Old spaces are reborn as vibrant arts centers

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Old spaces are reborn as vibrant arts centers

Hwanghak-dong central market in central Seoul is once again filling with people. Although almost half of the shops in the market, which opened over 60 years ago, are now gone, there is another reason why so many people have been flocking to the area.

Seoul Art Space Sindang, an art studio complex, recently opened up below ground amid the half-empty stalls of the Sindang Underground Market, transforming the under-used space into a nexus for local arts and culture.

The new complex is part of the Seoul Art Space Project, whose main goal is to provide underprivileged people in Seoul with a chance to participate in cultural activities. It also aims to support amateur artists by providing them with a workshop or studio in which to do their work.

The project’s secondary aim is to breathe new life into forgotten spaces that have fallen behind in the wake of city development programs and urban decay. Some of the main locations for the project have been empty government buildings, former factories and declining commercial areas.

The art spaces are also placed in areas that have a lack of cultural facilities, such as the Geumcheon, Jung, Yeongdeungpo and Seodaemun districts.

The Seoul Art Space Project follows a larger trend in the art world toward providing artists with studio space and also involves turning the spoils of urban development into venues for artistic expression. In the past, artists were sponsored by rich benefactors who could provide them with studio space. These days, local governments and foundations are taking up the work of sponsorship. Cities in England, France, Germany, China and Japan have carved out space artists in empty factories, mines and old buildings. The newly created areas have in turn revitalized whole neighborhoods through tourism and the creation of new jobs.

Building communities

The Seoul Art Space Project has facilitated interaction between artists and local residents by putting art in the middle of communities. Whereas in the past, residents had to travel to distant places to go to an exhibition, now they are within walking distance of an art exhibition or workshop. Resident artists and area residents work together to make a work of art, building in the process a greater understanding of one another and their community.

Seoul Art Space Sindang

Hwanghak-dong central market’s transformation is hard to miss. The drab walls of the above-ground entrance leading down into the basement where the art space is now located have been decorated with bright yellow paint and bold drawings. Down below, the lights are mottled in green, yellow, blue and magenta, creating a warm and colorful atmosphere.

In the early 1970s, this market was filled with over 100 shops, but now half the shops are empty. Through the Seoul Art Space Project, the empty shops have been turned into 40 small studios, exhibition halls and common work areas for arts and crafts.

What’s interesting about this place is that works of art are being made next to blanket shops and butcheries and ceramicists make pottery next to restaurants serving sashimi and kimbab.

As I passed through the hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) stores, unfamiliar paintings on the walls and pillars appeared and I could see the delicate artworks in the aisles. Along the way, unique signs and glass bottles that had been turned into works of art emerged amid the clutter of shops selling blankets, kitchenware and other goods. Continuing down the hall, a room full of TV character dolls appeared, followed by an artists’ studio with a kiln and pottery wheels.

Here, the artists do not work in dark isolation. The public can observe the artist at work because the studio walls are made of glass. In fact, the image of the artist at work is as much for sale as the products they make. It is a lively place where passersby watch the artists, and the artists watch the passersby in a kind of living performance art piece.

Each studio runs programs for residents so they can try making ceramics. There are also programs for book and metal arts. The space is located in the Sindang Underground Market near the Sindang Station on line No. 2. For information, call (02) 2232-8833 or visit www.seoulartspace.or.kr.

Seoul Art Space Geumcheon

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by a huge crane, but the “Safety First” sign was the first thing to catch my eye. There were tools scattered on the floor and other signs that I was definitely in a factory space. But the colorful walls, steel robot on the roof and barbershop lights hung here and there revealed that this was no ordinary factory.

Near the entrance sat part of a piano with a half-broken keyboard. A man with permed hair wearing old jeans and a T-shirt with paint blots opened and closed the door in cool manner. It was hard to believe that in this factory, with its mysterious ambience, photos and paintings are produced.

Seoul Art Space Geumcheon in Doksan-dong is a remodeled printing factory. It opened last month as a residential studio complex that exhibits various kinds of art, including photos, mixed media, installation art and performances. A total of 14 teams of 40 artists currently live in the space. All of the artists were selected by the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, which manages the space. It has 22 studios, five hostels, group studios and practice rooms, a basement and a warehouse.

In addition to exhibiting their work here, the artists who live and work in the space also offer a range of community programs for area residents and collaborate with local enterprises to offer various cultural activities.

This month, they will hold a robot assembly class for elementary school students. The class is free, aside from a small materials fee.

For information, call (02) 807-4800 or visit www.seoulartspace.or.kr.

Seoul Art Center Seogyo

Seoul Art Center Seogyo is located in the site of a remodeled Neighborhood Administration building. The organization’s mission is to support the wide variety of cultural activities in the Hongik University area. Although space is limited, the facility houses cultural production companies and independent music production companies. In the basement, there is a multipurpose space for various events and the first floor has an exhibition hall.

In October, the center, which is located in the middle of an area that has become a DIY furniture mecca, conducted a rooftop workshop for area residents interested in furniture design and construction. During the first workshop last month, people learned how to use different tools and they made pencil cases and chairs. Workshops will be held every Saturday.

The roof is also used as a theater. Last month, the center offered free screenings of films by director Lim Soon-rye, including “Flying Penguin.” The center is planning more screenings of independent films in the future.

Call (070) 7711-0246 or visit http://cafe.naver.com/seoulartspace.

Namsan Art Center

This center, which used to be known as Namsan Drama Center, was reborn in June and was Seoul Art Space Project’s first endeavor. It is a midsize theater-in-the-round, which makes it unique. Admission here is cheaper than at other theaters due to the subsidies the theater has raised as part of the project. The center’s location on Namsan makes it a good place for a walk and a dinner atop the mountain at one of the many restaurants nearby.

For information, call (02) 758-2109 or (02) 6008-7347 or visit www.nsartscenter.or.kr/.

By Lee Ka-young [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]
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