As people living in the twenty-first century, we often wonder what the ideal relationship is between past and present. About this question, maybe nine out of ten would answer that past and present should be in harmony. And just as if another question is waiting for the answer, this new question follows right behind your answer, “Then how can we make harmony between them?” Now, how can you answer it? Maybe no one can give a perfectly right answer, because it is not a problem of facts but of values. However, we need to think and should have our own thoughts. “How can the past and present be in harmony?”
Hamnyeongjeon, the Past
Hamnyeongjeon is Emperor’s sleeping quarters. The emperor was King Gojong. King Gojong was the most terribly tragic king in the Joseon Dynasty. The time when he lived was a very dynamic and important moment when the Joseon Dynasty was changing to a modern society in history. Ambitiously, he made the empire of Korea and became the first emperor of this empire, empire which become became colonized by Japan soon after. With this socially desperate situation, he experienced personal misfortune, too. He had to watch his wife Empress Myong-song, also known as Queen Min, be brutally assassinated by the Japanese killers. King Gojong was the tragic king who had to experience the last days of the Joseon Dynasty. Therefore, you can see and feel the emperor’s inner conflicts and anxieties in Hamnyeongjeon. With artist’s own imagination and historical fact, for example whenever King Gojong slept, there were prepared all three boryo
(Korean mattresses), Do Ho Suh focuses on restoring the most private space. In restored King Gojong’s most private space, we could have the first clue about the question: ‘Present I in the past.’
Deokhongjeon, the Present
When you take the first step in Deokhongjeon, right next to the Hamnyeongjeon, you would say wow in the astonished scene. Originally Deokhongjeon was the Emperor’s living quarters.
There King Gojong received high-raking officials and foreign envoys. However, now you can’t feel any vestige of the past use. Furniture designer Ha Jihoon focuses on expressing irony rather than restoring the past. It is full of strange, interesting chairs and they are made of material that can reflect the patterns on the ceiling. Of course, these patterns are what are past and there we can get the second clue: “The past is reflected (mirrored) in the present.” You can find this clue in Jeonggwanheon where King Gojong enjoyed coffee and held banquets for foreign envoys as the space of pavilion. In the space of the past, a modern performer wanders about wearing a shirt that says, “Catch a passing Mr. Kim, talk about the uninformed rest,” which is hard to understand.
Seogeodang, the Past and Present
Seogeodang is the collection of the clues. There are many pieces of works and they show the past with respectively different methods. The first work, Tear Drop, shows the Deoksugung’s tragic destiny with a sculpture made of thousands of LEDs. The past history is expressed by the present, just like the chairs in Deokhongjeon. The second work is the room itself, Better Days. The room is full of furniture and craftworks used by Princess Deokhye. The newly restored room is similar with Suh’s work, present I see the past. And though these works, we can find the third clues: The present in present and the past in past. In short, past and present don’t have to be in harmony and only keep their positions, like restored past (Better Days) and present (Tear Drop) just are in the same place (Seogeodang). The famous historian E. H. Carr said, “History is an unending dialogue between the present and the past.” By the time you come out of Deoksugung Palace, I hope you find your own clue as to how to dialog between them.