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[Well-curated] Life in miniature, spaces in time

By Choi Si-young, Lee Jung-youn, Park Ga-young

Published : April 19, 2024 - 09:01

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A creation from miniatures Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald) A creation from miniatures Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald)

Life in miniature

Miniatures, or tiny meticulous artworks, are intuitive. No one has to be schooled about the way they should be looked at or studied. And that only puts added pressure on the artist to create a message navigating analogies and twists, without losing anyone in the process.

Tatsuya Tanaka is a Japanese artist doing just that. At the IFC Mall in Seoul, the exhibit “Miniature Life” showcases over 200 miniatures spanning seven themes, including home, life and the world.

A mindset revisiting “familiar objects with a fresh perspective” -- or the “mitate" mind as it is expressed in Japan -- is what powers the kind of imaginations rendering reinterpretations of everyday items, from bread or a sink to a pencil and paper, according to the 43-year-old artist.

“Home Sweet Home,” one of the first pieces on display upon stepping into the showroom, demonstrates how the thinking process materializes: Bread becomes the sofa to sit on, waffles the cabinet to fill up and chocolate the furniture to complete the setting for a loving family of five figurines -- and a cat overlooking them.

A creation from miniatures Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald) A creation from miniatures Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald)

In “Refrain from Sugar,” a patient lies atop a stack of wafer cookies, just about to be pulled into a donut hole for a scan, serving as a reminder of pursuing a balanced, healthy routine. The ambience is lighthearted in “Sink or Swim,” as a bathroom sink becomes a swimming pool with sunbeds.

A creation from miniatures Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald) A creation from miniatures Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald)

Tanaka also touches on the war in Ukraine. A building constructed from stacked bundles of paper struck down by a pencil missile looks more determined than how the Japanese artist sounds in the note summarizing the work: “I oppose all forms of war, no matter what.”

No single message permeates the exhibit. Still, why the miniature parade starts and ends with pieces exploring love is something to ponder.

10, Gukjegeumyung-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul

Cafe The House 1932 (Lee Jung-youn/The Korea Herald) Cafe The House 1932 (Lee Jung-youn/The Korea Herald)

Cup of coffee in a 92-year-old building

On the backside of Seoul Station, nestled between apartment buildings and restaurants, there stands a two-story building with a dark gray hue. Harmonizing with the greenery of the surrounding trees, the building, nearly a century old, now serves as a special cafe.

The building of cafe The House 1932, as its name implies, was originally built in 1932 during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as the residence of a Japanese entrepreneur. After Korea's liberation, it was utilized as the residence of United States Army Maj. Gen. William F. Dean. A Korean politician owned the building after the 1950-53 Korean War, and a descendant of the politician remodeled the building into a cafe in 2018.

The House 1932 (The House 1932 website) The House 1932 (The House 1932 website)

Spanning three floors, including a basement, the building retains well-preserved traces of time. In the second-floor attic space, visitors can see a glimpse of the wooden ceiling structure through glass. The wooden framework structure is also exposed in the space displaying the roasting machine and bakery on the first floor.

The narrow and steep spiral staircase may be a bit inconvenient, but it exudes a nostalgia for the old days. For customers’ safety, children are not allowed in the attic area.

The first floor of The House 1932 (Lee Jung-youn/The Korea Herald) The first floor of The House 1932 (Lee Jung-youn/The Korea Herald)

The cafe serves diverse treats, including croissants, cheesecake and pastries, as well as beverages like coffee, tea and fruit juice. All baked goods are sold freshly made the same day, and only specialty-grade or higher coffee beans are typically used for the coffee. On very rare occasions, premium-grade coffee beans are also used.

Mallijae-ro 35-7, Jung-gu, Seoul

Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald) Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)

A space that turns back time

Located behind a 10-story building that hosts the Doosan Art Center in Jongno, central Seoul, is another old home built during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation. That home has become a branch of Amateur Company that offers more than coffee and alcohol.

Also known as Ojedo, the venue -- mainly a cafe -- also opened for business in 2018, after refurbishing a house that was abandoned for 15 years, with an idea of making an island of comfort and inspiration in the middle of Jongno. It vows to be a space for humanities where all those who live vigorously find solace.

Opening the door transports you back in time. Inside you'll find yourself far from modern trends. Antique furniture and forgotten relics of sewing machines, typewriters, radio receivers, pump organs and film cameras fill the space, each item telling its own story of bygone days.

Since there is no singular theme in its design, each corner feels like a new place. A horizontally divided walking closet transforms into something new, inviting visitors to take a seat.

Amateur Company opens from 12 noon to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.

31, Daehak-ro 1-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald) Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)
Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald) Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)
Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald) Amateur Company (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)