23 July 2010

my new AsiaSaek works online !

The new artworks of my AsiaSaek series are online. Check out the following link or access the AsiaSaek page from my main website.

Noile lucrari ale seriei AsiaSaek sunt online. Vizualizati urmand acest link sau accesati pagina AsiaSaek a site-ului meu principal.

18 July 2010

Archives - Some of my engravings

Taboo [metal engraving] 2006

Valentine's Day [metal engraving] 2006

Nostalgia [metal engraving] 2005

The Apotropaic Butterfly [linocut] 2007

The Ritual of Testosterone [linocut] 2007

16 July 2010

Interview - April 2009 - Seoul

It's been almost one year since I returned to Romania from South Korea, but still I have the chance to meet people who ask me the same stereotyped questions: "how is Korea?" "how are the universities there?" "what did you study there?" etc 
Sometimes, I feel quite annoyed by hearing the same repetitive questions from people who never even tried to read a few pages about Korea, and they expect me to answer just out of sudden in a way that they could understand easily.
I know that the cultural differences among East Europe and Korea are tremendous, and this is why during the last year I tried my best to inform the Romanian and Hungarian public about the true values of the Korean culture.

These days, I was just browsing the internet when I found an interview that I gave last year for "The Dongguk Post" - Dongguk University's English Magazine.
 I knew about the printed version of the magazine, I still have a copy of it... but I was surprised to find the online version.
Although it's an older interview, I post it, hoping that it might answer some questions about Korean universities.
You can also access the magazine at the following link.


Nowadays at DU [Dongguk University] we can see several exchange students walking around campus. So it isn't so surprising to study with foreign students in the class. Most of these new students come from Asia or English speaking countries. However, some of them come from Eastern Europe. Fabian Emanuel, a Romanian student, is from BABES-BOLYAI University and is at Dongguk as an exchange student. He came to DU last semester and will leave this August. His major is Film & Digital Media. The Post interviewed him and, among many other things, asked about his school life.

The Process of Coming to DU

Romania is a country a long way from Korea. So why did he come from such a long distance? He said: "In fact, it was a very hard decision for me. Many Romanians, myself included, have wondered about Korean life and its culture. So I decided to come to Korea and learn and study more deeply about the country." He added that, after deciding to come here, he chose DU because no other university in Korea had an exchange arrangement with his university. So I asked him if he had any regrets about coming to DU. He replied with a smile: "I don't think so. I think that my choice was very good. This is because DU is so highly valued by Korean people. For example, the Department of Film & Digital Media is famous throughout Korea. Additionally, the Campus, with its proximity to Nam Mountain is big and very beautiful."He added that "Buddhism in DU also interested him. When I lived in Romania, Buddhism is hardly known. So many people, including myself, are fascinated by this religion. I really wanted to understand Buddhism, so now I'll get the chance through coming to the DU."

His Life in DU

So what about his life in DU? He answered that he is really happy with campus life. He said: "Before coming to DU, I worried that I wouldn't do well. In fact, I was the first exchange student from Romania. But I already know that DU students are really kind. When I joined in the group assignments, or in any other situation, I felt the kindness of DU students. Thanks to DU students, I can enjoy my life here." He was also satisfied with the lectures, especially the English ones. "In the English lectures, all students must speak English in class. I was really surprised by the students' ability. So when I joined the class, I was able to improve my English skills and study at the same time." He added that he also registered for classes in Buddhism last semester. "This class was especially interesting; it was one of my favorites! I am really happy about getting closer to Buddhism. There are many monks, temples and classes on Buddhism at DU." He said that he was really satisfied with all the other classes, but especially the ones noted above. He stressed that the quality of DU lectures was very high. However, he had one little complaint about DU. He said: "Then I looked up e-class and the DU home page, it was mostly in Korean, not English. This confused me sometimes. For example, when I was downloading presentation files by e-class, I was really confused by a lot of buttons written in Korean. This is not big problem for other people, but I hope the DU staff will solve this problem."

Advice for other exchange students

He said that to be open-minded is really important for exchange students. "I think that many Western exchange students are afraid to come to an Asian country. They are afraid of getting too close to Asian cultures; not physically, but emotionally. This is because emotionally Asians and Europeans are really different. For this reason, they have many problems adjusting to Korean life. For example, there are many misunderstandings about language, food and other things. However, by being open-minded, we can overcome these problems."

After the interview was over, he remarked that he hoped that more and more DU students would come to this university as exchange students. If any DU student had been rude to him, he never mentioned. If DU students continue to show their kindness then many more will follow his example. This, apparently, will help DU? wish to be a player on the global stage. I hope that DU achieves this aim. I also hope that Fabian returns to Romania with happy memories of his time at our university.

