Emerging at the intersection of folklore, anime and design, Shinseon Play forms an inviting, sculptural forest from giant, mushroom-like balloons. The winning entry for the inaugural year of the MoMA Young Architects Program’s expansion to South Korea, the pavilion was conceived by the Moon Ji Bang collective and inspired by the legend of the Shinseon.
These Taoist hermits from Korean mythology lived far above earthly concerns and cares, above the clouds, as it were, deigning to intervene only occasionally in human affairs, much like the gods of ancient Greece.
This installation, which was up from July to October 2014 in the courtyard of Seoul’s newly opened National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, shrinks their misty domain to playground proportions. A network of wooden stairs and walkways enables visitors to tread through the cloudscape formed by the balloons’ canopy. Amid the 50 gently swaying forms, the grove below offers shade and quiet, and a tram-poline allows adults and children alike to leap into and above the “clouds,” echoing the magical flying abilities of the Shinseon masters.
Overall, it could be a diorama fantasy sprung from the minds of Asian toy designers, highlighting just how deeply the aesthetics of kid culture have permeated our virtual and everyday lives. That may be the point. Wearing its mythological trappings lightly, Shinseon Play seems much more engrossed in its anime and video game roots; after all, “play” is half of the project title. A walk or a jump above these clouds may come closer to a Nintendo game than to Taoist myth.
David Jager is a musician, educator and art critic. His musical Get to Nomi , about new wave counter-tenor Klaus Nomi, debuted in New York in 2012.