Interview with a culture designer – Yoon Seon-hee, Kim Jeong-hee, and Mun Ju-hyeon, Guardians of What Jip
Date of report: September 11, 2016 (Interviewed in September 2016)
Culture reporter: O Su-jin
I heard the non-stop flow of laughter throughout the interview. Laughing together, you find this place as comfortable as one of your regulars. The bright and positive energy emitting from these three guardians of Watjip must be why a lot of people visit here. What filled the cute, little space called What Jip was not its local decorations, savory beverages and desserts, nor the posters complicating the walls, but the sparkling three.
What Jip is pronounced as ‘wat jip’, and ‘wat’ refers to a wide, open field in the Jeju language. As you are all aware, ‘what’ in English is used to ask questions. The name of What Jip represents what takes place there. It aims to become a space where anything can happen and where you can sprinkle seeds. As to the prejudice that an artist has difficulties making ends meet, the guardians of What Jip asks. “Can’t we do art and have a fun and wealthy life?”
To answer their question, the space they elaborated themselves cohouses different ‘events’. They can sell the artifacts they produced under their own brands. They can also participate in different networking activities, and further, make a ‘story map’ telling local tales of Jeju. It took many errors and failures to incorporate the lives of the three ladies into What Jip since they first met in the Seogwipo Art Market. But they simply claim in one voice. “I’m just doing what I find interesting!”
They began drawing the Story Map as part of their cultural project, marking the villages of Jeju on the map with their respective tales. Converging the village tales and culture, the Story Map archives many different tales orally transmitted in local villages. Starting from introducing the historic old restaurants and hair salons of a village, the map extends its topics to the stories of those who were born and raised in the village and those elderly villagers who remember the vanishing past of Jeju. The Story Map of What Jip literally radiates with the life stories on each mark. One of the biggest values of this project is to document the culture of Jeju which used to be centered on the villages and towns as the cultural heritage for the forthcoming generations.
Gathering the tales told by one person after another by building trust with them was a great opportunity to meet someone else’s life. But they had to endure the same amount of difficulties. It took them a sacrifice of time to become friendly with the villagers, and in the process, they had to exert some courage to run after an elderly to ask questions. At times, they needed a sociable skill to hang out with the aged village members having a daytime ‘drink’, listening to their ever-lagging stories. Just by hearing the roughly-explained requirements, I could imagine how difficult and lengthy their journey has been. However, I noticed that the three guardians of What Jip had a bright smile on their faces throughout the conversation. Oh, dear! Becoming friends with the elderly and having rice wine with them, and dropping by at any pretty house without being invited to have a cup of tea, all these experiences and their processes just amuse them. Because they like people and their stories, they could continue drawing Story Maps of many different villages.
When one of their maps was published, we had this common response, saying, “Yes! We needed this here in Jeju!” And those elderly villagers and those who remember the good-old days, and plus, those with interest in the value for the future of Jeju showed great support for the Story Map project and the guardians of What Jip. The three ladies have completed brilliantly the tasks that everyone thinks necessary but takes great courage. I could see their eyes glowing with the anticipation to let the people know through this Story Map project about the forgotten Jeju, the time that even the locals have forgotten.
Changes occur at a faster speed every day in Jeju. A building that existed yesterday is gone today. You see an unseen road on your way to work. Over the past years, this fast track of changes is already familiar to the Jeju people. When everyone runs toward development and change in a tearing hurry, the guardians of What Jip say: Let’s sometimes look behind to see the roads we have taken and the flowers we may have passed unnoticed, and let’s remember the heart-to-heart times we have lived.
Designing a culture is often a process of crashing onto the many walls of reality. The guardians of What Jip may have their own issues, but what is certain is that they will never stop trying fun and valuable challenges. I believe that they will plant their solid seeds on the barren cultural flat of Jeju with the ideas and positivity that shine more brightly than those of others.