“‘The future already exists,’ I replied, ‘but I am your friend. Could I see the letter again?’”
─ Jorge Louis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths
Dear Mr. Borges,
I can clearly remember it. And I wasn’t the only person who experienced it. We ─ I was with many colleagues at that time ─ didn’t say anything about it, but could see that we were present in the same space and at the same moment.
For the past four years, we’ve dreamed of a future park that would bring about a new environment. Our group consisted of an architect, an anthropologist, a landscape architect, a musician, a computer programmer, and several curators. We researched a wide range of meanings that a park symbolizes as well as ways to come up with our own meaning through historical examples and new possibilities. Before beginning this project, I suggested that we collect a number of different views by recasting a historically ruined area into an image of a park. We then examined the notion of publicness and explored a new form of coexistence for communities. It was at once a reckless experiment and an unnecessary adventure. However small the results that we obtained during the process, they were meaningful enough in and of themselves. Although this may lead to a certain amount of misunderstanding for many people, we’d like to emphasize once again that our goal was not and is not to make a real, physical park; our goal is to show people scenes (i.e. ruins) that represent a constant historical pattern, and to then suggest a platform which can induce critical insight into this subject. Our aim in imposing a sense of place was to provide a practical meeting point while also trying to elicit common questions through physical activities using aesthetic metaphors and symbols. This is precisely how Promise Park was created. Personally, I like this name, which sounds appropriately romantic, because the park raises questions about a utopia we all pursue throughout life, forming countless possibilities for a new solidarity that can bridge the gap between the ideal and reality.
In 2016, we carried out research and held workshops at Seonyudo Park, which is located in Seoul and has gone through several changes in appearance over the modern era.. Twenty-five participants from various fields of study looked around Seonyudo Park as they gathered plants and other things that may have had microorganisms growing in them. By paying close attention to the most basic form of life that had acquired some form of the area’s “memory,” we were able to discover a number of unique types of yeasts. Later, we conducted biology experiments to culture yeasts using the specimens we had collected. This led us to discover a medium that could serve as yet another park while we talked about where exactly we had discovered each of these specimens, their meaning, and the unique geological traits of Seonyudo Island.
That, in essence, is “scent.” To be honest, I had come to this conclusion a long time ago and its veracity only became clearer during the workshops we hosted at Seonyudo Park. On a personal note, I prefer to approach the symbolic concept of a park through the sensory medium of scent. For us, we wanted to review “traces” of the past we had experienced, or even traces we didn’t have a chance to experience. Scent allows us to perceive or recognize odors as sensory tools that in turn evoke traces of common memories that are inherent in our subconscious and lie directly in front of us.
As YCAM artistic director Kazunao Abe explained, “smell is directly delivered to an individual and can ‘attack’ a person in an unparalleled way. Take the Proust effect, for example, which takes its name from the French novelist Marcel Proust and refers to the psychological phenomenon caused by sensory stimuli. In Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time, there’s a scene in which someone dips a madeleine in a cup of black tea, the smell of which brings that person back to the past. In addition, the French poet Stephane Mallarme talked about the ‘reality of what does not exist’, meaning that the reality of the invisible is stronger than the reality of the visible. The same can be said about the stories yeasts, which are invisible yet still exist, tell us.”
As Mr. Abe pointed out, in the context that the reality of the invisible is stronger than the reality of the visible, the concept of scent as “traces of what does not exist” becomes more persuasive. What’s important to heed here is that traces, as substances, are revealed through scent. Indeed, a substance is a powerful reality that cannot be denied. Historically, scent (or smell) has been identified in a negative way. In the process of modernization and globalization, smells of poverty, insanitation, disease, and hard work were treated as something to be eliminated or hidden. In part because it does the exact opposite ─ not hiding its past mistakes or ruins from the past but instead revealing them openly to the public ─ it is perhaps through scent itself that Promise Park seeks out lies.
Mr. Borges, I’m standing upon ruins right now and imagining a new park altogether. At this park of which I dream, which is the product of imagination created with all that we’ve forgotten and remembered, I’m opening another chapter in our future. It’s almost as if I’m faced with the infinite flow of time at the garden of forking paths, which happens to be an image of an incomplete-yet-not-wrong universe. At this moment, I can see traces of you in all the possibilities contained in the fabric woven over thousands of years.
From Promise Park,