Gomsil Forest "Untitled #3" 46x38, forest on canvas, 2018

Forest is the Artist

A Korean forest known as “Gomsil” is having its own art exhibition in Seoul, and the organizer plans to throw the profits into the forest.

Coordinated by City as Nature and placeMAK gallery, the exhibition “Forest is the Artist” features multiple works on canvas, all created by Gomsil Forest over the course of a year. Below, exhibition coordinator Patrick M. Lydon, writes about the motivations behind the exhibition.

The Story Behind the Artwork

As our society becomes more aware of the ecological peril we find ourselves in, so too have we become aware of a need to cultivate more equitable relationships between ourselves, our cities, our industries, and the rest of the natural world. Within this awareness, the question of how we can better listen to nature is a critical one.

Unfortunately ‘listening to nature’ is unfamiliar territory for most of us.

This exhibition “Forest is the Artist” is in part, an attempt to help us engage with this unfamiliar job by placing the voice of the forest in a familiar context.

A Relationship with a Forest

I’ve known Gomsil Forest since 2011. My wife and I visit often to say hello, and to spend time with a local natural farmer named Seonghyun Choi. You could easily argue that Choi’s work as a farmer is similar to that of an artist, delicately woven into a practice of listening to nature. Indeed, the act of my own hands working in the soil on many occasions here—along with many late-night discussions in Choi’s traditional Korean farmhouse, usually about nature and culture—have greatly influenced my own desire to form a deeper relationship with nature.

On one particular visit, a brisk autumn morning in the autumn of 2017, I carried ten blank canvases with me into the mountains bordering Choi’s farmland. Together with a small group of local natural farmers and friends, I presented these ten canvases to Gomsil Forest, with a request that the Forest spend a year working on the canvases for an exhibition.

One year later I returned with curator Joohee Gu to pick up the works and bring them to placeMAK gallery in Seoul.

The works on display are these canvases.

The contemporary art gallery, for all of its shortcomings, is one of the few places left where our culture allows itself to curiously and openly interpret the world. In this way, each canvas here is a doorway of sorts, a chance to apply this open curiosity, in decoding nature’s [artistic] intentions.

The secret is of course, that we can enter this state of curiosity and awareness anywhere at any time. The gallery is only a tool. One hope for this show is that curiosity about nature’s voice can begin to grow in our minds over the course of the exhibition, and more so, that it may ripple out, beyond the white walls of this space and into our everyday lives.

The Artist and the Coordinator

Many artists have worked directly with nature—and indeed most of us agree that nature is in one way or another, the source of inspiration for all art—but in the end the human tends to claim ownership of the process, and of the end product.

To me, this feels somewhat disingenuous.

It’s time to give credit where it is due.

My job in this exhibition is not as an artist, but instead to take care of the things which are impractical for Gomsil Forest to accomplish alone. I purchased and transported canvas, prepared the artworks for hanging, made a short film, and wrote words about all of it. The creative content of the artworks themselves however, are from Gomsil Forest’s own artistic intention.

In this situation, Gomsil Forest is undeniably the artist.

I am merely a coordinator.

Looking at the works in this gallery, they are really quite extraordinary. The use of texture, subtle color shifts, and patterns; they are a united body of work, compelling, and yet each one says something completely different from that of the next. As the coordinator of this exhibition, I hope we might each find something in the voice of Gomsil here, in these artworks.

“Forest is the Artist” installation view at placeMAK gallery, Seoul, South Korea

Any profit from any works sold will be taken to Gomsil Forest after the exhibition closes, and placed on the forest floor in the approximate location where the sold work was produced. Korean Won will be used for this payment as this is the only system used to value art in contemporary Korea. Considerations will of course be made, if we become aware of an alternative valuation system beforehand.


Forest is the Artist exhibition poster, with a picture of a canvas in the forest.

The exhibition runs from February 9th – 24th 2019 at placeMAK gallery in the Yeon Hui district of Seoul, South Korea (open Wednesday–Sunday). There is a public opening event from 5pm–9pm on February 9th.

placeMAK Gallery
open 12:00 to 19:00 (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
Seoul, Seodaemun-gu, Yeonhui-dong, Hongjecheon-ro-4-gil, 96
naver map | google map
placemak@naver.com / 017-219-8185

Project Documentary

About The Artist

Gomsil Forest (Hongcheon Province)
Gomsil is a small, early-career forest in Hongcheon province, a mountainous region in the north of the Republic of Korea, not far from where the Winter Olympics were held this past year. She borders a small natural farm, enjoying life relatively free from pesticide and herbicides. A typical small Korean forest, her outer borders are primarily deciduous trees which explode with vibrant color each fall, while her inner core along the hill ridges is primarily shadowed, pine forest. The canvases were spread randomly throughout her studio space, and so reflect this variety.

