Discovery on the Beauty of Imperial Wallpapers
Expert architect on royal papering, Chang Soon-yong (Architectural Engineering, ‘72)
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Changdeokgung Palace Complex is a landmark of Korea built in the Joseon Dynasty and is currently designated as a UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site. The world has been captivated by the beauty of the palace’s outlook and Confucian values inherent in the architecture. However, one thing that all architects omitted was the wallpaper and its values. Chang Soon-yong, (Architectural Engineering,'72) has displayed his past collection of imperial wallpapers at the “Act Facing Act” exhibition hosted by artist Yeon Ki-baek to underscore the importance of royal wallpapers that are rare and novel to the architectural history.
Time to restore dignity
Chang has spent his entire life devoting his passion to architecture, especially in the royal papering area. The interest stemmed from his 1973 field investigation on Unhyeongung Palace after graduation. “I have read in the Joseon Dynasty’s uigye (royal protocols) that there were more than 70 different kinds of wallpapers used for royal palaces. However, the restored version of palaces these days only utilized hanji (Korean traditional paper made of mulberry trees) with no distinctive characteristics, and I began to wonder what the past wallpapers were like,” explained Chang. At the site investigation, Chang fortunately received a sample of a royal wallpaper about to be discarded. “I macerated the sample inside the bathtub with warm water and discovered that there are more than 10 papers stacked and repapered to forge plywood like walls,” said Chang.
Chang’s passion for royal wallpapers was augmented as he carried out more site explorations. He received samples from Changdeokgung Palace Complex maintenance work and and Deoksugung Palace and researched the roots, papering method, and patterns of the wallpapers that were about to be deserted. “The most impressive discovery I found in the piles of paper dumps was the Yongbongmun pattern (Korean traditional pattern of dragons and phoenix) that was mentioned in the uigye, but has never been spotted,” said Chang.
Chang has always hoped that the Korean architectural society and the government would be concerned with even the small part of architecture--papering. He has been working excessively hard in the field to promote the importance of royal wallpapers, but the governmental authority has denied his efforts. “I realized that papering may not be considered vital for official authorities. But, this is a shame in that World Heritage palaces have anachronously monotonous papering after all,” said Chang. This concern has led Chang to allow artist Yeon to utilize his past collection to display the importance of imperial papering.
Attention for the indifference
In order to restore the dignity of grand palaces built in the Joseon Dynasty, Chang collected samples out of dumps in every field investigation he went on. “I was shocked when the government official visited my office for advice to reconstruct Changdeokgung Palace five years ago. He told me that he is going to paper the walls with luxurious silk, and I was startled because the Joseon Dynasty’s Confucian places emphasized frugality,” explained Chang. The moment Chang realized that there is a deficient amount of data on royal papers, he decided to create his own data on them.
However, Chang had to face a tragic moment when he favorably provided his data to an official in charge of reconstruction of Unhyeongung Palace. When the repair was finalized, the official lost all the data Chang had lent them. “Out of frustration, I wrote how I felt about that moment in my diary along with my decision to collect even more data on royal papering,” reminisced Chang. Currently, the diary is also displayed at Yeon’s exhibition along with his collection of imperial papers.
Chang has an unusual family history in regards to architecture. His father was a professor at Hanyang University’s Department of Architecture while Chang’s son is also an architect. “I can guarantee that my family has devoted our life and passion to architecture. I hope our efforts will pay off with the public’s attention on royal papering and their preservation,” said Chang.
“Sometimes, all humans feel that the path they're walking on may be wrong. But, when your walk is not rooted from money but from passion, it will pay off one day,” advised Chang for the students of Hanyang University. Chang’s collection and diaries are displayed at artist Yeon Ki-baek’s exhibition at Amado Art Space.
Kim Ju-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Choi Min-ju
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