Hana banks on art and nature for cultural patronage

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Hana banks on art and nature for cultural patronage

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Hana has been supporting the preservation and promotional activities of Suncheon Bay, where International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay Korea was held in 2013 . The area is home to world’s fifth-largest wetlands and is also an ecological treasure trove. [JoongAng Ilbo]

“Everything that circulates never dies,” is artist Han Won-suk’s philosophy.

After all, he transforms trashed cigarettes, speakers and car headlights into art worth hundreds of millions of won.

His piece “Rebirth” from 2006, for instance, gave new life to 1,370 discarded car headlights.

The 9.15-meter (30-foot) high installation is a recreation of Cheomseongdae, a seventh-century stone edifice of a similar size in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang.

“1,370 stars from 1,370 years ago twinkle at Cheonggye Stream through 1,370 car headlights,” the artist wrote on his website, explaining the piece.

After the work was showcased during a solo exhibition at the stream in central Seoul between September and October 2006, Hana Financial Group bought it for 10 million won ($9,196).

The major financial organization believes it is currently worth five times that amount.

For eight years or so, “Rebirth” stood in front of Hana Bank’s headquarters in Euljiro, central Seoul, lighting up the office district filled with tired workers. It is perceived somewhat as a landmark in the area, according to company officials.

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Hana Financial Group recently donated “Rebirth,” one of the art pieces in its collection, to Suncheon City, South Jeolla. Provided by the company

Hana Bank, along with Hana Daetoo Securities, Hana Life and Hana SK Card, are affiliates of Hana Financial Group.

“Rebirth” recently made headlines again as the group donated it to Suncheon Bay Garden in Suncheon, South Jeolla, last October as part of its attempt to preserve and raise awareness of the area.

Suncheon is home to the world’s fifth-largest wetlands, as those with an affinity for photography or who like to explore scenic sites are well aware of. It is an ecological treasure trove, inhabited by around 220 birds and 120 plants. It is also well known for its picturesque reed field and sunsets.

Taking advantage of this, Suncheon hosted the International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay Korea 2013, the nation’s first expo of its kind.

As Hana Financial Group is seeking to become a financial leader in Korea after acquiring Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), the Korea JoongAng Daily looked into the financial group’s sponsorship activities in the arena of culture and art.

The merger with KEB is expected to be finalized soon. Hana Financial Group has pledged to become Korea’s No. 1 financial group, Asia’s fifth and the world’s 40th by 2025.

Why Suncheon?

Relations between Hana Financial Group and Suncheon City go back five years.

As Suncheon was preparing to host the garden expo, Hana Bank, one of the official sponsors of the event, signed an agreement to promote low-carbon, green-growth activities in 2010.

Hana Bank has raised funds for the cause since then through its financial products. It created and donated its “Seed Bank Garden” to the area in 2013 with the money it accumulated. It is covered with glass bottles brimming with various plant seeds and is considered one of the best gardens in the area.

“Seeds represent the source of life. Seeds come out the world breaking a hard shell, which symbolizes energy, life, distribution and expansion,” said Oh Gyeong-ah, the garden’s landscaper, “and is also in line with Hana Bank’s management philosophy that emphasizes healthy and sustainable growth with society.”

Although the expo ended in October 2013, Hana continued to support Suncheon. In November that year, the bank introduced an installment savings plan where 0.1 percent of the funds would be used to preserve and maintain Suncheon Bay’s gardens.

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Hana Financial Group is the sole corporate sponsor of SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul. [JoongAng Ilbo]

In return, Suncheon City gives discounts on admission to its tourist destinations to subscribers of the savings plan, including Suncheon Bay Garden, which opened last April.

In a deal similar to Hana Bank’s, Hana Card also signed an MoU with Suncheon City last December to raise money for Suncheon Bay.

Hana Card released the Suncheon Bay Card, where 0.1 percent of the amount spent on it will go to helping the area. In return, the city gives discounts to the card’s subscribers on admission to Suncheon’s tourist destinations.

Green culture

Expo experts in Korea, including Lee Gak-gyu, author of “Korea’s Modern Exposition,” have called on Korean authorities to pay attention to the need to make better use of the expo site and facilities after the festivities are over.

In that sense, the International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay Korea 2013 is often cited as a good example and is touted as having changed the expo scene in Korea.

