Mullae art village, a rising spot for young minds looking for a different creative vibe is located in the center of Yeongdeungpo-gu, where newly-constructed buildings and old shops from industrial times mingle. Entering the main street of the art village, two high-rise multi-purpose buildings overlook flâneurs who might have been surprised by the still-active iron makers. Here and there are wall paintings and colorful signs that local artists made for shop owners, adding a special ambience to the scene.
Young artists first came to find workshop spaces in Mullae about 10 years ago, when the iron shops in the area moved due to factory transfer policies and redevelopment. The village incubates various kinds of spaces such as workshops, galleries, cafés and concert venues. Somssi (솜씨) and Jungdabang Project (정다방 프로젝트) have small café spaces for visitors in their exhibition galleries that feature artists who have workshops in the area. Concert venue Low Rise (로라이즈) hosts live music performances and contemporary art projects.
The biggest plus for the artists in Mullae has been the reasonable rents. The location being only 10 minutes by subway from Hongdae is also a big advantage. Photographer Jun Park, who joined me on my tour of Mullae and graciously shared his photos with us, has been a part of a photographers’ work space and gallery named Bittarae (빛타래) since last year. “I liked the idea of the space because it is close to Hongdae and seemed like a great place to meet a lot of interesting people,” said Park. “I get to talk with people who come for exhibitions we host. I promote our events on my Naver blog and Twitter.”
Product designer Shim Soo-hwa found both her home and workplace in Mullae 4 years ago. Shim runs a cat furniture store called Tongzorim (통조림), also online. Her products are all handmade and high-end. “My college friends already had their workshop in Mullae art village before I moved in. I had a look and it seemed like a perfect multi-use place for me to live and make products.”
There are about 200 artists like Park and Shim who have their workshops in the art village. About half of them actively interact with the artists’ community, and some of them also try to connect with the local community where they are based.
Furniture maker Lee Gyeong-won is one of the people who actively participates in both the artists’ community and local community. He opened up his working space Namusurae (나무수레) to local residents for furniture-making courses. Most of the students are in their 30s or 40s, both men and women. Lee also teaches carpentry skills to elderly people in Yeongdeungpo Senior Center for their job-seeking project. As a member of the artists’ community, he also makes furniture for the village’s themed exhibition projects once or twice a year.
“I spent 5 years in Mullae now and I don’t think I will move my workshop far from here even when I have to move due to redevelopment or any other reasons,” said Lee. “How we support each other by visiting each other’s exhibitions and planning new projects together is the asset to all of us.”
“There is a reason why some artists want to keep their places closed. If the village becomes like a tourist attraction, the rents will go up and artists will have to move out in the end.”
Though in general the village is known for its openness, some artists keep their workshops closed and private. Wanderers who come expecting to observe the lively art scene sometimes go home slightly disappointed after encountering a rather quiet atmosphere.
“There is a reason why some artists want to keep their places closed. If the village becomes like a tourist attraction, the rents will go up and artists will have to move out in the end,” said former UI designer Jang Jin-ho, who opened gallery/café Flatfic (플랫픽) on the main Mullae drag three months ago. “But how I want to promote this village is as an area that people can think of when they want to go see artwork, as they think of Hongdae or Insa-dong.”
With this in mind, Jang decided to make his workplace a multi-use gallery and café space that both local artists and visitors find cozy. He brought his own coffee machines from home and invited photographers to hang their work on the café’s walls. “I hope to host more exhibitions by more well-known artists too,” Jang added.
Despite concerns about over-commercialization as the area becomes increasingly popular, it is these homegrown efforts by local artists and Mullae-goers that keep the neighborhood unique. Art here is not only coexisting with, but thriving amongst the iron-makers of Mullae. Namusurae owner Lee summed it up best: “This unique vibe we created exists only in Mullae. It will not work like this in another neighborhood even if all of us move together.”
Photography: Jun Park is a Seoul-based photographer. See more of his work at mikaphoto.net.