Part 3 in the Daehangno District: Statues in Gardens of Arts Council of Korea
To one side of the park is The Arts Council of Korea (ARKO), housed in Arko Art Center (architecture by Kim Swoo-geun, 1977). Arko Art Center, which has become an important landmark in the Daehangno area, is one of the most representative works by Kim Swoo-geun, who wanted the building to be a “poem written with light and bricks”.
The building has exhibition spaces inside, where local artists of all kinds can have their works exhibited. There’s also a café, but I didn’t go into that.
An attractive garden surrounds two sides of the building and I found some fascinating outdoor sculptures in the garden, done by local artists. Here are two, as examples.
The first is called “Ecology Cycle”, 2005, by Lee Sangho (see below)
The second is “Outflowing Strength”, 1978, by Noh Jae Seung (see below)
This small walled park of about 5 acres, on the edge of Insadong (probably Seoul’s most popular tourist district), is a useful place to sit and relax if you’re in the area for shopping, or visiting Jogyesa Temple or Unhyeongung Palalce. It’s also very popular with retired folk, especially men, who seem to gather there to chat and perhaps play a board game while listening to music on their radios. We’ve been into this park numerous times and it’s fun to sit and people watch. In spring, the leafy greenness is made even more beautiful with beds of bright flowering azaleas.
Besides being a tranquil pretty green oasis in the midst of busy Seoul, Tapgol also has a fair bit of history attached to it, some very old and some relatively recent and certainly not peaceful.
Opened in 1897, Tapgol Park was Seoul’s first western-style park, designed by King Gojong’s financial advisor, an Irishman called John McLeavy Brown.
At first it was known as Pagoda Park or Tapdong Park, named after a 15th-century relic—a 1467 stone pagoda from the Wongaksa Buddhist Temple once located here. Tap in Korean means pagoda. The Temple was destroyed in 1504 on the orders of a Confucian king. The 10-tier, 12-meter-high pagoda is a treasure of Buddhist art, but it’s a little hard to see the wonderful carvings through the glass cage around it (but definitely better to preserve it).
Another monument in the park is the tortoise stele Monument of Wongaksa (see above) built in 1471 to commemorate the founding of Wongaksa Temple in 1465. On the front and back are calligraphy and inscriptions recording the story. The turtle-shaped base is granite and the body is marble. Two intricately carved intertwined dragons, rising toward the sky holding a Buddhist gem, top the monument.
The park is also a symbol of Korean resistance to Japanese colonial rule. Historical note: Korea became a Japanese Protectorate in 1905 and a colony in 1910. Korea was liberated in 1945 after the surrender of the Japanese forces to the Allies. Korea never took well to Japanese colonial rule and by all accounts Japan tried hard to suppress all that was typically Korean. Hence the resistance.
On March 1, 1919, Euiam Son Byeong-hui (leader of Donghak church, and educator) and 32 others signed and read aloud a Declaration of Independence under the 8-sided Palgakjeong Pavilion (see above). This was the first public display of resistance to the Japanese and sparked the March 1st Movement. They were all arrested and sent to the infamous Seodaemum Prison (which we visited on our last trip. More on that later). Many people throughout Korea protested against this, but the samil (March 1) movement was ruthlessly suppressed and hundreds of independence fighters were killed and thousands arrested in the park. Ten bronze bas-relief murals in stone frames around one edge of the park depict the heroic, but unsuccessful, struggle. They are well done and very evocative of what happened then. I took photos of most of the panels, so you can tell they made a big impression.
Every March 1st, a memorial service is held here. You can read an English copy of the Declaration on the Memorial Plaque near the entrance to the park. Just inside the entrance is a large paved plaza, with the Memorial on the right. It has the Declaration and statues of two of the heroes. Just to the side is a bronze statue of Son Byeong-hui.
Park is open daily 6am-8pm and is free. Vendors outside sell souvenirs, flags, and snacks. There are clean public restrooms in the park.
Subway: Lines 1,3, or 5 to Jongno 3-ga Station and take exit 1.
I explained about the Seoul Olympic Park and the World Peace Gate in the previous post. Here I’ll focus on a few of the other sculptures dotted around.
As I said before, over 200 sculptures are scattered on the sprawling lawns in the south part of the park, close to the SOMA Museum and Baekje Museum. They were designed and made by sculptors from around the world, and are a great way of showcasing many different ideas. It’s fun to just stroll, looking at the sculptures, admiring some and being perplexed about others. Many people also like to have a picnic near the sculptures. This also became a popular location for movie and commercial TV filming.
Here are a few of the sculptures that we picked out—all 200 are interesting in some way but these seemed more memorable to us. For some, we have pictures but no description, as we couldn’t find the information plaque.
Dialogue, 1987 by Mohand Amara, Algeria. The sculpture shows the value of dialogue between people overcoming barriers such as geography, language, culture and politics. The Algerian artist believes that “art can be a great way of communication, such as how he can connect with Koreans through his work. The two people in the sculpture listen to each other. The sculpture shows the artist’s belief that people are able to not only realize the existence of each other, but also to achieve self-realization and transcend themselves.”
