Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Return to Seoul Station

Strange feeling, yesterday, as I roamed the inaugural exhibitions at the brand new old Seoul Station ("Countdown" and YIPPA 2011 - see "Culture Station Seoul 284").

To start with, the light was special, and with that Latino group performing in a distance it almost felt like a summer evening in Spain before a storm. But the air was dry, and the rain wasn't announced before Friday. Yet every color was enhanced, every person on the street an actor on stage. Brighter than ever, the orange of Seoul Square. Saddening as always, the scattered army of the homeless guarding the old Seoul Station.

Even from a closer range, it's hard to believe this landmark has been completely renovated. And as you enter, you realize how small it was : a provincial station at most, and except for the two of us, only a handful of people inside, including the staff.

We started with the Yonhap photo expo, which certainly didn't lift our moods : UN Millennium Development Goals are about tackling every dimensions of human misery, and in "Share the Moment, Share the Future", photographers from all horizons are precisely pointing their fingers where it hurts. Tough images, utter despair, with just the occasional glimmer of hope...

We then moved to "countdown", which doesn't exactly lifts art to new levels, but provided the perfect alibi for a visit to ole Seoul Yeok. Restoration it is, and in its most basic form : each room recovers its initial aspect, and sans furniture ni human traffic, the old train station has the green, gloomy atmosphere of an abandoned hospital. Even the "VIP rooms" feel like the Kubrick's version of King's Overlook hotel. But guess what, that's exactly what I expected and hoped for : unpretentious, not overdone, and respectful of an original architecture that includes charming staircases and cute alcoves as much as dull corridors.

Imperfections are welcome, even if the green wooden windows didn't have to be that respectful of the old days : as you can see on this picture (sorry for the quality, I'm all thumbs with picturephones), they are not weatherproof.

The second floor offers a much brighter face with its 240 degree view on Hangangno, Namdaemun, the Toegyero overpass, Dongja-dong, Galwon-dong, and (for how long ?) Inwangsan and Huam-dong. The former barber shop has been converted into a permanent exhibition about the restoration : judging by the initial state of the building, they had to do more than just scratch the surface of the walls, but considering Korean construction standards in 1925, the Japanese did a pretty decent job in the first place.

This is only the beginning for the "New Old Seoul Station" - again, a more official inauguration is scheduled for March 2011 -, but as expected, it is already a very promising venue for cultural events, and a key asset in a middle of a neighborhood about to experience major redevelopments.

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NB: I wasn't allowed to take a full picture of the main hall because of the works on display. The first photo above, a partial one, was taken from an angle that reminded me of Orsay Museum. I don't remember the stained glass on the ceiling but then again, I was not a frequent user of the old station.

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