The evolution of light, from candles to neon

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The evolution of light, from candles to neon

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Korean independence, the National Folk Museum of Korea on the Gyeongbok Palace grounds is holding a special exhibition through October titled “Light.”
Sponsored by the Korea Electric Power Corp., the exhibition features about 250 “artifacts” of light ―from candlesticks used during historic periods to lamps that were used in everyday life in the early 1900s.
The exhibition mainly focuses on how human beings used light as a tool. There are three parts to the exhibition: “Life,” “Tradition” and “Modernity.”
In “Life,” animated films and graphics show how artificial lighting has changed our way of living. The first electric lamp in Korea was lit in Gyeongbok Palace in 1887, and Koreans’ nocturnal lifestyles have never been the same since.
In “Tradition,” one can view actual artifacts of the past. These include various types of candles and candlesticks ― all differing in shape according to their purpose ― as well as silk-covered lanterns and paper lanterns, among others.
The third section, “Modernity,” examines light roughly in the timeframe of the past century, showing how changes in fuel rapidly altered how people used light.
From gas-fueled lanterns to petroleum lamps and, later, electric lamps, examples of the different types of lighting fixtures used over the years can be seen in this section.
Many of the items from the 1900s were donated to the museum by the Korea Electric Power Corp. from its private collection in 1973.
Korea Electric Power Corp. used to be Hansung Electric Co., the first electric power company in Korea, established in 1898. It later adopted its current name when three regional electric companies merged to become a state-run public utility.
In addition to the exhibit of light fixtures, there are also some photographs of how light bulbs and lamps were used in the 1930s and ’40s to light public facilities, buildings and public events.
These photographs are being exhibited for the public for the first time and show how electric lights were used to illuminate palaces, streets, and other places to create a new night scene in Korea.
The museum will be holding workshops on the weekends, at which visitors can participate and create their own paper lanterns.
This is a special exhibition, but the National Folk Museum also has three permanent exhibitions, which will also be open.
The permanent exhibitions include ones on Korean life from prehistoric times to the end of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910; and exhibitions on Korean occupations and culture, exploring such subjects as handicrafts, weddings, traditional beliefs and memorial services.


by Wohn Dong-hee

“Light” will continue until Oct. 10 at the National Folk Museum of Korea. The museum is located on the Gyeongbok Palace. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; the museum is closed on Tuesdays. For more information, call (02) 3704-3171.
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