Rethinking wasteful consumerism at 'Tong's Vintage' exhibition
Entering the “Tong’s Vintage: The Strange Tongui General Store” exhibition at the Daelim Museum in Tongui-dong of Jongno District, central Seoul, initially feels as strange as one would expect based on the title. The entrance area’s walls are covered with shelves packed with vibrantly colored plastic toys for children.
The exhibition is in fact in celebration of the 2021 Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) Summit in Seoul, Korea’s first multilateral summit on environmental issues to be held from May 30 to 31.
The Daelim Museum and the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ summit preparation team co-organized “Tong’s Vintage: The Strange Tongui General Store,” which runs through July 25.
Apart from celebrating the historic event, the exhibition aims to spread awareness on the importance of climate change response plans and suggest everyday methods to practice a more sustainable way of life.
“Twenty-three teams of artists participated in this exhibition,” said Shim Hye-hwa, the managing director of the Daelim Museum, during a press tour last Thursday.
“Some of them had already been doing artwork related to environmental issues, and some had not. But even those with no prior relevant experience were still happy to participate because they agreed with the significance of the topic.”
Shim says the team of artists strived to find fun and easy ways to convey messages regarding environmental preservation.
The artwork are arranged in a particular order, depending on the main medium used to make it. Its seven sections are glass, plastic, iron, fabric, wood, paper and biodegradable materials, in that order, going from the longest to decompose to the quickest.
“Glass takes more than tens of thousands of years to decompose,” Shim said.
The glass zone leads to an area dedicated to plastic — mostly a collection of hundreds of children’s colorful plastic toys.
“Plastic takes over five hundred years to decompose,” said Shim, “but plastic toys usually take even longer, since they are amalgams of all sorts of materials.”
Illustrator Seotudio’s installation “Cycle” offers a simple solution to this problem: Behind a pile of toys plays a video of a toy car moving down a road, from father to daughter. To protect the environment, Seotudio suggests passing down toys to the next generation rather than throwing them away and buying new ones in replacement.
In another corner of the plastic zone is designer Kim Ha-neul’s “Stack and Stack (In Pandemic),” inspired by the astronomical amount of face masks that have been produced since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the artwork may seem like ordinary rolls of cloth and plastic stools, they are all made of fabric used for disposable face masks, which are, in fact, made of plastic fiber. Ten percent of mask fabric is discarded during manufacturing due to faults in the process; not off to a good start environmentally.
Kim highlights how many masks are produced then thrown away, and how they end up polluting the oceans and threatening wildlife as a result — evoking the question of ecological responsibility during a pandemic.
The third area, themed around iron, features artwork made with iron that has lost commercial value. Its highlight is a wall covered with traffic signs that have become obsolete or have been damaged in traffic accidents. Titled “Small Talk” by music video director NiNE-Ist, the installation resembles a large collage. Among the signs are screens that project quotes such as “Nature [is] not built in a day” and “Protect what you have.”
Up another floor is the fabric zone, which displays various fashion items made of discarded fabric, even Ikea curtains. Artist team Piecemoa makes dresses with leftover scraps of cloth to prove that upcycled material can be fashionable too. The results are outfits that give off unique vibes that mass-produced clothes cannot emulate, while also demonstrating sustainable fashion.
The fabric zone ends with colorful mini sofas by artist Yeon Jin-yeong, part of his “Padded Chair” series made of discarded or leftover stocks of goose down jackets.
“So many goose down jackets that are otherwise perfectly fine get thrown away because their zippers break,” said Shim.
Past a nook dedicated to wood and paper — a relaxing space which displays vintage wooden gramophones, paper LP covers and cardboard boxes turned into furniture — is the final floor of the exhibition.
The seventh and final zone deals with biodegradable materials, most notably food items. Although its harm is underestimated because such items decompose easily, the sheer amount of food we consume and waste still has a negative impact on the earth.
Digital artist Nose studio’s larger-than-life media art “Eco-friendly Warehouse” (translated) fills up the large room with beam-projected imagery of everyday grocery items — corn, potatoes, milk and eggs — only for them to crumble and disappear periodically, symbolizing the expiration and waste that happens in today’s rampant consumerism, even with biodegradable material.
Towards the exit of the exhibit stand frames of quotes by artist Kim Hyun-su, one of which reads “I can look back a time … [but] I can’t go back,” urging visitors to have a sense of urgency regarding environmental damage and what actions we can take right now.
“Tong’s Vintage: The Strange Tongui General Store,” has no entrance fee, but visitors need to make reservations online in advance due to social distancing policies.
BY HALEY YANG [email@example.com]