Miru was born in Stoneham, Massachusetts in 1981 and was raised in Seoul, Korea. She returned to Massachusetts in 1995 to attend Phillips Academy in Andover, and moved to New York in 1999 to attend Columbia University.
Williamsburg Bridge, New York, NY, USA
Until the 1920s, the Williamsburg Bridge had the record for the longest suspension bridge span on Earth. New Yorkers celebrated its opening in December 1903 with fireworks over the East River. Sitting on the bridge, I imagined a full procession of men in top hats and coats, carriages drawn by horses, and press photographers with large wooden box cameras. From the top of the bridge, the emotions that emanate from the spectacle of the city cannot be more unique. Perched on a narrow beam, I felt the wind, and the tower gently swaying.
Her work has been spotlighted in countless other international media such as The New York Times, TED.com, The Financial Times, ARTE France, Ovation TV, Time Out New York, NY Arts Magazine, The Korea Daily, La Stampa, Berlingske Tidende, VanityFair.de, Korea Herald, Vogue Girl. Public collections of her work include Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art and Hana Bank. Her work has been shown in various galleries, museums, and art fairs (Gallery HYUNDAI in Seoul, Queens Museum of Art in New York, National Museum of Visual Art in Montevideo, Coreana Museum in Seoul, SCOPE Basel, Miami International, Lodz Biennale in Poland, etc), and she was invited to present her work at the Entertainment Gathering in Monterey, CA (2008), and the World Culture Forum in Dresden, Germany (2009) on.
In 2006, she received an MFA in painting from Pratt Institute. She is an avid cook and a rat lover.
Büyük Valide Han, Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is an overload of senses. The crimson color in the evening, the smell of roasting mackerels by the river, and the chanting for prayer five times a day. The streets bustle with life–crowds moving about, cats searching for food, and cars fighting for lanes. Despite this concentration of inhabitants, Istanbul has a hidden layer rarely visited.
In Eminönü, buried among textile merchants and bric-a-brac stores, a hidden architectural treasure called Büyük Valide Han still maintains its two levels, three courtyards, and countless domes that constitute the roofs. It was built in the 1650s as a city inn, its name meaning “the Grand Inn of the Mother Sultan.”
Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris, France
“I was near you again, my beautiful wanderer, and you showed me, in passing, the Tour Saint-Jacques under its pale scaffolding, rendering it for some time now the world’s great monument to the hidden.” From Mad Love (1937) by André Breton
Old Croton Aqueduct, Bronx, NY, USA
Surrounded by brackish waters, New York residents had a limited supply of fresh water, although the population rapidly increased after the American Revolutionary War. The main sources for water were cisterns and wells that were easily contaminated, and epidemics such as cholera and yellow fever spread quickly. The Old Croton Aqueduct is a masonry tunnel that supplied fresh water to New York City for the first time, thus facilitating the city’s development into a greater metropolis. The construction began in 1837 and took five years to complete, but it was abandoned after the New Croton Aqueduct opened in 1890 in response to the unprecedented growth of the city.
Going inside a subterranean structure that has been abandoned and largely inaccessible for more than a century evokes an eerie feeling of time travel. Sitting in the comfort of my own room and staring blankly at reproductions on my computer screen could not be enough. I trudged through the damp tunnel for hours and felt the hand-laid brick with my bare hands, while being careful not to disturb the tiny sleeping bats. With wet feet, I felt the aura of the space, cloaked in complete black.
Zeyrek Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey
There are hundreds of Byzantine cisterns underneath Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople for more than a thousand years until 1453. Although the largest one, the Basilica Cistern, is well preserved as a tourist attraction, there are many other beautiful cisterns that are left in neglect. One such cistern is in the neighborhood of Fatih, next to the Zeyrek mosque, which was originally a church built in the twelfth century. The renovation efforts of this Byzantine cistern seemed to have been in halt for a long time when I went for a visit. In an empty lot on a hill, young boys were playing amongst the crumbling bricks that were probably nine hundred years old. They seemed to be unaware of the grand historical monument underneath. After descending into a small dirt hole in the ground, I glided through a flooded hallway with humble vaults, to a set of steep stairs leading into a giant hall with rows of elegant marble columns. A small opening high up by the ceiling let in a faint ray of light that illuminated the cavernous space, and the wet marble glistened as if under moonlight.
