STEEL LIFE / STILL FACTORY
Steel Life / Still Factory. In a way, it’s the shadow of a life in steel, once devoted to construction...
We are in Mullae-dong, in the southwestern part of the Seoul megalopolis, in South Korea. The district, whose development was begun in the first half of the twentieth century, thanks in particular to the rise of textile industries in the 1930s, and later to the founding of companies involved in steel production, was a labor and industrial zone in full activity until the 1980’s. Throughout it’s major growth period, it harbored a thousand businesses in which executives, subcontractors, small service companies, and customers coming from all over would intermingle. Doubtlessly, the factories of Mullae-dong provided the base materials from which a considerable amount of structures were made and dispersed throughout several countries around the world.
In South Korea, as across the rest of Asia, the 1990’s were characterized by several events and the manifold consequences which ensued: stock market crash, trade collapse, decrease in Korean steel share prices in favor of Chinese companies... This period coincides with the launching of urban redevelopment projects, leading to the outsourcing of factories from town centers toward other regions. The industrial complexes were left abandoned one after another, giving way to empty spaces, at times reclaimed by young artists following the example of cities such as New York, Shanghai, or Buenos Aires, but more often than not bought up by developers. And these days, as the last witness to industrial life in the heart of Seoul, few more than a couple metal production workshops remain in Mullae-dong.
Today, unlike the modern districts of the capital, distinguished by their high-tech looks and endless construction, Mullae-dong is flooded with a unique, antiquated atmosphere created with the passage of time. But for how much longer? The city’s renovation and beautification projects, orchestrated by the municipality, have honed the appetite of real estate traders, all whilst the working men, fear-stricken and suffering the same fate as manual labourers across the world, cling to their jobs in the face of worldwide competition. The trivial reality behind social inequalities are the same everywhere, and none are fooled: even with the countdown beginning more than 20 years ago for these steelworkers, their hopes of being succeeded by a new generation are few and far between.