Destination: Culture Station Seoul 284 (Seoul)

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Don’t let the name confuse you – it’s the new old Seoul Station.

Mr. Marmot himself beat me to the punch, and his blue-hour shots of the station’s exterior come highly recommended. His excellent post doesn’t talk about what’s happening inside, however – hope you enjoy.

Much of the old exterior remains – credit the Japanese for their excellent architectural taste. Turn back the clock to November 1925, when this newly-completed structure served as a reminder of Japanese position on the peninsula. Until the new Seoul Station opened in 2004, this station welcomed visitors to Seoul. It wasn’t that long ago that the KTX opened, by the way. The space stayed mostly unused, and I remember wondering about its condition during an art exhibit in November 2008. After a couple years worth of renovation, it’s back and ready for action.

A quick detour: I wasn’t in Korea to see the former Japanese Consulate building in person, which was built inside present-day Gyeongbokgung to legitimize Japanese rule:

Source: Wikipedia

This particular building was destroyed in 1995-96 despite the building’s historical significance, yet the train station remains. I won’t claim any intimate knowledge of these buildings’ histories (though I’m brushing up on more recent Korean history), but it’s interesting how the fates of these two buildings built during the Japanese occupation have differed so dramatically.

A look up in the main hall – reopened August 11, 2011, the station promises to become a ‘multifunctional cultural space’ started next year. What that means, exactly, is still anyone’s guess. There’s certainly enough space for plenty of things to go on at the same time – dare I say several types of events simultaneously? I’d love to see local musical acts performing in the same building – different genres performing in different rooms, with a bit of soundproofing on the doors to prevent too much sound bleeding elsewhere.

An exercise in frustration and futility – or as everyone called it, the Yonhap International Press Photo Awards. Does it seem ironic to anyone else that photography was not allowed in this exhibit of press photography? I had to specifically ask just to take this picture.

In any case, the dozens of pictures portrayed a world still working toward the 8 MDG’s (Millennium Development Goals) the UN has resolved to meet by 2015. The efforts of press photographers to document a suffering world now stand on display for people to examine carefully, while others suffer just outside the front door:

For better or worse, Seoul Station remains a haven of the homeless. It’s one of the few areas in town where you’ll see a significant population of them. While I’ve yet to be bothered by them, it’s worth paying attention and using your street smarts while around.

OK, now down to Countdown, the building’s inaugural exhibition in place from August 2011 to February 2012. The project makes use of the space until its ‘official’ opening in March 2012. Until then, this project asks how a train station born in 1925 can be used as a space for culture in the 21st century.

Letters of Farewell, Bae Young-whan (배영환?), slide projection, 2011 – not pictured are the two slide projectors on either side. The letters themselves are in Korean, but the concept of using 20th century technology in this reconstructed 21st century building is striking.

Mixed in with the art pieces are symbols of the building’s original construction – after 85 years, it endures and is currently protected behind glass. The text seems more interested in explaining the layers of material and how novel the construction was. This room, found in a 2nd floor corner, was actually a men’s room at one point (notice the pipes). No idea when / if some of these areas will be restored to their former glory, but the single room offers a decent tribute to the materials and techniques of the original construction time.


The 2nd floor ticket booth, restored. I’ll go on-record by saying it’s nice to see the restoration effort, but it looks and feels too much like an idealized version of the past, not a genuine restoration. I can’t put my finger on it or be more specific, sorry…

Metaphor, Cho Duck Hyun (초덕현), mixed media, size variable, 2011. This space is about 2 meters wide and deceptively deep. The reflective black glass added an interesting dimension.

Strangers on a Train, Rho Jae-oon, mixed media, size variable, 2011. Sorry, I don’t get it.

An audio guide was available in the lobby for 2,000 won – I’ll presume it aptly described the pieces of art and gave some background to the context. That context, however, was sorely lacking elsewhere. If you enjoy viewing art and making up your own stories about what it is, this is definitely the exhibit for you. If you appreciate the context, pick up the rental audio guide and don’t bother with the minimal descriptions by each piece. Until the end of September, the Yonhap photo exhibit is worth checking out if you’re in an ironic mood, or if you want to be reminded how much suffering there is in the world.

Keep your eyes on this space – being so close to the biggest transportation hub in the country means there’s bound to be some interesting things in store.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Directions to Culture Station Seoul 284 (AKA the old Seoul Station): Take line 1, line 4, the Gyeongui line, or the Airport Express line to Seoul Station. Take exit 2 to street level, then look to the right of the new train station. Dozens of buses stop at the major bus transfer center in front of both new and old Seoul Station. Admission free until October 1, 2011, when the going rate turns into 2,000 won. An audio guide for the ‘Countdown’ exhibit can be rented in the lobby for 2,000 won. The Yonhap International Press Photography exhibition ends September 30, 2011, while the ‘Countdown’ art exhibit goes until February 11, 2012.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2011
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.



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