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City Life Research

Seunggu Kim’s White Paper on Urban Life

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“Torrential rains of almost 300mm in the central region continue to cause damage as the seasonal rain front moves north.” Just like laughing at a news anchor’s urgent announcement, citizens along the riverside of the Han River are all given to enjoy their leisure and relaxation, ignoring flooded trails and flower gardens. Some take a nap in a tent or on a mat and others are leisurely fishing with long angling rods. Bike riders and inline skaters move dynamically and lovers who look over the river appear quite affectionate to each other. A warning is issued through speakers but it isn’t enough to prevent citizens from setting up a tent.


The scenes witnessed at Hangang Park in the rainy season of every summer are quite unrealistic. The Hangang Park in the backdrop of ash gray dark clouds swallowed by river water looks like a sight from a disaster film. The sight of a familiar space transformed into a dangerous place is weird and amazing since a facet of unrest and danger in reality is revealed. What’s more amazing than this is the great diversity in aspects of people that are like film scenes. The amazing scene of someone taking a nap on a mat despite flooding explicitly displays our insensibility. And our astounding demeanor of setting up a tent with our will to enjoy our leisure despite warnings of danger discloses our twisted desire. Seunggu Kim’s Riverside series that is an observation and record of this displays scenes from a disaster film and leaves a desolate aftertaste as in a black comedy.


Han River Mission to Observe Urbanites

Observe and document Han River landscapes and people during the rainy season! Kim carries out a quite simple and clear mission in his Riverside series. The results, however, are facets of our time which are hard to discern as being positive or negative. “Radio broadcasting continues to issue special weather reports but people still enjoy their leisure time in peace outside the car window. I wonder if they feel consoled as they take a break from their hectic schedules.” Since then, Kim has visited the Han River every rainy season to carry out his mission and present riverside scenes in a way that is unfamiliar to us. His meticulous observations and records of people at the riverside over the course of three years enable viewers to reconsider how they enjoy their leisure time at the Han River, an activity which we have considered to be quite natural. The rainy season was chosen by the artist to expose the extreme desire of those who are devoted to leisure.


The Desires of Urbanites Reflected onto a Leisure Space

The Han River is a space where urbanites enjoy leisure activities in all seasons of the year including the rainy season. If one takes a step back to view scenes of a camping ground densely packed with tents, an outdoor swimming pool reminiscent of a public bathhouse crammed with bathers, trails overflowing with individuals wearing masks, and bike paths, we may feel dizzy. Are such odd scenes really what we want as elements of our leisure life? Although we consider ourselves to have our own leisure preferences, we wonder if we have become accustomed to and tamed by leisure patterns engendered in urban life. “Those leading a hectic life in the city always tend to dream of breaking away from daily routines and desire to be free. All the same, they spend their spare time by the Han River or in the suburbs of the city due to realistic constraints and limits of physical space and time as if consuming fast food, relieving their stress and comforting themselves with such leisure activities.” His camera wanders around the Han River while his eyes are turned upon the center of the city. He intends to narrate our “city life,” likening it to a “riverside.”


Social Scenes Penetrating City Life

Kim has consistently collected social scenes associated with the leisure lives of urbanites in diverse series like Riverside. Included in such series are Idong Galbi featuring images of a suburban restaurant that attracts a large number of customers; Winter Set following an improvised ice festival that soon disappears like a movie set; True-View Landscape displaying an uncanny artificial garden at a premium apartment complex; and Hidden Park exploring Bamseom and its primitive nature as it lies isolated in Seoul.


The scenes captured not only in the Han River but also in downtown Seoul and its suburbs unmask urbanities’ emotion and desire reflected onto an artificially created leisure space. The series such as True-View Landscape and Idong Kalbi Village indirectly express contemporary people’s desire to commune with nature through an artificial garden in an apartment complex and a large restaurant in the suburbs of Seoul respectively. These series feature unnatural, awkward scenes such as an artificial garden created with scale models of Geumgangsan or Seoraksan to pray for apartment residents’ good fortune (True-View Landscape) and the sight of a restaurant with a folksy exterior and facilitated with noraebang machines and man-made natural objects (Idong Kalbi Village). The scenes in which foreign elements from the past and present and the East and West are mixed and combined together bring about a weird irony.


Kim’s works in which a variety of social scenes from a city’s downtown area to its suburbs intersect are imbued with his efforts to take a look at “city life.” His works are concerned with “urban life and leisure space as well as the desires and emotions that are revealed in such a place.” He gleans multifarious social scenes by category from such spaces and gradually extends the territory of his work. He has consistently maintained his mindset to capture aspects of our time in inadvertently passing scenes, to make observations before making a positive or negative decision, and to amass records. As such, Kim considers himself to be “a witness to our time” who makes us anticipate his works of art which document the social scenes of our generation.

By JiSoo Park, Monthly Photo

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