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Culture

Monument for the fallen focuses on community : Artist Kang Ik-joong’s installation in Suncheon, South Jeolla, colorfully links the past to the present

June 09,2018
“Memorial Garden” by artist Kang Ik-joong has been built at Suncheon, South Jeolla’s new memorial monument. The work features an exterior of hangul mosaics, pictures by local citizens on the inside and a monument engraved with the names of fallen soldiers. [KANG IK-JOONG STUDIO]
“Bridge of Dream” has been installed by artist Kang Ik-joong in 2013 at the Suncheonman National Garden, covered with colorful mosaic tiles on the outside. The walls form two tunnels, inside which are pictures drawn by some 120,000 children all over the world. [YOON SO-YEON]
SUNCHEON, South Jeolla - Memorial Day, which falls on June 6 every year, is dedicated to commemorating those who have lost their lives protecting the country. Citizens and government offices across the country hang flags outside to honor the fallen, and the nation bows their head for a moment of silence at 10 a.m.

The city of Suncheon, South Jeolla, tried something new for this year’s Memorial Day. Instead of building another large, solemn memorial statue commonly found in parks across Korea, the city invited artist Kang Ik-joong to create the “Memorial Garden” inside the Suncheonman National Garden, an art installation on the outside and a memorial statue at its core.

“Memorial Garden” stands 36.5 meters (119.8 feet) in diameter and is 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) tall. It is made up of Kang’s famed mosaic works on the outside, along with some 65,000 drawings created by the citizens of Suncheon displayed on the inner walls.

The outer wall is a colorful mosaic wall, with each tile containing a letter used in a variation of “Arirang,” a traditional Korean folk song. Each tile has been carefully created with small glass blocks of many different colors. The artist’s wish for the two Koreas to unite and sing the centuries-old song together was the impetus.

Walking inside reveals what makes up the work’s identity as public art, whereby the residents of the city from all walks of life - from elementary school students to seniors citizens - have contributed drawings on the theme of commemoration.

At the center is a black marble monument with the names of 3,816 people from Suncheon who died for the country carved into it. Named “The Eternal Flame” by the artist, the centerpiece will have a flame in the middle throughout the year, to commemorate the fallen patriots.

What artist Kang explains as a “happy revolution by art” is his effort to bring both the idea of commemoration and art closer to the public, by fusing the two together. “Public art can refer to art that’s [made] by the people, but also [made] for the people and of the people,” said Kang. “This particular work, the ‘Memorial Garden,’ has been put together by 65,000 citizens, and it will also be used by the residents in the future as a place to come and pray for their loved ones.”

“Just like all other revolutions, public art as a ‘happy revolution’ needs three things. Firstly, it needs a leader, an artist. Then it needs the supporters, the public. And most importantly, it needs a greater cause, of why we are doing it. With ‘Memorial Garden,’ we are linking the past with the present and the future, with life and death of our ancestors.”

Kang is known for his 3-by-3 inch paintings, which he collects from people of different backgrounds to complete his works of art and are at the core of his identity as a public artist. Some of his works that have been highly acclaimed around the world include “Amazed World” (2001), “Floating Dreams” (2016), which was displayed in United Kingdom’s River Thames and “Bridge of Dream” (2013), a work which stands near the new “Memorial Garden” in the Suncheonman Garden.

“Memorial Garden” is Kang’s first work related to Memorial Day. The city’s original memorial monument, which sits eastward of the city center on top of Mount Jukdubong, will be removed in the coming months after families come together to cremate the wooden ancestral tablets.

“Memorial monuments are usually built high into the sky, mostly because our ancestors used to want the spirits to have an easier time travelling into the heavens,” said Kang. “This one has been built very low, and with different colors, so that it will become a part of our ordinary lives and sit next to us.”

According to Kang, the idea of a memorial monument by an artist was conceived through the effort of bringing the annual memorial event closer to the public, which has seen fewer people each year.

After taking the time to commemorate the fallen with the “Memorial Garden,” a walk across the “Bridge of Dreams” is a look into the artist’s hopes for a united Korea. The work takes on a similar tone, with hangul mosaic tiles on the outside and some 120,000 pictures drawn by children all over the world on the inside. Kang hopes to build a circular version of the bridge across the Imjin River after unification.

“I like the idea that we are not alone, and that we are all connected,” said Kang. “It’s like an echo. When we say something, we echo back. The South and the North may seem separated, but we are not. We’re all within the same Korean peninsula.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]
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