Draw a Straight Line & Follow It

My site is a deft slice in the shadow of the main street.  I drew my own line within the site, a view where the continuous quality of the street plays out like a filmic sequence.

In the performance piece ‘Zen for Head’ (1962), Korean born artist Nam Jun Paik dipped his head in a bowl of ink before dragging it (like a giant brush) along a scroll of paper.

'Zen for Head' - Nam June Paik
The piece was a reference to Asian calligraphy and an interpretation of "Composition 1960 No. 10" by the Fluxus artist LaMonte Young which consisted entirely of the instruction: 
"draw a straight line and follow it." 

In Praise of Emptiness

Emptiness, as a spatial entity is a strong motif in the Korean tradition,  one compellingly registered during my visit to Gyeoungbok Palace where empty space gives form to the objects within it.
Traditional Korean architecture obscures the boundary between solid and void, (interior and exterior, public and private) enabling the flow of emptiness

Spatial expressions of emptiness:

1. Circularity
Sequentially arranged rooms, which unfold along the linear axis simplify circulation and preclude abrupt discontinuity
2. Overlapping
Folding doors and sliding screens diffuse the limit of interior and exterior, they create frames between spaces, encouraging one to enter the other

3. Transparency
Layering of light creates nuance and intricacy
The resultant spaces possess flexibility and are responsive to the possibility of filling.  But here, filling is separated from fullness (with its implication of unbreachable volume) and physical objects; it denotes intangible elements that anchor experience and imagination.

Elements of filling:

1. Light
Dark interiors amplify light diffused by paper screens affording it presence and weight

2. Shadow
Shadows symbolise formlessness, they are the trace of time left on space
'what strikes the eye is the massive roof of tile or thatch and the heavy darkness that hangs beneath the eaves'
 - In Praise of Shadows 
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki 

3. Landscape
Natural scenery is brought into view filling an empty space, this is the concept of ‘borrowed landscape’ (chagyeong


The Contract

A special week: we were joined in Seoul by Robert and Catrina for the sharing and signing of contracts.  This marks a pivotal moment in the Free Unit, one that ends the initial period of investigation and defines the ambition of the project in order to move into more focused territory.
My contract takes the form of a visual document.  It is a discussion about voids in the city as a means of examining a specific traumatic event. The images and text form a map of an investigation that acknowledges scale, the process of discovery and site.
The contract format implied deliberation on material presence:  
how should it be viewed? And where? 
An aimless stroll along the city’s main boulevard Jongno-ro proved surprisingly rewarding.  Cutting a swathe from east to west it is one of the oldest processional streets in Seoul.  
JONGNO-RO an ancient processional thoroughfare
It is also one of the busiest, and so, abandoning the crowd I slipped into a parallel side-street along its northern flank; a ragged alley that hums with industriousness, and through the rear doors, affords glimpses back to the main street it sustains:
The main street; the side street...
...and glimpses between...
...a gap that bridges a gap
In this place it is the space between objects; the incisions in the urban fabric – one broad and one narrow - that create a narrative about the city.  As a processional route, Jongno-ro was strictly speaking private space, the domain of royalty and dignitaries.  Pre-colonial maps show narrow lines bordering the length of the main street on either side. These slender counterparts enabled uninhibited circulation for everyone else.
In their present incarnation, the side-streets terminate in fits and starts along the northern boundary, and have been largely erased from the southern one.  The major thoroughfare was the first to be enlarged by the occupying Japanese as part of the ordering of streets’.
 TWO INCISIONS; the private wide street, the narrow public street (1927, 2010)
The view between the streets creates a space that connects two separate conditions; it is a gap that bridges a gap.  The alley is the intermediary scale between those depicted in my contract; it is my gallery. 
The gallery...
The exhibit...
Every show opening needs a press release...
The show opening
..and some (preliminary) buyers:
RED DOTS: 'Buying' into the contract...
All the contracts were officially signed the following day:
Signed and sealed



Prior to 1910, Seoul’s urban fabric remained constant for almost 500 years; the street network demarcated by a series of processional routes between the palace and city gates that lead out towards the provinces.
The original walled city; a constant for 500 years
 In a bid to fasten economic and social control over the capital, the occupying Japanese imposed infrastructure that would provide the template of the contemporary city.
This began with enlarging main thoroughfares and constructing new roads under a policy designated ‘the ordering of streets’.
'The ordering of streets' incisions into the existing fabric
Later, larger voids were cut into the old fabric of the city to accommodate the railway, administrative buildings, churches and schools.  
       Japanese map of Seoul 1927: black and white areas indicate insertions 

