Lyu Jae-ha’s “Time” is projected on Junghwajeon, the royal audience hall of Deoksu Palace in central Seoul.
Light is projected across royal audience hall Junghwajeon while three Korean mattresses lie in the royal bedchamber of Hamnyeongjeon at the storied Deoksu Palace. “Deoksugung Project,” a series of commissioned works by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea (NMOCA), revives the palace’s 400-year history in central Seoul.
Co-organized by the NMOCA and the Deoksugung Office of Cultural Heritage Administration, the exhibition brings the past into the present and infuses new life into the palace buildings.
Nine artists from varying genres including design, dance and sound art, have unleashed their imaginations on the palatial edifices and grounds.
The history of Deoksu Palace began in the late 16th century, when King Seonjo of Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) returned to Seoul after the Imjin War, or Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 and stayed there. However, the palace was not in use for centuries until King Gojong arrived there from refuge at the Russian Legation in 1897.
He renamed the nation the Daehan Empire and tried to protect it while residing at Deoksu Palace but his efforts were in vain and he was forced by Japan to abdicate the throne to his son. Since then, Deoksu Palace, unlike other Joseon palaces, has become a mixture of traditional Korean and Western architecture, capturing a wave of modernization.
“This project will make visitors look at the palace more carefully,” said Kim In-hye, curator of the exhibition.
Suh Do-ho’s “Hamnyeongjeon Project — East Ondol Room” at Hamnyeongjeon, the bedchamber of King Gojong, is the artist’s way of restoring the building as it was during the king’s reign.
Suh was inspired by testimonies of court ladies that three “boryo,” or Korean mattresses, were prepared for King Gojong every night and portrays the inner conflict of a king who lived when the nation’s existence was at stake and who lost his two wives.
Suh cleaned up the building in a traditional way and choreographer and dancer Jung Young-doo joined the opening performance, reenacting a day in the life of King Gojong. All these processes were documented as part of Suh’s work.
Suh will leave for Chicago this winter to find the original mattress of King Gojong he sent to Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
“Deoksugung Project” also gives viewers a rare chance to step into palace buildings usually off limits. Furniture designer Ha Ji-hoon installed “Jari” at Deokhongjeon. Originally, it was a shrine for Empress Myeongseong but was renovated as a reception chamber under Japanese rule.
The building has astonishingly beautiful patterns on the ceiling but it is a result of the Japanese reform, distorting the original purpose. Ha’s work is composed of chrome-coated chairs which reflect the splendid ceiling paintings. Visitors can sit on these unique chairs and listen to sound artist Sung Ki-wan’s music which features laments, laughter and the rattling of teacups.
Lyu Jae-ha’s “Time” is a video projection on the facade of Junghwajeon, the royal audience hall. The projection beautifully incorporates existing patterns of “dancheong” (multicolored paintwork) and latticed doors.
The contrast between light and dark and the modern buildings in the backdrop of the royal building, can put the viewers into a meditative state.
The projection will be screened on selected dates including Sept. 29 and 30.
Sound artist Sung turned Junghwajeon Haenggak (corridor building) into a literary space through “Audiorama — Novels of Royal Ladies.” A professional announcer reads novels read by royal women in the Joseon era such as “Cheonsuseok,” offering a glimpse of royal women’s pastimes.
Two artists present in Seogeodang, a building where King Seonjo lived after taking refuge during the Imjin War.
Yee Soo-kyung, known for her “Translated” ceramic works, presents “Tear Drop.” She came up with various ideas for the building, where Queen Inmok was locked up during King Gwanghaegun’s reign, who was later overthrown, and finally decided to make a tear drop-shaped sculpture with numerous light bulbs. “Tear Drop” shines brightly but is difficult to see clearly due to refracted light, as if it reflects the destiny — the joys and sorrows — of the women in the palace.
“Hanbok” (traditional Korean costume) designer Kim Young-seok’s “Better Days” is also on display. He brought furniture and craftworks from his collection to recreate the time of Princess Deokhye (1912-1989), the last princess of the Joseon Kingdom. Though she lived a tragic life, Kim tries to capture a sweet moment of her life. Lee Jung-hwa will perform in front of Seogeodang on Oct. 3 and 11 at 4:30 p.m.
Artist Chung Seo-young has thought outside the box of tourists visiting the palace. Jeonggwanheon is a building of diverse origins — it is said to be designed by Russian architect Afanasij Seredin Sabatin and Korean traditional patterns of dragon and plum blossoms coexist with exotic ones such as bats and peaches.
Chung, denying ordinary experience, has brought modernity to this building by setting up a mirror between existing tables and chairs. She also brought “broken, erased or fragmentally summoned records” when a performance by sound artist Ryu Han-kil is held in the backyard of Jeonggwanheon.
Choi Sung-hun and Park Sun-min as a team present “Crystal vs. Decision” and “Daystar” in the grounds of Deoksu Palace.
The outdoor exhibit runs through Dec. 2 while indoor exhibitions at the National Museum of Art, Deoksugung, through Oct. 28.
The palace and museum are closed Mondays. The entrance fee is 1,000 won for Deoksu Palace and 2,000 won for the art museum. A docent program in English is available upon reservation. For more information, visit www.moca.go.kr/engN or call (02) 2188-6114.