HIGHRISE, a multi-year collaborative documentary project, is about the everyday experience in global suburbs with high vertical buildings. Under the direction of documentary-maker Katerina Cizek, the web-documentaries pose some questions: “How can this approach be applied to urbanism?”, “How can documentary help re-invent our cities at their edges?” HIGHRISE, based on intensive community collaboration, is going global and local at the same time. Among many documentaries in this project, I watched the one regarding Sylva.
Sylva, who has lived in the Czech Republic since it was formerly called Czechoslovakia, dwells on the 11th floor of the grey, massive block of apartment buildings, nicknamed “The Great Wall of China.” At first glance, I immediately noticed the atmosphere of ‘Socialism’ from the dull, monotonous appearance of the construction. It was similar to the appearance of buildings commonly shown in the footage regarding North Korea.
Exactly, according to Sylva, the grey building in the largest apartment block in the South City was a symbol of Socialism. However, after the Velvet Revolution occurred, the new leader, Vaclav Havel, adopted a new policy of re-painting the buildings into much more colorful ones. “The Great Wall of China,” once considered as an abhorred symbolism, altered into the beautiful building with colorful embellishment.
When it comes to my own personal life, two constructions simultaneously come to my mind. Both are dormitory buildings: one from my middle school; and the other from my high school.
Approximately five years ago, I entered one of the most prestigious middle schools in Korea, CSIA (CheongShim International Academy). It was the only school in Korea where the entire three-hundred middle school students, from the freshmen to seniors, live in the dormitory building. The male dormitory was five-stories high - hardly a "highrise" when I reminisce. However, at the time, this building, housing the prospective future mathematicians, scientists, historians, and leaders of tomorrow, solely intimidated me. Until I graduated from the school, the dorm remained in my mind asa symbol of “inferiority”.
On the other hand, when I entered KMLA (Korean Minjok Leadership Academy), an even more prestigious high school in Korea, I was not frightened by the twelve-story building (this time a true highrise) with fifteen years of history. Instead, perhaps more prepared and enamored by the experience from my harsh, competitive middle school life, I gained the confidence somewhere in my sincere heart. To me, this twelve-story KMLA dorm is a symbol of a new adventure or novel challenge. My negative perception towards dorm buildings shifted into a much more optimistic view, and this is perhaps similar to how the Czech people’s perception toward “The Great Wall of China” apartment building changed.
To seize the moment of the life at KMLA, students do many things. For example, there is a photography club named TTL (Through the Lens). As the name literally suggests, they take many pictures. They capture the dynamic moment of students’ school life as digital photos - consisting of millions of tiny pixels. The members of the club exhibit the photos publicly, displaying their own feelings and impressions regarding everyday objects. In the Highrise clip, Sylva states that her dad has been taking pictures of the surrounding neighborhood for many years. Through photography, he focused on the contemptible phenomenon of the prevailing apartment neighborhood. It's inspiring to see how photography can capture the mood of an individual, and a living environment.
I have lived in dormitories for most of the last five years. My family has been far away from me for most of this, so I also need my own way of expressing myself. Sadly, in my middle school, there was no photography club. What is more, I was not quiet or gentle enough to walk around and take photos of the scenic, breathtaking landscape to soothe my mind or express myself. Instead, I composed and played music. I was interested and talented at playing the harmonica. I started playing it when I was 12 years old. Whenever I was stuck and frustrated by an unsuitably difficult assignment book, such as Heart of Darkness from the Honor’s course, I would put the book aside and scribble a few notes on the white sheet of paper. Then, immediately, I'd play a song with my adorable harmonica, adding some improvisations. Doing so always placated and cured my spirit whenever my mind was trapped within the storm and gale of hectic school life. I continue this habit until now, scribbling some musical notes on my blank sheet of paper during breaks. Maybe, to Sylva’s Dad, photography was his personal, private tranquilizing agent. Accordingly, to me, composing and playing harmonica was, is, and will continuously be my antidepressant.