Written by Changhee Hong
1. Christmas Tree from Jeju Beach
Jeju Island is the most famous and beautiful tourist area in South Korea and remains open throughout all four seasons. There is a distance of 5,730 miles from London and one would need to spend fifteen and half hours in flight to get there. On 12 November 2016, there was a special Christmas tree titled Holiday (2016) installed in a group art exhibition. The tree was constituted of dazzling lights and colourful ornaments, similar to other Christmas trees. However, the Christmas tree was made up primarily of beachcombed materials such as wasted umbrellas, plastic cups, and fishing supplies fashioned together by the artist Siha Kim. It was aesthetic and dreamy. In fact, her artwork implies her critical point of view with concern to holiday consumerism on Jeju beach.
She also created an artistic video as a part of Holiday with her son, Muni Kim, who was fifteen years old at that time and also participated in the exhibition as a video artist. Watching this video with the installation tree helped contextualise the piece and provides a solid example of activist art. Muni depicted Jeju ocean as the double-sidedness of a Christmas tree:
I have this idea with my mother that the sea has similarity to a Christmas tree. When the light turns on, it looks beautiful; when one turns off the lights, it looks frightening. Even so, one can see shining, twinkling stars on a dark sky, giving one dream of a ship floating on the black ocean.
Holiday focused on revealing a double-sided atmosphere by carefully paying attention to the change of scenery to allow audiences to feel please and happiness on one side, but also pain, sadness, lonesomeness and misery on the other. For me, the message from the Holiday series conveys that there is a place for everything. The tree seems beautiful when it is in the forest, and when the man-made products accomplished their purposes, they would go to recycling or waste disposal plants. However, if such products ended up in an ecosystem away from those plants it could cause damage to the environment. Also, the Holiday series provides an opportunity to have a moment of meditation for audiences asking themselves how to treat nature.
In contrast with the Holiday series, the video It’s reality (2016) created by Muni directly presents how human beings deal negatively with the ocean. This work made it clear that, although people go to the sea because they like it, they do not purely appreciate how sensitive such a vast body of water can be – this ignorance leads humanity to cause serious damage to the sea and seashore itself. It seems like the sea is asking people ‘why do you come to the seashore if you just hurt me?’ The flat dolphin tube at the end of video especially implicated our shameful attitude in consuming the sea’s environment for temporary pleasure but also highlights how one can make a difference by ensuring everything ends up where it is supposed to go. Additionally, he includes a close-up scene of the open eye of a dead dolphin in what seemed an attempt to provoke a shame and force audiences to confront the reality and horror of their negligence toward the sea.
Motivation to preserve the environment exceeds the work of Siha and Muni; many works have been inspired by beachcombing the Jeju seashore. For example, the installation Millions of Thousands of Bright Moon (2016) of the artist Gang Hur exhibited several photographs created by his previous work in the Moon series with wasted buoys. He rowed out with his recreated buoys as Moon on the beach to illuminate Jeju island as an art piece itself. Besides, there were diverse forms of art in the exhibition, ranging from animation, music, and dance to photography and videography created by various artists presenting their own critical awareness about environmental issues.
This exhibition was a consequence of the ‘One Week Jeju Sea Residency’ programme, and a part of the ‘2016 Beachcombing Festival’ hosted by ‘Jaejudojoa’, which is an art collective on Jeju island. In addition to the art exhibition, there were also a flea market, workshops, and music concerts in the festival. All workshops were related to recreating artistic objects by using beachcombed materials such as wasted fishing nets and old trees. Even the workshop fee was just a cup of beachcombed broken glass per person from Jeju seashore instead of money – a programme they named ‘Glass to Class’. All events in the festival were associated with the natural environment. The question, then, regards why Jaejudojoa conducted this environmental festival and who they are.
2. The Story of the Founding of Jaejudojoa
‘Jaejudojoa’ implies two meanings in Korean: ‘having a good talent’, and a connotative ‘I like Jeju Island’. It is meant to convey that members of the collective are composed of good but also talented people who love Jeju Island. The members of the organisation total only six, but each possesses different talents: the concert director Hwajung Shin; the glass artist Wonhui Cho; the illustrator Minsuck Kang; the accountant Rosa Yu; the photo and video artist Seunghwan Kim; and finally the designer Yun-a Choi (from left Fig. 5).
