Opening the sky gate in Sajik-dongAs soon as a visitor steps inside this four story building it’s apparent that the scent of incense overwhelms the space.
It is supposed to be a gallery but it’s also a studio and guesthouse owned by a former journalist, Hong Seon-hee, who set up City Mongkey as an urban project to provide cultural resources to residents for free.
In a straggling part of town designated as a redevelopment zone, Mr Hong’s mysterious erie is in one of the few neighborhoods that preserve the scent of old Seoul, and it’s isolated from rest of the city both culturally and emotionally.
That’s an advantage for the gallery, which is devoted to works by non-mainstream artists.
As its opening exhibition, the place hosts “Opening the Sky Gate” by Yu Jin-su, an installation artist who lives in a Buddhist temple and works on themes related to shamanistic rituals. The concept of Ms. Yu’s works seems to fit the space perfectly.
The artist has practically reorganized the house into a shrine for the exhibit. She re-named the gallery “Dong-I Shrine,” a name that frequently appears in her works, and installed a portrait of a young male shaman at the entrance.
There are incense sticks burning and a screen covers the walls of the room. In the kitchen the artist has hung a large quilt made up of small portrait drawings, text and images extracted from shamanist rituals. This is one reason why it is hard to define Ms. Yu’s works. She describes herself as a contemporary artist but a substantial part of her work is also about shamans and has been sold to them for their rituals.
For a modest villa house with a balcony the Banseok Villa gallery is home to some big ambitions.
On the opening day of Ms. Yu’s exhibition, the host invited performance artists to present a live show and held a poetry-reading session.
“I decided to open the space after watching the elderly residents in the area sitting around their outdoor tables not doing anything all summer long” says Ms. Hong. “I wish the residents here could access culture as easily as they watch TV in their living room and I wanted to prevent the spirit of the neighborhood from changing.”
by Park Soo-mee
“Opening the Sky Gate” runs through Oct. 23. To get to the place, follow a long alley leading from Sungkok Museum. Walk until you see Lotte Realties. Turn left, walk until you arrive at the Banseok Villa. The gallery is on the fourth floor. For more information call (02) 720- 3111.