French team lights up the admiral, downtown Seoul

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French team lights up the admiral, downtown Seoul

Six months ago, Seoul's vice mayor, Kang Hong-bin, saw a videotape of a light show done in France, and decided he had to bring something like it to Korea. Now the artist who created the projected images that moved Mr. Kang so much has a new show that's similarly moving spectators in downtown Seoul.

Starting from the famous statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin in Gwang-hwamun, the French artist Jean-Michel Quesnes has created "Arch of Cith and the Battleship of Light on a Sea of Traffic." At night, looking north from the statue to the south gate of Gyeongbok Palace, you see the admiral, behind a mock-up of an ancient "turtle ship," bathed in shifting blue lights, creating the effect of being out at sea. Beyond the admiral are 25 lined-up gingko trees in the center divider, lighted by strobes which flash and sparkle all the way to the palace gate.

There, at the end of the road, is the truly amazing spectacle, created when the monumental Gwanghwamun gate changes colors and patterns according to the moving images projected on it. And the gate is backlit by four powerful search lights.

During the show, consisting of a repeating 17-minute-long loop, the gate is decorated with ethnic motifs from all over the world: the bold prime colors of South Africa, the gold filigrees of Islamic mosques, the marble statues from the Parthenon in Greece. The show, which continues until the end of June, starts daily at 8 p.m. and runs until midnight.

Mr. Quesnes was invited to do the special Gwanghwamun installation by the Seoul municipal government, in cooperation with the French Embassy. Initially Mr. Kang wanted to do a light show on the sandy wall of the new Nanjido Park near the World Cup Stadium. But because of technical complications, Mr. Quesnes and his chief producer, Sophi Le Conte, opted for downtown Seoul. Before completing the work, Mr. Quesnes and his team had flown back and forth from France to Korea three times.

Well established as a light artist in France, Mr. Quesnes started the Seoul project with photographic images from various sources. He usually has about eight people working on his projects, depending on the scale and technical difficulty. But for his latest, he enlisted 10 people; four of them were graphic designers who manipulated the images to make them fit the dimensions of the gate.

The project is, in some ways, a collaborative French-Korean endeavor. The team rented the two projectors for the show from a Korean company, Hansam Lighting Company. The projectors stand on the five-meter tower in front of the Gwanghwamun gate. To light the trees, 4,500 starflashes and 100 stroboscopic lights are used. The production team worked on the street for a week to do the physical installation.

Mr. Quesnes has an extensive resume. He has plenty of experience doing projections on massive objects; in the past he has used as screens medieval castles, cathedrals and France's World Cup Stadium. The show that inspired Mr. Kang was projected on Paris's City Hall during a festival celebrating Hungary the city held earlier this year.

Mr. Quesnes pointed out that his light creations are usually accompanied by music. The nightly spectators in Gwanghwamun don't seem to miss the audio, though, as they gaze at the colorful show.

The artist and his team are already busy working on their next project, which is scheduled to debut June 22. That work will be shown at the Stad de France, just outside Paris. The producer, Ms. LeConte, said "This time, the music will be Verdi's 'Requiem.' We're expecting about 40,000 spectators."

by Inēs Cho

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