with an impressive medium – fabric houses.
Building up houses that are made of fabrics is usually what we would encounter only in children’s imaginary sketches. Yet, at Seo’s exhibition you would easily notice that fabric houses are more than a mere imaginary aspiration to the artist. In fact, fabric houses for Seo are a perfect means to bring his aspirations to reality.
Having lived in cities that are so alien to one another, Seo has constantly elaborated an artistic theme of ‘migration’ that revolves around the homes in distant locations – Seoul, New York, and Berlin. While the theme is piercing through all of his works, some of the homes that have inspired the alien artist are reproduced here in Seoul.
Amazingly, his application of materials is dexterous enough to inspire others. His perception of space is distinctive enough to wake up our senses. His representation of space and time even makes us speculate about the transient nature of life itself. With these meticulously-done art works, Seo manages to connect his distant homes in one single space. With these incredibly-woven fabric houses, we get to connect with his perspectives on the world.
His portrayal of the world on the amazing fabrics produces an extraordinary ambience inside the massive edifice designed by Rem Koolhaas. Here, even strangers would come and leave with unexpected inspirations from a dreamy, floating home, within another home.
* Exhibition open until July 3rd, 2012. For more information on the exhibition, click here.
Amid a slew of skyscrapers and boxy apartments in Seoul lies a tiny mountain where any visitor can trace back the history of the city. A mountain that is so modest that most could have neglected it for decades. A mountain named after camelback for its unique shape, where even a mindless urban wanderer would encounter a stunning view of Seoul. A mountain which now is a beloved pastime destination with marvelous scenic spots.
Here at Naksan, both strangers and locals alike find a perfect getaway from the daily grind in the city that never sleeps.
Historically, Naksan has been a living witness of Korea’s glorious golden time, tragic modern events, and vibrant transformation. In the Josun Dynasty Era, which dates from 1392 to 1897, Naksan had accommodated numerous royal families with a spectacular panorama of the entire city. On top of the scenic beauty, this camel-shaped mountain had played a pivotal role in security along with Namsan, Inwangsan, and Bukaksan, serving as one of the four Guardian Mountains.
This fortress wall that used to link the key mountains in the era now stands solemnly on the camelback overlooking the city’s ceaseless metamorphosis. As if it was struggling to fight off the evanescence of life and time.
After going through the haphazard land developments that followed the Japanese invasion and the deadly Korean War, which devastated more than 80% of land in the entire nation, much of the fortress wall was destroyed. Yet, hikers and walkers at Naksan today get to take a glimpse at the refurbished wall as a result of a restoration project by the end of the 20th century.
Today, Naksan itself is turning into an urban park swarming with families and lovers seeking a short excursion with fresh air and spectacular views both day and night. Strangers and locals alike would sit on the fortress wall and halt for a moment staring at breathtaking sunrises and sunsets of the city…
…on the very same camelback mountain which has been through the city’s most dramatic events in history.
Seijin is a rather unusual globalist living in Seoul. He is currently working as a full-time marketing strategist in Seoul. Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook! Get in touch with the author @seijinjung.