from the border with North Korea, the world’s most secretive nation, lies another secret
destination -- but one you are more likely to want to visit. The dedicated art
village of Heyri
in South Korea is about an hour’s drive north of Seoul and just throwing
distance (though not recommended) from the mysterious totalitarian state of
It is an
unlikely spot for a bohemian cultural centre -- along the banks of the barbed wire-lined
Han River and within sight of the armed checkpoint watchtowers -- but the galleries,
cafes and bookstores exhibit work from some of the finest artists and
architects from Korea and abroad.
idea for Heyri was developed in 1995 by a Seoul-based arts collective that wanted
a place in the countryside where its 380 members could reside and create art as
a refuge from the big city. Two years later a committee was formed and work
began on the masterplan.
“It took five years to decide on a location for the
art village,” said the sprightly,
wispily-goateed photographer and founding Heyri member Ansoo Lee. “We chose Heyri as it is a clean place, right in nature. There are no
factories in North Korea just across the border so we knew there would be clean
air. We have dreams of unification one day and then Heyri will be the centre of
the Korean peninsula – close to Seoul and even closer to North Korea.” The
village stands as a symbol of peace in a region known for anything but that.
Today Heyri makes for a pleasant escape from the
hustle and bustle of Seoul, and walking through the village is like being transported
to the pages of an architectural magazine. Modern concrete angular buildings
designed by the country’s top architects sit against an unobstructed backdrop
of forest and hills, and the tallest building is no taller than a fewer stories
high, as mandated by the committee. Each building conforms to the village’s
main principle of existing in harmony with nature. As you wander the winding
paths, passing streams, native flowerbeds, ponds and footbridges, there are
galleries, cafes, bookstores and music halls to duck into along the way. Weekends see Korean tourists and
day-trippers from Seoul walking the streets, riding bikes and taking in lattes
and art. Weekdays are quieter and most places are closed on Monday.
Pick up a
booklet for 2,500 South Korean won from the information counter at the entrance
for profiles of all the sights, as well as a map. You will need at least a full
day to explore the whole village.
See the art
Run by an ex-radio broadcaster, the stylish Camerata Music Hall is made for fans of
classical music, and the vintage audio system spins vinyl, filling the room
with Western classical and the odd pop or jazz tune. Pick a table, jot down your request with the
pen and paper provided and pass it to the DJ. Entry is 10,000 won, which includes
a free drink.
High ceilings, white walls and concrete floors
give the Gallery White Block a chic
industrial minimalist feel. It has six large exhibition rooms over three floors,
with changing exhibitions that showcase global contemporary art. Past
exhibitions have covered themes like “What is Koreanness?” The attached cafe and
courtyard overlooking Heyri pond is a good spot to sit and admire the scenery.
With other galleries in Tokyo and Seoul, the Heyri outpost of the Keumsan Gallery is devoted to showcasing
diverse Asian contemporary art, and has represented major artists like Korea’s Lee
Ufan, whose work also appears at New York’s MoMA
and the Tate in London.
At the Chocolate Design Gallery, the exhibitions
of chocolate sculptures usually run in winter months to avoid melting, but
outside of the season the gallery hosts courses on how to make decadent
truffles. Stop by for one of their rich smooth iced chocolate drinks and to
taste-test the truffles.
Take a break
Part cafe, part vintage furniture showroom, Homeo Café is a popular spot to grab a
Korean steak sandwich and a coffee while lounging on chesterfields set around
industrial cabinets and dangling chandeliers.
Attached to the Keumsan contemporary art
gallery, Café Blume creates its own edible
art, such as rice wrapped in lotus leaf, and abalone porridge, along with a
selection of drip coffees.
Slow down your
pace and taking in the quiet of Heyri by staying overnight in one of the
architecturally designed guesthouses.
The peaceful Gallery SoSo guesthouse is set among the
trees and attached to the intimate Gallery SoSo. The balcony is perfect for
resting and reflecting after a day of gallery hopping in the village. The guesthouse
set high up in the trees holds four to eight people and is available for group
bookings only at 340,000 won per night.
The Motif 1
artists’ residence and guesthouse, run by Lee and opened in 2006, is the
perfect place to get inspired. Bookshelves bulging with art, encyclopaedias and
travel books line the walls, along with collectibles and the artist’s own
photographs. The building was designed by an up-and-coming architect at the
time, Minsuk Cho, who is now one of the world’s foremost architects. There are
two rooms and a suite that has its own bathroom and kitchen. Rates start at 140,000
won per night.
stroll is the best way to get around the village but if you are short on time
there are bicycles for hire near the Gate 1 entrance (5,000 won for one hour, 7,000
won for two hours or 13,000 won for the day).
From Seoul, take the subway line 2 to Hapjeong Station
and exit 2 for bus 2200 to Heyri (every 15 minutes). On weekends you can’t miss
the bus stop; just look for the long queues of shoppers getting on for the
nearby Paju discount outlets. Try to get a seat on the left-hand side going
there to get a glimpse of the razor wire and checkpoints.
The article 'Make art not war in South Korea' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.