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Imagine this—a place that brings together the urban and the rural, man and nature, and the individual and the community…welcome to CiViChon, a City in a Village. CiViChon—(Ci=City, Vi=Village and ‘Chon’ 村=’town’ or ‘village’ in Korean)—is a spatial and participatory experiment integral to the Vienna Biennale for Change 2021, scheduled from 28 May to 3 October. This fictive future village has taken shape from the vision to marry historical trajectories and contemporary reality; to bridge rural and urban divides, human and nature, and individualism and communalism; to speculate social, physical, and cultural processes that could narrate a future form of ecosophy, or ‘Earth household’. Here, relationships between humankind and nature are respectful, reciprocal and just.
This concept was inspired by the research of CHL's very own Yonjae Paik, in collaboration with the project leader Kyong Park (UC San Diego) Albert Park (Claremont McKenna College), Annie Pedret (Seoul National University) and other contributors.
Yonjae is a CHL PhD candidate with an academic background in Chemistry (BA), Environmental Studies (MA), Business (MSc), and Asian Studies (MA), and professional background in commercial banking. He participated in Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s Australian Research Council Laureate Project ‘Informal Life Politics in the Remaking of Northeast Asia: From Cold War to Post-Cold War’. His thesis ‘The Informal Life Politics of the Organic Farming Movement in South Korea’ unearths the tradition of intentional community—a communal space autonomous within the nation-state and the capitalist market—in the history of South Korea’s organic farming movement.
The Birth of CiViChon
South Korea, like many other developed nations, has centralised its economy, culture and education in one global city. The imbalance in equity, education and culture between urban and rural areas prevails. Fighting against the tide, there have been several rural movements for self-sustaining and independent communities throughout the country over the years. Moreover, since 1996, there has been a growing kwinong (return-to-farm) movement, as people begin to seek respite from capitalist, mainstream and urban life. Disillusionment with modernity and city life is on the rise.
Inspired by agrarian movements, and troubled by the extreme concentration of population and the disproportionate allocation of economic and cultural resources to cities, Project CiViChon wants to explore certain fundamental questions. How do we further strengthen the current migration of urban dwellers to rural villages in South Korea? How can ruralisation help revive the life and prospects of aging villages and slow their population extinction? What kind of community could emerge from “City in a Village”, and what can it learn from the history of the changing concepts and practices of community? Can the restoration of vibrant and sustainable village life lead us to biospherical egalitarianism, and end the anthropocentric practices that threaten our ecosphere? How can we create an imaginary village and overcome the urban-rural divide and create a new lifestyle that’s environmentally sustainable?
Back in 2017, when Yonjae attended Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa’s talk at the CHL HDR Retreat on non-conventional means to share one’s research (the use of visual arts and craft for presenting research), he was inspired. In January 2018, Yonjae published a book chapter as a part of the ARC project, which led to the invitation to an edited-volume project on the environmental history of Korea (to be published by Cornell University Press later this year), and to the interdisciplinary project for Vienna Biennale 2021. Yonjae was approached by the CiViChon team to help conceptualise the urban village. It’s a great example of history inspiring global scholars, architects and designers to imagine a sustainable society.
“It’s rewarding, as a historian, to play a part in making history and the present meet, and possibly in defining the future.” – Yonjae Paik
He started working on the project from January 2021 and has played a pivotal role in developing the conceptual basis of CiViChon, especially making community the key concept; and providing references—from sharing archival materials to organising interviews with organic farmers and fieldtrips to the farming communities where he conducted fieldwork. The South Korean case was really useful for the project, because the team had concrete evidence which made our model rooted in reality rather than pure imagination.
“It’s heartening that my research has inspired artists and designers to use their imagination to visualise something so innovative.” – Yonjae Paik
CiViChon Collective, City in a Village, 2021 © Stefan Lux/MAK
The Vienna Biennale is the first event of its kind to combine art, design, and architecture, with the aim of generating creative ideas and artistic projects to help improve the world. Initiated by the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), this year, the theme is fittingly Climate Care: Reimagining Shared Planetary Futures. CiViChon will be unveiled during this event and will include videos, a pop-up model, an infographic panel and discussion forums.
The infographic panel—with illustrations, texts, photos, graphics collaged to explain the social, economic and political mapping of CiViChon imagined—tells the story of the current context of villages and South Korea, and a fictive story about the future context of the village and South Korea.
The exhibit also includes two monitors—one for the rural community and one for the urban community. These monitors will feature video interviews of rural and urban people who have been invited to ‘live’ in CiViChon. The pop-up model has illustrated buildings on an imaginary landscape of Korean villages, showing the full spectrum of amenities, services and infrastructures for a fully functional city in a village.
Experts from outside of Korea and citizens of rural and urban communities in South Korea will also be invited to online forums to discuss various topics during the exhibition period. These include themes such as ‘Imagine bringing together the urban and rural’, ‘Imagine balanced and mutual relationships between humans and nature’, and ‘Imagine an alternative form of community’.
A Growing Movement
The Biennale will come to a close in October. But for CiViChon, this is just the beginning. The project will continue into the future, producing artistic models, publishing e-books, and creating its own website to share its vision and activities online.
The CiViChon community already comprises architects, historians, artists, a human rights lawyer, a development consultant, an urban researcher, curators and students. And the community is growing, with everyone being invited to join and contribute their ideas and thoughts. A CiViChon version 2 is already being considered, which Yonjae sees as a great opportunity to receive feedback on his research and showcase new ideas for his future research.
It doesn’t exist on the global map. Yet, it is hoped that CiViChon does get etched into the mind maps of people everywhere. It is hoped that the concept permeates cultures in order to exist, in parts, or as whole, in different villages and cities around the world.
“We—academics, students, or visitors to the exhibition—are all city people who tend to regard rural areas as a place of production or leisure rather than a place of living. I hope this project will help people understand the exploitative relationship between the urban and the rural and to inspire them to imagine a more cooperative future.” – Yonjae Paik