About placeMAK

Founded in 2010, placeMAK is one of Korea’s foremost experimental art spaces; a convening point for various individuals and groups—writers, planners, children, scientists, and the general public—to participate in artistic relationships without boundaries. Formerly located in Yeonnam, placeMAK moved to its current location in Seoul’s Yeonhui district in 2016, and also operates a second location in Incheon.


About the Coordinator

Patrick M. Lydon (b. 1981, San Jose, United States / lives in Osaka, Japan)
MFA, Art, Space & Nature, University of Edinburgh
BA California State University San Jose
An internationally exhibited artist, storyteller, and filmmaker, Patrick’s community-engaged arts practice inspires empathic relationships between humans and the environment, drawing on years nomadic study with farmers, monks, and environmentalists in East Asia. He is founder of City as Nature art and media lab, and arts editor for The Nature of Cities.


Visitor Comments

몇 년 전 내성천에서 바람에 꺾인 강아지풀이 또 바람에 이리저리 흔들리면서 모래바닥에 그려놓은 그림을 본 적이 있어요. 그게 그림으로 보여서 아름다운 기억으로 남아있는데, 이번 전시도 그때 그 반가움과 아름다움을 떠올리며 보러 오게 되었어요. 곰실숲의 그림들을 보니 캔버스는 곳곳에 놓였지만 같은 숲에서 왔구나 하는 느낌이 들어요. 눈에 띄는 흔적도 아름답고 나머지 면들 위로 나타난 겹겹의 시간들도 바라보다 갑니다. 조용히 따라가는 영상도 함께 잘 보았어요. _ 알록
A few years ago at Naeseong river, I saw a broken foxtail was waving by wind, made a ‘drawing’ on sand ground. It looked like a real drawing, became very beautiful memory to me, and this exhibition reminds me of the beauty I saw. Watching Gomsil’s drawings, I felt that the canvases were put in various places, but also that they came from same forest. The visual traces are beautiful, multiple layers of time on the left sides, these caused me to stare into the canvas. The film, which follows the forest calmly, was also good. _ Alloc

자연의 소리를 더 잘 듣기 위하여 숲에게 직접 예술가의 지위를 부여한다는 시도에 매우 감동받았습니다. 곰실숲의 조수일뿐, 이라는 고백을 통해 그동안 전혀 생각해보지 못한 관점을 알게 되어 매우 뜻깊습니다. 자연을 믿고 맡긴 패트릭 작가에게 감사하며, 앞으로도 좋은 작품 기다리겠습니다. _ 혜영
The attempt to give a role to forest, to listen to the nature more carefully, was so touching. You said “I’m just assistant of Gomsil,” and from this, I came to know a very new point of view, which I’ve never thought of before. It’s really meaningful for me. Thank you Patrick for entrusting the forest to do this artwork, and I expect more works from you. _ Hyeyoung

인류가 처음으로 숲에 붓을 넘긴 놀라운 전시회네요. 이 전시회의 메시지가 널리 퍼졌으면 좋겠어요. 세계 미술사에 새 역사가 쓰여지는 전시회입니다. _ 개구리
For the very first time, we humankind pass the paintbrush to forest. That is really amazing. I hope the message of this exhibition will be spread widely. This exhibition will be recorded in the world art’s new history. _ Gaeguri

‘생태’가 트렌드가 되어 돈을 만드는 시대. 다소 공허함에 시달리고 있는 요즈음에 만난 자연스러움이 감사한 전시였습니다. _ 서연
‘Eco’ becomes a trend, and a way to make money these days, and it makes me feel so empty. So I appreciate this truly ‘natural’ exhibition. _ Seoyeon

살아있다는 게 느껴져요. 고마워요 _ 브리다
I can feel I’m alive. Thank you. _ Brida

숲의 이야기가 들리네요 _ 이강숙
I can hear the forest’s story. _ Kangsook Lee

자연이 만들어낸 놀라운 작품에 흠뻑 취하다 갑니다. _ 앨리스
I was fascinated by the amazing artworks by nature. _ Alice

당신의 경험이 저를 치유합니다. _ 정
Your experience heals m.e _ Jeong

신성하고 아름다워요. _ 우인
Sacred and beautiful. _ Wooin

숲에게 인사하고 기도하고 대화하는 모습이 너무 좋아요 _ 시와
Greeting, praying, talking with the forest, I really enjoy to see this. _ Siwa

자연의 신성한 소리를 피부로 함께 듣고 갑니다. 감사합니다. _ 수진
The sacred sound of nature, I could listen to it through my skin. Thank you. _ Sujin

Image Gallery

Post updates:
2/12/19 with images and text from exhibition opening
3/3/19 with documentary film about the exhibition
3/20/19 added visitor comments
7/14/21 added digital catalog [PDF]

Further Explorations

A Song for Summer Trees

Drawing on a long time collaboration, Korean musician BomNunByeol (봄눈별) joined Patrick for the premiere of their live music and …

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