By Kim Ji-heon, Post Reporter

04 July 2010

The Changes of East Asian Living Space – Consequence of Social Transformations

©  Fabian Emanuel [Seoul - South Korea, spring 2009] 

Regarding worldwide cultures, it is obvious that almost every nation has different living spaces, shaped according to their values. Reasons for the development of different architectural types are first of all the natural resources of each area, with further factors including religion, life style or financial status. However, one of the most relevant determinants of the design of a living space is family structure and the type of the fundamental inter-social relations. According to this, the characteristic layout of the Asian housing unit reflects the values within the Eastern families showing also the overall condition of the mainstream society. Viewing the contrast between the traditional houses and the contemporary residential facilities, the radical change of the Asian culture is self evident.

In historical terms the Chinese influence over the East had significant results. China is the home country of Confucianism, a major philosophy that had a basic role in shaping society and in extension its basic unit, the family. Furthermore, through family structure Confucianism had an impact on the eastern traditional architecture. Confucianism spread over Korean and Japan. Due to local cultural differences although the fundamental building technique remained similar, the layout was developed differently causing distinctive national architectural styles.

View of patriarchal room opened toward the inner courtyard, Korean traditional house, Chungmuro neighborhood, Seoul  

In relation to the design of common houses, the main characteristic of Confucianism is that it can be related to architectural principles based on the idea of social hierarchy. Examples of these include the respect toward elders and discrimination of women. Emblematic for its influence can be considered the Chinese traditional home. The overall shape in most cases is one story high and has a rectangular layout. The entrance is on the southern side of the house facing a screen wall in the court for stopping the visibility from outside. This is also the reason for the high walls that surround the house. With one or more courtyards placed in the central area, the rooms are disposed around them, with a strict axial alignment. Due to the courtyard, the interior spaces with different functions are placed in different areas of the house and they are usually linked only through the central opened space, avoiding the built of interior corridors. To receive as much sunlight as possible, the patriarchal room was located north of the courtyard facing south, and due to its primary importance it had the largest size. It was flanked along the court by the living spaces of the sons and their families. The living spaces for the servants were small and together with the storage spaces they were located in the southern section of the house, facing north, so having an unpropitious site according to Feng-shui [풍수]. 

Most features of this prototype can be analyzed through their relation with the daily life of the family. For example, more than just being a space that connects different rooms, the courtyard represents an area that unites the family. When weather is favorable, it is used as a dinning space and as a playground for children. The main room had the best placement according to the laws of axiality and Feng-Shui. This shows the importance given to the patriarch. His sons were living next to him together with their families. The daughters conform Chinese tradition were moving together with the families of their husbands. Also, the surrounding walls and the screen before the entrance show that families were searching for privacy. Chinese emphasized the family or the clan as a unity of more families, leading sometimes to isolation from the rest of the society.

While Chinese homes with one or two courtyards had the general layout similar to the characters or , the Korean houses preferred the , , or shape. The Korean high class residences like in case of the Yeongyeongdang Estate related to the Changdeokgung Palace also insisted on the concept of hierarchy. There were clear distinctions between the facilities built for the masters and the ones for the servant. Furthermore, the men’s quarter called sarangchae was divided from the women’s quarter, the anchae. These areas were separated by a low fence while the buildings had rooms that might have different uses during the day, but being designed differently for men and for women. Of course, this strict division was made only in case of the high society, because many families could not afford to build different buildings for women, men, servants and for storage space. In those cases members of a family lived inside of the same building, but in different rooms. This features shows that Korean families also followed a Confucian hierarchy, but because of dissimilar social values they adapted it differently than the Chinese. Moreover, the traditional houses show that the widespread type of cohabitation was the extended family. This form of basic social organization type reunited up to four successive generations inside of the same living complex; sometimes closely related families formed a clan whose members lived in close proximity to each other.
 Korean Traditional House [Hanok Village - Chungmuro Neighborhood Seoul]

