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Socially Engaged Art(ists) and the 'Just Turn' in City Space: The Evolution of Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul, South Korea

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Expanding the critical research on the role of arts and artists in (influencing) urban development and urban planning tenets, this article looks at how the interventions of socially engaged art(ists) committed to creating momentum for a 'just turn' in civic values and action can have tangible implications. We look into the threads of connection between the broader literature around the social and 'just turn' in the art world and urban planning approaches. Seoul is then presented with particular focus here as it is going through a watershed moment in what a city 'ought to be', amid 'paradigm shifts' that involve rethinking the relational connection between the arts and city space in tandem with social engagement as the new doctrine of governance. The article focuses on the case of Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul as an example that embodies these scenes and changes. First, it goes over how the plaza's functions and image over time were influenced by both top-down and bottom-up dynamics, in the context of changing dynamics in the urban planning and art worlds. This leads on to more recent events such as the 2016–2017 'candlelight protests', where socially engaged art(ists) played a bottom-up, pivotal role in (re)characterizing a tourism-booster landmark into a public space for social dialogue. By examining the built environment implications from these artistic interventions in Gwanghwamun Plaza, the article considers how the practices and discussions from socially engaged art(ists) can be significant in characterizing the 'new normal' in the plaza's future and in urban/cultural policy and planning at large.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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