Michigan Central Station, Detroit, MI, USA
Detroit was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world with the rise of the American auto industry in the early 1900s. Now, the population of the city is reduced to about half of what it was in 1950. The desolation and poverty are plainly visible. Every direction I turned, I saw an abandoned building from the Gilded Age. The streets conjured up what I imagined New York’s SoHo or TriBeCa to have looked like in the seventies.
The Michigan Central Station has become a symbol of Detroit’s former radiance and present decay. When it opened in 1913, it was the tallest rail station in the world, designed by the same architects that designed New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. The main waiting hall was modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse with marble walls and gold-plated chandeliers. The station is now threatened with demolition after more than a decade of neglect.
Richmond Power Station, Philadelphia, PA, USA #1
Richmond Power Station, Philadelphia, PA, USA #2
Looking down from the level where the giant turbo-generators lie dormant, I could see an impressive cluster of smaller machineries that I could not identify. As I tried to imagine how they used to function, the rusty machines seemed to come alive. They then reminded me of the Dada portrayal of people as machines.
Sulukule, Istanbul, Turkey
Being a new stranger to Istanbul, I decided one day to wander alone without a map, completely unaware of potential dangers in different neighborhoods. From the metro station Topkapi-Ulubatli, I walked along the Theodesian Walls, up the hill towards Edirnekapi, where the fifth-century Chora Church is located. Then I saw a large area of demolition, with some half-dismantled houses still standing, pink and blue and yellow walls among the rubbles. The demolition seemed to have stopped and there was no one around me. Only when I walked among the ruins, to my shock, I realized that there were families living in these barely standing structures. Small kids were playing in piles of old bricks and dirt, looking at me with their curious eyes. On top of the hill, a beautiful mosque towered over the whole area.
Later I found out that I was in an area that Istanbul locals consider one of the most dangerous neighborhoods. An average urbanite would not venture out to that area in his or her lifetime. It is called Sulukule, meaning “the Water Tower,” originally inhabited by the Romani people.
Demolition Zone, Moraenae, Seoul, Korea
I have never lived in modern high-rise apartment buildings. I also never understood why they are so unsightly. In Korea, the rate of redevelopment is astonishing. Seeking abandoned structures in Seoul, I came across countless houses with traditional rooftops being bulldozed to make way for new apartment buildings. Many houses were still full of personal memorabilia like family photographs. Residents had evacuated quickly as if a natural disaster were approaching. These scenes reminded me that the sense of security offered by man-made shelters is fragile and fugitive. The high-rise apartment buildings will some day meet the same fate of being evacuated and demolished.
Like any growing metropolitan cities, Istanbul is undergoing constant transformation. In the last twenty years, the migration of population from Turkey's countryside to Istanbul, and the expansion of the city’s boundaries have doubled the population to 13 million. Tarlabasi is a good example of a neighborhood that has gone through many changes in its demographics and economic level. Historically it was a prosperous neighborhood inhabited by Greeks and Armenians, until the 1950s when they began moving out of Istanbul.
Tarlabasi then became one of Istanbul’s most notorious slums, occupied by Kurdish people from eastern Turkey, Roma people, mixing with African immigrants and refugees from Iraq. While living in that neighborhood for a few weeks, I saw many houses from Ottoman era left in neglect and abandoned buildings beyond repair. Many Turkish locals told me never to walk home alone at night, always to watch my bag, and not to wander alone even during the day. Most of those who warned me of these dangers have never actually explored the neighborhood, since it is considered a “no-go” zone for middle and upper class city dwellers.
