Collecting Towards a Paper Museum in Anyang


The historical significance of Anyang River is one that is hard to gauge with observation alone.  Its current landscape is the result of successful environmental restoration with abundant wildlife, un-kept grassy banks and a cycle/pedestrian lane that provides a variety of recreational use for nearby residents.  In its recent history, Anyang River played a complex role in Korea’s industrial modernisation.  In contrast to the current idyllic image, the river was once nicknamed Korea’s dirtiest river. Through a combination of industrial pollution and sewage the ecosystem was devastated and the stream and banks undesirable for recreational use.  Many birds and fish one sees today had been absent for around 30 years. 

During this period of rapid industrialisation a little known story illuminates the triangular relationship between industry, river and residents. Between the years 1974 and 1977 while Samduck paper and Samyoung hardboard factories poured industrial wastes into Suam and Samseong Rivers respectively  (two of the tributaries of Anyang River), turning the rivers into bubbling toxic currents unable to support life, a small number of local residents found a way to make use of this nightmare.

Initiated by grandfather Mr Kang pools were made along the banks of Suam and Samseong Rivers to redirect the water.  These pools collected water from the rivers and allowed the industrial waste to be deposited while the water seeped into the soil.  Over a period of approximately one week, this drying process produced a large damp paper slab at the base of the pools.  Depending on the volume of waste in the streams, the thickness of the slab varied.  Local elderly women made extra income working along the riverbanks cutting the paper slab into damp paper blocks that were then sold back to Samduck or to an egg carton and wallpaper underlay factory in Sung-nam city.  Other than the paper blocks, the residue left from this drying process was kept and used as fire fuel by the residents during winter.

The precursor of this activity occurred a decade earlier when waste produced by Hanguk paper factory accumulated and dried on the banks of Anyang River.  The dried waste was much thinner and was collected by local residents to use as fire fuel for winter. However, it is not until the 70s that the aforementioned cyclical relationship between factory and the residents become apparent with the emergence of this cottage industry on the banks of the rivers. 

My project is concerned with the history of paper block making along the banks of Suam and Samseong River.  Due to an apparent lack of record of this activity, its history is survived mostly through oral accounts.  Part of the motivation for my project is to gather and create new records for this history so that the memory may live on and be discussed through new channels of experience. Being an outsider and having no first hand experience of this history, my research methods are based on conversations and interviews with people who have observed and a site visit with grandmother Kim Jae Soon who had first hand experiences of the making of these paper blocks.

Kim Jae Soon who moved into Anyang in the early 70s was one of the women who made the paper blocks along the banks of Suam and Samseong River.  She told me that all the other women were grandmothers at the time (therefore are unlikely to be alive today) except one who no longer lives in Anyang.  She generously shared her past with me in two interviews. She fondly recalls the memory of Mr Kang but was brought to tears by the memory of economic hardship. Her account offered important insights into this story and has guided my decision making along many aspects of my project. 

The project is divided into four parts, first an investigation into historical context by gathering accounts. Second: a site-specific work restaging the process of paper block making on the banks of Suam River.  Third: a workshop led by Kim Jae Soon to offer a personal account of the experience of paper block making. Then finally from the site-specific work, both a photographic and sculptural outcome will be produced.

The method of research combined with the topic inevitably leaded to complications.  Oral history is survived by memory and the practice of paper block drying was a very local one where Anyang citizens who didn’t live in the area at that time are unfamiliar with. From one person to another, conflicting accounts have emerged as people tussled with the task of recalling the past.  My project aims to point to this past but does not wish to be presented as factual or authentic.  The understanding to which I have arrived at is that the topic seems to be subject to multiple recollections and eludes closure. 

Of the factories responsible for the extent of water pollution in Anyang River, the owner of Samduck recently donated his factory ground to the city as a gesture of compensation to the citizens of Anyang. This November the site will reopen as a city park. Of all the suggestions upon his donation as to what to do with the site, one suggestion was to retain the factory buildings and machines for a paper museum to remember its past. My project is empathetic to this proposal and is hopeful for future contributions to related history of Anyang.

-William Hsu, 2008













Anyang River today.  The stone dam in the picture replaces a former concrete dam, which played a crucial role in slowing the current and allowing paper waste to be gathered. 












Industries of Anyang in the 1960’s, Museum of Anyang History display.  










Interview with grandmother Kim Jae Soon.















Photo from grandmother Kim Jae Soon’s family album.  The picture shows Park Chan Hyub, Kim Jae Soon’s youngest son against the background of the Suam River, circa 1976. 












Drawings made from interview sketches made by interviewee and translator.











Material source, local waste paper collection.












Process, pulp made using a concrete mixer.
















































Workshop A Story of Paper Block Making from Memory led by Kim Jae Soon


































Above:  Workshop images








































Above:  Images of Open Studio Installation



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