Happy News Series – Seoksu Market

SAP Art Project, Anyang, South Korea

Places and People, District Museum, Bydgoszcz

Mrs. Yang Bok-Ran of the Busan Dried Fish Shop has been nestled in Seoksu Market for 25 years. She commutes from Uijeongbu to Gwanak every day  which takes about one and a half hours. Her favorite color is pink, and her favorite food is kimchijigae. Mrs. Yang’s lucky number is 1. All of her children got married. Now she is very happy with her six grand children. Mrs. Yang enjoys cooking and makes her own Kimchi and Odeng (fish cake).  Dried Anchovies are the best selling item in Busan dried fish shop.

This is a fragment of newspaper created during summer 2010 at Seoksu market in Anyang, a city of South Korea, taking part in a project SAP 2010. The project organizers wanted to save an old district of Anyang which the local authorities earmarked for demolition. The shiny skyscrapersand wide flyovers are supposed to be built there. Seoksu market is a small, quiet and modest place, which does not remind other crowded and loud Korean markets. It is slowly becoming deserted because of its planned redevelopment. Artists opened their studios in empty shops left by their owners. Thanks to that we could constantly watch life in the marketplace. Seoksu is like a big house. There is a friendly and familiar atmosphere. All activities are done together in narrow streets of the marketplace: cutting fruit, making pickled cabbage (Kimchi) and rice cookies, or cooking. Market stalls also play a role of homes. The traders spend there so much time that work actually becomes their way of life and not employment. The shop owners spend there twenty four hours a day. They practically live in their shops: they prepare and eat meals there, meet their relatives and friends, watch TV and even sleep. Sometimes you need to take your shoes off to enter a shop, since the owners spend most of their time sitting on the floor, just like they do it at home. There are many bars and restaurants in the marketplace. Everything is different and more interesting there than in Poland: totally new tastes, a wide choice of fish and seafood. Sitting on the floor, barbecueing on the table, partying together give a sense of closeness. No one is hungry, and everyone can afford to buy something to eat. Some bars are so small that they serve only two kinds of soup, and all the people sitting at one table have to order the same dish. I invited a Korean artist Jooyoung Lee to take part in the project. We wanted to present that homely atmosphere of Seoksu. We decided to ask the traders about good news from the last few years and publish it in a form of a newspaper. We hoped that the traders would like to take part in a positive activity, we wanted to bring them and local residents closer together, give them a pretext for discussion. I wanted to find out something more about private life of the Korean. I find everyday life in foreign countries much more interesting than the beauty of their landscapes or their monuments.

The Korean are very modest, and it is very difficult to persuade them to talk about themselves. The easiest for them was to speak about their families, which they are very proud of. Jooyoung carried out the interviews, and I was responsible for the newspaper layout. Although I had learnt the Korean alphabet, working on the newspaper was more like drawing rather than writing. In those letters, which are so different from the Polish ones, there is still something more of abstract beauty rather than a source of information for me.

Our newspaper was a bit gossipy, so many people wanted to read it. And I am still learning Korean so that next time I can talk with the traders in Seoksu Market personally.

Dorota Podlaska, 2010


(…) A year after the ‘Vietnamese’ exhibition at Kordegarda Gallery Dorota Podlaska visited another marketplace – Seoksu in Anyang near Seoul. She spent there three months at the artist-in-residence program during Seoksu Art Project 2010. A unique thing about the residency was that the artists’ worked in the old Korean marketplace and not in immaculately clean studios. The aim of this was to place art in so called real life and, vice versa, to confront real life with (real) art. This project ended successfully. The artists lived and worked among market traders. The latter ones, just like the artists, lived in the markeplace, as the Korean traders actually never leave their shops. Such circumastances turned out to be very favourable to Dorota Podlaska, an artist who feels very well outside institutional walls of art and who is focused on everyday life and a delicate subject of relations between people. In addition, in the Korean marketplace these relations are built above all during communal meals. A combination of feast, culinary skills, conversations and stories became a perfect material for Dorota Podlaska’s artistic projects. In Anyang the artist published a newspaper about the marketplace. She collected all stories she heard there and illustrated them with paintings. She made two assumptions. Firstly, the newspaper published only good news. Secondly, it was written in Korean. Here we come to the question which was posed earlier. Why does a painter from Poland want to learn Korean? Of course, the need to write a collection of stories in the language they were told is an important reason for learning a foreign language, but not the only one.

The artist residency in 2010 was the third visit of Dorota Podlaska to South Korea. The artist writes using the Korean alphabet, she learns to speak Korean, loves to watch Korean films. I asked her about her favourite film. She recommended Memories of Murder by Joon-ho Bong (2003). It tells a story about provincial police officers who trail a serial killer. His victims are young women. The action of this tragicomedy takes place in the Korean countryside. It is a story about failures, human weakness and helplessness of people who cannot accomplish their mission: they cannot defeat evil which seems to be as impossible to get rid of as it is elusive. There is more melancholy than suspense in the film, and there is also a lot of reverie of paradoxical combination of beauty and the world’s imperfection. Is it this melancholy and a touch of fatalism tinged with absurd humour that attracts Dorota Podlaska to Korea? And maybe it is politeness and attentiveness of the Korean people who smile and who do are always eager to help others? Their pragmatism? The taste of Korean food? Or perhaps the fact that in Korea people do not eat alone and do not order meals only for themselves, but everything that is put on the table should be shared among all the people who gathered at the table? Dorota Podlaska is aware of the strangeness of Korean culture and some of its levels which cannot be reached nor understood by her. It seems, however, that at the same time this strangeness attracts her – maybe even most of all things. For all her fascination with Korea, Podlaska knows she could not live there. Korea would no longer be ‘there’ and it would become ‘here’. Between the lines of Dorota Podlaska’s art one can read a conviction that ‘life is somewhere else’. In Milan Kundera, who is the author of this phrase, there was a note of tragedy in its melancholy. Melancholy is also an important category in Dorota Podlaska’s art, but the difference is that in her case this phrase contains hope. If life is somewhere else, why do not we go namely ‘there’? Her art is a kind of emotional cartography. Her artistic practice reminds drawing a map, and her narration becomes a journey diary. In these expeditions physical distance is a relative and not very important matter. There and back, Finland and Warsaw, everyday way to work, the journey to the Far East, the Vietnamese enclave in the centre of Poland and the marketplace in the heart of Anyang. Life is somewhere else, Dorota Podlaska is exactly ‘there’.

Stach Szabłowski

2011 text published in catalogue Places and People,
District Museum in Bydgoszcz