The group officially launched Jaejudojoa in 2013, but its origins began two years earlier in 2011 when they met for the first time. They met each other when participating in the Hansupul Haenyeo (Shellfish or female diver) School for sixteen weeks in 2011 as experienced divers, except Hwajung who joined after the others founded Jaejudojoa. According to Wonhui, one of the members of the group in a previous interview noted, “when we dived under the sea to learn collecting shellfishes, there were a large amount of garbage rather than shellfishes. So, we started to collect the garbage instead of shellfishes while diving” (Ahn 2016). This experience was the first motivational moment that gathered the collective together as an art group by sharing their ideas of how to help relieve the issue of marine garbage by applying their artistic abilities.
I asked her how the group focused its early planning phase and where they drew their inspiration from. Wonhui answered:
We drew inspiration from our united dream of living on beautiful Jeju Island – one we talked about during diver school. We kept thinking of what we would have to do to hold onto this joy and pleasure we were feeling. We were also collectively inspired when we were diving, stargazing, exploring the volcano, and camping on Udo Island. We really learned to communicate during the first year, which has helped us to plan and execute the project; in a word, you might say that we are continually inspired as we live out ‘Jaejudojoa’ and make efforts to be a team to support each other. (interviewed with Author 2017)
Jaejudojoa formed because artists wanted to pursue sustainable artistic lives but also as an avenue to have critical thoughts regarding the environmental issues on Jeju Island and how to take action to begin mitigating them.
3. The Details of Jaejudojoa’s Programmes
Jaejudojoa launched their own art space named ‘BanjjagBanjjag JiguSanghoe’ (Glittering Earth Market), which is eight minutes from a beach and a half hour from Jeju International Airport by car. BanjjagBanjjag JiguSanghoe used to be a citrus packing house, but Jaejudojoa formed it to be a space supporting a Jeju local government programme called ‘the Vacant House Project in 2013’. Space is separated into three specific purposes of interconnection between art and environment: glass atelier, wood atelier, and a concert hall with exhibition space. Through this space, Jaejudojoa has been conducting diverse art and environmental activities ranging from regular to special programmes with local people, tourists, and artists. In this paper, I introduce several specific programmes by investigating each notable feature of how they work.
Jaejudojoa’s bi-annual “Beachcombing Festival” has been ongoing since 2014. The definition of the particular word ‘beachcomb’ “to search for and collect objects such as seashells and driftwood along the seashore” (Collinsdictionalry 2017) – doing so makes someone a ‘beachcomber’. In other words, the members of Jaejudojoa and participants are beachcombers. They try to spread and share the beachcombing culture to the public through this bi-annual festival as a recreation as a friendly approach to solving environmental problems on Jeju beach. Although specific programmes of the festival depend on season, they are entail beachcombing, workshops and a flea market, as well as holding more typical concerts and exhibitions. This is likely to be the biggest event of Jaejudojoa during a year.
In particular, there are magical events in the workshops. For examples, artists transform wasted pieces of broken glass into lovely sea-glass brooches, or driftwood into unique sculptures like wooden mini-houses; various other materials can be used to formulate music instruments. All materials in such events and workshops come directly from the marine waste that participants beachcombed. This process gives participants a valuable opportunity to become more aware of the natural environmental issues occurring in the region.
Wonhui says the aims of these activities are to share experiences and realise the hidden value or potential of wasted resources – it is a common artist’s ideal to ‘recreate useful objects from useless things’. She adds “I wish beachcombing would become a part of our daily lives same as recycling has been a common practice over the past years” (Ahn 2016).
