(Please note, I will be away in Paris for a week or so and may not be able to post on here for a couple of weeks. My apologies)
Part 4: Murals
Behind Maronnier Park many narrow streets lead uphill to much larger Naksan Park, passing through Ihwa Village.
Ihwa Village, still very much inhabited by locals, is known for its murals, created by “Art in the City” project. The murals began to appear in 2006 as the city ministry launched a project to develop the poor neighborhood as a tourist landmark with a unique atmosphere.
I visited some of the lower streets and the murals are really colorful and interesting. However, I also heard that many of the local residents are not at all happy with all the tourists who troop by, taking photos and making a lot of noise.
I guess that must always be a problem if public art is located in a somewhat private area.
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)
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.
In Korea we found many types of statues and sculptures all over the city. Some are very old and venerable and some are cute modern pieces—actually we found that Koreans generally like “cute” things, whether art or kids toys or clothes, or backpacks etc.
These ones, a red creature just outside the new City Hall and a group in the lobby, certainly qualify as “cute”, but when I read the plaque, we found that there is also a deeper message behind the cuteness.
The group inside is called “Hope for Those Who Have Lost Hope”, by Noh, June 2011-2013, automotive paint coloring on plastic.
It’s a group of animals and the plaque explains: “Cat “Clo”, otter “Sudaru”, penguin “Ping” and monkey “Kiki”….Are they animals that look like human beings or humans who look like animals? We can become one by having cute animal faces and human bodies, can’t we? These happy young animals visit City Hall. By seeing them, visitors can have a chance to think again about the abandoned pets that wander the streets of Seoul.”
We couldn’t find out what the outside red animal was—looks like a deer, a llama, or giraffe maybe? Very sweet anyway.
Story Telling through pictures is as old as recorded history—whether ancient peoples carved out images on cave walls, or painted pictures on cave walls, or drew on papyrus or fabric, or made elaborate pictorial stories with stained glass in gorgeous Gothic cathedrals, or with lovely tile pictures in countries touched by the Moors.
They say that “a picture is worth 1,000 words” and that can often be so true. Today, most peoples of the world have a written language and can convey thoughts and ideas via the written word, be it printed or on a computer. But, still many times it’s easier, quicker and more effective, or has more of an emotional impact, to describe something with a picture, or many pictures.
With this concept in mind, I’ve chosen four examples of pictures telling stories that I’ve come across in Seoul.
“King Jeongjo’s Procession to the Royal Tombs”
The first is a 192-meter wall running along part of the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Cheonggyecheon is an urban stream nearly 11 km long running through Seoul that once served as a sewerage channel during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Cheonggyecheon was cemented over during the Stream Coverage Project after the Korean War and remained so until being renovated into its present ecological park form in 2005.
It has a pretty promenade along both sides, with trees, small bushes and rushes; stepping stones to cross the stream; fish in the clear water; numerous bridges for traffic, the underpasses brightly painted; and a number of art works.
One of these is the tile painting, or Banchado, of King Jeongjo.
It is apparently the largest tile wall painting in the world. It depicts King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty, leading a royal procession to visit the tomb of his father at Hwaseong (Suwon) in 1785, escorted by his mother Hyegyeonggung Hong. The original painting (or Banchado), created by famous artists in the Joseon era, is 63 pages long in total. An enormous painting!
Many books and articles call this tile painting a Banchado, based on the old Korean word. A Banchado in the middle-to late-18th century Joseon Dynasty in Korea was an illustration or collection of illustrations for Uigwe, which are books or manuals documenting royal rituals of Joseon Dynasty.
The Banchado of King Jeongjo recreates the work on a magnificent scale in this tile
painting. It is made up of 5,120 individual ceramic tiles, each one 30cm square and 2.4cm thick. As we strolled slowly past the wall tiles, we marveled at how detailed and intricate the tile painting is, and how the artists have constructed it to all fit together perfectly. I stopped and read the information boards (in both Korean and English), giving facts and figures about the procession. It’s immediately very obvious that trying to describe this procession in words would be tedious and not very interesting, whereas this huge painting caches your eye and imagination.
Korea’s Shinhan Bank donated “King Jeongjo’s Procession to the Royal Tombs” to the city, April 2005.
The other three examples are on a much smaller scale but are very warm and human. They are projects done by many local people, who interpret the subject in their own way, all the pictures or tile paintings adding up to a new whole.
Seoul Past and Present
At Unhyeongung Palace, near Insadong, was a small exhibition in a room near the entrance, called Sketches of the Past and Present, done by members of the public. As the information board describes it, “In Seoul, the modern and the traditional exist in harmony. The quiet and lonesome temple sits under the tall building. As we sketch the streets, alleyways and roads that connect the graceful ancient palace with sleek skyscraper, we can see the complete spirit of Seoul. This is the inspiration that we would like to share with those who visit this exhibition.” A lovely idea and some really nice drawings/paintings on paper.
