Imagine this: It’s a bright sunny day, a gentle breeze is rustling through the leaves, and you’re walking through a lightly forested area of the park. As you turn the corner, you spot a strange sight. A bush of vibrant gnarled wires blocks your progress, each metal thread intimately entwined with its brethren to form a sparse web, standing as high as you are tall.
The earth under the wires is disturbed, as though something has been uprooted from its depths. Then, you notice that the wires are attached to a felled metal lamppost, whose elongated body rests just beyond their colourful tangle. In a space surrounded by strategically-placed trees and well-trodden paths, this is a strange sight indeed. This, the guide tells you, is Mirage, the art piece created by Korean artist Kim Myeongbeom.
As you might have guessed, the fallen lamppost in the park is not a coincidence; no lamppost existed there before, and Kim Myeongbeom is no guerilla artist. Mirage is one of 12 artistic works that have been commissioned by Korean beauty brand Sulwhasoo as part of their annual Sulwha Cultural Exhibition. The exhibition is intended to enrich the cultural landscape of Korea—Sulwhasoo’s way of giving back to the community and creating more beauty in the world. Each year, artists from different disciplines are asked to create pieces around a certain theme. For 2017, that theme is an old Korean fairytale called A Fairy and A Woodcutter, seen through modern eyes.
2017 also marks the first year in which Sulwhasoo is extending this cultural proliferation programme outside of Korea. The Beauty From Your Culture campaign sees artists from the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition designing two limited edition skincare sets, some of the profits of which will be donated to preserving local cultural heritage. In Singapore, that site is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, our own UNESCO heritage site.
As the story goes, a woodcutter saves a deer from a hunter that was about to slay it. The grateful deer then told the woodcutter where he could find a beautiful fairy. If the woodcutter hid her divine robe, then he could force the fairy to marry him. The deer instructed him not to show her the location of the robe before the fairy had given birth to three children, but the woodcutter (out of love or foolishness) returned the robe to her when she had only borne two children, and she fled back into the sky with their offspring.
One day, the deer came back and revealed to the woodcutter that fairies would send a bucket down to earth to collect water, and he could ascend in that bucket back to the skies to be with his family. He was happy in fairyland, but missed his mother deeply. On his trip back to visit her, he accidentally spilled hot porridge on his divine horse, who flew away and left him stranded behind on earth forever. The woodcutter could only look to the skies in sorrow. The tale of the fairy and woodcutter is a bittersweet one, with themes of entrapment, love, abandonment, forgiveness, and filial piety.
The artists involved in the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition were from varying disciplines, and were each carefully chosen to present a diverse range of perspectives on the fairytale. Kim Myeongbeom’s Mirage focused on the relationship between humans and the environment. The woodcutter was surrounded by trees and nature in ancient times, but people today are more familiar with the presence of streetlamps and wires than fallen trees.
On the other end of the artistic spectrum is the fairy’s robe of feathers, an embroidered robe created by Koo Hye-Ja, a traditional needlework artisan who was designated a master of Korea’s national intangible cultural heritage. Her splendid embroidery decorated her imagination of the fairy’s robe.
Lee Sungmi, on the other hand, created Memory Garden (Memory Storage), a breathtaking installation of delicate flowers created from shattered glass that had been collected from car crashes. The work is intended to provide healing and peace, acting as a form of emotional cleansing for feelings of trauma and negativity.
The exhibition is spread between Sulwhasoo’s flagship store in Seoul and the neighbouring Dosan Park, where viewers can enjoy both the comforts of modernity and the serenity of nature. If you ask us, it’s certainly worth a trip down to see if you are in Seoul.