The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA, Director Youn Bummo) and the Deoksugung Palace Management office, Cultural Heritage Administration Royal Palaces and Tombs Center (Manager Won Sung-gyu) present Deoksugung Project 2021: Garden of Imagination from Friday, 10 September to Sunday, 28 November 2021. The event will take place in the outdoor gardens of Deoksugung Palace.
Marking its fourth edition after being held in 2012, 2017, and 2019, this year’s Deoksugung Project invites nine artist groups from different generations and various fields. Contemporary artists Kwon Hyewon, Kim Myeongbeom, Yun Suknam, Lee Yeseung, and Jinnie Seo; landscape architects Kim Ahyeon and Sung Jongsang; animator Lee Yongbae; botanist/botanical illustrator Shin Hyewoo; and intangible cultural asset Hwang Suro will look back on the history of Deoksugung Palace and deliberate on the meaning and value of 2 contemporary gardens with “garden” as their theme.
A “garden” is lexically defined as “a plot of ground inside a residence where flowers and plants are cultivated,” but in a broader sense, it can be described as a form of “artificial” or “second” nature. Gardens mediate the connection between humans and nature and wholesomely represent human values and current attitudes about nature and culture. The project’s subtitle “Garden of Imagination” is inspired by the late Joseon Dynasty’s culture of uiwon (意園), or a garden of one’s mind. The literati of the Joseon Dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries cultivated “imaginary gardens” where they could indulge in and express their elegant tastes without external restrictions. With a contemporary uiwon in mind, the participating artists of this year’s Deoksugung Project contemplate on the garden’s history and philosophy and consider practices to reinterpret it through various focuses and possibilities. Each artwork is distinguished from one another by genre and medium, and each artist by their generation. In a sense, each work is an individual garden with its own story; collectively, the works simultaneously interrelate to create a larger whole in harmony and tension.
Kwon Hyewon’s video work introduces five virtual gardeners at Deoksugung Palace who come from different time periods—from centuries ago to the future. The conversation among the gardeners sheds new light on the plants that have long coexisted with humans. The work also features a conversation between the upright Korean red pine (Pinus densiflora f. Erecta), from which the pillars of Junghwajeon Hall have been made, and the trees surrounding the hall, reminding viewers of the non-human beings that outlive human memory and perception.
Yun Suknam’s new work made of recycled waste wood presents an imaginary conversation with an old tree planted around the time of the construction of Seokjojeon Hall’s grand garden. Viewing the transition of the once exclusive palace into a public space as a key event in history, the artist renders the faces and bodies of unknown Joseon-period women using lucid outlines and bright colors to convey their will and anticipation for a new era.
Jinnie Seo focuses on the creation of the grand garden in front of Seokjojeon Hall and the consequent demolition of Junghwajeon Hall in 1911 as she explores the historicity embodied by the site. Deeming the difference between the East and West and tradition and modernity as communicable “intervals” rather than as disparities, antonyms, or opposing concepts, the artist mediates the contrasting spheres through her work to bring them eye to eye. The artwork, which is perpetually shaped by wind and sunlight, serves as a time machine to the past, helping audiences rediscover the surrounding landscape.
Kim Myeongbeom casts a deer—traditionally regarded as a symbol of longevity in Korea—from stainless steel and places it alongside the three oddly shaped stones in front of Jeukjodang Hall. The stones, an essential element of a traditional garden and a metaphor for an enchanted land, also symbolize longevity, while the deer’s combination of heterogeneous elements—the body of an animal and plant-like antlers— intensifies senses of unfamiliarity and fantasy and prompts viewers to take a second look at their environment. 3 Designated as an intangible cultural asset for her mastery in court craft, Hwang Suro has revived the culture of chaehwa (royal silk flower making), which was dissolved with the Japanese occupation of Korea. The quintessence of Joseon-period court art and a form of garden culture, works of chaehwa adorn Seogeodang Hall, the only hall in Deoksugung Palace that is not decorated with dancheong (traditional multicolored paintwork on wooden buildings). Produced using beeswax and pine pollen on silk or ramie fabric, chaewha embodies the philosophy of respect for life. The unweathering flower, produced to represent a yearning for the Joseon Dynasty’s immortality, was used as a centerpiece at the royal banquet that celebrated the 40th anniversary of King Gojong’s reign.
Landscape architect Kim Ahyeon uses indoor carpeting to create a hybrid garden in which the East and West, the traditional and modern, the indoors and outdoors, the living and non-living, and the soft and hard coexist in a state of tension. This horizontal space, created where Deokhongjeon Hall and Jeonggwangheon Hall stand vis-à-vis, also serves as a memorial garden for Emperor Gojong and Empress Myeongseong.
Animator Lee Yongbae and landscape architect Sung Jongsang also reflect on the dramatic life of Emperor Gojong, who lived through a time of upheaval and foreign intervention that thwarted his dream of modernizing the Korean Empire. The artists dedicate an animated garden to the oppressed emperor—a garden the emperor might have imagined for himself.
Botanist and botanical illustrator Shin Hyewoo imagines herself as an imperial botanist during the early modern period of the Korean Empire, when various Western flora began to be brought to Korea. Having studied the plants found inside Deoksugung Palace since this spring, the artist unfurls their stories in specimens and illustrations.
Media artist Lee Yeseung uses augmented reality to project a virtual 21st-century garden across the hybrid space that is Deoksugung Palace. When visitors scan the QR codes distributed around the palace using a smart device such as one’s smartphone, moving images of Deoksugung Palace’s gardens and figures related to the uiwon culture of the late Joseon Dynasty are vividly projected before their eyes. The images can be reencountered in the form of videos and 3D-printed objects at Deokhongjeon Hall.
In cooperation with the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation, Deoksugung Project 2021 also presents an online feast for the senses that marries art and music. An original song inspired by Yun Suknam, Kim Myeongbeom, and Kim Ahyeon’s works and written by Sim Eunyong and Kim Bomi, members of the band JAMBINAI, can be enjoyed by scanning the QR code in front of the three works.
Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA, notes, “Deoksugung Project 2021: Garden of Imagination is a beautiful garden in the city center that is open to interpretation and embraces all genres, media, generations, and genders. We welcome those who are mentally and physically fatigued from the prolonged pandemic and hot summer to take a moment to relax and imagine while strolling through the Deoksugung Palace gardens this fall.”
□ For general inquiries, please call +82-2-2022-0600 (MMCA Deoksugung)