A Community-based Art Project
Agitart, a compound word of “Agit” (meaning a safe house, the term originates from Russia and is now widely used in Korea) and “art”, is a community-based art project that tries a new way of building relationship with local residents as a part of The Hwanggeumsan Project in ARKO public art project, located at the small fishing village along the coast of the Yellow Sea in Gyeonggi-do Province. The project was attempted to find a point of how resident artists of GCC (Gyeonggi Creation Center) keep their connection with local residents and how they exchange a way of enjoying art and stories about life. Therefore, the primary research was held in June 2014 in Daebudo and Seongamdo Islands in order to listen the voice of the local residents and get close to them.
Seongamdo Island, where GCC is located, is on the way to Buldo Island and Tando Island from a large neighbor island, Daebudo Island. There are small elementary, middle and high schools and a huddle of small stores along the road in Daebudo Island. However, unlike a city, it is still difficult to visit or have a cultural exchange due to its accessibility. At the beginning of planning this project, the Residents’ Association, the Women’s Association, the Parents’ Association and schools in Daebu Island enthusiastically showed their interests to the project so the first aim was finding the town’s small creation house, Agit, within walking distance. However, the time and several other conditions were not sufficient to progress the project so Seongam town, in Seongam Island near GCC, was selected to experiment an extended concept of a space, Agitart, after a long meeting. As the final concept came out, four GCC resident artists progressed their experiments in the subject of creative activity, performance, recording stories and improving a general color of the town with local residents.
There are now about 110 households, mainly composed of senior residents in Seongam town, and their living foundation has experienced a big change since the bridge was built in the 90’s Siwha Tidal Power Plant Project. Also, Seongam town has a sad history. Many young victims were sacrificed in the reformatory established in the Japanese colonial era, called the Seongam School. Therefore, this Agitart project starting along with the outdoor installation project, ‘Art Seongam’, tried to cure the sad history of the town and shed new light on an individual’s memory, life and a value of a local community.
The Agitart project began in earnest from March to July 2015 and the aim included not only the visual effect as how art settles in the local residents’ life based on the understanding of the local community, but also the invisible effect as a new way of building relationship with local residents. First, Mr. Moon, the 80 years old local resident of Seongam town, practiced a role in his busy days of farming and performed in the play <shakespeare’s visit to seongam island> in the role of King Lear with professional actors. The realization of Mr. Moon’s childhood dream, his wife’s tearful eyes and a big round of applause by other senior residents were followed at the end. In the aspect of the project, those had been good resources to the participant observation and records about the positive effects of active engagement on disadvantage people as stated in Taelin Kim’s proposal.
An experiment on local residents and a community with art education can be found in the extended version of “The Art Program With Artists” that has been consistently run by GCC. Bohee Won’s work <korean enamel work - painting light> went on in the community center for local senior residents and gave an opportunity to create Korean art with enamel to female senior residents. At the end of March, when the first class began, female senior residents felt unfamiliar to a new experience so that one of them even told that her hand is too shaking and just stared what others do but she admired what they were doing when colorful outcomes came out from a kiln. Moreover, wall paintings, in the style of Korea enamel were done in the subject of Hwatu, the favorite Korean card game in the community center for senior residents, and the participants’ names were engraved together. Thus, it became a group work beautifully decorating their meeting place with images of the favorite play and their names. On Parents’ Day 2015, a small opening ceremony was also held. To sum up, local senior residents opened their hearts and achieved self-regard and a sense of accomplishment as they were involved in The Participant Art Educational Program for Residents while the town was experiencing a small visual and artistic change so the possibility of communicating with local senior residents with the educational program of traditional crafts could be proven.
The stories of senior residents were not just individuals’ but also the history of the town and the history of us. Woonyung Ja’s work <deabu island in rainbow colored> began as a saying in Africa, “when an old man dies, a library burns down”. It was the first story of the artist’s long-term project that discovers, interviews, records and visualizes an ordinary story of individual life in a small town. The artist told his record and summarized stories of Seongam town’s seniors to students at the Daebu elementary school in a format of a children’s story. The book, Daebu Island in Rainbow Colors, came out in the process with a story of an old man in a small fishing village along the coast of the Yellow Sea, in Gyeonggi-do Province, and our life at the same time. Thus, the project proved the value of this community and the book remained as an example of how an artist’s philosophical thought on time and children’s imaginations harmonized well.
