Photographer Seunggu Kim captures Seoul’s artificial ‘mountains’

Written by Stella Ko, CNN

Plush inexperienced pine timber are densely planted on rocky hills outdoors a towering house block in Seoul. They resemble South Korea’s famed Dodamsambong Peaks, however are only a fraction of the scale.

This beautification pattern, generally known as “jingyeong sansu,” seeks to recreate the nation’s most well-known mountains — on a a lot smaller scale — outdoors luxurious house complexes and personal villas.

The factitious mountains are constructed by actual property builders hoping to enhance the buildings’ feng shui — and market worth. Some residents additionally consider that they convey the therapeutic energy of nature to their entrance doorways.

Seoul-based photographer Seunggu Kim has been capturing these unconventional constructions since 2011. In that point, he has visited round 30 house complexes fitted with grandiose rock gardens and tree-covered hills.
The rocky structure look similar to South Korea's famed Dodamsambong Peaks, but are a fraction of the size.

The rocky construction look much like South Korea’s famed Dodamsambong Peaks, however are a fraction of the scale. Credit score: Seunggu Kim

Having spent his 20s engaged on building websites, Kim was typically among the many first individuals to witness the months-long technique of reproducing the nation’s finest recognized mountains.

Staff first construct a primary Styrofoam mildew, which is secured on or across the house block, he mentioned. Then they cowl it with soil, earlier than planting flowers and timber.

The constructions are sometimes accompanied by engravings describing the optimistic vitality every mountain is assumed to carry, from fertility and aspiration to peace of thoughts.

“I noticed this isn’t simply a synthetic panorama however a brand new surroundings that mixes custom and philosophy,” Kim mentioned in a cellphone interview. “It’s attention-grabbing to see how capitalistic it has turn into.”

The mountains’ extravagant price ticket — as much as $2 million for a design as much as 20 meters tall — imply they’re sometimes present in luxurious house complexes. Solely high-quality supplies are used, together with costly rocks and bonsai, and every mountain is maintained by a staff of specialists.

Uniquely Korean

Mountains cowl round 70% of the Korean peninsula and are an integral a part of Korean identification. The legendary story of Korea’s basis begins within the Taebaek mountain vary.

In response to Korean legend, Hwan-ung descended from heaven and was approached by a bear that wished to be a lady. Hwan-ung advised the bear to eat garlic and herbs for 100 days in a cave. It labored, and the bear-woman later married Hwan-ung and gave beginning to Dangun, who based the dominion in 2333 BC.

Whereas many take into account the legend to be a fantasy, North Korean archaeologists claimed to have discovered Dangun’s grave on the foot of Taebaek mountain close to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and constructed a mausoleum on the website in 1994 to venerate him.

At this time, mountains on either side of the border between North and South Korea are believed to carry luck and fortune. Each nations have fun the inspiration of Korea — the day the heavens opened to Hwan-ung — on October three yearly.

“There is a optimistic and shamanistic perception in direction of mountains in Korea, so it is like compressing it and bringing it again right into a metropolis the place there may be lack of nature,” mentioned Kim. “My work is to find Korean landscapes that also exist in trendy society.”

Kim photographed a 4-meter-tall recreation of Mount Kumgang in the apartment complex.

Kim photographed a 4-meter-tall recreation of Mount Kumgang within the house advanced. Credit score: Seunggu Kim

Among the extra well-liked designs are Mount Seorak, within the Taebaek mountain vary of Gangwon province, and Jeju Island’s Halla, the nation’s highest mountain.

Mount Kumgang in North Korea can also be well-liked, as South Korean vacationers have been unable to go to the true factor since 2008, as a result of political tensions.

Again to nature

The recognition of synthetic landscapes means that residents try to strengthen their bond with nature after a long time of fast urbanization. It is this try to reconnect that Kim seeks to seize in his photographs, in response to curator Haeni Park.

“By his work, Kim reveals his understanding of the fact of our society, the place individuals residing in cities that may be somewhat bleak truly take solace, if just for a second, from the colourful synthetic constructions,” she wrote in her curatorial statement for Kim’s 2015 exhibition “A Listing of Landscapes.”
"(The fake mountains) represent an alternative landscape that city-dwellers had to accept," says Kim.

“(The pretend mountains) characterize an alternate panorama that city-dwellers needed to settle for,” says Kim. Credit score: Seunggu Kim

For Kim, this simulacrum of nature comes as mo shock, given the nation’s topographic limitations.

“South Korea has developed a compressed throwaway tradition, as now we have comparatively good quantity of assets however not sufficient time and area to spend (them),” mentioned Kim. “(The pretend mountains) characterize an alternate panorama that city-dwellers needed to settle for.”

Discovering pleasure

Kim has photographed the identical constructions over a few years with a view to observe seasonal modifications of their form and colour. He initially noticed “kitsch” panorama design as one of many signs of fast financial progress in South Korea. However he has since grown to understand the mountains’ magnificence and the “therapeutic” impact they’ve, he mentioned.

“Typically when I’m on the market photographing pretend hills, previous residents come as much as me and clarify the importance of the mountain with a lot satisfaction, as if they’re actual they usually personal it,” the photographer recalled. “I discovered that sense of possession very distinctive.”

Kim mentioned that, right now, individuals have needed to discover other ways to take pleasure in nature and chill out. He calls it “immediate tradition,” and it is the broader theme of his lifelong try to seize how South Korean urbanites take care of their “relentless need to seek out pleasure within the hardest occasions.”

His different ongoing sequence on life in South Korea’s cities options pictures of residents trying to cling onto their leisure areas — no matter what else is happening — similar to a person strolling his canine subsequent to a flooded park and a jam-packed swimming pool in the course of Seoul.

Kim photographed a packed swimming pool by the city's Han river in 2016.

Kim photographed a packed swimming pool by the town’s Han river in 2016. Credit score: Seunggu Kim

Kim sees himself as an observer or recorder, somewhat than an artist. He hopes his photographs provide a sensible depiction of South Korea’s capitalistic society.

“I wish to reveal the identification of recent Korea — an ironic, optimistic and joyful Korean society, and its twisted client tradition.”

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