The mascot for Suwon, Suwoni, is drawn on the piece of gum when Gum Painting campaign took part in Suwon on Oct. 11. Photo provided by Gum Painting.
While walking, people rarely observe the pavement, spotted with black lumps that were once chewing gum. Gum Painting helps people create small universes upon the discarded chewing gums.
“I wanted to point out the one-time selfish behavior of consumers by painting on top of the abandoned gum,” said Kim Hyung-chul, the founder of the Gum Painting campaign. “The gum was once bought to please consumers. Then once its service was done it is abandoned and forgotten.”
The Gum Painting campaign began when Kim was a university student. For an assignment, Kim initiated a project where he selected a small sector of pavement, removed all the gum, and drew a map that showed where the remains originally were. Kim then transformed the format into painting the discarded gum on the pavement. Since then, Gum Painting has continued to expand and is blossoming with new ideas and opinions.
The campaign focuses on all kinds of gum on the ground, regardless of its shape or location. The gum’s surface is evened out and painted over with an acrylic paint with whatever picture the participant wants to draw. The gum is scraped off when the campaign is over.
“At first, we used to leave the paintings as a display,” Kim said. “But I once saw a janitor scraping all those pictures off. The janitor said that it had looked like small pieces of paper stuck onto the ground. I realized that the painted gum we leave behind can also be an undesirable sign to other people.”
Gum Painting does not seek to renew nor cleanse the gum but rather draws attention to the small things that people tend to look over. That is why the Gum Painting campaign emphasizes the act of painting rather than the display of the finished work. Around 10 campaigns have taken place each year, with volunteer groups from organizations and university clubs. Though the campaign activity requires artwork, not many of the participants are actually related to the field of art and there are no requirements to join. Since the campaign needs to receive permission from City Hall, for the painting and removal of the gum, it is important that no trace is left on the pavements.
As participants paint small lumps of gum by lying down on the ground, there are times when some passersby misunderstand them as beggars.
“There were many times when people gave us money,” Kim said with a smile. “We had to put a board nearby with pictures of our work to let people know that we are creating artworks. Once, a middle aged woman even ‘helped’ me up as she thought I fell down due to the paint pots and brushes lying on the ground.”
For Kim, personally, Gum Painting has helped him keep in touch with his passion for art.
“During your life there are times when you have to deviate from your desires to obligations and the discrepancy between the two increases over time, with interests usually being treaded upon,” Kim commented. “Gum Painting has served as a remedy for me and in this current society, it is important to keep in touch with what you tend to forget: your passion.”
The Gum Painting campaign has kept records of past works by taking photos before they were scraped off. Until now, there were no physical works left for both the painter and onlookers to enjoy, as they were scraped off right away. However, it is now trying to lift some of the works off the ground for preservation and exhibition. Recently begun preparing for an exhibition that shows the works of participants, it is expecting more artworks to be exhibited.
“We have quite a small collection and some works are hard to track down as the painters took them home as memoirs,” Kim said. “It is also a hard process of selecting adequate ones for the exhibition.”
Regardless of the current hardships, Kim looks forward to the exhibition, as it will show how the campaign enables more people to pay attention to the discarded chewing gum - things that they have once neglected in their busy lives.