Namki Hong’s work <color reform - hahaha, pup, puhaha> proceeded in every corner of the town so he could communicate with residents and visitors and create energy to the town with bright and fun images and design. Seongam town especially gained the more friendly and refined color when the artist put diverse images on the tractors used for the fishing village experiencing program after hearing local residents’ preferences. Also, the town and Haesolgil-Trail were refurbished after hearing local residents’ complaints on the wall paintings originally done by the resident artists in the project of 2012 on some walls and buildings around the town. In the result, it became a good example of Community Art In The Town because the project reflected local residents’ opinions enough rather than just an artist’s idea or talent.
Agitart is an art project encouraging participations of local residents and awakening artistic sensibilities so starts from several artists’ multilateral suggestions about “building relationship” with a local community in the medium of art. Moreover, it suggests how the language of art can be extended to a local community as an example. While there are diverse points of view on the public character of art, this project started from questioning how aesthetic values in life can be enjoyed and empathized with and it bore small fruit called “empathy”. I hope more diverse languages of art are experimented in a local community in the future and want to thank people who were unstinting in this long project from the mid of 2014 to the end of 2015.
-Choi Jungsoo(Director of Agitart)
This project started as a part of the Agitart project and aimed to make a play with local residents in Seongam Island. However, the first plan that aimed many local residents’ participations had to be changed due to the condition at that time. When the text was chosen to Shakespeare’s King Lear, casting an old man for the role of King Lear became the most important matter. Thus, we visited Kisik Moon and suggested him to take a role of King Lear because the main character King Lear in one of the Shakespeare’s four great tragedies was in his early 80s and the respected elder of the town Mr. Moon was coincidently in his early 80s. He accepted the suggestion without hesitation. The scale of the play King Lear is big; it has five acts and required more than 20 actors. Thus, it needed to be rearranged for the condition at the town. The four characters became important in a new script: a narration, father, three daughters and a clown because of his ability for diverse roles.
Moreover, this project intended to find following meanings besides bringing local residents’ participations.
First, we (the project group) wanted to set the agenda about a main agent of art.
In the definition of an artist and non-artist based on the understanding them as a producer and consumer, we wanted to make a participant observation on how experiences of art producing influence disadvantage people. In order to continue this, a conditional definition had to be set; taking the role in the Shakespeare’s play could give a positive influence on an old man’s life and a meaningful change to him.
The project went on periodically in GCC, Mr. Moon’s house and his workplace from March 9 to May 7, 2015. When reading and analyzing the script, he talked about the life of King Lear who lived hundreds of years ago in the play and his life in Seongamdo Island. For us, it was a good opportunity to learn diversely about the past and present of the town. The education and practice on speech followed after the analysis. The main focus was helping Mr. Moon understand the character’s situation and make his speech natural as if he speaks in everyday life while paying attention to the basic matters like vocalization and pronunciation. After practicing lines, his flow on the stage was checked. Many movements and memorizing long lines were not easy to his age so the other actor in the role of a clown helped his perform in diverse ways.
The curtain of the play <shakespeare’s visit to seongam island .king lear> finally rose in front of local residents on May 7, 2015 at GCC Testbed. First, the documentary film of the project’s process was played. Then, Mr. Moon, wearing King Lear’s make up by the help of professional staffs, went on the stage and performed what he practiced with professional actors. The time of understanding the role in King Lear with Mr. Moon in the last three months helped us find that life in the Shakespeare’s work can be adapted to everyone’s life beyond time and place especially when Mr. Moon juxtaposed his life with King Lear’s. The distance of life and art in Seongamdo Island was becoming closer. Moreover, in the aspect of the context, although it was just one in ten thousand, taking down life’s ordeal as a person living in the island for the entire of life and being a marginal man could be seen from Mr. Moon’s active engagement. This change could be also found in his wife’s eyes. While looking at the whole process including the actual performance and the enjoyment next to Mr. Moon, she may think of not only her husband but also one’s life.
The seats were full with elders of the Seongam Island and they witnessed what had happened. The man, who has been around them for many years whenever they pass by the community hall, work in vineyards or wait for a bus to buy agricultural pesticides, became a different man with a costume on the stage and spitted out the word like fate or god. This project did not just beg for a simple participation but encouraged active participation of the community. The positive effects from experiences of art producing stated above were proven through the project’s whole process. The result cannot be defined in an exact research result or number but the possibility is strong. Even the fact that Mr. Moon’s eyes on artists and art became warmer after three months of the project proved that there must be a change in his recognition.
The concept and purpose of the project
The project aimed to share artistic sensibilities with local residents, make more beautiful surroundings and give an opportunity to feel harmony and a sense of achievement from the practice of Korean enamel crafts. The actual participation to make accessories in the style Korean enamel crafts could give a feeling of satisfaction and wall paintings done together in the style Korean enamel crafts could make a town more beautiful and characterful. Since GCC (Gyeonggi Creation Center) has to coexist with the local community, in the aspect of coexisting, my participation in the cultural art project as an artist has been greatly meaningful.