Now, Tarlabasi has been chosen for a wholesale redevelopment plan. The renderings of the plan show sleek row houses with people dressed in suits and modern clothing, which have very little to do with the current residents.
Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard, Staten Island, NY, USA
Near the southernmost point of New York, there is a deserted graveyard of boats. Vessels of all sizes—tugs, barges, cargos, and ferries—are left to sink and corrode. Therein lies even the fireboat Abram S. Hewitt, which fought the fire that killed more than 1,000 people on the steamship SS General Slocum in 1904. This event was recorded as the worst loss-of-life disaster in New York history until September 11, 2001.
Manhattan Bridge, New York, NY, USA
The Manhattan Bridge is the most exquisite bridge in New York. For years I only looked up at the pigeon-blue domes and elegant metal latticework in admiration. Finally when I climbed to the top I could look down to appreciate its beauty, while feeling the entire bridge vibrate every time the subway trains passed by.
In the 1930s, Robert Moses covered the New York Central Railroad line to expand and improve Riverside Park, creating a tunnel underneath. With an increased use of cars and trucks for transportation, the tunnel was soon abandoned and became a haven for the homeless. Hundreds of people moved into the tunnel and built their dwellings, creating underground communities. In 1991, the tunnel was reopened for use by Amtrak, and the shantytown was bulldozed. It is impossible to know what actually happened to all the evictees.
The tunnel is called the Freedom Tunnel in reference to the graffiti artist “Freedom,” who created large murals in the eighties and the early nineties to commemorate the former residents. Only after having walked through the tunnel, I could understand the implicit meaning of its name–freedom to live beyond surveillance.
Petite Ceinture, Paris, France
Abandoned rail tracks circle around the outer rim of central Paris. Called the Petite Ceinture (“little belt”), the railway was built in 1852 to connect different railroad stations at the city limits and has been disused since the 1930s. One of the tunnels that this railway runs through holds a hidden entrance to the vast network of the Parisian catacombs.
Ossuary, Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France
After studying in Paris for a few months in college, I thought I knew the city quite well, but years later I realized that I had missed an entire layer underneath. There are about 185 miles of tunnels, and only a mile is open to the public as a museum. Some sections date back to 60 BC when limestone was first excavated to build temples, forums, and baths. By the 18th century, some of the quarries that had been dug over centuries started to collapse and pose safety threats. So the existing quarries were reinforced and new observation tunnels were constructed in order to monitor and map the whole system.
Around the same time, Paris struggled with overflowing cemeteries. In the city center, a mass grave called the Cimetière des Innocents became so unsanitary that it was causing serious maladies in nearby residents. Starting in 1786, the contents of the cemetery were moved into the subterranean quarries. Every night for two years, a macabre procession of horse-drawn carts filled with exhumed bones traveled from what is now Les Halles district, crossing the Seine, into the Montparnasse quarter.
Now, the catacombs house the remains of over 6 million people.
Innundated Gallery, Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France
In Paris I developed an obsession with carbide lamps. These lamps burn acetylene gas produced when water reacts with calcium carbide, and they create a warm ambient light that is powerful and irreproducible. They were invented in the 1890s and were widely used in mining for decades. Even now, when exploring extensive underground spaces with water but without any electricity and easy access to exits, it is advisable to use carbide lamps, because they last very long and can always be refilled. With modern battery-powered lights, there are more risks of malfunction which could, in rare cases, result in death.
Cemetery Stairway, Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France
The sense of time becomes warped in the catacombs. Nothing seems to change in the 20-meter deep tunnels—the temperature at 14ºC year-round, the constant water levels, and the damp, stagnant air. When the lights are turned off, the darkness and the silence are so complete that I would start doubting my own existence after a few minutes. Listening to my own breath, I would pace, tread, crawl, clamber for hours with little food and water and still feel alert and agile. Two hours become ten hours at a moment’s notice, and only once I finally exit, my limbs would be stiff like those of a corpse.