Thoughts of Insa-dong
The next one is a wall of tiles, 10m by 2.8m, as you approach exit 6 at Anguk Station on Line 3. The square tiles (maybe 30 cm square) all fit together and make a running narrative about Insa-dong. As the board says, “This is a collection of story wall paintings made by citizens in addition to 168 artists. Each of them, handwritten or hand-painted contains yearning and admiration for Insa-dong. It is so meaningful in that celebrities, authorities and fresh artists created fresh narrative apces through the great story wall including respective flows of memory, according to ages, periods and occupational fields.”
Some of the tile pictures are clear and obvious, some a bit obscure (to me anyway), some with very modern themes. All very interesting.
Thoughts about Hangeul
The final one is a tile wall behind the central information desk between the King Sejong and Admiral Yi Exhibition Halls underneath Gwanghwamun Square. It too was done by local citizens and is their differing interpretations of and feelings about Hangeul, the Korean alphabet created by King Sejong. These are much smaller tiles, so from afar the wall looks like an abstract colored mosaic. Look more closely though and you see that each tile has a drawing and some text. This is a great idea, as the Korean people are justifiably proud of their special language.
A Happening Place: Gwanghwamun Square on a Saturday
***Please note: This has a lot of pictures—very nice ones, I think!
This 555-meter-long and 34-meter-wide square is in front of Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace, and one of Seoul’s main landmarks. Behind the palace compound is the Bukhansan Mountain to the north. Statues of Admiral Yi Sun-shin (who repelled the Japanese invasions of the 1590s) and King Sejong (who created the Korean alphabet), the historical figures most respected by Koreans, are on the square.
Walking south, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History is on your left, then the Embassy of the USA and embassies of Austria, Australia and Finland. On the right, the main feature is the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
This square is often a rallying point for different demonstrations and protests, so you’ll always see a large police presence—also because of the embassies along here. It’s a perfect place for shows and expos as well, as so many people pass by here.
We spent many hours wandering around here last Saturday and were fascinated to get a sample of the kinds of events that take place here. In spite of the poor air quality (the yellow dust was rated at an emergency level) there were still many activities happening on the square.
First, at the north end, we found an exhibition for World Book Day 2016. What a fun and important thing, to encourage reading. Kids were reading in an open tent; people could borrow books from a small library; various artists were decorating or illustrating large “books”; huge mock-ups of famous titles, a book ‘tower’ and a large blue elephant illustrated the theme. A young lady invited passers-by to write on a large board, so I added to the messages—some about books and reading, many about Seoul and experiences in Seoul.
Next we saw a lovely 3-storied pagoda with lions as corner pillars and fanciful creatures at the base. It’s not marked in our guidebooks, so we wondered if it was new. It looks real enough. But, turns out it’s a paper pagoda lantern, copied from Hwaeum-sa Temple’s stone pagoda (National Treasure no 35), made on a wire frame and filled in with Korean traditional papers. It took about 4 months to manufacture the lantern using traditional methods of Korean lantern-making. It emphasizes a traditional image and colors of an ancient relic, rather than splendid colors. The 4 lions playing the role of pillar symbolize the lion’s courage in protecting Buddhist doctrines. At each of the 4 edges of the lantern are fairies playing music as an offering to Buddha. It will be here and lit up from April 20-May 15, 2016, as part of the general festivities for Buddha’s Birthday this year—on May 14, and a pubic holiday in Korea. It’s an amazing structure and we never guessed at first that it wasn’t solid!
A little beyond that is the statue ofKing Sejong, and we discovered that below that is an underground Exhibition Hall, half devoted to King Sejong, his life and accomplishments, and the other half to Admiral Yi. We explored both of them and they are well worth an hour or so. There’s a small café down there too.
Next we came across a lot of white tent-stalls, and discovered they are part of an Integrative Medicine and Healthy Lifestyle Fair, which was on for the Friday and Saturday. It was fun to breeze through that, looking at some of the goods and ideas on offer (what we could understand anyway!).
The statue of Admiral Yi towers above the wide metro entrance ramp to Gwanghwamun Station, Line 5. That morning as we walked towards the statue we were very lucky to happen on some traditional Korean dancing near the metro entrance. A group of women dressed in white hanboks with either green or orange trimmings were performing a Ganggang Suwollae. This is a traditional round dance, performed at the time of a full moon, and is to bring hope for a good agricultural year. Three leaders sang as the only form of musical accompaniment and also guided some of the dancers. It was wonderful to watch the group circling, dividing into lines, flowing into an “S” shape, or forming a human arch.
At the southern tip, just beyond the statue of Admiral Yi on a tall pedestal with fountain jets at its base, is the tented Gwanghwamun Family Memorial Altar to commemorate the Sewol Ferry Disaster on April 16, 2014. Tragically, 304 people died, most of them school children on a field trip. Sadly, 9 have yet to be found. This Memorial has been here a while, and many people come to pay respects or add a yellow ribbon.
Who would have thought that in such a
relatively short distance we could experience so many different things and learn so much abut Korea!
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.