From Osaka to Gwangju: Embracing the Moniker, “City of Light”

Written by Kim Inho, Michaela M. Agtarap, José Carlos Sánchez, and Joo Jiyeon
Photographed by Jeong Sohee

As a special program running alongside the Asia Culture Forum 2017, an international youth camp was held from November 12 to 15. An integral part of the youth camp was a team competition with the theme “A Cultural City Made by New-Generation Youth.” All the teams, each consisting of both Korean and international youths, proposed Gwangju festivals as their team mission. The winning team, Team E, composed of Kim Inho, Michaela M. Agtarap, José Carlos Sánchez, and Joo Jiyeon, received tickets to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan as their prize. The team visited Japan from December 20 to 22, 2017 to fine-tune their proposal.

There is a shared identity amongst Gwangju citizens in that Gwangju is the City of Light. Given the fact that each part of the city’s name, “Gwang” and “Ju,” respectively mean “light” and “city,” the city essentially incubates light. Thus, there has been a collective consensus that light should be an important part of Gwangju’s natural identity. Gwangju has seen a marked growth in a “culture-related” industry, utilizing photonics technology as a new representative industry in the city after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 (aka, IMF). But at the same time, the importance of the photonics industry began to gain increasing attention, resulting in the explosive growth of tourism throughout the country. This led to the birth of many festivals using “light” themes, causing Gwangju’s special title to lose a bit of its luster. Under these circumstances, we, the youth of Gwangju, thought it was time for our city to revive the meaning of its cultural identity. Therefore, through our journey to Japan, we aspired to find the answer to the fundamental question, “What is the meaning of Gwangju’s ‘light’?” and ultimately answer another, “How can we improve the Light Festival in Gwangju?” using Osaka for comparison.

Observing Osaka’s Lights
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Kansai International Airport.” Woken by the in-flight announcement, our team instinctively leaned toward the windows and looked outside. The vast sea and the city surrounding a beautiful coast caught our eyes. Our destination was Osaka’s Festival of Lights, where we would experience various programs, including cruises on an illuminated boat, viewing a fountain in a port, and enjoying a music and light show.

As we first began to walk the festival grounds, we felt that the magnificent sight of the large-scale 3D images projected on the wall of the neo-renaissance-styled historic architecture is what must keep the spirit of the Hikari Renaissance glowing.

We saw the Wall Tapestry Lighting Show, a projection mapping show on the front side of the historic Nakanoshima Library. From the 1920s retro-designed Osaka Central Public Hall and Nakanoshima Public Library (which were bathed in a kaleidoscope of colors and lights) to the City Hall area and on to Midosuji Boulevard, our team found ourselves literally transported in a remarkable stream of lights. We also enjoyed walking along the Stream of Hikari, the name of which means “light,” “twinkle,” or “sparkle.”

Throughout the main areas of the festival venue, there were many spots to take commemorative photos with friends or romantic interests. More than a million LED lights were used throughout the Osaka Hikari Renaissance Exhibition, and we couldn’t help but feel that Gwangju, as the City of Light, ought to place more emphasis on light as its identity. Creating light-themed festivals and exhibitions similar the Osaka Hikari Renaissance Exhibition would be a significant way in which Gwangju City could physically implement light to help its residents and visitors feel the spirit of light itself. Organizing a festival of lights or similar events that aim to inspire people, especially young ones, would be the perfect opportunity to showcase technology and media arts. Literally lighting streets and sidewalks is another approach to reminding people in the city that they are in the City of Light.

Wall Tapestry Lighting Show at Osaka City Central Public Hall.

Comparing the Two Cities’ Festivals: Location, Light, and Spatial Harmony
Firstly, Nakanoshima is connected with Osaka’s main street, Midosuji, leading to the city’s downtown area known as Dotonbori. These areas are located harmoniously, and impressive lighting has been installed on street trees and facilities throughout the entire area linking multiple festivals happening simultaneously around the city while we were there. Unlike the city’s Dotonbori River development project, Osaka’s City of Light project can be criticized in that it is simply a commercial festival, mainly focusing on attracting tourists.

When it comes to Gwangju, however, this city has been regarded as a “city of light” for centuries (since 940 A.D., during the Goryeo Dynasty period) as is evidenced by its name. Gwangju has successfully implemented the characteristic of media art in its festivals in the past, allowing festival attendees to participate in the process of creating art. One such example is Gwangju’s International Media Art Exhibition, which has an apparent symbolic meaning and is an important component of Gwangju’s light festival! Nevertheless, we feel that the International Media Art Exhibition is still lacking in a physical connection with the main areas of the city. If we can solve this problem and complement spatial and symbolic characteristics together, Gwangju will be able to become an unrivaled City of Light.

