[VIEWPOINT]An Artist Painting With Lasers on Water

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[VIEWPOINT]An Artist Painting With Lasers on Water

Last Friday night I got off the subway at Seongnae Station, transferred to a cab and asked the driver to take me to the No. 2 south gate of the Seoul Olympic Park.

The driver said, "Why on earth do you want to go there at this time?"

Not many people know about this event yet, but there is a wonderful art show named "Olympic Laser Water-Screen 2001" by Paik Nam-june every Friday night at a water fountain in the Olympic park.

Using the fountain as a screen, Mr. Paik runs a 12-minute-long laser show continuously for an hour. It is his first outdoor piece using water splashes as a screen.

The show started at about 9 p.m. A colorful laser was flashed on the fountain spouting into the dark night sky from the center of a lake under the wall of Mongchon Fortress.

The Olympic symbol, five interlocked rings, took form. Then, the laser scattered into many rays and began to twist to make a soft curve and wave on the water. It was in fact very beautiful, creative and eye-catching.

As I think about it now, I guess the artist was trying to portray highlights of each Olympics event. Some of the images were like the start of a track sprint, others suggested diving events. Some were like a shot on goal in a soccer match, others a fluttering ribbon in rhythm gymnastics.

While I was interpreting the artists' intentions and enjoying the geometrical abstracts, the laser rays suddenly started to gather at the center and create the shape of Taegeuk, the Great Absolute, with the eight signs of divination.

The rays tangled with each other as if they were hugging each other, and then turned into a pretty and relaxing curve, thus portraying the Taegeuk's sense of harmony and confrontation.

I guess the artist was expressing themes of the Olympics and of oriental ideologies.

After some 10 minutes, when the five colorful circles appeared again, an elementary-schooler shouted "Wow! It's so cool!" and clamored to his father that he wanted to see some more.

Elderly people and ladies were applauding. Their facial expressions told me that they were very happy to have seen this wonderful show by chance, passing by the park after dinner. When I asked the people what made them break into such enthusiastic clapping, they said, "I've seen fire works before, but it's my first time to see a water work!"

For sure, Paik Nam-june is an artist of the future. When most artists were confined by the thought that art was "oil paintings on canvas," Mr. Paik created video art for the first time. Now, he is surprising us again with his laser art. He has already presented his laser art exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City as the first invited artist of the millennium. Now an invitational exhibition of Paik Nam-june's laser arts is being held at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and thousands of people every day visit the Spanish city to enjoy his laser art show.

The art piece set up at the Olympic Park is the first outdoor piece Mr. Paik has created for the projected Olympic Art Gallery. But the show runs only on Friday nights, not daily, because construction of the gallery was stopped just after its blueprint was finished. Some residents at an apartment complex across the park opposed the construction plan, saying that it harmed the view.

But it is nonsense for them, who live in a 12-story apartment building, to complain that their view is spoiled by the two-story building across the road.

It is also very frustrating; I have never heard of a case in which residents oppose the construction of such cultural facilities as an art gallery in their neighborhoods. Usually they come around to agreement with such plans.

But this time, the location of the construction site appears to be controversial.

The gallery is being built in Mongchon Fortress, which is a historic site. But why do the people raise their objections at this point when the construction permits already have been issued, the architect Cho Seong-yong has finished all the blueprints and Paik Nam-june even has completed his art piece for the gallery?

The gallery was originally planned to be an international museum for modern art that manages, conserves and exhibits some 200 pieces by internationally known sculptors.

Given the situation, the government has no choice but to order an archaeological excavation of the site to determine whether or not relics of the past are present. If the place is found to have cultural relics, the construction site should be moved elsewhere. Otherwise, construction should resume as soon as possible.

Mongchon Fortress and the Olympic Park should become a wonderful international tourist attraction where tradition and modern times create a great harmony.

It should enable local residents, the public and foreign visitors who come out to see the night scenes of Seoul enjoy Paik Nam-june's "Olympic Laser Water-Screen 2001" as much as they want.


The writer is a professor of art history at Yeungnam University.

by Yoo Hong-joon

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