Defying the insatiable need for building practical infrastructure in a rapidly growing city, Seoul recently went about to demolish an elevated roadway to restore a central waterway. The Cheonggyecheon stream, now slated for this beautiﬁcation project, had once upon a time, been a deﬁning landmark of Seoul, but was covered ﬁrst in 1961, then with an elevated expressway in 1968 under layers of concrete-threatened to be erased from the memory of Seoul.
One would presume that such a post-capitalistic move to dismantle an elevated highway, recover the old stream, and the resulting transformation would be perceived as a welcome change. Instead, the Cheonggyecheon project, despite the ample attention it received from national and international media, including a Discovery Channel-produced documentary, rufﬂed the feathers of many locals and has become the subject of study of the Seoul-based artist collective ﬂyingCity in ‘The Drifting Producers’.
“The idea of opening up the road and letting water ﬂow and ﬁsh and all that is good. But think of the 1000 vendors who used to work here and with their families, the lives of a few million is at stake. Then are they saying that letting goldﬁsh swim in the water is more important than the lives of these people? It’s not even a lot of water, a depth of only about 30cm. To exchange this shallow water and the lives of few million people is like giving a dog for a cow. This is utterly foolish. A protest is a matter of course. Down with Lee, Myung Bak (Mayor of Seoul) is a just cry. That’s how I see it.” From an interview by ﬂyingCity.
ﬂyingCity makes symbolic propositions and installations that challenge many expectations of a work that deals with activism in relation to urban transformation. It is through the means and principles of psychogeography that they question the transformation of Cheonggyecheon in ‘The Drifting Producers’, and like other artists who have used psychogeography intermittently throughout the 20th century, they make use of it not only as an aesthetic device but also as a method to jolt their perceptions of time and space.
For ‘The Drifting Producers’, ﬂyingCity interviewed many of the local, soon-to-be-displaced street vendors and metal workshop workers around Cheonggyecheon to examine and decipher the delicately interwoven, both visible and invisible relationships among them. In this process, the artists were less interested in revealing concrete details about the affected urban space and community they have chosen than in conveying their fascination with the vendors’ economic adaptability to their urban reality.
ﬂyingCity is one of the few practitioners in the ﬁeld of psychogeography today with a well-contoured visual vocabulary. Their work can be characterized by a manifestation of ample spaces for “half-room thoughts”, mixed with a commitment to the every day politics of urban transformation. ﬂyingCity’s installations are almost an antidote to the often excessively new media-loaded, but underperformed conﬁgurations that characterize many psychogeographic works today. Working as ﬁeld recorders in various shapes and formats, they ﬁnd their empirical data in the most common activities of local people. In their world, every interview, every picture, every data log is signiﬁcant and a cue for their research. As such, there is both a political and poetic quality to their endeavors, a connection to the realm of imagination as well as, paradoxically perhaps, a connection to the very factual and analytical.
In the own words of ﬂyingCity, “the inter-dependency and informal economy of the site [was] hard to grasp.” The installation is, however, rather accessible,
if not only imaginary, in its capacity to generate a certain curiosity. ﬂyingCity uses simple materials. The installation consists of an architectural model, with elaborate maps, drawings, and digital presentation placed on the surrounding walls. Viewers are offered a world of economic reality matched with site research and interviews. Their arrangements call to mind not only secrets preserved in socio-economic content, but also a celebration of the conversations exchanged between the artists themselves and the anonymous players of Cheonggyecheon.
Projected as a kind of a hub for an alternative economy, “assembling metal workshops, clothing merchandisers, and innovative designers from all sorts of ﬁelds with the street vendors,” when gazing at it, ‘The Drifting Producers’ drifts just like the economies inscribed within it. Though the efﬁciency of the artists’ tools for activism might be at times subject to close inspection, nevertheless their translation of transition and change into a utopian language in space and time, and their highly analytical stab at modernization is real and quite thrilling. ﬂyingCity offers albeit an important position on urban transformation- its conceptual promise is abiding.
Text: Defne Ayas