Family, 1987, by Augustin Cardenas, Cuba. The sculpture shows a family tied with love by simplifying a couple and their child into a singe organic entity. “It interacts with the surrounding landscape by keeping the balance between the bottom part, where somewhat geometric supports are and the top part where the human figures are compressed within several volumes.”
Garden Game, 1988, by Kenneth Armitage, United Kingdom. The artist made the sculpture considering the Olympic park as a single garden. The sculpture resembles a white wall, so that it could complement the sunlight in the park. The vertical configuration of the three people occupying a space in the simple square frame, and the movement of arms and legs, give it an overall rhythm and unification.
In 1988, twenty eight years ago, Seoul hosted the summer Olympics, a first for South Korea. Right now, Rio de Janeiro is hosting the summer Olympics, a first for Brazil (and South America).
Every Olympic city-host constructs stadiums, parks and other buildings for the games, for all the competitors and all the visitors. Seoul was no exception, as they were really proud hosts.
The Seoul Olympic Park was created in preparation for the 1988 Games, although large parts of it existed already, and many sports and music festivals are still held in the 6 stadiums dotted around the edge of the park. Many Seoul residents come here to relax and unwind regularly, and on the day we were there we saw many groups of city workers walking during their lunch break.
The Olympic Park, in the area of Songpa, south of the Han River, is a very large, green park with wilderness areas, lakes, a musical fountain, trails, bridges, wild flower garden, rose garden, and museums (Mongchon, SOMA Museum of Art, Baekje Museum, Olympic Museum). A massive 1.6-mile Baekje-dynasty earth fortification, called Mongchontoseong, built in the 3rd century AD, runs through the north part of the park and the Mongchon Museum has artifacts from the Baekje kings (more on all those later). On the east and south east side are attractions built for the Olympics: a swimming pool, tennis courts, three gymnasiums, and the velodrome. Outside the park is the enormous Olympic apartment complex.
The main entrance to the park is across an expansive plaza, called Peace Square, which leads to the World Peace Gate, which definitely qualifies as one of the Olympic statues/sculptures/structures. Beyond the World Peace Gate is the Flag Plaza, still flying the flags of the nations that attended the 1988 Olympics (South Africa was not one of them due to sanctions in place because of Apartheid). The plaza is ringed with fast food outlets, coffee shops, a convenience store, kiosks to rent bikes etc.
Over 200 sculptures are scattered on the sprawling lawns in the south part of the park, close to the SOMA Museum and Baekje Museum. They were designed and made by sculptors from around the world, and are a great way of showcasing many different ideas. It’s fun to just stroll, looking at the sculptures, admiring some and being perplexed about others. Many people also like to have a picnic near the sculptures. This also became a popular location for movie and commercial TV filming.
To get there: Take subway Line 2 (green) to Jamsil, and change to Line 8 (pink) and go to Mongchontoseong. Follow the exit 1 to Mongchontoseong Fortress/Peace Gate. The park is open 6am-10pm daily.
About the sculptures and special structures:
Here I will talk about the World Peace Gate and the pillar masks.
First, the stunning colorful World Peace Gate, started on December 31, 1986 and completed on August 31, 1988. This is the work of architect Kim Chung-up, who designed it to celebrate the spirit of the Seoul Olympic Games—peace and harmony—and also to symbolize the ability of the Korean people. This was the last work of the famous Korean architect (1922-May 1988). The steel-reinforced concrete structure beckons as soon as you exit the subway station—the pillars stand with “wings” that look like bird wings or outstretched arms, welcoming.
On the edge of the plaza, leading to the Gate, are 30 line pillar masks made by sculptor Seung-Taek Lee, a famous Korean interdisciplinary artist, born 1932. The bronze masks are mounted on stone pillars 3m/9ft 10inches high, which are also lamp posts, and are also meant to welcome people to the Gate. Most of them are interesting double-faces, some looking almost like the totem poles I spoke of earlier (see here https://vivskoreanadventures.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/totem-poles-in-korea/ )
The mural on the underside of the roof wings of the World Peace Gate is called “A Painting of Four Spirits”. Blue and red are used to symbolize Um and Yang, which is an oriental symbol of the universe and creativity.
Four spirits guard the gate. A red phoenix guards the south, a black turtle guards the north, a white tiger guards the west, and a blue dragon guards the east. The spirits are depicted as ascending towards heaven and signify the strength of Koreans and their freedom.
An eternal flame is underneath the gate, as well as a declaration of peace calling for world
harmony and happiness for all citizens of the world, regardless of ideology, race, or religion. The Korean people are very proud of this gate. And quite rightly so.
In the following post I will showcase some of the other sculptures.
A really fascinating part of Korean folk art is totem poles, known as jangseung and Sotdae. We first saw some at the National Folk Museum in Seoul a number of years ago, then at the Nagan Eupseong Folk Village near Suncheon last August. There, we saw rows of jangseung at the edge of the village and single jangseung at the entrance to most of the houses within the village. This April we visited the National Folk Museum in Seoul again and sought out the jangseung. They are so striking and unusual that I wanted to find out more.
