An artists’ community ― at least, that’s the plan

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An artists’ community ― at least, that’s the plan

PAJU, Gyeonggi province ― An “art valley” might not sound like a place where serious artists would choose to be. But in this area of Gyeonggi province, that assumption might be proven incorrect.
Right now, Heiri Art Valley is a mostly-vacant stretch of land northwest of Seoul overlooking the Demilitarized Zone. But in few years, if all goes according to plan, it will be the future home or workplace of more than 300 artists, writers, scholars and other “cultural producers.”
Named after a local farmers’ song, Heiri is a planned city specifically intended to be a hub of creative production. But unlike other planned communities, like Digital Media City near the World Cup Stadium, or the English village in Gyeonggi province, much of the urban planning in Heiri is the work of a collective of artists and cultural figures. This is also very different from many satellite cities in Gyeonggi province that have undergone heavy development in the interest of attracting foreign investors or for other business purposes.
The village is targeted for completion in late 2005, according to its organizers. But before then, some of southern Seoul’s posh commercial modern art galleries and major museums around the country are expected to either open up branches here or move here entirely.
Also planned for the community are movie studios, museums, playhouses, art-house cinemas and a museum dedicated to the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.
There’s a long way to go. Many parts of the village don’t have paved roads yet. There is no public transportation to Heiri other than shuttle buses from Ilsan and Seoul, which run every few hours.
Only about 10 percent of the planned facilities have been completed or have begun construction: a few bistros, book cafes, art galleries and museums.

But the neighborhood is already showing creative potential. Curators and artistic directors who have opened galleries here are making bold moves to introduce new ideas about museum display, while architects use the site to experiment with space.
Last Sunday, Ssamzie Space, one of Seoul’s centers for young, alternative artists, opened Ssamzie Art Storage in Heiri, a unique exhibition space that combines the functions of a warehouse and a gallery.
The space is primarily meant for storing artwork donated by past Ssamzie artists-in-residence, but the curators are playfully blurring the concepts of “gallery” and “storage space.” The building has a warehouse feel to it, with unframed paintings stacked on carts. For its inaugural show, “Packed, Unpacked,” the gallery has pushed the concept even further, with some works left in open boxes.
Also Sunday, Ssamzie, the clothing and accessory company that funds the galleries, opened up a huge “character shop” selling its products, where children are encouraged to play with toys and models of Ssamzie characters and logos. On the ground level of the shop is an exhibition of Japanese “Blythe” fashion dolls, which Ssamzie recently incorporated into its marketing and its products.
Cultural celebrities have also secured slots in Heiri. A studio set owned by Kang Woo-seok, director of “Silmido,” was completed here last year, and was used to shoot a large portion of his next film.
Lee Joo-heon, a veteran art critic, has been living here since last year; other cultural figures, such as photographer Bae Byung-woo, cellist Yang Seong-won, poet Park No-hae and the former director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Choi Man-lin, have also signed on as Heiri members, contributing ideas to the village construction. Many of them plan to eventually live or work here.
That said, these people on the whole don’t consider Heiri an “artist village.” Indeed, they fear that such a label could lead to elitist thinking about art, and that the community’s image would be fixed as a place for culturally influential figures only. Instead, members of Heiri hope to follow the model of a bohemian community, combining residences, studios and exhibition spaces into a single neighborhood.
There are elements of the community’s design that reflect the members’ ideals about such a lifestyle, especially in the architecture. For one thing, there are no walls marking property lines, even around the studios and residences. Half the compound will be left as empty space, used strictly for lawns and walkways.
By 2005, the plan is to have roughly 370 buildings in Heiri, each built by a different architect. The design of the neighborhood was largely based on what the architects call “the principles of an environmentally friendly urban landscape,” which means, among other things, no buildings higher than three stories.
There’s also an agreement to give the harmony of the neighborhood priority over individual architectural aesthetics. Such decisions were made by a team of professional designers and architects.
Inevitably, Heiri has become something of an architect’s dream come true, and a place where some unconventional decisions are made.
Recently, for instance, a team of urban planners in Heiri chose to narrow one of the community’s planned major roads in order to save an old pine tree. The spaciousness of Paju gives architects more opportunity to put liberal ideals into practice this way.
Already, buildings in the area have been praised for their experimental designs. Ssamzie’s character shop, a collaboration between three architects ― James Slade, Cho Min-seok and Choi Mun-gyu ― was entered into competition at this year’s Venice Biennale architecture section. All bridges in the compound use designs that have won competitions.
Since earlier this year, a growing number of architecture students have made field trips to Heiri ― a rarity in itself in a country where contemporary architecture is just beginning to be established as a valuable cultural property.
“The idea of visiting contemporary buildings in Korea was almost unthinkable,” says Woo Gyung-gook, an architectural critic. “There weren’t that many models the students could actually go see. And if there were, they were scattered around the country. The phenomenon you see in Heiri is rather intriguing.”

How to get there, what to see...

To get to Heiri Art Valley from Seoul, take Jayuro expressway toward Paju and Munsan. At Seongdong Fourway, past the Seongdong IC, take a left. Proceed about 500 meters, and you will see the sign for Heiri valley.
For those who’d rather take public transportation, a shuttle bus to Heiri leaves from exit 3 of the Madu subway station in Ilsan (line No. 3) every day from 10:15 a.m. to 8:10 p.m.
From Hapjeong Station (line No. 2), buses run twice a day, at 8 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. The buses don’t operate on the first and third Sundays of each month. Call (011) 9667-6037 for more information on shuttle bus schedules.
Once you’re there, check out the Museum of Musical Instruments of the World (031-946-9838), which displays about 400 ethnic instruments from 60 countries. Instruments are displayed alongside dolls clad in traditional costumes and props. This Saturday from 5 to 6 p.m., a professor of Korea National University of Arts will lead a museum tour and give a lecture on traditional music in non-Western regions.
If you’ve got children along, make sure to take them to a Ssamzie character shop. “I Like Dalki” (031-957-0720), the official name of the building, is designed as a theme park. You’ll know the building by the huge mascot: a girl with a strawberry head. Dalki is currently featuring an exhibition of the “Blythe” Japanese fashion dolls. The building is worth a thorough tour, as there are hidden surprises. From the gallery’s top floor you can look down on the neighborhood.
Hangil Art Space (031-955-2039), at the top of the valley, presents another view of the neighborhood. Through June 30 Hangil is presenting “Rapsody in Blue,” an exhibition of images and poetry.
MOA (031-949-3309) is a gallery specializing in architecture-related displays. Starting Saturday there will be an exhibition of Han Gi-chang’s work.
Book Cafe Bandi (031-948-7952), a cylindrical wooden building, offers a range of books.
For more information about Heiri, call (031) 946-8551.

by Park Soo-mee
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