Plug In #7. Foto Peter Cox
Plug In #7. Foto Peter Cox


Location: Van Abbemuseum

Flying City

Plug In #07

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

Made possible in part by

Mondriaan Stichting

Flying City - Plug In #07 is part of: Plug In

Van Abbemuseum
Bilderdijklaan 10
5611 NH Eindhoven
The Netherlands
T: +31 40 238 1000

Disclaimer & Colofon

Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays from 11:00 to 17:00 hours.
Every first Thursday evening the museum is open until 21:00 hours.
From 17:00 hours the admission is free.



The Van Abbemuseum is supported by ao: