Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Return from Baengnyeong Island!!!

Hellooo from the bright lights of the city!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So as you know I have spent the past 5 weeks in 'the wilderness'...I've been pretty vague about where I was with all of this talk of 'the countryside' etc...this was mainly because it was somewhat of a sensitive location...also in terms of my project I really wanted to maintain the emphasis on the themes that were most important to me in relation to my work which, were mainly the people, rural communities and physical aesthetics of my environment, opposed to the most common associations of the island.
Of course it's important that I do acknowledge where I've been and my reasons why, so...In short, I've been based in an art studio on Baengnyeong Island~ In textbook terms, it is one of South Korea's most isolated islands sitting only 10 miles off the North Korean coast and is only accessible by a 4 hour, 222km boat ride from the mainland. It lies just a stones throw away from the disputed maritime border, the NLL (Northern Limit Line), in the Yellow Sea and has been witness to a couple of fatal incidents in recent years. In general the island is usually associated with 2 things; it's geo-political location and the fact it is a heavily militarized base.
For me personally, living on what is essentially a frontline island, was a whole new ball game for me because I've never, ever lived in a potentially unpredictable situation before and I have never had so much exposure to military presence. To put things into perspective, if I stood about 200 yards from my house, I could physically see the N.Korean coastline (there's the photo above ~the land mass over the sea there is N.K).
It would be ridiculous for me to say that with recent tensions and news coverage that there were not times when I was absolutely terrified especially when there were media reports specific to where I was. But, on the whole, my days there were pretty 'normal' and mostly involved sewing, making lunch, writing, just basic everyday's a peaceful and calm place and unless I saw something like a tank or walked past an emergency shelter or landmine warning signs, I would mainly forget about that side of things and just be able to enjoy the beautiful landscape, daily island life and working on my project.
To be honest the mammoth spider situation actually caused me more sleepless nights opposed to worrying about things that were out of my control. It would be naive to say that my decision to go there was not one that came without risks, but the whole experience was both massively challenging and amazing on both a personal and work-orientated level. 
So my motivation to go there was because it was an opportunity to step into the unknown as, aside from these common associations, there has previously only been minimal insight into anything else, especially the daily lives of the 5000 civilians that call Baengnyeong-do home. My direction was to basically go there and observe the opposite of these predictable influences and to create something that was entirely based on the core identity of the island, it's people and specific characteristics. I had very little experience of rural life so the chance to actually base myself within a small community where fishing and farming was the main industry was really interesting and a world away from my normal life.
My time there has provided me with endless influences that have been incredibly valuable for my art work here in South Korea....I got to see the seasons transition through end of winter into spring so the whole island changed from grey and baron into covered with green and AMAZING pink cherry blossoms!!! The natural landscape is immense and like nothing I have ever seen before...the island boasts the spectacular Dumujin rocks which was one of my favourite places to go to.
My ultimate favourite place on the island was Simcheonggak Pavilion which was a nice walk from the studio and sits atop a hill with the most awesome view across the's a beautiful, colourful building that pays homage to the Korean folk tale of Simcheong. Much of the island is dedicated to it's farming industry so there are huge stretches of rice fields that seem to go on forever... as it is an island of course there are some impressive beaches, mainly Kongdol Beach and Sagot beach.... Sagot is particularly special in that it's one of only the few natural airfield beaches in the world, so previously it was used as a landing strip for planes. The sand is so dense that you can drive on it, so it was common to see buses zipping down the beach!!!
The majority of my time was spent working in the art studio, which was a little yellow house on the edge of Baengyneong's main town, Jinchon. It took some major adjustments to get used to the silence (aside from the noisy roosters!) as I'm not accustomed to being somewhere so remote. I had weird and wonderful experiences on a daily basis, from catching someone foraging for mountain herbs in my back garden, to the woman who would prune the rose bushes wearing yellow tartan trousers and a HOLOGRAPHIC sun visor!!! AMAZING!!!
A massive part in making my experiences on Baengnyeong-do so positive was down to the kindness of the local people. They were incredibly friendly in welcoming me to the island and involving me in their lives.I also really enjoyed being able to collaborate with the teachers from the local school, alongside my project, as it was a great chance to actually be able to integrate with the community. It was really important for my project to actually communicate with the islanders so that I could really understand the topics that I was researching whilst I was there. As I said, it was totally stepping into the unknown~ I didn't have a clue what to expect before going and it was actually a lot different to how I'd imagined it to be. I hadn't anticipated that it would be so vibrant and full of life, that villages would be bustling with social activities and I wasn't expecting the scenery to be as incredible as it for me it was amazing to have the chance to observe this and spend this time based there. It was probably the most obscure situation that I've ever put myself in, but I'm really excited to what it has offered to my work, so all in all it's been a really awesome experience that will be impossible to ever forget!!! There will be many things that I miss about Baengnyeong-do, mainly the amazing sunsets from my back garden every night, getting to do weird stuff like ride around in police cars or blue trucks, being given free cucumbers from the lovely lady with the sparkly, gold tooth in the grocery store, seeing a zillion rainbow starfish on a daily basis and of course the wonderful people that I met~ obviously there will also be things I won't miss, namely the SUPERSIZED spiders and not being able to get extra-mature cheddar cheese!!! this post has turned into an essay so I shall leave you with a few photos from the island, as the clock is ticking and now I'm back in the city the deadlines for my project are stacking up, so it's time for a spot of sewing before I hit the hay!!!
Love and Sparkles,
Emma xxx

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