Works and Days

Art and Seoul: Kaori Freda, Winter Fellowship for International Travel

I am a senior art major who had the pleasure of traveling to Seoul during winter 2014 under the auspices of the Presidents Winter International Travel Fellowship. There, I stayed at the Unification Church Cheongpyeong holy grounds for a week taking photographs, making rubbings, and conducting on-site research. I’m intrigued by the ways in which this specific site of pilgrimage manipulates the movements of the body and mind and offers church members a tantalizing promise of eternal spiritual salvation. The Unification Church, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, is the church of an international Christian religion. Founded in South Korea in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the church seeks to establish a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The church been criticized for its cultish practices, which include mass arranged marriages. The Unification Church directs its churchgoers to Cheongpyeong, located in Seoul. Although I am an avid nonbeliever, Moon arranged my parent’s marriage and I have unwillingly gone to Cheongpyeong multiple times in my childhood. This project sought a departure from my past with the religion by willfully confronting my memories on-site and creating artwork in order to move forward and grow both as a person and an artist.


At Cheongpyeong, frigid weather gave hazy form to my breath as I exhaled. Each morning I bundled up before trekking up the Church’s holy mountain, making rubbings along the way. This mountain plays a crucial role as a site of pilgrimage and a harbinger of hope for what the church members conceive as their salvation and pathway to paradise. As they climb the mountain at daybreak during their religious training, the churchgoers pay their respects to holy trees and water imbued with spiritual energy. There is even a place called “Holy Water” where water bubbles and streams from the rocks for church members to quench their thirst as they trek up to the mountain top, not unlike the story of Moses striking the rocks and calling forth water in Numbers 20 in the Bible. Given that the foundation of Unificationism derives from a mishmash of religions including Christianity, I really wouldn’t be surprised if this reference to the Bible stood at the forefront of Moon’s mind as he constructed space and ritual at Cheongpyeong. These religious nodes would blend easily into the surrounding landscape if not for the fact that they are circumcised by a stone ring and marked with stone tablets incised with titles like “Tree of Blessing,” or “Tree of Life” in flowing calligraphic script. Church members believe that their holy ancestors and the spirits of the mountain flutter between the branches of these trees, gazing benevolently down at those who pray with devotion. In addition to these daily pilgrimages, they are confined within a strict itinerary in hopes of purifying their ancestors and exorcising evil spirits from their bodies. Although the strength of their piety is admirable, I’m dubious as to the amount of truth in such claims, especially given that Moon (who dubbed himself the Messiah) and his “Holy” family practiced corruption, domestic violence, amongst other sins. The leaders of the church certainly do not practice the values they preach. This untrustworthiness fractures their constructed divinity and places doubt onto the purity of the religious practices to which their followers adhere.

After staying on the church grounds, I went to Seoul city center to incorporate the rubbings I made into a small series of drawings. Later, I’ll lasercut these drawings onto silk and construct an immersive site-specific installation space, dialoguing with and rebelling against the way the phenomenological space at Cheongpyeong manipulated body and mind. Later this semester, I will be a guest artist teaching a class on illustrative montage and rubbing techniques to students at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics in Washington state and showing my work at the North Bank Artists Gallery. Below you will find a journal entry documenting one exciting day of my trip, after I had left the church grounds. Thanks for listening!

January 9th: Insanely happy. Not only was I able to successfully navigate the Seoul subway system so I could see art at both the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art and Seoul Museum of Art, but I also made a lifelong friend. I walked into a tiny crowded restaurant near the Deoksugong Palace, entering immediately after the sweet lady in this photograph. The waitress mistakenly thought we were together and seated us at a small table. I made my body small and with my knees pointing away I started the drawing I had been working on all day. Out of the corner of my vision, I could see her interest. We had both ordered gimbap (Korean sushi) and when it arrived she began to ask me questions in halting English about my sketchbook, my nationality. Although I was shy at first I quickly warmed up... she gave me incredible feedback on my sketchbook and went so far as to write her comments in English and Korean on two empty pages. She began: "I feel now about your drawing". All the while I was wondering whether this would be a friendly encounter that would live in the moment but, lacking an exchange of names, would become a moment of the past without tendrils projecting forward. So I was so gleeful when she signed "Good Luck, Shim Bu Seop". She is a 62 year old who looks 40 years old. Her smile is sweet and benevolent. She is a sculptor and when we parted we exchanged hugs and she said "We become good friends" and invited me to her studio, an hour and a half away.

Later, my Reedie friend Demian Lee translated the note into English:


     To Kaori Freda

Your interests and the subjects of your choice seem fun. In short, it's beautiful the way you, in whom the bloods of both Western and Eastern worlds flow, work to get to your identity. As one who has lived a little longer than you have, and as a sculptor, though I may be embarrassing myself; you should first practice the canvas composition— the spatial composition and the arrangement.

And then, before you contemplate ideas and the subject, foremost must be established a contemporary philosophy discussing the past and the present, the diversity and plurality. Though our conversation was hardly of few minutes, that’s what I felt through my stereotypes.

Your eyes sparkle, alive. A little deeper and broader still, if you could ponder, “What is it to be an Easterner?” If you could penetrate with fierce passion; you will undoubtedly make it.

For I like your expressions and your accent, I leave this memo.

      Good Luck, Shim Bu Seop.

We will write to each other and I promised I would send her photos of American sculpture. Moments like these between kindred spirits, which spring from coincidence and friendliness, are moments which make my soul shine. This encounter illuminated the world when I was alone and far from familiar surroundings. I realize more and more that friendships can be forged anywhere and that makes me very happy as I get read to embark on the next stage of my journey. I plan to live for a while making artwork and farming in Japan. I’ll be a skip and a hop away from my new friends in Seoul! Now I'm eating donuts and drinking hot bubble green tea at Dunkin' Donuts, revisiting fond childhood memories. Thank you world for believing in my art. Thank you for new friends.

kaoriI want to give a shout out to those other kind souls who made my stay in Seoul that much more lovely: thank you to Sinclair Hong for introducing me to his mentor at Baobab Coffee Shop, Demian Lee for hiking, wonderful conversation and generously sharing his time and energy, all those Reed alumni and friends in Seoul who took me to the art museums and looked at my drawings, John Kroger, Michelle Johnson, and Bruce Smith for creating this amazing resource for Reedies to begin to experience the many different ways of the world and bring their experiences back into this wonderful community that we call Reed.

Tags: winter fellowship, winter fellowship for international travel, art, seoul, religion