A map dated 1927, when read with its modern equivalent builds a narrative about where these insertions were made, where they remain and where they have been reabsorbed by the city.    
Inserted voids, retained voids, reclaimed voids


On Trauma

This month’s AD titled ‘Post Traumatic Urbanism’ provided a relevant diversion; in the aftermath of catastrophe or conflict, is the role of architecture to restore and recover or to exploit potentialities? New Orleans, Haiti and Caracas are among the ‘sites of trauma’ discussed.   
While Seoul may not be reeling in the raw viscera of the Japanese invasion (dust and rubble), it conceals a submerged trauma.  A hatred for the Japanese is ingrained in a peculiar, unquestioning way.
Peculiar: a Korean friend took us to a (very nice) Japanese bar. 
Over sake she told me:
‘Koreans hate Japanese’
so why bring us to this bar?
‘it’s a style thing, a fashion thing, but you must understand, we really hate the Japanese.’
Japanese bars in Seoul; 'it's a fashion thing'...
Freud defined trauma as suppressed memory.  I wonder if the residual bitterness of the period is a result of the tumultuous events that followed.  Between a devastating war that split the nation and the dramatic reconstruction of the city there has been insufficient pause to grieve, to appraise, to forgive.

A few days ago I visited Seodaemun Prison, constructed in 1908 to detain Korean dissidents.  Part of the original complex has been preserved as ‘a monument to eulogize the spirit of Korean patriotic ancestors who were imprisoned at Seodaemun Prison and died for national independence against the Japanese colonisation.’ * 
Seodaemun Prison: innocuous buildings

Within the grounds are some pretty innocuous looking red brick barracks.  I was reminded of Tuol Sleng, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison sited within a former school in Phnom Penh where the building’s mundane exterior somehow makes the disturbing events it housed that much more unnerving. 
Tuol Sleng Prison Phnom Penh(July 2009)
Inside Seodaemun Prison; a bitter air
Ostensibly, Seodaemun Prison's present incarnation marks a transformation of meaning, from a symbol of oppression to a place of commemoration.  But with its collection of marionettes, doused in fake blood it had a bitter air and seemed more concerned with the emotive illustration of Japanese barbarity than celebrating the spirit of Korean independence.  
*quoted from visitors' leaflet


Simple Pleasures

Victoria and I visited Paju Book City, a planned and quite frankly eerie ‘publishing city’ just outside of the capital that occupies a sliver of land between the Simhak Mountain to the east and a motorway embankment to the west.  Intended as ‘a large exhibition hall of architecture’ smart publishing houses sit either side of a bisecting main road; a small creek threads alongside. 
Residential development is not permitted within Paju, it is purely a place of work, an upmarket trading estate.  This is not to imply it is an unpleasant place but with its lack of restaurants, signage, people, it does feel distinctly un-Korean.  Conversely, there is a rigour to it - manifest in the efficient linear plan; the feeling of walking amongst the apparatus of a well-oiled machine - that is very Korean.

In any case, if this is an exhibition, there are some very beautiful pieces on display.  Among them, Florian Beigal’s ensemble of of publishing houses (more of which later).
Some nice corten steel lamp-posts too:
Just up the road is Heyri, a designated 'art village'.  Here, a regimented plan was precluded by the undulating topography.  Built areas are scattered across the site while the landscape is drawn in from the periphery and encouraged to flourish in the spaces between.
I’m not convinced it is a success.  There is a lack of visual cohesion.  Perhaps it was because it was already late afternoon but with its angular forms half concealed behind scrubby edges Heyri seemed more redolent of an abandoned theme park.  Actually, maybe it was the site map that made me think that:
I also couldn’t help but feel that the idea of an artists' village is unpleasantly elitist.  Surely the place for art is the city where it has something to respond to and reference beyond itself?  Here and there chairs are arranged outdoors in an approximation of Parisian café culture but there is no street life to observe, no bustle, no sense of watching the city unfold.  

But as with Paju, the buildings have been carefully commissioned and there are some notable results (though it may not be immediately apparent from this leaflet)
Among them, balanced on one of Heyri’s six hills is the Camerata, a music studio and private residence designed by Byoung Soo Cho, architect of the previously mentioned Earth House.  
It is a collection of stark voids fastened by intricately arranged stairs. 
This minimal composition, a giant speaker more or less, gracefully articulates the simple pleasure of listening to music.
*all sketches AD