How to Touch a Dragonfly (2023)
New Media installation
Opening 19th October until 22nd October
S-Factory D, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
“When I was a child, there were dragonflies everywhere.” The summer heat is smothering us as the group of elders shelter in the shadow of the Wondumak gazebo next to the village hall. One person proffers a folded over toilet paper, which I unfold to reveal a petrified, decomposing stagbeetle. The wooden shelter, so necessary in these hot summer months, lies on a track out of the village. Almost immediately beyond, the buildings give way to an incline tracing the bank of a dry riverbed up to terraced rice fields; the Gudeuljang.
These Gudeuljang secured Korea the country’s first ever globally important agricultural heritage site. The rice here is formed without pesticides, using traditional method that date back to the 1600s. The terraces of the Gudeuljang contain a network of underground channels, which feed mountain rainwater to the crops. Farmers control the flow by moving stones to stem the water, allowing it to warm in the sun before letting it into the fields. Many of fields at higher altitudes are out of use now, the crucial channels collapsing into themselves. Farmers know what’s happening higher up the mountainside from the changing behaviour of water in the fields they tend. Compared to other landscapes, dragonflies thrive here in this pesticide-free rural idyll. Yet even here the dragonflies are fewer, and come at different times of year than before.
People notice the change from their childhood. “It used to be a game when we were kids, we would catch the dragonflies in our hands and hold them their wings feel like paper like the Hanji in my grandparents doors. Crinkly but strong. Now you just don’t see them so much anymore.”
This year I’ve seen none of the swarms I saw last year. I hear the hum of traffic from the top of the hill. The smoke turns the blue sky yellow. I reach out my hand into the open air, against the sunshine, and I return to a hillside where the trees have grown back; they were felled for survival in desperate times. Now what threatens the humans here is an exodus. I wouldn’t mind moving to Cheongsan-do for awhile. I’d even like the experience of farming but as a foreigner, I wasn’t permitted to hire a car. There are various things that make a landscape in hospitable. We didn’t have so many dragonflies where I grew up. Now I’m somewhere the way they belong but I’m in the wrong time. Which begs the question: how do you touch a dragonfly that isn’t there?
Artist: Kat Austen
Designer: Robin Andersson (RTA Studio)
Digital Artist: Daniel Hengst
Creative Technologist: Justus Erhas
Production Director: Frank Lohmoeller
Production Manager: Olive Okjoh Han
Production Assistance: Hyeonhwa Lee
Additional Filming: Sangwon Lee
Hanji Funding: Jeonju Millenium Hanji Museum (전주천년한지관)
Supported by: ZER01NE Creator’s Programme (Hyundai Motor Group)
Thanks to: UN FAO KR, GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site) Cheongsan-do, R. Glowinski