Anyang is a gleaming, ultra-modern and rigidly planned satellite city of Seoul, South Korea, whose ambitious mayor’s aim is to establish it as a ‘city for the arts’. Initiated in 2005, the first Anyang Public Art Project (APAP) took place in the downtown area of the city and included a number of architectural commissions. Under the artistic direction of curator Sung Won Kim and co-curated by Seungduk Kim and Franck Gautherot of Le Consortium, Dijon, the second APAP took place in Pyeongchon – the new, wealthier part of the city – and consisted of 46 new commissions (36 of which are permanent) by both Korean and internationally renowned artists, including Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Angela Bulloch, John Armleder, Lee Bul, Haegue Yang and Minouk Lim.
The majority of the works were placed in the vicinity of the city’s two main boulevards and the various public spaces and residential areas that lead off them. Against a backdrop of two tall glass towers, a vast open square and park, rows of high-rise apartment blocks and distant mountains, a number of the artists took a conventional approach with large-scale sculptures, in some cases bringing in a futuristic, colourful or surreal tone, such as Sylvie Fleury’s Vittaux (all works 2007); a five-metre-diameter stainless-steel flying saucer embedded into the city hall’s front lawn, looking as though it had just crash-landed. In Pyeongchon’s Central Park, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled 2007 (Tea House) also appeared to have dropped straight out of the sky. A reconstruction of a traditional Korean tea house, tilted at a 45-degree angle, it contains a tea set and cushions strewn across its interior. In an area that bears no sign of architecture dated before c.1970, this was perhaps intended as a kind of uncanny return of the real, feeling like part of a set for a Korean Wizard of Oz.
Liam Gillick’s Full-Scale Model for a Social Structure for a Plaza in Anyang is an 11-metre-long, bright yellow-coated, steel framework construction that sits on a broad pavement beside one of the main boulevards. Flanked by wooden seating on two sides, the density of the framework is rather impenetrable, and while intended as a ‘social structure’, by falling between the functional and the symbolic, it has a kind of redundancy that feels slightly awkward outside a gallery context.
By contrast, other works developed out of closer observation of the habits and codes of the city, initiating a dialogue with what was already there. Korean artist MeeNa Park’s Along Pyeongchon Road created a camouflage-like colour scheme from the shades of beige that coat the city’s apartment blocks and temporarily applied them in wide stripes across the underside of a bridge that connects to the Central Park. In a quiet corner of a more peripheral park Manfred Pernice’s ambiguous concrete monument Lugano (titled after Hermann Hesse’s retirement place) appropriated the park’s seating and a single street lamp, creating a discreet, secluded place that is distinct from, yet connected to, its surroundings. Haegue Yang’s series of 12 works, ‘Looking for a Lost Pebble’, are spread across three underused children’s parks that are nestled among residential apartment complexes, interlinked by footpaths and bridges. While each park is fitted with the same playground elements, Yang introduced subtle alterations to them. These included: Big Yellow Hula Hoop, a painted yellow circle surrounding a playground; three versions of Triple Bench, in which existing benches are joined together by metal plates; Fruit Tree Street Light, a street lamp with bending branch-like arms that borrows the vernacular of the existing lighting; and Willow Sister, a young willow tree in an empty planter – a tree that is not on the city’s official list of trees to be planted in a public space.
A number of works were functional, including various forms of seating and solutions to covering over what might be considered the more unsightly elements of the city’s infrastructure, such as air vents, and some were based on observations of behavioural patterns in the city. Korean artist Inhwan Oh’s Bike Station is a framework of stainless-steel balls that enables unusual ways of securing one’s bike, based on the diverse, improvised methods by which people do so around the city, a sanctioned form of disorganization. The Korean art/design collective flyingCity’s Maze Tower playground was designed around their research into children’s perceptions and movements in public space.
Despite these more engaged approaches, with other works one felt a more ambivalent relationship to site, which highlighted the difficulty of producing work for such a particular context from afar. This was aptly summed up by Lawrence Weiner’s four bronze plaques embedded into the ground of the square of a civic building, reading, and titled (in Korean), ‘THERE’. In APAP the ‘there’ is ‘everywhere’, for in almost every free nook and cranny was placed an art work. As a project conceived primarily for the local public, during the opening events – amid Korean artists’ Eunji Cho’s performing costumed cyclists tearing around the Central Park, and Minouk Lim’s offerings of free candy floss alongside her large-scale, brightly coloured temporary Cotton Candy Ministry sculptures – the city’s children seemed most immediately responsive to the work. Nevertheless, one can only speculate about the future, and how it will be incorporated, appropriated and used as part of public life.