Cheonggyecheon frozen in time

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Mar 17, 2014 - 20:22
  • Updated : Mar 17, 2014 - 20:22
Photographer J. Ahn, who has chronicled the changing scenery along the Cheonggyecheon Stream with her camera, is exhibiting her work at the Sejong Art Center’s Museum of Art starting Wednesday.

Though she has photographed cities such as New York, Paris and Havana, Ahn said, she has always been fascinated by the back alleys of the belatedly redeveloped section of downtown Seoul.

“The back alleys of Cheonggycheon had many beautiful and profound colors. A single color isn’t enough to depict them. I’d like to call them colors of time ― the colors that have been layered for more than a decade,” Ahn said in a phone interview. 
“Cheonggyecheon 2011” by J. Ahn. (Courtesy of the artist)

Strolling the back alleys, Ahn captured unique scenes of worn-out tools, rusty doors, fading walls and the like. She has entitled her latest solo exhibition “Frozen in Time” to sum up not only the history of the area but also “the freeze in space and time” she felt when she saw all the closed shops on the weekends.

“On weekends when everything was closed, the place became a completely different world. It seemed to have been frozen in time,” said Ahn. “Once I step out of the back alleys, I encounter the glamour of the city. However, the urban splendor doesn’t make the back alleys look desolate, just deserted. It rather makes one wonder how people carry on their daily activities in the back alleys.”
Photographer J. Ahn. (Courtesy of the artist)

The area along Cheonggyecheon Stream, which flows across Seoul, has been transformed from a shabby cluster of decrepit workshops to well-planned modern establishments that have attracted hundreds of tourists every day since the Seoul government undertook the restoration project.

Now a handful of dilapidated workshops remain.

The photographer took shots of used tools, towels workers must have used, clocks that hang on the front walls of shops and words spray-painted on a rustic wall in order to portray the frozen layers of time.

Ahn said she would continue to visit the place to document it until everything disappears into history.

“Some shops are still in business. I will keep coming here until everything is shuttered up for good. It has its own colors,” Ahn said.

The exhibition “Frozen in Time” runs from March 19-25 at the Sejong Art Center art museum in Seoul.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@heraldcorp.com)