The most important matter was harmonizing with local residents before the achievement of the project so the project group had made several visits to the community center for local senior residents since December 2014 and tried to get closer to them by taking a time together. Then, the project group analyzed tendencies of the senior residents for four months before the start of the actual class. The final idea was making accessories in the style of Korea enamel crafts for the short-term effect and wall paintings in the style of Korea enamel crafts for the long-term effect. When the project started in earnest, participants slowly admired and concentrated on their creation with the instructor’s guideline although some hesitation was found at first. They could not conceal their joy when outcomes came out from a kiln. In the second day of the class, many more residents came to participate because the first participants told others about their enjoyment. It was worth to see how the project helped the elders to keep their relationship and feel a sense of achievement. Then, paintings of the familiar grape-like object and the Korean card game, Hwatu, were done on walls. It was a good opportunity for the elders to experience a new media and see their installation because the time has made them away from art.
For the first time, I tried to teach Korean enamel crafts in the community center for local senior residents as a part of The Hwanggeumsan Project. The example of the final installation made by the elders aged between 70 and 90 cannot be found anywhere in the world. This regional revitalization support program helped residents build a better relationship each other and the outcomes of the wall paintings gave satisfaction to them whenever they saw them. Local residents also felt proud when tourists came to the town and took photos of the wall paintings while several news articles was introducing about them. I felt thankful to how the elders share their beautiful minds and fulfilled by letting people know the excellence of Korea enamel crafts.
The concept is telling vivid memories of the town remembered by the elders to children. Stories connect generations in a book where the past and present communicate so can form a regional identity by harmonizing an individual, neighbors and nature. Stories were originally passed from mouth to mouth in the past but a book has been substituting for its role today since the oral tradition slowly decayed. The artist in the project exists as a connector to link generations while expanding and experimenting a new possibility and meaning in a community with the public art.
The bridge built as the 90’s Siwha Tidal Power Plant Project connected Daebudo Island to the mainland and offered a convenient transportation to the residents in the island. However, the mud flats famous for clams were greatly damaged and consequently vegetation has changed. Young people disappeared and only old people remained. The life of old people aged more than 80 would not remain long. Daebudo Island seemed to be in the middle of a whirlpool of change. Thus, I felt that listening and recording the elders’ stories of the old days are urgent above all things. Life of the elders in Daebudo Island can be the history of Daebudo Island and a miniature of the modern history of Korea.
Seongam Town next to Daebudo Island had the sad history in the past but now became a popular tourist attraction. Thus, the aim of the project in 2015 continued as the project in 2012’s based on its touristic character: installing familiar and easy images on every corner of the town. In 2012, Seongam Town became more pleasant and clean from the Seongam Town Project as a part of the Town Regeneration Project; the general color of the town was improved and wall paintings were done. In 2015, the fishing village, located in the corner of Seongam Town and run the fishing village experiencing program for tourists, needed more improvement so the run-down signs of tractors were redesigned with thick sticker papers in various colors and the several signs of the town on roads were repaired.
This Color Reform Project was a part of Agitart Project 2015 aiming participations of local residents. The wall paintings on two sites and the five signs of tractors from the Seongam Town Project 2012 were repaired with local residents for the new project.
First, for the Color Reform Project, a meeting about a concept and design started with authorities of the fishing village. I was thankful to local residents’ unexpected enthusiasm. Many meetings needed to be followed until the final design came out and sketching base on the final design began. When the project started in earnest, several local residents showed great interests and the manager and office manager of the fishing village gave great supports to the project. Of course, it was not easy due to the schedule and some conditions but the manager and office manager, who were almost like artists now, remained till the end. Also, the town supplied materials for coating in order to prevent peeling off and rust and the manager and office manager painted for coating by themselves. I had concerned about the follow-up management and improvement plan as the project went on but after seeing local residents’ enthusiastic participations, I could carefully conclude that the wall paintings and the management of them may successfully settle down. After the tractor work, the walls decorated with thick sticker papers in various colors from the project 2012 were in tatters so needed a repair. First, the existing stickers were tore down and the walls were painted and reformed with painting of clouds as a point. Then, the wall painting, done by participants of the GCC education program as a part of the program in the past on the retaining wall at the number six Haesolgil-Trail, had been faded so needed to be painted over and repainted with images that remind the town and related images of Daebudo Island like onomatopoeia, crowds, seagulls, island and etc. in a cartoon-like style based on the 80’s holiday poster. I hereby finished the Color Reform Project and saw that the town has a more vibrant atmosphere.