Ancestral rites for modern times

A small and elegant exhibition at the Arumjigi Foundation in Seoul updates the ancient Korean ritual of Chuseok.

Il rito ancestrale della famiglia confuciana.La tavola del capofamiglia di Yi Hwang

Holding together respect for ancestors, grandparents and family – concepts linked to the Confucian tradition but extending beyond religious bounds – and the ancestral harvest rites so heartfelt across Asia coupled with the lay modernity of the nation’s capitalist development, which has seen an extraordinary acceleration over the last 30 years: this is Chuseok, which places the family nucleus at the heart of relationships, at least in the collective Korean imagination.

Ancestral rites for modern times. Installation view Arumjigi Foundation, Seul
Ancestral rites for modern times. Installation view at the Arumjigi Foundation, Seul

The Arumjigi Foundation works to keeps Korean food, clothing and building traditions alive and to preserve craft techniques, transforming and modernising them, maintaining refined skills, retrieving capabilities at risk of disappearing and introducing changes to forms and materials that suit today’s reality.

Certainly, the country’s political vicissitudes, including a potential reunification of the two Koreas, and the abrupt passage to modernity have resulted in bewilderment and a loss of personal history is strongly felt. However, the cultural élite is stepping up and not without a close eye on the business opportunities linked to luxury tourism in search of exoticism, but with air conditioning.

The exhibition is divided into three parts and seizes on the changes underway, narrating them stylishly. The first part features ritually laid tables dedicated to the philosopher Yi Hwang (1501-1570) and to Yun Jeung (1629-1714), a scholar known for his simple and frugal life. Both reference the Joseon dynasty that lies at the heart of the Korean culture. It was responsible for the letters of the alphabet and unified the peoples inhabiting the peninsula. Today, it is a cultural legacy on which to draw in order to conserve and reconstruct “Koreanness”.

The second part features contemporary laid tables. Simple and elegant, they show that rituals can also be observed in apartments, where 48% of Koreans now live. Furthermore, there is an invitation to singles, 28% of the population, not to forget their families. Of course, it may be an ideal and imaginary family that lives far away in the countryside, perhaps, or that simply is no more. There is also an entire service for the ritual table in glass, an unusual choice of material for these dishes, plus a service that fits into a suitcase, to be taken along when travelling or visiting the tomb of ancestors.

Ancestral rites for modern times
ARUMJIGI Culture Keepers Foundation
Opening dates:
untiol 2 November 2018
17 Hyoja-ro, Jongno-gu, Seul, Corea

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