After taking off at Line 5 Gwangnaru Station, it takes another 25 minutes on foot along the banks of the Hangang to reach the former Guui Water Treatment Plant. To reach this place that once supplied water for every part of Seoul, one could get exhausted without public transportation. However, it might be worth a visit, now that there is more than stagnant water in this old intake station. The dying water drops have revived into the source of street art and new culture, which will soon permeate Seoul.
On November, 2011, as the Gangbuk intake station was founded, the Guui plant in Gwangjin-gu lost its function as the provider of Seoul’s water. After 35 years of pumping water, the water plant closed. The following April, it started again, when the Seoul Metropolitan Government recreated the space for street artists.
▲ The Seoul Street Art Creation Center will be a new leap in Korea’s street art culture. Provided by seoulistmag.com.
Thus, since the summer of 2013, the plan was put into action in earnest. Beginning with two rounds of the “Guui Water Treatment Plant Open Studio” where experts experimented with its space application, the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC) remodeled the area for the two years. After such a long and strenuous process, the place finally re-opened as the Seoul Street Art Creation Center (SSACC) on April 24. Although it still preserves the old intake station’s appearance and still has two more years left for the second remodeling to be complete, its outdoor stage and the building’s inside are already boiling with the sweat and fervor of street performers.
New Stream to Become Mainstream
“The plan was modeled after the example in Marseille, France, in which a former soap factory was reborn into a street art center,” said Cho Dong Hee, the head of SFAC’s Festival Organization Team. In this way, the discussion over employing the water plant as a creation space interlocked with the recognition that the reality of Korea’s street art was barren, compared to foreign countries like Japan and France. Street art started to become vital in Korea as festivals became more frequent, but social support and the shabby foundation were far from enough.
This awakening is how the urban recycling infrastructure was first launched. Thankfully, the extensive size of the building with its 20-meter underground space, which makes it equivalent to a four-storied building, was what satisfied the experts the most. Considering the fact that street performances, such as a circus, involve large-scaled acrobatic movements, the water plant’s scale was one of the most attractive features.
The spacious area is not only advantageous for actual practicing, but also for making street performances more professional. The architectural structure of the center is largely divided into three parts—the first and second intake stations, and the outer yard—with practice areas, as well as rooms to hold meetings and manufacture the stage settings. “By planning, producing, and practicing the performances in one area, our goal is to tackle the prejudice that people have about street art, that it is somewhat antisocial, amateurish, and inferior to theater and indoor arts,” said Cho. “We want to show that street art is also part of a mainstream field of art for the whole public,” he added.
Turning Into a New Wave
During its opening event that was held for four days, SFAC prepared a total of eight circus performances, along with four exhibitions. Although it was a short period, this event made the most of street art’s characteristics of integrating diverse genres and using eye-catching spectacles. Yet, this is only the tip of an iceberg, as SSACC has greater plans and challenges ahead. “Since one of our greatest pursuits is to nurture specialists in this field, we are recruiting participants for circus workshops and conferences,” Cho delivered.
What is most important, though, is the fact that the survival and persistence of this center and street art as a whole in Korea depend on the spectators. Keeping this in mind, SSACC already has programs devised for the ordinary citizens who are unfamiliar or total laypersons of street arts. During some of these workshops, the participants get to acquire basic circus skills such as tumbling and acrobatic balances, and also have the opportunity to create their own circus scenes out of what they have learned.
▲ The former Guui Water Treatment Plant is big enough for circus practices. Provided by lakewood.advocatemag.com.
“We also realize that another indispensable requisite for the settlement of street art in Korea is to continuously collaborate with various artists abroad,” said Cho. Since it is undeniable that street performance has a longer history in foreign countries and is thus more stable, the center is actively planning to ask for advice from renowned art directors, such as Mike Finch, who directed Circus Oz. This way, the center will be able to learn lessons from the past history of performing arts in the global world, and thus use it as a foundation for Korea’s unique street art culture.
The resurrection of the forlorn Guui Water Treatment Plant into a place of artistic spirits has indeed brought new possibilities for Seoul and Korea. Following the K-Pop boom abroad, there is hope that Korea would become the new assembly place for international street artists. With the keen interest of the general public, especially university students, who play a big role in the formation of cultural movements, SSACC will be able to bring a new wave of street art.