A Jangseung is usually made of wood, but sometimes can be made of stone. At the National Folk Museum, we saw many examples of stone totems in the grounds, next to the wooden ones.
Although nowadays the Jangseung are mostly found at folk villages or in museums, they were traditionally placed at the edges of most villages in Korea. They had multiple functions: to greet visitors, to mark the village boundaries and frighten away demons or evil spirits that caused famines, natural disasters, epidemics or other diseases. They were also worshipped as village protective gods and villagers prayed for the health of their families, for a baby, or for a good spouse, and for good abundant crops. They believed the jangseung had their ears open to the wishes and hopes of villagers. Each year villagers would hold jangseung rituals, placing offerings of rice cakes and fruit at the foot of their honored guardian.
Jangseung often appear in male and female pairs, with their names written on their bodies, and are distinguished by their head apparel; the male hat is more elaborate, and is probably a soldier’s or government official’s hat. Quite often, the inscriptions refer to ‘generals,’ major generals’ or male and female generals.
Jangseung frquently elicit an emotional reaction. The first impression of a jangseung is that it is both scary and humorous, a dichotomy that seems o have grown out of the artists’ attempts to portray folk gods in a more familiar and accessible manner within people’s everyday lives.
Some are painted, but many are not. Usually, there is an intentional altering of human facial features, such as coarsely-shaped bulging eyes, a fist-like nose, andprotruding canines and front teeth. Through such distortion and exaggeration, the talented jangseung craftsmen depicted a guardian god image, reminiscent of a monster or god from the underworld, while at the same time offering a kind of portrait of the common people in a friendly yet satirical way. So, we might see sagging and benevolent faces of a grandfather- and grandmother-like jangseung; or a toothless, wrinkled smile of a grandmother jangseung and the long braided whiskers of a grandfather jangseung; a character with huge ears, or a gaping mouth, or a scowling mouth.
Part of a jangseung’s allure lies in the relationship between the form of the wood and the way in which the artist has used that to carve something that fits perfectly. Look at any of them, and you’ll see that the face fits the form of the wood. Frequently, next to a jangseung you can find a sotdae, which is another kind of guardian pole with a carved bird attached to the top. Sotdae are still commonly seen in rural villages, even today, and have similar functions as the jangseung.
In the southern areas of Jeolla and Gyeongsang, jangseung are also called beopsu or beoksu, meaning a male shaman.
Although large statues of Buddha are no different in meaning from other smaller representations of the Enlightened One, there are certain distinctions. Buddha images in the open are usually striking simply for their size. But, the location is also an important factor. In addition to a prominent and usually elevated site, as respect for the Buddha demands, the natural beauty of a setting and the sense of calm and serenity coming from physical isolation are often part of the overall design and function of the statue.
Buddha images are made from all kinds of material—bronze, stone, wood, crystal, brick or stucco, or cast in gold, silver or other metal. But the most common for most large Buddha statues in the landscape these days is reinforced concrete.
Buddha images can be found in many countries, notably Thailand, Burma, China, Korea and Japan. But, they all need to be the same in certain ways and have certain characteristics, the three essential ones being kindness, tranquility and enlightenment. People should also note the hands: palms turned upright signify charity, and palms forward mean reasoning.
New outdoor Buddhas continue to be built, especially in Thailand. Many art historians believe that this is an ancient tradition and that many of the huge statues now in temples in these countries were originally in the open.
We didn’t see many huge outdoor Buddhas in Korea on our last visit, but we did note one very beautiful one in Suwon, on the mountainside next to Hwaseong Fortress, overlooking the city.
This giant golden Buddha stands about 2 storeys tall. Its right hand forms the Jnana Mudra (meaning teaching), and its left hand forms the Vitarka Mudra (meaning intellectual argument/discussion). You approach the statue from the bottom, through a small quiet shaded courtyard bedecked with prayer flags and pretty paper lanterns, and get to a small temple in the base of the statue.
Very impressive. Even if you’re not religious, you do get a sense of the special serenity here.
The special conference we were attending in Korea was the 10th Joint Symposium on Rumen Metabolism and Physiology (JRS), held at the Sunchon National University in Suncheon. Rod was a main speaker and one of the special judges of talks and papers by young scientists.
Suncheon is a city right in the south of Korea in South Jeolla Province. It’s an agricultural and industrial city, on the edge of Suncheon Bay, and they bill the city as “Korea’s Ecological Capital”. We didn’t spend any time in Suncheon itself, but did visit the Bay (see later).
While Rod was busy at the conference I wandered around the streets near the university campus and was impressed by how clean and pretty it was. There are a number of coffee shops and small restaurants or bars, and lots of public art—statues, sculptures on the streets or plazas. I also saw many street poles attractively wrapped or decorated, and a long stretch of sidewalk brightly painted—partly advertising, but partly just for fun. It certainly makes what can be urban sprawl and ugliness much more attractive.
It seemed like a very nice campus-town area, not too busy and crowded but with everything a student or a staff member might need.