The Japanese society also received significant influences from Buddhism that came in the 6th century together with Buddhism through Korea, a country that was already accustomed to elements of the Buddhist and Confucian philosophies. Having the tendency to Japonize every cultural import, the architectural influences were adapted in time to the Japanese people’s necessities. They rejected to formal axiality and the strict hierarchy of the interior space. Unlike the stereotyped monastic environment’s layout, the ordinary people’s house is described by two major characteristics: asymmetry and flexibility of the interior partitioning system. The distribution of the interior space was easily changeable by large slideable doors often used as windows, moveable screens and even slideable interior walls. These possibilities of defining interiors lead to a large flexibility in organizing the homes according to the necessity of the family. Furthermore, the Japanese architecture is often called organic architecture because it is closely related to the inhabitant’s needs and size. The basic unit in defining a room’s size was the rice straw tatami floor mat, roughly 1x2 meters large, size defined by the body size of average Japanese. This size defines the minimum sleeping space of a person, leading to rooms that are multiples of tatami mats. These organizing principles reflect the rational approach toward building houses, a rationality and pursuit of perfection that remained an iconic attribute of the contemporary society. Also, this layout type reflects the Japanese characteristic of being easily sociable and being able to adapt effortlessly to any situation, or any small living space.
 Details of Gyeongbokgung Palace with modern sky scrapers in the background. The combination of traditional and contemporary urban landscape is specific for Seoul 

The durability in time of these traditional building styles is amazing. But more staggering is the rush of the East Asian countries to abandon the traditional building solutions while ushering toward modernity throughout the 20th century. The changes can be closely related the influence of the western civilization. The first to adopt western architecture was Japan, in the late 19th century, the beginning of its industrialization. Throughout the Japanese colonization, Korea made important steps to westernize its architecture. The post Korean War period represented the time of the national rebuilding process, the moment when purely western solutions were implemented. On the other hand, China’s western architecture came later than in Japan. The Chinese urbanization process came lately, but it’s currently skyrocketing. An example like Shanghai, a city that changed completely in just the recent 30 years shows the speed of modernization. But still about 65% of China is rural living environment, indicating that traditional architecture was not totally rejected yet.

The reasons of abandoning the conventional architecture that was conceived to be a part of the surrounding nature, in favor of a concrete-steel-glass westernized building style that ends up dominating its surroundings can be closely related to changes of the Asian society. As pointed out previously regarding Japan, the first steps came together with industrialization, after East Asian countries opened up to relations with the West. Another important factor that determined the expansion of the stereotyped apartment blocks was out of control demographic growth. Iconic for this problem is the case of Seoul, were the concentration of the population in the immediate post Korean War period correlated with an unpredicted baby boom and raised the need for adequate housing solutions. Although late, the solution came in the 1960’s with an intensive apartment building policy. This solution could provide living space for a larger population on a smaller built surface than traditional homes could. In addition, a major benefit of the new apartments was the increase of comfort. Modernized bathing space, durability, better temperature isolation, and placement in the Metropolitan area are just a few of the benefits appreciated by people who shifted from rural to urban areas.
 Southern area of Seoul [Seocho and Gangnam districts - 2 of Seoul's 25 districts]

The drastic change over such a short time produced mixed results. One may claim that the society’s changes determined the choice of new architectural solutions, but on the other hand the new solutions lead to further social changes. Regarding an architectural approach it can be said that the new shapes adopted by the architects came suddenly, unprepared by gradual changes. This lead to stereotyped solutions and created an urban space that in many areas lost the uniqueness of living environment. According to this, modern housing interiors and neighborhood layouts became uniform and sterile, examples of this can be found in metropolises like Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka or Beijing.

In terms of sociology, the main change that can be linked with the change of living space is the doom of the traditional extended family. The modern apartments are more suitable for the nuclear family, composed by the spouses and their children. This change is also closely related to the evolution of social values. The 50’s coincided with the collapse of the Confucian beliefs that united the traditional society. Last but not least, the change of family organization came step by step with the extensive urbanization. While youngsters were moving to cities in pursuit of education, jobs or just higher living conditions, many elders preferred to stick with their long-established rural environments.
 Contemporary Urban Landscape - Chungmuro neighborhood - Seoul 

In conclusion, the changes of the Asian social values and family organization are closely connected to the changes in living space building style. The conventional homes reflected the unity of the extended family and the hierarchy within the society. Having characteristic cannons that assured proper space distribution, the past homes varied between interior flexibility like in case of Japan, a stereotyped layout with deep philosophical meaning in case of China, and a uniqueness and hierarchy of space in Korea. Abandoning these customary solutions that guaranteed social balance, East Asia adopted and adapted western housing standards. The inexorable changes came promptly, leading to changes in family distribution and alteration of traditional social values. Seeking social balance with the new cultural conditions, the emulation of western values was appreciated as a proper solution. The result is a modernized society that although continues to preserve in each East Asian countries, it has lost several cultural and traditional characteristics, in favor of progress to the detriment of its own built and cultural heritage.