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‘We like gentle anarchy’Matthieu and his troupe add much-needed energy to Jeju’s streets with their unconventional performance art
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승인 2015.09.14  13:49:45
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▲ Photo courtesy Matthieu Durin

“I am not sure I am an artist. I just know how to juggle. You need a big ego to say ‘I am an artist’, " says Lyon-native Matthieu Durin as we talk about his life as a juggler, market trader, husband and father.

Clearly not a man of convention, the Frenchman and Jeju resident of three years is an itinerant performer and merchant, going against the grain in a country notorious for its grueling office culture.

▲ Photo courtesy Matthieu Durin

The island’s exoticism more than slakes his thirst for travel as he roves from market to market, with a festival or two in between, selling his handmade accessories and juggling “just as a way to express myself,” he says.

He learned his trade at university — “I juggled more than studied” — and his penchant for it has allowed him to bypass language barriers all across the world from Europe and Africa to Asia.

“It is always good to share artistic ideas with people on the street, especially if you don’t speak the language. Sometimes it is just aesthetics, something beautiful, other times we try to give a message about ecology, or about our hopes and fears. We always try to say something meaningful,” he adds.

Known as Jeju Juggling when alone, the “we” is Salgoce, a six-strong troupe comprising one Korean, two French and three Japanese members. The name means a naughty kid who defies authority, hinting at their artistic approach.

▲ Photo courtesy Matthieu Durin

“Usually we don’t do what people want. If we are told to stay on the stage, we try to move into the audience because we don’t want to respect all the rules. We don’t like rules. We like gentle anarchy.”

Their composition reflects this disregard for convention, being diverse in artistic and national background.

“It is difficult for us because we are from different artistic worlds. Go is from live painting and is a painter, Ruben is from improvisation theater, Ko Hey and I are from the circus side, so we try to mix it a little bit. But me, I really love to play with fire, so that is my role in Salgoce.”

It is the element’s primal essence that draws Matthieu to it and, appropriately, Salgoce will be performing at the Jeju Fire Festival next year.

“I feel the strong energy of fire. It is really powerful, like poetry. It also means so many things all around the world and it has really powerful energy — shamans use fire, it was the primitive way to cook, and we used to gather and tell stories around it.”

Matthieu’s own journey to Jeju is worthy of such a campfire setting. In fact, the first time I saw him he was telling it on the nationwide fly-on-the-wall documentary, Human Theater.

▲ Photo courtesy Matthieu Durin

His wife, Soo Yung, is a Korean adoptee brought up in France who long had no desire to return and explore her Korean roots. At 30 years of age, however, as the couple was in Korea en route to Japan, she decided the time was right to search out her hometown.

The map showed two places with similar sounding names: Chungju and Cheongju. They opted for a bus to Chungju. It was the wrong city, but someone at City Hall took them to the local records office, and then on to a nearby police station.

“The officer said, ‘I have your grandfather’s phone number. Do you want me to call him?’ My wife was like, ‘Wow, everything in 20 minutes! Okay, let’s go.’ ”

The next day she was face to face with her late father’s family.

“It was really, really, really powerful. Continued on page 8 Continued from page 5 Even if I talk about it now, I am emotional. For me, even though I saw my baby born, it was the most powerful day of my life.... My wife had all the answers to her questions within 24 hours.”

Eventually, they also found her mother, who had moved to Jeju 15 years previously. After being reunited on a later visit, the decision was made to relocate here so Soo Yung could find her “roots, history, and identity.”

“It also allowed us to continue our traveling. It was the perfect idea,” he reflects.

▲ Matthieu Durin is comfortable performing alone or with a group and takes particular enjoyment from bringing a smile to children’s faces. Photo courtesy Matthieu Durin

Building a family on Jeju has only deepened Matthieu's appreciation of childhood, and his latest project would see him perform for free at local hospitals as Jeju Juggling. He is looking for support from local hospitals so he can bring a smile to more children's faces. “I hope we can visit monthly from next year,” he adds.

Matthieu doesn't expect riches doing what he loves, and Jeju's mountains, beaches and open spaces more than make up for that. The island is “perfect for a family,” he says, and he now feels at peace and full of hope for his son’s future.

“Even if I cannot make money, for me the most important is to spend time with my baby and my wife.”
With everything he wants right here on the island, where does he see his future?

“Maybe in 10 years I won’t be juggling anymore. I always like to learn new things, meet new people and have new experiences. One thing I don’t want is routine. That is my nightmare.”

You can see Salgoce at the Jeju Fringe Festival in October. You can also connect with them on Facebook or email

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