As well, these activities are valuable ways to educate children through experiential learning. According to Patrick Curry in his work Ecological Ethics (2011, 167), “experience involves the child as a ‘whole organism’, not just his or her ‘mind’, and it is a qualitative and sensuous one”. Though he is referring to impacts of ecological education, this notion applies to Jaejudojoa’s workshops due to their relations with the natural environment. In fact, there are many children among participants in the workshop programmes not only while conducting the festival but also at any given time within Jaejudojoa itself. Through the beachcombing festival, all participants have an opportunity to have an enjoyable time sharing their ideas together all day. There is no entry fee – only a requirement of interest and passion. Public institutions such as Art Council Korea, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, and Jeju Foundation for Art & Culture all support the collective’s bi-annual festival.
Jaejudojoa conducts varied forms of art and local community programmes at ordinary times. For example, they direct local idea-sharing programmes called ‘Is there Seunghwan?’ This project is to borrow an idea from a traditional local culture that inquiring after. Through the programme, members of Jaejudojoa and participants communicate with locals attending special classes including: ‘the Method of Living without Oil’, ‘the Method of Cooking Local Food’, ‘the Method of Living without Illness’, and so on. These programmes are each related to a geographical feature of their space. Wonhui (2017) said that:
…once we found our workspace in the farming village located in a typical middle mountainous area, we knew we naturally wanted to get along with people in the nearby village. Elderly wanted to ask young artists most ‘whether they eat well’ and based on this question, we began discussing our lives with the villagers more so. We invited a farmer who cultivates native seeds, the principal of the village school, a grandmother, and even a doctor to ask and get answers concerning information surrounding the community. They soon became curious of our activities. it seems like local residents and ‘Jaejudojoa’ have learned how to ask and answer to each other keeping distance from each other. Art is still difficult to them and agriculture is also difficult to us.
In these processes, they have become accustomed to living and working with local residents in harmony.
Furthermore, their community activities are attributable not only to the strengthening of the local community consciousness and local identity but also to the improvement of the environmental awareness. Wonhui (2017) explains one of the latest memorable community projects called ‘One Dish without Petroleum’ and its expectation:
The ‘One dish without petroleum’ project involves planting native seeds rather than imported seeds. It is a project that adopts a philosophy of no-till, no-mulching and no- fertiliser farming, which we started after we discovered that fertilisers and herbicides used in standard agriculture permeate the soil and flow into the sea, creating a bleaching effect and damaging the marine ecosystem. We looked for Jeju local seeds (Native seeds have outstanding ability to adapt to local environment so we can reduce the use of herbicide or fertilizer but they fell out of favour due to low productivity and changes in food preference) and did farming only with scythe and hoe, as well as made heaters and fire pots with some techniques. Finally, we invited a chef from the village to make some dishes from our indigenous crops; we shared the dishes with the villagers and ate them on wooden plates. Through such activities, we have realised that everything is connected and that behaviours and actions will return to us, whether good or bad. This has helped us to self-reflect and bring our sight closer to the sea in more details. I think after that the change and practice depend upon each individual.
In this respect, I believe the basic values of Jaejudojoa align with Labofii’s three core values of permaculture: ‘earth care’, ‘people care’ and ‘fair share’. Labofii is an art activist and founded an experimental space against capitalism alongside Jone Jordan and Isa Fremeaux named ‘la r.O.n.c.e’ (Resist, Organise, Nourish, Create, Exist!). T.J. Demos refers to Labofii’s values in his book Decolonizing Nature:
Earth care (i.e. the acknowledgement that we must work with our ecosystems not against them, and oppose the destruction of our soils, wild habitats, water systems and atmosphere), people care (i.e. the need to look after ourselves and our community, and strive for justice for all), and fair share (i.e. the acknowledgement that we live on a finite planet, with finite resources which we must share and distribute equally amongst all people and species). (2016, 130)
Labofii regards theses compositions for permaculture as “a strong ethical framework” (Demos 2016, 130), whereas for Jaejudojoa, these three are the foundational values for their activities. Jaejudojoa receives such attention largely because they conduct themselves spontaneously and constantly attempt to bring people to solve issues many in a creative, easy-going style. This helps people relate to the collective and absorb their message more readily.
