Gate of Bright Lights 광명문 

The Gate of Bright Lights is a site specific video installation by Space Popular exploring how digital interfaces have replaced physical elements –such as doors and walls– as the portals between us and what we desire. 

LocationGwangmyeongmun Gate at Deoksugung Palace
Seoul, South Korea
TypePublic art work / video installation
Year2019 September 5th - 2020 April 5th 
SPOPeopleLara Lesmes, Fredrik Hellberg, Ludvig Holmen
ClientMMCA - National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
ExhibitionArchitecture and Heritage: Unearthing Future
CL3, Bureau Spectacular, OBBA, Obra Architects, Space Popular
CuratorJihoi Lee

In its location at the central opening of Gwangmyeongmun Gate at Deoksugung Palace the video depicts the transition from physical to digital through a series of 1:1 gates that opening one by one reveal increasingly complex spaces. Beginning a hundred years ago when the palace was still occupied by the imperial family,the video will show how the red timber gates with their metal bolts slowly swing open to reveal a still and majestic space within. If you, as a viewer, stand in right in front of the screen you will have the sensation that you are looking through the richly decorated gate into the past. Before you have time to adjust, the gates shut again but this time the doors are different, one can now make out traces of what looks like a menu in the timber, with more ornate details in panels framing buttons and sliders. Suddenly the doors swing open once more but this time it reveals a chat room. Every time the doors of the Gate of Bright Lights shut they reveal a different design, and every time they open a new and stranger space is revealed. Just as the heavy doors of the palace were once the interface that revealed the inner workings and decorum of governance a hundred years ago, the doors in the video can be considered as operating systems (Android, IOS, Windows, TV menus etc,) of our devices (smartphones, computers etc), and once opened they reveal the space beyond: digital platforms (Instagram, VrChat, Line etc). The video will reach its climax and begin to move backwards, returning to the original state of the Gwangmyeongmun Gate. 

Exhibition catalogue text

In the 21-century the gates to the most revered places are virtual. The omnipresent electric interfaces such as the screens in our smartphones, VR goggles and soon AR lenses are now the portals through which we access our digital lives. Situated in the central doorway of the richly decorated 광명문 Gwangmyeongmun Gate at Deoksugung Palace palace in central Seoul, the site-specific video installation by Space Popular take visitors on a journey through the dancheong styled gates of the past and into the world of the virtual gateways of the future.

Royal palaces have historically been a form of architectural mass media. Fortified with decoratively laid stones, held up by intricate columns and sheltered by highly ornate grand eaves, the architecture of the palace spoke to those who it was keeping out of a mystique and splendor beyond their wildest imagination and, in doing so, constructed an ideal of just and right governance. The commitment to such an aesthetic endeavour did not stop at the walls of the palace but continued into the deepest layers of royal artefacts, clothing and decorum creating  a comprehensive system of visual and spatial communication essential to maintain fragile political domains. The structures surrounding the palace were also often disciplined to ensure that the colours and ornamental systems used were exclusive to the monarchy or religion, resulting in a grammar of sorts where the syntax of architectural language was tightly controlled. 

Few architectural elements in this grammar were more important and loaded with meaning than the palace gate. Like the spellbinding light from a television screen in a 1950’s shop window (before most homes had them) it was the ultimate interface between the profane and the sacred, the lived and the imagined. 

As most palaces around the world in the 21st century, Deoksugung Palace in Seoul no longer serve as mass media for a ruler, instead it is a much loved and respected historical landmark, open to the public in a hyper modern capital of a democratic state. Its richly ornate Dancheong surfaces now communicate craft, beauty and heritage rather than authority, and passing through its monumental Gate of Bright Lights, or Gwangmyeongmun Gate (광명문) is no longer the divine leap it once was. 

When Deoksugung Palace was decommissioned and largely destroyed in 1933 during the Japanese occupation, architecture was in a radical state of global transformation as the modern building of the international style no longer had to communicate through the visual languages of ornamentation such as Dancheong. In its place new media –such as mass printing of newspapers and radio broadcasting became the new interface between ruler and subject as one voice could be heard throughout the world simultaneously. In the mid 20th century the new palace gates were the shining lights of the television screens in everyone’s homes –as was  perfectly illustrated by the televised coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 which was viewed live by an estimate of 277 million people worldwide.  

60 years later the new gates of bright lights fit in our pockets, allowing anyone to both receive and broadcast to the entire world in the greatest democratization process the world has ever seen. Through social media, websites and blogs, everyone is now the ruler of their own palace with gates open to the public through the platforms and interfaces of a connected digital world. These new virtual palaces in which we increasingly live our lives are much like the highly structured ornamental system of Dancheong, carefully ordered through icons, buttons, links, and feeds and laboriously decorated with colours, fonts, layouts and graphics. 

In contemporary South Korea, which today provides the world with ever brighter, clearer and bigger gates, or screens, the Dancheongjang (단청장) of our time paints with pixels and light instead of rare and precious pigments.
By tracing this revolution of access and movement the site specific video installation will physically block the entrance to the palace central doorway once more, yet give access to the new palace, Through the bright light gate of our era.