“The reason we wanted to host a garden expo was because we wanted to preserve the environment of Suncheon Bay,” Suncheon Mayor Cho Choong-hoon told the JoongAng Ilbo back then.

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The DMZ International Documentary Film Festival. “My Love, Don’t Cross That River” won an award at the festival and later became a box-office hit. Hana says its support for the two events will continue this year. [JoongAng Ilbo]

However, as the number of people flocking to experience Suncheon’s nature and ecology has risen sharply since 2003, pollution has become a problem.

The gardens built for the expo were refurbished after it ended and were kept open to the public.

Suncheon officials say the value of the gardens will increase with time as the trees will grow and the forests will get thicker.

They also hoped that the gardens, situated between the bay area and downtown, will function as a sort of buffer zone helping to prevent downtown Suncheon from encroaching on the bay area.

According to Han Deok-cheon, a manager at Hana Bank, the company deliberated on where to move “Rebirth” when reconstruction on the bank’s headquarters began.

Hana Financial Group had been lending the pieces it has acquired to various museums and galleries in attempts to make art more accessible to a larger number of people. In line with that philosophy, bank officials considered donating it.

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The headquarters of Hana Bank in Euljiro is currently under renovation. Hana installed art to cover up construction work in order to minimize the effect on passersby. Currently there is a fence with books drawn on it, dubbed “Book Tower.” Provided by the company

According to Han, Gyeongju, the historic city in southern Korea where the real Cheomseongdae is located, was a candidate. But in the end, it chose Suncheon, the region it has maintained a keen relationship with since participating in the garden expo.

“Just like the car headlights were thrown away, but reborn as an artwork,” Han said, “we hope the donation will celebrate the rebirth of Suncheon, which is now an ecological city where both preservation and development coexist.”

He added that “Rebirth” has now become a new landmark in the city.


Supporting the DMZ

Along with Suncheon, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) - a 250-kilometer (155-mile) strip of land that cuts the peninsula roughly in half - is also an area that Hana Financial Group has ties with.

The organization is the only corporate sponsor of the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival.

The event, which began in 2009, is Korea’s first documentary film festival. It takes place in Goyang, which is close to the DMZ in Paju.

The DMZ remains both a physical and symbolic reminder of the Korean peninsula’s division.

It is the only zone of its kind in the entire world. It is an area regarded as the most heavily fortified border on earth. The DMZ and its surrounding area is one of the most popular tourist spots for those visiting South Korea and it is also a sanctuary for endangered species.

As for the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival, although the documentary film genre is usually considered minor, a star was born in the sixth edition of the event last September.

“My Love, Don’t Cross That River” by director Jin Mo-young, which is about Jo Byeong-man, 98, and his 89-year-old wife, Gang Gye-yeol, won the Audience Award at the festival.

It then went on to grab the top spot at the box office in December, surpassing Hollywood blockbusters such as Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi movie “Interstellar” and Ridley Scott’s biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

According to Kang Ji-hun, a manager at the financial group’s communications team, Hana expanded their support for the festival last year by organizing various programs such as cinema concerts and a bicycle tour at the DMZ.

“We hope the festival provided an opportunity to ponder on the division and peace,” Kang said, referring to the theme, “peace, life and communication.”

Hana is also the sole corporate sponsor of the SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul 2014, formerly known as Seoul International Media Art Biennale, and Seoul Musical Festival.

SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul 2014, held at Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), sheds light on media art, a genre many Koreans are fond of thanks to Nam-june Paik (1932-2006), the Korea-born media artist. Last year’s title was “Ghosts, Spies and Grandmothers.”

“Through the keywords, this exhibition will retrospect on contemporary Asia,” Park Chan-kyong, curator of the main exhibition, wrote in an introductory note on the biennale’s website.

“Ghosts stand for the forgotten history and tradition of Asia, spies symbolize the memories of the Cold War, and the grandmothers are metaphors of ‘women and time.’?”

Seoul Musical Festival, on the other hand, is aimed at bolstering the popularity of Korean-made musicals amid the local preference for musicals from overseas.

It is the only festivity for locally created musicals, officials at Hana said, and includes a gala show, an award ceremony, workshops and conferences.
According to Hana, its support of these two events will continue this year.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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