About the ‘One Week Jeju Sea Residency’, I deal with the programme rather than depict further works of art. The art residency programme hosts eight artists or teams chosen by a contest. The artists should create works of art related to Jeju Sea dealing with environmental issues. The medium and methodology are entirely up to the artists in this circumstance. Once selected for the program, the artists are given a stay in the residency for one week where they can go about creating works of art. Each visit at three separated times in five months; each receives a support fund, accommodations, and a transportation fee. The first time an artist visits, they have one day camping as well as workshops on Jeju seashore with where they go about experiencing beachcombing for planning their own works of art. The second time they visit, artists create artwork by using their pre-planned concepts over the course of a week. Lastly, they hold an art exhibition and artists’ talk as part of the ‘Beachcombing Festival’ itself. This is the brief process of the “One Week Jeju Sea Residency’, supported by crowdfunding and public institutions similar to the festival to which it caters.
Through this residency programme, the artists have become more aware of environmental issues on Jeju Island as they communicate and form a bond with the Jeju Sea – some say they begin hearing the voice of the sea. After developing a level of sympathy with the blue sea, the artists deliver their interpretations of it to audiences as mediators through their own artistic presentations.
One of the artists, Siha, pointed out the importance of having enough sympathy with the issues of the sea when making art:
I have interests in the overall environment surrounding me and its secrets. I am a passive artist who does not join the direct public movement or try to forge a community. I just want to show these things ‘visually.’ Thus, whenever I do work, my priority is to focus on my sympathy with the issue rather than what activity others plan to do. I execute small plans and try to approach problems gradually. It was the same in the Jeju Sea residency experience. I listened carefully to the story of the activists and actual activities of Jaejudojoa, then went beachcombing; I found myself sitting on the seashore from morning to night, barely stirring. I had some time between my first visit and my second visit before I fully began to sympathise with and understand the sea and the island. This brought me closer to the project and helped me produce a better outcome. (interviewed with Author 2017)
In this respect, participating artists are magicians – they transform their sympathies into sensible or visible forms from invisible.
Wonhui (2017) elaborated on the motivation of the residency programme and its related experiences, saying
…we started this programme with the expectation that if we talked about the beauty of the Jeju Sea in various ways and collaborated with artists in various genres, we could work toward resolving some of the issues we had identified. One week is too short to plan the artworks and realise them but nevertheless, many artists displayed outstanding works. There were unexpected results drawn from cooperation with musicians, animators, visual artists and dancers. Many artists said that their experiences in the residency still continue to influence them in terms of creating artworks in a positive way. The copyright and other legal rights of the works belong to the artists, but Jaejudojoa purchases some to display in the collective’s exhibits.
In the exhibition and artist talks that come out of the residencies, spectators could communicate and experience the artists’ points of view on the Jeju Sea. Certain special interactions might occur in such cases between displayed works of art and spectators; one thinks of Nicolas Bourriaud’s notion of relational art. Clarie Bishop refers to this in her essay Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics (2004):
Bourriaud sees the works of art producing these conditions […] the work of art is a ‘social form’ capable of producing positive human relationships”, and “participatory artworks are not just aesthetic, but political and even ethical: we must judge the “relations” that are produced by relational artworks. (62, 64)
Despite the fact that the situation confronting art differs from Bourriaud, his notions help evaluate the impacts of not only the art exhibitions but also other art projects in Jaejudojoa, including how the collective and its surrounding neighbours consider their relationships with the Jeju Sea. This is the greatest ongoing project of the collective, after all.
4. The Impacts of Jaejudojoa on Jeju Island
I asked Wonhui what she thought were the realistic and visible impacts of Jaejudojoa’s activities on Jeju and how one might go about measuring them. She replied that many had been concerned as to how the collective would evaluate its success, considering the many invisible features of the art movement. However, when I asked about the connection with local government, her voice demonstrates conviction. Wonhui (2017) quickly stated:
…first, our activities are not fully supported by the local government – they require us to present them with reasons for what we’re doing and how it will benefit the area. We were already aware of many environment organisations that failed as public interest waned after initial campaigns. We are an art organisation and I do not think we have the strength to change everything. It is important to work together even if it is a minor activity. It is more difficult and important to take small actions in my position rather than becoming to vocal and disruptive. If the people who act first appear more, the administration will slowly change.
