1. The Map and Stories of Manshin-10000 Shaman Spirits
People who predict everyday matters of the future and the residents who depend on their prophecies are quite common in Anyang 5-dong. However, these shamans, often called fortunetellers or shamanistic performers, and their shrines are not marked on any map of the town unlike the churches and temples. In this town, Manshin is a private, secret faith in the shadows and the oldest indigenous religion.
In light of this, what was I trying to portray by searching for nearly fifty Manshin houses which are one of the current sights of Anyang 5-dong? When I first began this project, I was interested in documenting the different characteristics of the past, the present, and the future of Anyang 5-dong, which is a town that preserves the look of an old neighborhood while most of the towns in the city of Anyang have been modernized. Instead of focusing on the changes from the past to the present, I wanted to draw a sketch of 5-dong’s future by seeking answers from today’s shamans in the town who make their living as fortunetellers. At the same time, I wanted to investigate why these shaman houses are exceptionally cohesive in 5-dong and to listen to the stories of their lives as residents of the town.
After I started this project and met the shamans in 5-dong, I realized that most of them were not interested in communicating with the town. These shamans, who don’t hold large ritualistic ceremonies or serve strong shaman spirits, are in position between advisors who listen to people’s troubles over tea and pass on the words of the spirits, and businessmen who earn money by those activities.
I questioned them, “I’m making a map of Manshin in this town. I will mark your place on the map and exhibit it. How and when did you come to 5-dong? How is the energy of the land here? What will change in the future? What kind of consultations do people usually seek when they come?”
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼2. Visible Crossroads and Hidden Alleys
One of the virtues of Anyang 5-dong is that every corner of an alley is connected to the next, so when you’re lost, you can find your way back by going around a corner to a familiar spot. I opened the map and marked the boundaries of 5-dong and repeatedly walked from one alley to the next. On those walks of many steps, endless thoughts crossed my mind in slow and fast rhythms, like breathing.
The discomfort of an uninvited guest, who’s guilty of invading the quiet life of the town with the excuse of a public art project, continued during walks through the alleys; the sympathy for shamans, who hide behind barely noticeable signs and flags, continued until I reached the next alley; and the weight of the action of knocking on the doors of their uneasy lives continued to the next.
First, I marked the Manshin houses with the most visible signs on the main crossroads. I courageously opened the door and stepped in to find the colorful flamboyant shrines. The shamans decorate, take care of, serve, and perform devotions to the shrines. The daily routines of these shamans who serve the spirits include waiting for and greeting the customers and seeking answers from the spirits. Everyday chores that everyone else does are added to this routine.
It was the waving flags in almost every little alley that first drew me into this exploration as I walked around the town. There was more to be found than I expected even deep inside the residential areas, and I was intrigued and I wondered who would come to visit such places.
After some time, it became a continuous ritual to walk into every corner of the town to find these hidden Manshin houses. It was a ritualistic act as well as a conscious acknowledgment. I was conscious of daily weather and the lunar dates.
Is today a day of the full moon?
One day, when I followed a rooftop flag of a Manshin house, I found the door was locked. The downstairs neighbor told me that the shaman wouldn’t be back until the next day since it was the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar, which is a prayer day.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼I thought I might come back the next day, but I also knew it was uncertain if I would meet this shaman at all. In most cases, if the first meeting didn’t go well, the second one was more difficult. If one shaman greeted me happily, then the meeting with the next one on the same day usually went relatively well. These predictions could be because of a jinx or just a series of coincidences. While these repetitive incidents occupied most of the time of the project, the logical approaches and concepts were lost in many steps circling the town, and they became as useless as the waving national flag on the rock of Gwanmobong-the top of Mt. Soori.
Holding my breath, I cautiously pushed the slightly open door and went inside. A happy greeting didn’t last long when they found that I was not a customer but just a visitor who wanted to talk about some random art project. The rejections in words and gestures were quite common but understandable considering their reluctance to exposure. A nervous visitor sometimes hears the inviting words offering coffee inside.
Most of these invitations come from the shamans who are new in town and happy to meet any visitors. While having some tea and sharing stories of their lives, it seems a feeble request to ask for a planned interview. The development plan is an issue of the government and its system, and the shamans who are busy serving their spirits and ancestors and making a living everyday would hardly care about the plans of the town. Their daily prayers are for the well-being of the local customers and spirits, and of other residents of the town. Maybe these prayers for individuals and spirits are more meaningful for the well-being of 5-dong’s today and tomorrow.
When the sun starts to go down, I ask for an interview on camera, and they first ask permission of the spirits.
“She wants to interview us. Should I or should I not?”
They ask in the air and receive answers in silence.
When the camera rolled, they would light up the shrine even brighter and whisper to the symbolic ornaments on the table. “You were shining and excited from the morning because you wanted to be on media.”
Questions about the future of the town soon led to questions about their lives in the 100 past and the present: why and how they came to Anyang 5-dong, and how their lives ￼￼￼￼￼are here and now. The main theme may have shifted to the shamans, then what will be the final documentation I make of this town?
After the interviews, first I say words of gratitude. Now, maybe I’ll go back and be a customer; this time asking about the future of this project.
*The map of Manshin was produced in three different versions. They were installed on the second floor and the basement in the studio in Anyang 5-dong where the interviews of the shamans were displayed on monitors. The paper guide map was distributed in the town along with our project catalogues.
** There were forty-nine Manshin houses when I finished marking the map. In the span of a week or two, some of them disappeared and new ones appeared. It never stayed at the number fifty, since one of them would quickly move away as soon as it reached fifty.
- September, 2010.