No. 18 (The outside can never reveal what is happening inside)
Mary Ellen CARROLL
Project 1- Busan Museum of Art


N° 18

Carroll’s query began, at least in the beginning, with the question “What is the Korean building?” This question was of course triggered by the kind of anonymous, prefabricated architecture that dominates Korea’s built environment: crystallized high-rise complexes that signal both a culture’s seeming adherence to an ideal of conformity, and the militarily enforced implementation of a modern standard. In Busan, the situation is more peculiar. The city became a haven for refugees during the Korean War, and their slums needed to be turned into decent living quarters.N° 18 is precisely this kind of first-generation apartment building. Built to house families displaced by the war, it is located in Jwacheon-dong, one of the old (as old as “modern” can be), densely populated areas of the city close to the port. Carroll chose to work with this building or, as she herself would say, “make architecture perform”.To obtain an apartment, a contract had to be made between the owner and the Busan Biennale office. Korean rental agreements are quite unique in this respect: rather than pay monthly rent, the renter pays the owner jeonse, a lump-sum deposit on the rental space for a large part of the property’s market value. This sum is then returned to the renter after the contract has expired.Carroll then designed a built environment that could be inserted directly into the apartment – which had a unit size of 4 pyeong (1 pyeong is about 3.3 square meters) – without touching the walls. This structure is the conceptual core of Carroll’s work and is anchored to the environment in three ways:

1) It belongs to the building and is a part of its everyday activities.

2) The view outside onto cultivated roofs creates a connection to its urban environment. This roof uses GAIA soil, which has Styrofoam as its main ingredient (Styrofoam is also the main structural material used in Carroll’s architectural insertion).

3) It broadcasts all the formal and informal activities that take place in Jwacheon to the museum (or the exhibition proper) and over the internet.

The museum installation includes a massing study model and a model of the apartment, which demonstrates not only the use of jeonse, but also a set of categories including, for example “Religion and Philosophy”, “Busan”, “Life and Style” and “Dining and Food”, which are meant to register and articulate the different layers of experience at N° 18.In other words, Carroll’s is an artwork that means to find something out.

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