Siha (2017) had a similar thought to Wonhui in terms of the influences of art activity and Jaejudojoa’s programmes for the natural environment:
Korea is bound on three sides by the sea, making the marine environment a paramount concern for all Koreans. Many countries have to agonise over marine garbage problems. We often pay attention to the immediate threat to the exclusion of the actual long-term issues involved. Protection of ecosystems matters. We can do our part by holding activities, events, parties, educational seminars and so on human custody of the environment and our shared responsibility. Therefore, Jaejudojoa’s activities are significant and necessary. Having lived inland most of my life, the sea usually comes to my mind as a beautiful, fantastic image – an idyllic scene complete with serene waters and hardy fishermen. I never took it seriously and never knew such serious garbage issues. After I visited Jeju through this ‘One Week Jeju Sea Residency”, I could deliver the message to the land after having developed a deeper view of things. This created significant change in my life. Owing to the ocean current and tidal current, beachcombing may seem to be futile because we need to repeat it endlessly.
Demos’ argument on the influence of art fell in line with Wonhui and Siha’s beliefs. He said in the introduction of Decolonizing Nature (2016):
I’m convinced that art, given its long histories of experimentation, imaginative invention, and radical thinking, can play a central transformative role here. In its most ambitious and far-ranging sense, art holds the promise of initiating exactly these kinds of creative perceptional and philosophical shifts, offering new ways of comprehending ourselves and our relation to the world differently than the destructive traditions of colonising nature. (Demos 2016, 19)
Jaejudojoa itself is not just an art group, social club, or temporary movement. They are running the group as a corporation to maintain their livelihood and sustain their art movement to continue preserving the environment. However, it does not mean that they work for commercial purposes. As someone who looked objectively at their activities, there has been much more focusing on public interests rather than profits. Accordingly, I think, the statement of the Jaejudojoa is to reflect on their activities, where they claim “Jaejudojoa wants people visiting Jeju Island to raise awareness on the importance of Jeju sea environment rather than the natural resources for human consumption” (Jaejudojoa 2017).
I believe the emergence of Jaejudojoa was not a coincidence in recent years. It correlates with a radical increase of tourism on Jeju Island that has spiked over the course of the last decade. According to an official report of ‘Statistics Korea’ called Yesterday and Today of Jeju Looking at Statistics (2016), total tourists visiting Jeju Island were 5,020,275 in 2005, whereas they had almost tripled to 13,664,395 in 2015 – an increase of 272% during in 10 short years. Furthermore, there were 524 registered tourism companies in 2005. This number had grown to 1,301 tourism companies by 2015, which is proportional to the increased number of tourists. These increases have simultaneously lead to radical transformations of all relevant environments on Jeju Island. These ranges, including human transportation, real estate, income, job and culture – this is also affecting the natural environment. Hence, in following social and natural issues by the development of tourism spiked remarkably on Jeju Island.
In this respect, Jaejudojoa was inevitable. They are a fairly crucial collective as a new form of art movement platform to sustainably contribute to the preservation and protection of nature and culture with their own approaches on Jeju Island. They have only two years of their total six-year contract using their supporting space. After that, the local government must extend the period of the contract and expand support for them for the sake of the brilliant future of Jeju Island.
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Bishop, Claire. 2004. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” OCTOBER 110:51-79. Accessed April 5, 2017. doi:10.1162/0162287042379810.
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Curry, Partick. 2011. Ecological Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Demos, T. J.. 2016.Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Berlin: Sternberg Press.
Honam Regional Statistics Office. 2016. Yesterday and Today of Jeju Looking at Statistics. Jeju: Statistic Korea, 2016. Accessed April 1, 2017. http://kostat.go.kr/office/hnro/rohn_nw/2/5/index.board?bmode=read&aSeq=357872.
Jaejudojoa. 2017. http://www.jaejudojoa.com.