Art is interesting. Art is strange. Although being something extremely personal, there is mainstream art and then there is the other: art in the underground, art on the edge, art on the fringe. Mainstream art is every day, edgy art is not.
In the case of performance art – which isn’t quite easy to integrate into one’s everyday life – going mainstream might not be the focal point and remaining on the edge might be what an artist needs to retain his artistic values. But art is meant to be seen, heard, felt, and shared, so providing an arena for these independent artists on the edge cannot be anything but a good idea. Besides, the general public needs more edgy art, too, if only to have an occasion to break the humdrum of an ordinary life and to breathe and have some deep thoughts.
The Seoul Fringe Festival is an annual event that celebrates independent art and artists. The festival started in 1998 in the theater district of Daehangno (대학로) and moved to the mecca of independent art Hongdae (홍대) in 2001 and has been held there ever since.
Hongdae has changed greatly since its early days, though. What used to be an absolute haven for independent artists is now being taken over by commercialism and artists are losing their space. “The spirit is dying” laments the artists and the Fringe Festival is their effort in trying to bring back that spirit anew. This year’s 15th festival introduction asks, “Is there any place perfectly fit for art? Am I moving forward or staying still? What am I willing to do?” It also answers, “Spaces don’t matter. Wherever you are, you are a good artist.”
The festival’s official trailer catches the artists’ dilemma and interpretation of artistic space:
The festival goes on for over two weeks, with added and extended programs which continue until the next month called “Post Fringe”. The festival is composed of two large categories: the indoor art performances and the outdoor art performances including music, dance, theater, experimental art and other performances. Discussion panels and forums are also available for those in the mind for serious talk.
Besides getting all the program schedules online at the official site, it’s always nice to stop by the Fringe Center to check out what they have in store, and to pick up their pamphlets. (English pamphlets are available, too.) And also take in the art displays they have inside, like the “Migrating Birds and Nest” which symbolize the flying artists and their nest of Hongdae, and the official trailer playing on a flatscreen. You can also venture further inside and plop down on a rug in the Center’s casual café and discuss art with fellow enthusiasts over a cup of coffee.
The outdoor venues are spread out in the Hongdae area, with most musical and dance performances taking place in the Open Stage with a backdrop of graffiti walls. (Indie band Ryowoon in photo.) “Rooster Ride” who sang the Festival’s official theme song was sure to make an appearance:
It’s really impossible to take in everything at the festival; there are nearly 100 performances to choose from. The ticket prices range from free to 20,000 won, which is more than reasonable, and if you feel inclined to do so, the Festival is always happy for donations and sponsors.
I wasn’t able to catch many of the performances I wanted to due to schedule conflicts, but I did manage to go see the first Korean performance of the play “Don’t Move” (Pas Bouger) by the French writer Emmanuel Darley, which I had been anxious to see.
A co-production of project 327-9 and A.N.D. theatre at the Sanwoollim Theatre, the play’s theme fit in so well with this year’s festival. Two protagonists: one constantly moves, the other doesn’t. One observes and understands the world in a fixed place, the other as he surges forward. It’s like the question the artists asked in the festival introduction: Am I moving forward or staying still? The characters were metaphors for how we live our lives, what meaning our lives have, how to view the lives and lifestyle of others from their perspective. Reassessing your own life by communicating and interacting with others, and enriching it. Remember what I said in the beginning? Deep thoughts. By watching a 90 minute play.
It’ll be difficult to see such a play at “normal” times. These days, in order to be on stage for a long run it has to be profitable, and for it to be profitable it has to be mainstream. Ordinarily, there would be no room, no space for such “unknown” works to be shown. What a pity that would be. Thankfully, there’s the Fringe Festival which covers this corner. I only regret I didn’t have more time to enjoy more of the performances.
The last day of the 15th Seoul Fringe Festival is September 1st, 2012.
A Post Fringe special program “Project Bigboy” showcasing selected performances from the festival will take place from September 18th, 2012 to October 13th, 2012.
For more information: