Mullae – Art and old steel

Written by on December 30, 2011 in Arts, Travel

Seoul is forever changing. The modern urban sprawl is in a flux of constant movement, demolishing and renovating itself in short bursts of time. However, as a contemporary Seoul grows, an old Seoul is disappearing and being forgotten, sometimes places that hold more heart than its new counterparts. Centuries of memories are being buried, only to be thought of in moments of sudden nostalgia by a few who remember.

Untouched pockets of the city still remain, mostly undervalued areas not considered worthy of drastic change, or not yet ready for a transformation; these locations are often home to those attracted to the spirit of yesteryear – artists. Also attracted by affordable rent, the artists establish themselves in these neighborhoods and embark on a mission to make the district represent their persona, resulting in what are usually dubbed as “art villages”.

Mullae (문래) is an art village situated in Youngdeungpo-gu in the west of Seoul. Small iron and steel factories have been here since the 70s but many have left from the 90s, as the area became overcrowded and the larger factories moved to better facilities to the outskirts of Seoul. The financial crisis in the late 90s also contributed to the area being slowly abandoned, leaving a barren and desolate air behind. Redevelopment of the surrounding area led to high-rise buildings and apartment complexes dwarfing the neighborhood.

Where the ironworks left, the artists moved in. And as they moved in, they started to beautify the neighborhood with their unique styles, without diminishing its original atmosphere and soul.

The alleys of Mullae can be despondent with wear and tear,

while walking about you can discover rusty abandoned iron cutting machines,

makeshift flowerpots made from old paint cans,

discarded chairs keeping company with an old bike still in use.

Some factories are still in business, the sound of the ironworkers fill the still air in irregular intervals; while other factories, closed for the day, show off artwork on their aluminum shutters, one including a familiar face.

Finding a boom mike holder on a rooftop can be fun,

as is saying hello to a kitty behind a glass door.

A space kitty greets you from a wall,

and turtles,

and fish,

and a ship on the sea.

The contrast between the high-rises far away and the structures in the narrow alleyway are steep.

Mullae Art Factory opened in 2010, as a space to cultivate and encourage the arts in the area. It houses a theater, gallery, a communal workspace, facilities and equipment for film and cinema, as well as recreational space for artists to mingle and exchange ideas and inspiration.

Mullae isn’t only about visual art. Dance, theater, film, and performance art all have their place in Mullae. A festival is held in the summer that showcases all the art that Mullae has to offer. In the meantime, news of art events can be found in the Mullae Villlage Culture Magazine which is distributed freely in the neighborhood or at the magazine’s site:

As I didn’t go during the festival but on a rather quiet day, I tried to be inconspicuous as possible while walking and taking photos; there were people working in open spaces and I didn’t want to intrude. Exhibitions aside, the neighborhood itself offers a glimpse of old Seoul that is being lost, and either in the early hours of the morning or after the sun goes down and lights come on one or two in the artists’ studios, Mullae warrants another visits, especially if you enjoy taking photographs. So much is hidden away in the nooks and crannies; there is so much more to discover.

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul