Posted by: Matt Kelley | 23 August 2009

Video: Seoul Fringe Festival 2009

(Sorry, this is a bit late… but you still have one more weekend to check out the 2009 Seoul Fringe Festival! -Matt)

During Seoul’s hot, late summer weeks, if you’re walking along the colorful streets of the Hongik University neighborhood, you may very well happen upon a seemingly impromptu performance. That’s because for the past 12 years, Seoul has hosted perhaps Asia’s largest Fringe Festival, a three-week showcase of independent and underground art installations.

20090823_exhibitAn exhibit of photos from this year’s festival is inside the Seoul Art Space Hyper Seokyo.

The fringe festival was created in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947 as an alternative to so-called “high art” events. Today there are scores of fringe fests in cities like Melbourne, Prague, New York and Saskatoon where spaces for alternative cultural arts are being cultivated.

The Seoul Fringe Festival started in the Daehangno neighborhood in 1998 and moved to Hongdae in 2001. Today, it draws some 200,000 spectators who watch – and indeed participate – as individual artists and troupes perform over 300 non-juried theater, dance, music and installation art performances in 17 theaters, 8 live clubs, and a dozen outdoor stages. Non-traditional venues are also utilized. A subway station, neighborhood alleys, playgrounds and parking lots are among the performance spots.

20090823_actorAnother snapshot from the 2009 Seoul Fringe Festival’s photo exhibit.

While it’s impossible to cover the festival’s full slate, here are a few snapshots. The feminist artist network Red Goddess performs “The Proverbs of Women,” a play criticizing patriarchy through the lives of four exceptional women – Camille Claudel, Sappho, Hye Seok-na and Yoko Ono – each of whom were overshadowed by men. Audience members will join the performance by crying, screaming, being teased by witches or by cutting effigies of male reproductive organs.

20090823_livebandSpectators enjoy dozens of free outdoor performances.

For a change in tone, there are a number of outdoor art, music and theater installations. Each evening, live music and dance performances will pop up around Hongdae, especially around the Art Wall, the subway entrances and the neighborhood information kiosk. While walking around on one Saturday night, I was treated to a few musical acts, most notably a rousing rock, jazz, tap dancing and beat boxing medley by the street performance group, Sound Box. But a word of warning: at least three other performances mentioned in the guidebook were nowhere to be found.

This year’s festival also includes an Overseas Exchange program featuring groups from Hong Kong and Thailand. The program “GOD a Gardener” by the Thai group B-Floor Theatre follows the story of migrant workers who lose their housing. Hong Kong’s All Theatre performs the masked dance, “Life, Love and Death” at Hongik Park on the festival’s final two days.

20090823_artspaceThe new Seoul Art Space Hyper Seokyo is the Fringe Festival’s primary meeting and exchange venue.

Finally, the Seoul Fringe Festival Center is located in the just-opened Seoul Art Space Hyper Seokyo. Described as the festival’s primary meeting and exchange venue, the Center will also host workshops, artist talks, stage performances and films for free. Festival information and souvenirs are also available, not to mention an “Indie Café” if you need to take a break.


The 2009 Seoul Fringe Festival runs August 13th through the 29th. Although the theme song is “Free, Free, Free!” most of the indoor performances are not. Tickets run between 5-15,000 won, though group and volume discounts are available. Outdoor events are indeed, free.

More Information:
Seoul Fringe Festival Official Site (in English)

Getting There:
→ The Hongik University area can be accessed via Seoul Metro Line 2’s Hongik University Station (exit 5) or by Line 6’s Sangsu Station (exit 1).

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on August 19, 2009.)


  1. Thanks for the vid!, I would have loved that festival, too bad I’m not in Korea!!!

  2. Hi Tellos,
    Don’t worry… it’s an annual fest, so hopefully a future visit to Seoul will coincide with the Fringe Fest. Thanks for stopping by the blog! ~Matt

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