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Art houses stand out in Hannam-dong

The scenery is like an illustration from a slightly outdated fairytale ― two or three-story houses colored in pastel tones are somewhat awkwardly dotted amid a dusty and boisterous redevelopment site in Hannam-dong, central Seoul.

The six houses are where 78 Korean artists were invited to live and work together from early November until the end of this month. Titled “Design Korea in Hannam,” it is a long-term sidebar project of the six-day design festival “Design Korea 2010,” which runs until Sunday at COEX in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.

The participating artists come from so many different genres that it is hard to classify them. If there is one thing they share, it would be the fact that each of them frequent more than one genre.

In one room of house 31-4, next to actress, illustrator, director and writer Ku Hye-seon’s room, artist Koh Sang-woo was fully dressed in his clown costume and makeup, getting ready for his photo shoot. 
(From left) Film director and VJ Lee Kwon, artists Maia Ruth Lee, Peter Chung and Koh Sang-woo chat at The White House.  (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
(From left) Film director and VJ Lee Kwon, artists Maia Ruth Lee, Peter Chung and Koh Sang-woo chat at The White House.  (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

“It’s OK, visitors and people walk in all the time because the place is open to everyone. In fact, it is almost like I’m in a reality show. It stings me to action because I feel like I should continuously show something new,” answered Koh, when asked if he is not being disturbed.

Though he prefers to be called an artist instead of a photographer, he is both: His works cannot be done without the process of photography. He colors and decorates the subject ― often himself ― and takes fantasy-like photos of it using negative film.

Koh said that the clown series he is working on reflect his loneliness, as he is far away from his current base right now although he is back in his home country. He has been working in New York for 12 years but came back for a few months to participate in this project.

“Most artist residency programs usually put the artists of the same genre together, making them end up with the exact same kind of work as they came in with. Here, we have various artists like designers, architects, graphic artists and even an actress under the same roof, so it is a great opportunity to get inspired and develop new ideas,” he said.

Lorie Kim, an installation artist who uses fabric as her main material, was happy with the project as well.

“This is a great opportunity to network with really totally different kinds of people. I always do my work alone, but I am becoming interested in group work,” she said.

Whether the artists are in or not, browsing around their rooms would be another fun activity because each is saturated with the artists’ style.

Kim completely covered her room with interestingly cut fabrics imbued in mystical colors like deep navy and violet. Photographer Park Il-ho ripped down the wallpaper so it is bare with concrete and placed mirrors and strings of tiny light bulbs. 
Photographer Park Il-ho’s room (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Photographer Park Il-ho’s room (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

“People here all have their unique styles … kitsch, minimal … not just in the way they decorate their rooms but in everything including the way they dress. I have fun observing the different styles. I think that was probably the aim of this project ― to see what kind of collaboration and synergy effects totally different people who don’t seem to have anything in common could make,” said film director and video jockey Lee Kwon.

“As movie itself is a collaboration of various genres, I am supposed to be able to keep in mind every possible angle and part of it. As I got to see many artists from different genres and be friends with them, I am learning a lot of stuff, little by little,” added Kwon.

The finale of this innovative project will be the showcase of a large-scale interactive work by a multi-artist team led by Peter Chung, an artist and musician. One whole side of a house named “The White House,” which used to be a Samgyeopsal restaurant before the artists moved in, will have images projected on it.

“There is a punch bag. If you hit it, it triggers images on the big white walls. The work is pressure sensitive. If you hit it real hard, it will appear as if the walls are breaking,” Maia Ruth Lee, a member of the group, explained about one of the pieces they are working on.

“Design Korea in Hannam” continues through Dec. 30 at Hannam-dong 51-1, 63-13, 31-3, 31-4, 31-5 and 51-3. Trisha Park, director of Design Korea 2010, said that the owners temporarily donated the six houses during the period for this program. It is not yet decided what will happen to the places afterward. 
Hannam-dong 31-5, one of the six houses used for “Design Korea in Hannam”(Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Hannam-dong 31-5, one of the six houses used for “Design Korea in Hannam”(Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

“The project will end in December in the name of ‘Design Korea.’ Hopefully, though, somebody might take charge and continue this kind of project here,” said Trisha Park, director of Design Korea 2010.

By Park Min-young  (