At old coal mine, a new place for art

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At old coal mine, a new place for art

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The marshalling yard of the former Samcheok Mine has become Samtan Art Mine’s “Rail by Museum,” which includes artwork made from iron structures, steel ropes and conveyors.

Samcheok Mine in Gangwon province, which contributed to Korea’s industrialization from its opening in 1962 until its closure in 2001, has been reborn as a space for art and culture. Renamed Samtan Art Mine, it has become a place of artistic inspiration and creativity, with the vestiges of the old coal mine remaining and emotional artworks added.

Samtan Art Mine is located in a mountainous area at an elevation of 832 meters (2,729 feet) in Jeongseon County, Gangwon. Once it was a huge coal mine, employing about 3,000 miners and forming a wealthy town nearby. But as the mine closed, 80 percent of the residents left. Now, it’s hoped that the mine will attract people again, as a center of art and culture this time.

In Samtan Art Mine, the abandoned shafts have become art galleries, with other facilities such as electrical rooms turned into spaces for the exhibition of artifacts and contemporary artwork. Some of the old spaces have become an outdoor theater, restaurants and other facilities for art and entertainment, making the old mine an art theme park.

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Left, a contemporary artwork depicting a miner is installed in the former washing machine room. Right, X-rays, diagnoses of pneumoconiosis (lung disease) and the death certificates of miners are displayed in the former shower room.

The marshalling yard, which was one of the most important facilities of the old Samcheok Mine, can be an artwork itself from the industrial era.

In the mine’s landmark “Rail by Museum,” there are coal wagons that look as if they are ready to run again, iron structures, steel ropes in the vertical shafts and conveyors that make a great art piece to impress viewers.

The main building of the old mine had a shower room, where the miners washed fatigue and black coal dust from their bodies every day. Now, hundreds of X-rays, diagnoses of pneumoconiosis (lung disease) and death certificates of the miners hang from about 30 shower heads in the room, which has been turned into a space to honor the miners who lost their health and their lives to hard labor.

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An old mural in the staircase of the main building depicts the miners. Its peeling paint reveals the mural’s age, but the artwork has become more valuable over time.

An old mural in the staircase of the main building depicts the miners. Its peeling paint shows the mural’s age, but it has become more valuable over time.

On the second floor of the main building are piles of the mine’s documents, including the miners’ resumes, pay stubs and other items. These documents have become “cultural heritage” and a kind of installation art.

The mine galleries have been reborn as unique spaces where the visitors can view artwork and, at the same time, experience the artificial caves of the mine galleries.

Samtan Art Mine also has a big art storage house, where the chief executive of the art company, Kim Min-seok, stores and will show about 100,000 pieces of folk art and contemporary artwork he has collected for three decades from all over the world.

By Park sang-moon [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]

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