Sunday, August 14, 2016

Setting the Scene - Seoul 2016

Why is saying goodbye so hard?

I knew going into the trip that it would be full of ups and downs. I would be faced with the reality that I'm leaving this incredible organization. I would be delighted to watch the team grow close and prepare for their upcoming year. I would observe proudly in our meeting with the American Center - Korea as we presented our idea of Pop-Up Markets at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.

I didn't know that everything would go so wrong.

Except it didn't - at all. Seoul has a magic to it. You can feel it in the very fibre of the city. It runs almost like a grid throughout its streets, its museums, and its parks. There is a peace and a comfort woven into the grid. Artisan co-ops dot street corners, museums and art galleries jump out at you from between store-fronts, and the city hums with the quiet knowledge of home. 

The trip started with a bus ride to nowhere. After riding 30 minutes the wrong direction, and an hour the correct direction, we arrived at the American Center Korea to meet with Mr. Canning. He gave us incredible advice and guidance about how to better present our proposal, gifted our hungry team with some pop-tarts, and we went on our way. After an incredible team lunch, we ended up hiking up a mountain only to not reach the top, being turned away from a "foreigners-only" casino, and waiting in line for two and a half hours to not get to the top of the observation tower. What we did get though, was the most peaceful view of the skyline, an organic discussion about the nature of love, and a chance to tap into Seoul's magic grid.

I'm glad I started this post with imagery of a woven grid, because in my mind it describes the trip so well. Everything was masterfully woven together. Discussions on global culture and world polity, an exploration of Korean art and business culture, and the calmest, gentlest, most cleansing rain I have ever been caught in. Nothing that we experienced was out of order, out of place, or a mistake. Even the disastrous food tour we embarked on yielded a greater understanding of the effects of gentrification and western influence in South Korea.

In fiction, the setting is intentionally chosen by the author to help create a sense of place, and to enhance the tone and mood the author is creating. As a team, we selected  South Korea in this intentional way as the place for our project, the perfect nation to showcase art's power as a driver of socioeconomic development and empowerment. But what we didn't realize is that it would be the setting of life change for so many of the team members.

I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to be the future site of WFAM, and I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to say goodbye to IBSG.

I'm not gone for good - mark my words - but every phase in life leads to a new one. And now that I've graduated, it's time to make that forward step. I just hope that the rest of my experiences can be as magically woven together as Seoul was.

Tori Gilliland
World Folk Art Movement
August 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

Seoul's Nature

Seoul, South Korea
Photo by Josh Lane

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul. -John Muir
Contrasting against the grey high-rise buildings and high tech subways are vivid green spaces in South Korea. Seoul is flourishing with wild life- plants, grass, flowers, trees, and the like. Nature is woven seamlessly into the very fabric of the city.  Fruits and vegetables are planted along the sidewalk, rooftops drip with vines from gardens, ponds are filled with lily pads and koi fish, and temples are adorned with lotus flowers.

We rest momentarily in a grassy field on our walk to the Seoul Tower. The spacious green area creates a sense of peace and tranquility in the city bustling with over 10 million people.  We observe children playing happily with a bunny, an elderly couple resting on a blanket in the grass in between games of badminton, a man reading a book while strolling through the area, and groups of students posing beside statues for selfies. We reflect on our project as we debrief from our meeting with Mr. Canning from the Embassy.  We allow nature to wash over us, center our thoughts, and ground us in the present reality- a reality that felt less like being engulfed in a major metropolis and more like a dream, or a movie, or heaven. Brainstorming has never come so effortless. I can’t help but think that the fresh oxygen is providing much needed fuel for high functioning cognition. After all, green spaces are known to create positive effects for humans' well being and productivity.

I take a deep breath to inhale the fresh oxygen, aromatic flowers, and dew in the air. Not only do the plants provide oxygen in exchange for our carbon dioxide, they are productive pollutant reducers. Plants make the city greener and cleaner.

Walking bare foot through the grass, I become keenly aware of the true sacredness of spaces. I admire the ways in which Koreans are able to protect that which is ancient, natural, and sacred while progressing as a metropolis. I think about our own struggles in New Mexico while attempting to protect our sacred spaces- our acequia systems, which compose the water, land, and culture surrounding the traditional communal practice of water sharing and agriculture- by designating them as UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites. South Korea demonstrates that modernization and development do not have to come at the cost of the natural, the beautiful, and the sacred. Rather spaces can be inclusive, blended, multifaceted.

Audriana Stark
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Soundtrack of Seoul

The soundtrack of Seoul is cicadas. Thousands of the winged bugs rest in the city’s trees throughout the summer, clicking madly away in an attempt to find love. The numbers of cicadas in Seoul has grown drastically due to global warming, as the winters do not become harsh enough to kill off the bug’s larvae. The bugs range in size from tiny to terrifying, some as large as birds. They are seen as pests in a beautiful green city that becomes infested with chirping, humming, screaming bugs in the summer.
The cicadas’ sound is a comfort to me, though. I’m not bothered by their constant presence, or at having to raise my voice over theirs, because Seoul’s soundtrack mirrors Albuquerque’s. The cicadas of Albuquerque, though less gargantuan in size, are a summer staple and their buzzing accompanies many of my Albuquerque summer memories.

Seoul feels inexplicably like Albuquerque. It shouldn’t, really, with a population that outnumbers ours 20 to 1 and an area a mere 100 more square kilometers than Albuquerque’s. But I feel this city and its people are on a similar wavelength to Albuquerque. They understand the importance of aesthetics and have a desire to create beautiful things, whether contemporary or traditional. Sculptures, pop art, and statues swarm the streets much like the cicadas do in the summer, but Seoul’s art is permanent. It is embedded into their culture and their way of life here, and there is an appreciation for the beautiful that I have found in the people of New Mexico, too.

Women  and young girls walk down the street in traditional clothing, giggling, taking selfies, and admiring their gorgeous costumes. I have seen Native American women at pow-wows in New Mexico do the exact same thing, admiring and appreciating the work they adorn and the culture they represent. Seoul is unusually clean for a city with such a densely packed population, and there is a palpable pride in being a part of this place, keeping it clean, and doing your part. There’s a similar pride in being New Mexican, and although our team here in Seoul isn’t entirely New Mexican by birth, we all embody the same spunk that comes with being New Mexican. We are utterly grateful to be here, taking nothing for granted. We are full of a desire to share art, culture, and tradition in a way that promotes something bigger than any one of us.

I can’t speak for the team, but I feel at home in Seoul. I feel a familiarity that goes beyond screaming cicadas and into the depths of who the people here are in relation to who New Mexico has made me. The sound of a Seoul summer follows the wavelength of our own, and I can’t help but feel it’s a good omen for this project.

Claire Stasiewics
World Folk Art Movement
South Korea 2016