A Proposal for Transposing Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery Into a Public Park

KOH Seung Wook, A Proposal for Transposing Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery into a Public Park (detail), 2007, leaflet
Courtesy the artist and Insa Art Space, Seoul

A Proposal for Transposing Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery Into a Public Park

Artist: Koh Seung Wook

Since talk began about the plan to return land granted to American forces (which takes up 42% of Dongducheon) to the Korean government, the municipal government of Dongducheon has been announcing outsourced development mobilizing outsider capital and also professionals from outside, accommodating the development drive and revival of the local economy. What is at stake here is that social, historical studies in this region as well as consensus among the local residents have not been carried out in the process. Furthermore, what has been overlooked is that the identity and local issues of Dongducheon embedded with unfinished homework inherited from modern/contemporary Korean society, politics and history will be covered up by undiscriminating globalization and tourism driven by capital logic. Indeed, even within Dongducheon, the crisis of existence of the ostracized area where social minorities inhabit has not been called into question.

Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery is at the verge of natural decay, as the construction of a film and tourism complex and a golf course already has begun. The cemetery is where, from the Japanese colonial era up until today, those who have lived and died with nobody to verify them have been buried in Dongducheon. Signified more than simply as a place for the dead, the cemetery is a public space and particular local context where individuals have been caught in-between and have been erased by dualistic nationalism (Korean essentialism for the outside, Western-oriented modernity for the inside), growth ideology, and international politics for world hegemony that a Korean government has exercised collectively on the people of Korea. Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery has been regarded by most groups of local residents as a part of a humiliating civil history of the Dongducheon region under the control of the central government in the past and it has become a site where voluntary amnesia is occurring. For those residents who favor development and hold the egotistic views represented by different social strata, this Cemetery is out of their concern only to fit together with their interests in economic profits.

Under such circumstances, KOH Seung Wook came up with a proposal for transposing-not transforming- the cemetery into a public park. His public park is a conceptual park plan as a symbolic, artistic gesture, resisting the development projects initiated by the municipal government and by private development companies. Being a main military strategic region near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), Dongducheon is full of memorials that represent militarist, nationalist ideologies, such as monuments for the war dead and veterans memorials. These memorials, as a whole, function as a collective brainstorming mechanism by which public education produce official knowledge for the residents and socially construct the notion of war, security ideology, nationalistic causes, and official achievements. The public park that KOH is proposing evidently extends beyond the likes of city gentrification plan and provides a platform for creating the public sphere, not only for the minorities forgotten and the dead, but also for the minorities who occupy a considerable portion of today’s Dongducheon population, namely international migrant workers and multicultural families. In doing so, KOH’s public park sets out to illuminate the slices of erased and masked Dongducheon and of modern/contemporary Korea, and to bring out a dialogue on issues surrounding nation, ethnicity, minority class that all of which Korean society has yet to unravel. In the opening exhibition, A Proposal for Transposing Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery Into a Public Park, which is comprised of photographs and text, is shown.

-Heejin Kim, Insa Art Space

This work is part of Insa Art Space’s presentation in the Museum as Hub introductory presentation from December 1, 2007, through February 24, 2008.