Comparing Rivers and Light: Seoseok-ro vs. Gwangju River
The major factors that we felt doubled the Hikari-Renaissance Festival’s beauty were the two rivers surrounding Nakanoshima Island and street trees’ lighting reflecting off the rivers. Taking in this beauty, our team wondered whether Gwangju could build this kind of natural environment to add to the beauty of its own festivals. But then we realized, Gwangju already has a river, Gwangju River, just 500 meters away from the Asian Culture Center (ACC). But is our river beautiful enough to make a walk worthwhile? Our answer is “yes.”

From 2016, Gwangju has implemented its urban restoration plan, creating a new night view along the river and its bridges. We thought that if we connected Gwangju River with the other main festival locations, we could expect to see a rise in numbers of people enjoying our city’s festivals, not to mention that it would also draw attention to the often overlooked, yet beautiful Yangrim-dong area on the opposite side of the river. Unfortunately, the beautiful bridges of the Gwangju River are located a bit farther away from the more popular areas of the city, and this hardly encourages visitors to see the Gwangju River. It also doesn’t help that there is no clear path leading walkers to the river. Once there is an attractive path leading to the river, people will naturally move in that direction. To make this happen, we want to focus on a street in Gwangju called Seoseok-ro.
Around 500 meters long, Seoseok-ro is known as the “Wedding Street” because of the numerous wedding shops lining it on both sides. Apart from the area near the stores, however, its litter and the presence of the inebriated staggering out of bars are possible reasons that some people avoid walking through this area at nighttime. However, there are plenty of street trees planted about five to ten meters apart on either side of this street, which happens to lead right to the Gwangju River, making this a perfect location to develop for the improvement of our city’s light festivals.

From left: Michaela M. Agtarap, Kim Inho, José Carlos Sánchez, and Joo Jiyeon.

Comparing the Use of Cultural Technology
The essence of the culture and history of a city is an important aspect visitors want to experience. Museums, historical sites, entertainment venues, etc. have been forced to develop in an attempt to attract more visitors who wish to see creative content and new technologies in these spaces. The use of technology in cultural and historical places makes the experience for the tourist more interactive – and this is one thing we can learn from Osaka. Osaka Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Japan, and it played a major role in the unification of the country in the 16th century. Inside Osaka Castle, technology can be appreciated almost as soon as one enters. At the entrance of the castle, you have the option of an audio-guided tour of the castle, where you can hear explanations about the different exhibitions that are in the museum. Nevertheless, the most impressive use of technology at Osaka Castle is a group of ten different hologram projections. This hologram technology interacts with real objects to explain historical events that occurred at the castle. During this part of the tour, the tourists’ attention is engaged with the history of the castle.

The Osaka Hikari-Renaissance 2017.

In Gwangju, the May 18th Democratic Uprising was a historical event that transformed the history of South Korea. Like in Japan, hologram technology should also be used in Gwangju in order to help visitors engage with historical happenings. This technology can even be adapted to the events that occurred around the May 18th movement. Using hologram technology can help Gwangju and different organizations tell this story in a way in which individuals can interact and understand the events that occurred during the democratic movement of 1980.

In a deluge of festivals using a light theme, Gwangju is in need of seeking a new breakthrough while creating distinctiveness and differentiation, that separate themselves from competitors. That breakthrough, would be implemented in a way that highlights the strengths of the symbolic meaning of Gwangju’s light festival, and at the same time, overcomes the weakness of spatial components by infusing life into the streets that connect the main areas in the festival. These efforts will eventually result in enhancing cultural democratization, enabling Gwangju citizens and visitors to actively participate and enrichen their lives culturally. In order to achieve this goal, therefore, we recommend Gwangju pay close attention to Osaka’s Hikari-Renaissance.

Kim Inho is studying political science and international relations at Chonnam National University. He’s also currently volunteering at Gwangju International Center as a member of the global culture team.
Michaela M. Agtarap is a mechanical engineering student in the Philippines and was an exchange student in South Korea.
José Carlos Sánchez is currently studying for his master’s in international business at HUFS. He graduated from ESEN in business and economics, and has worked at a regional company in Latin America as a market researcher.
Joo Jiyeon has studied law in Chosun University and is currently preparing to enter Chosun Law School. Her hobbies include playing the violin, traveling, writing, and blogging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *