(2006) Since being Extreme Art Tourists was something we became unintentionally, some of our trips were not primarily about Art. While we did partake of Art in both traditional and unusual settings, this was a trip about Festivals, along with as much Art as we could find.
On our first morning in Korea, we caught the eight o’clock bus for a three and one-half hour trip south to JINJU and the Floating Lantern (Yudeung) Festival. This is the largest of its kind in Korea and has its origins from the Japanese occupation of Joseon in the late 16th century. According to records, General Kim Si-Min of Jinju Castle, leading only 3,800 rebels, destroyed an army of 20,000 Japanese troops who attacked the castle in October of 1592. During the Japanese attack, the general raised a lantern in the sky and floated lanterns and torches on the river to send signals to loyal troops and other supporting forces outside the castle.
While not a castle guy, I did enjoy the open-sided, elevated meditation shelter. Everyone removed their shoes before climbing the stairs to enjoy the shade, the river breezes and the view from above the river. Continuing along the river, we found a shrine to the maiden who, according to legend, grabbed hold of the Japanese general and dragged him into the river where his heavy armor drowned them both. Eventually we reached the museum, which contained artifacts pertaining to the Korean victory in 1592.
The next morning we were at Namdaemun (West Gate) Market to explore the art of shopping. This is supposed to be the cheapest market, the distribution center for many other markets and retailers. It is a warren of shops or stalls; multi-floor; seeming endless hallways. We didn’t stay long, although M managed to buy slippers and mix it up with the ajumma while buying a blouse off a cart. Lunch was a seafood pancake (called an omelet) & soju (Korean vodka made usually with rice or sweet potato, drunk neat).
The entrance to the festival was lined with a gauntlet of vendors. The grounds were very large with an indoor arena at one end and the amphitheatre at the other. In between was a vast paved area filled with tents, and a very large open space in the middle. The tents were for “experience” activities where kids, mostly, made masks or wall-hangings with a mask theme. Or had a traditional Korean wedding, participated in a tea ceremony, or a million other things. Other tents were for the myriad products produced in the region/country: ginseng, green tea, soju, dried fish, crafts, etc.
With an all-day ticket, we were able to come and go to the amphitheatre where various companies from countries like Poland, Mexico, Malaysia, Costa Rica, China, Slovakia, Latvia, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and Japan performed. Foam pads were provided for the audience as there were no chairs. We saw Sooyeong (don’t know what that means) do some traditional routines before the performance of an interesting drama about a tree. It began as women dressed as crows danced around and talked excitedly. It may have been because they knew man wanted to cut down the tree to build a highway. Two characters with hardhats and ties came to do a survey and dance around. The crows foiled their attempts to harm the tree, regardless of the men’s devises. At one point the men hid themselves with a shroud of trash and litter and jumped around like the lion dance. Click on the picture below to see the video.
Chajeon Nori was a commemoration of Wang Geon’s victory over Gyeon Hwon at the Battle of Gochang in 935. It resembled a jousting match, of sorts, with the two opposing commanders standing atop large log frames that are maneuvered by their teams. These frames were known as dongchae, and were composed of two thirty-foot long logs tied together with straw rope. Some members of the team carry the dongchae, while the others fight (at least symbolically) with the opposing team to help their side advance. A team wins by forcing the other team’s dongchae to the ground. After their victory, the members of the winning team traditionally toss their straw sandals into the sky. Click here to see video.
|Seoul at sunrise|
In what was once a private villa, there is now an interesting museum with a special show of the Art of Edvard Munch and Felician Rops on the first floor, with paintings of women done by Korean artists on the second level.
|Felician Rops (above only)|
The highlight for me was a quartet playing the traditional instruments (gong, little gong, two-sided drum hour-glass shaped drum, lower pitched two-sided drum) with surreal intensity. They were tight, smooth, fast, amazing. Click below to see video.
We then headed to lunch in Insadong. Insadong is a district of shops and carts with wares for both tourists and locals. Many of the businesses were just getting set up at noon that day, but we found lots of art supply stores, art galleries, antique stores, and gift shops selling masks or carved Korean tiki heads.
While the Seoul Drum Festival had been going on in various parts of the city, we went to the big Saturday night show at Gyeonghuigung.
The opening began with an elaborate traditional drumming exhibition, which I shot while lying on the ground in the row of seats with my head and camera in the main aisle. Click here for video.
Afterwards, a military band lined the same aisle. And while they played a Karl King march, the evening’s entertainment filed in and proceeded to the stage. I could try to describe each act, which included Italian flag throwers, but the following video captures much of it. Click here for video of performances.
Seoul Land is Korea’s first theme park and home to the National Museum of Contemporary Art. We took the Elephant Train up to the zoo and from there it was still a good walk up the hill to the museum.
While billed as a “sculpture garden” there was little evidence of a garden, but there was an exhibit of outdoor Art. The museum itself is very large and airy. The art was contemporary; some interesting, some gimmicky. Most by Korean artists, except for an Andy Warhol and a Chuck Close. There was also a retrospective on the 20th anniversary of the death of prominent artist, Oh Yoon, who died at 40.
|Great Desires for the Unification by Oh Yoon|
The next thing we noticed about Sokcho was the many signs in Russian. But then we saw the big ferry that made regular trips to Russia.
It was getting late by the time the bus got us to Seoraksan National Park. We walked past the bear sculpture/park mascot, past the souvenir shops, past the giant Buddha, up the stony pathway, over stone bridges, traced the stone riverbed, through an isolated restaurant that is stocked by vendors who must carry supplies on their backs, to a temple where people can stay, or buy a roof tile with their name on it, or a lotus lantern hung with a prayer, or just a candle. No incense available.
Many of the bands were playing when they hit the street and the whole procession passed by in less than half an hour. The bands were from around the world and each had its own style. We would see them again later, so we didn’t mind the briefness. Click here for video.
After a Korean drum exhibition, it was karaoke time with a girl singing The Theme from Fame, followed by an ABBA tune and a couple of others. Weird, but the audience liked it. A laser show preceded all the bands filing onto stadium floor while herald trumpets blared from the upper concourse and the ROK (Republic of Korea) band played from the stands. As before, rather than try to describe the scene, click below for video.
The highlight of the whole festival was the performance by the Spanish band, The Symphonic Band of the Artistic Association of Denia. Previously a motley-looking group of marchers, they now became a finely tuned ensemble, still with ties askew. Each song better than the last, with the best being the Preludio y Danza del Alba for brass quintet and band. A beautiful song whose composer was recognized in the audience. A great performance.
The evening’s marching program began, again, with lots of Korean traditional bands. Click below for videos:
Went to Gwanghwamun to find the Ilman Museum of Art in the Samsung Life Insurance building. A bit of a strange place. The exhibition seemed to be done by one artist, with lots of plastic baskets of various colors stacked into walls or other formations or just piled up. All exhibitions are contemporary, and the location in the business district makes the Art very accessible.
At Gyeongbokgung (remember, gung means palace) we found what appeared to be some kind of re-enactment. There were lines of traditionally dressed men marching and dancing in front of a throne and great crowds to watch.
|This isn't a Grandfather. She's a ground traffic controller at the airport.|
|These are The Grandfathers.|
Got dropped at JEJU CITY, on the northern shore of the island and port for the boat we would be taking in the morning. The Tamma Festival was being held nearby. Rows of tents with the usual foods, items for sale, and exhibit of bonsais. In the performance area there were rows of girls in traditional garb dancing to the usual instruments. Click here for video.
Got back to the festival in time to hear an excellent youth orchestra play. There were also performances by women in traditional dress singing a very long song, and more traditional dancing.
We stayed at Haeundae Beach, a popular spot, as there was a lot going on. In addition to the Biennial Art show, it was time for the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) as well as the Jagalchi Seafood Festival.
The art was spread all around. One element of the Biennial was the Outdoor Furniture Show that was actually outdoor sculpture and installations along the beach. They varied from Extended Staircase which started with an existing wooden stairway from sand to boardwalk with added pieces of 2x4 that stuck out, to a stage with painted curtain, opening out to sea. Life is on Air, benches called Ocean Dragon, and an enclosed circular wall built in the sand, that you could walk through or climb to the top of the wall called Sea of Busan. There were about fifteen sculptures on the beachfront, a few across the street, one in the Marriott which had already been removed, and a few others on a nearby bridge. Several were in disrepair; the large baby in the sand (Bok-nam-ii) had its pacifier glued back into its mouth. Others weren’t where they were supposed to be, according to the map. I did noticed that there were numerous volunteers for the Biennial exhibit pointing out the way to lost souls.
We continued on to the Busan Museum of Art in Mt. Yongdu Park.
Afterwards we took a subway up to the university district in search of a stream project called Oncheonjang that was likened to the Cheonggye in Seoul. This ran through a more residential neighborhood while Cheonggye went through business districts. That was more for sitting or walking, the Busan stream had room for runners, bikers and more. There was a clock that may have been Art, and we found a small section where the sidewalk was lined with smooth stones set in the concrete.
I thought I might mention that subway cars in Busan play bird calls before announcing stops; seagulls when approaching a beach stop. And many of the subway stations in both Seoul and Busan are filled with interesting, creative and attractive art, fountains, mosaics, tile work, and ceilings.
At the beach that night we discovered a concert in conjunction with PIFF. Plywood was laid out in front of the stage for the audience to sit upon. While the first couple of groups were okay, it was the featured band that drew the crowd. Sorry I can’t tell you their name, but they were lots of fun.
The whole area is for shopping, which is what everyone did until a unit of traditional drummers and other costumed characters came by reminding us that it was time for the Jagalchi Festival Parade. So we went over to the parade route and grabbed a couple of good spots. The parade was short but fun. Click here for the video. or click here for pics.
Our destination the following day was Beomeosa Temple, north of the city. After a subway ride, we actually took a cab the rest of the way up Mt. Geumjeong. The Temple dates to 678, and consists of many buildings on a few levels. Lots of carvings of dragons. Buddhas. A large drum had its own pavilion. Here are some views:
We had to get back to Haeundae for the closing ceremonies of PIFF and the movie. Seats were unreserved and a pre-screening concert was promised, so we got there early. After the excessive introductions, awards and speeches, there was a brief performance by a troupe of lady drummers in contemporary traditional dress. Twirling from drum to drum performing very dramatically. Then it was showtime, but not much of a concert. Crazy Stone was supposed to be a dark comedy likened to Ocean's Eleven, but where OE focused on mind games between protagonists, CS was supposed to highlight social issues. Yeah, right.
We stopped one more time in Insadong to pick up a few gifts. Had dumplings (man-doo) once more, answered questions for two surveys complete with photos. There was no line for the Donut Lady, so I got one (delicious with a cornmeal flavor and bits of corn, pea, nut, cinnamon), and then a traditional wedding procession came down the street with lovely lady drummers. There were also people wearing signs that offered "Free Hugs."
We stopped for an extraordinary show at the Gallery Seng by an artist named Young-Geun Park. Soon after we entered and looked at perhaps one painting, he came over and explained a few of the paintings and presented us with the catalogue/book for the show, which he had assembled. The book added much to the viewing experience.