A garden that can fulfill not only one’s practical needs but also his or her aesthetic ones. One that appeases and rejuvenates one’s weary and jaded soul as he or she is sauntering about it. One that elevates and boosts one’s spirit and at the same time empowers him or her to reflect on himself or herself by allowing his or her hectic mind to be quietened down. One that can grant one the same satisfaction as possessing his or her own utopia. Do you have this kind of garden? Only a scarce number of people would be lucky enough to afford to say “Yes”.
A year ago National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul opened its doors for the first time with the objective to be perceived as an urban cultural center that welcomes visitors with warm, open arms. Since the Museum greeted visitors with its eight different shows on its opening day, it has successfully lodged itself firmly as a downtown museum which is committed to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality cultural experiences by taking great strides in realizing its ambition to be cherished by the wide public having offered a total of sixteen exhibitions and projects in the course of the initial twelve months of its operation.
Garden, with a luxuriant green forest with the sea as its background waiting to receive visitors at its entrance, is conceived and presented to celebrate the fact that MMCA Seoul has accomplished one of its missions to become a utopian garden for the general public on the first anniversary of its birth.
“One’s mind should contain thousands of books. One’s eyes should have read hundreds of great books and scriptures of previous ages and generations. And the wheels and footprints of one’s wagon and horse should have been to half of the entire world. Only then, one can pick up his brush.”
Zhao Xihu (Southern Song, active circa 1195 to circa 1242)
Later rephrased by Dong Qichang (Ming Dynasty, 1555-1636) into “traveling thousands of kilometers and reading thousands of books,” these words address the importance of one’s every experience including, but not exclusively, learning and mastering some things as the source of artistic creativity.
In “Encounter” viewers are surrounded by works of art that are reflective of the multifarious and even chaotically boisterous aspects of our lives. They are to be delighted to see the scenes full of vitality, love, gratification, and jollity on one hand but on the other to be confronted by those inflicted by gloominess and madness and even by the memories of the hurts and bruises that did not fail to succumb to war and death.
Anybody would want to cultivate his or her true character and nature in the woods or a garden […] Nobody likes to be hindered by worldly troubles. Everyone aspires to be a celestial being sitting on the foggy clouds encircling the top of a magnificent mountain […] Yet their eyes and ears are blocked from seeing and hearing what they want to see and hear. Then, if a painter with great ability creates and delivers wonderful paintings of such dazzling scenes of nature, one would not need to be in mountains or gardens to enjoy and appreciate their beauty and power […].
Guo Xi (early to late 11th century)
The attempt to gain by way of paintings the pure energy that can be attained by being in the breaths of nature is the very cause behind the transference of the dominance over the painting scene of the Northern Song from figure painting to landscape painting.
A space for “Pause” awaits viewers at the very point where the rampages of brilliant and unsettling colors and disquieting emotions have stopped. Its dense black-and-white forest under a magnificent waterfall helps one to slow down his or her hurried mind and to take a deep breath of fresh air. In the present time where our minds are invaded by plethoras of images and information, we might be desperately in need of artworks that contain the ‘qi’ of nature through which we can unwind our nerves and relax our tense senses as was the case with our ancestors who took a delight in landscape paintings.
Upon entering a darkened dark space after taking a pause in the woods, one finds an eighteenth-century Buddhist hanging scroll made during the Joseon Dynasty and works by a twenty-first-century American video artist are conversing with each another.
Buddhist hanging scrolls are Buddhist paintings that are hung on flagpole supports during Buddhist rituals held outdoors to accommodate large crowds. Buddhist hanging scrolls are to be found only in the three countries in the world-Tibet, Mongolia, and Korea. It has been known that the subject portrayed in this immense Buddhist hanging scroll on display here is Shakyamuni Buddha. This scene of holding up a flower has its origin in the famous legendary anecdote known as the “Flower Sermon”. The story tells: Flowers rained from the sky during a wordless sermon given by Shakyamuni Buddha on the Vulture Peak. He picked up a lotus flower among the flowers that had fallen and held it up silently before his disciples. Only Mahakashyapa suddenly understood the hidden meaning behind the Buddha’s act and smiled. Regardless of its authenticity, this tale has a great significance as a superb example of a dialogue without words.
Together with the huge Buddhist painting scroll, two video and sound installations are on display: Tristan’s Ascension and Fire Woman. These works by Bill Viola were produced for Wagner’s opera created based on the Celtic legend called “Tristan and Isolde”. For these installations made as part of the Tristan Project, the artist made a use of high-speed film cameras to engender the effect of slow motion and added imposing rumbling sounds. Viewers are immediately swept by an enveloping ambience of sublimity and majesty that these works are generating.
These three works of art are displayed together in a single space. But the use of a sequential lighting system prevents them from being seen all at the same time. It is as if one throws a question and then disappears from a stage and the other enters it in order to give an answer. It is not just the works that engage in the dialogue. Encouraged to take part in this dialogue, viewers are forced to be faced with the questions that their inner minds ask them.
4. Wandering at ease
The idea of “Wandering at ease (in Chinese, 逍遙遊)” is coined by Zhuangzi by combining the Chinese words “逍遙 (strolling around freely)” and “遊 (play)”. As a principal notion of the aesthetics of Zhuangzi, this concept of play can be defined to espouse the need for the purification of one’s soul, the liberation of his or her mind, and the attainment of the ultimate and absolute truth.
Garden’s final destination whose layout resembles the structure of the quadrilateral pond with a circular isle at its center, which has its origin in the idea of “Heaven is round and Earth is square,” consists of masterworks selected from the collection of National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. Works by Nam June Paik who maintained “Art is just fraud” are occupying the round-shaped island at the center together with non-narrative, monochrome paintings. Around them stand two other works looking toward them: We Are the Revolution by Jeseph Beuys and a painting by Suh Eun-Ae, where her convivial imagination is unfolded into a self-portrait flying towards a thickly-wooded mountain on a robot, symbolic of old friend. Here, a delightful feast is being held by an extensive variety of artworks by both foreign and domestic artists made during the period from the 1950s to recent years that can be integrated by no common denominator. And in participating in this play of festivity while walking around the exhibition space, viewers can immerse themselves in an experience of “as if swimming at a leisurely pace” across the pool of the imaginations and sensitivities of those artists.
Do you have a garden that is both useful and beautiful, that manifests and reflects your life, that facilitates you to ease your breath away from your frantic and exhausting daily routines, that lets you to discover your inner sublimity, that both makes you be brave and calm enough to confront the existential questions heard from your mind, and that gives you the answers to those questions so that you can lift your soul and mind and take a stroll in freedom with no burden on your shoulders?