Finding Your Way (2012)

In about September of 2012 I received an email out of the blue inviting me to create a sculpture for the outdoor museum at Haslla Art World in Korea, they had a residency program starting in the next couple of weeks. I wasn’t able to go on such short notice but they said I could come later, just wouldn’t be working with the other artists that would be participating. I jumped at the chance and started making plans.

 

Haslla is located in Gangneung Province, on the other side of the peninsula from Soule so after a long plane flight I had a quite a long bus ride to arrive, I think it was about 6 hours. When I finally arrived I was elated.

The Event

My hosts were Prof. Choi head of the arts faculty at Kangneung National University, Chairman of Wangsan International Culture-Art Institute and Director of Hasalla Art World and his wife, Prof. Park, President of Hasalla Art World

When you arrive you know immediately that this is a very special place. The hotel has a crazy exoskeleton design and nothing is “normal”. From huge exhibits to interesting little things placed in nooks and crannies. You will continuously find new and interesting things as you walk around Hasalla. The rooms in the hotel are decorated with custom made “art furniture”. Using environmentally friendly soap the sinks drain into “garden bowls” filled with live plants.

You could walk around Hasalla many times and see something different tucked away somewhere that you hadn’t noticed before, it covers 61 acres.

I didn’t know what I would create for Haslla, my invitation didn’t state a theme for the event. I did have some ideas in mind that I would like to do but all that changed. Prof Choi suggested I spend some time in the indoor and outdoor museums, get a feel for Hasalla and then spend a few days in the studio making models, then he’d have a look at my ideas and choose one for me to do. I’m more used to being fully prepared to work and after a day or less of getting to know my stone, diving straight in.

These are some of the models I did and my statement that went with them.

"Lava Lamp"

I see many organic forms in the park, “Lava Lamp” follows this style. The suspended element will create a sense of floating, as if a balloon in the air or a bubble in liquid. Some people will recognize the subject is a lava lamp and remember this device from the time it was popular in the 1970’s. The main element should be a brightly colored stone such as green, red, purple etc. It will be highly polished. Maybe the back will be metal or stone.

"Embrace"

This sculpture is talking about the differences, and similarities, of people around the world. It is made from one stone and only has a difference on the surface, inside it is all the same. When we embrace different cultures we realize that we share many important values; family, nature, food, arts.

The material should be dark color stone, one figure will be white, created with point chisel and, the other will be black created with polish of the surface.

"Tranquil Place"

A bench for sitting, inspiration for this sculpture comes from the nature around Hasalla. A large vertical element will project a sense of mass, one side polished, one side rough and one side a concave form with water running inside it, a pool at the bottom. The sound of the water and the pool below will create tranquility for users of this bench.

"Looking to the Sea"

This sculpture will represent a bird that eats fish from the sea. People who do not see the representation of a bird will find the combination of cubic and organic forms interesting. The large negative space will be inviting for children to explore.

"Bug"

On my first day at Haslla I found this insect as I walked from my room. He is an interesting form and can be repeated to represent the family. The organic form and smooth surfaces will encourage children and adults to feel the sculpture. Chiseled surfaces on the sides of the pleats will provide an interesting contrast of tactility.

The day that we looked at my models I had my sketch book lying on a table and Prof Choi thumbed through it. He stopped on a sketch of a totem pole that I thought I’d like to do from wood sometime and said this is the sculpture he wanted me to do, and from stone!! I was pretty concerned about that as an 8m totem pole is a big job from wood, from stone it would be crazy. Well, he told me I must do this one and that he knew I would be able to do it easily. I’ve heard that this is the job of a teacher, to challenge the student, what a huge challenge! I ended up changing half of the elements but this sketch is what got me into the challenge.

Art is often about adapting. Rather than go to the quarry and order a stone the size of the material I proposed for the totem, which would take more time away from my task, I decided to use blocks that were onsite. That required changes to the design as I didn’t want the splices to be in the middle of a figure.

I started with the bottom block and worked my way up.

Some people think that art is all fun and games, one of my friends told me that artists shouldn’t be paid for doing public art because it’s so much fun and a waste of public funds. A few weeks later he sent me a photo of a sculpture that he thought was fantastic. Here is some of the fun stuff, try it for a month or so. Satisfying yes, fun…..not.

Eventually I got designs laid out on the blocks and worked on all of them simultaneously. That helped speed things along as I could do my work with one tool on each block and then move along to another tool. These two blocks will make the beaver, one is his his head and the other, his body. Pictures of the head demonstrate some of the progression as it moves along,

I poloished the frog before laying out his details. On some of the other elements I carved the details and then polished. School kids taught me how to say frog in Korean, “kay go dee”.

It was simpler to make holes to represent his warts than to actually make bumps, they were accented with grooves that created a star shape in each one.

One block had three dragonflies, there were millions of them around there when I was carving so I think they will be appreciated on the totem. Dragon flies flit around, they change direction quickly in the air, so the meaning of one on a totem pole is change and joy, I think that’s important in finding your way. Dragon fly in Korean is “chum cha dee”.

After I had been there working alone for a couple of weeks they told me another artist would be coming to join me, I was surprised to see Prof. Noell El Farro from the Philippines step out of the car when he arrived. I worked with Noell in Penza in 2008 and again at the Saigon Sculpture Symposium later that year. He was not working in stone at Hasalla, he did a very cool glass piece that would be exhibited in the park. I believe it was titled “Public Library”.

We got out at least once a week to have a break from working. One night we went for supper at a restaurant that is known for a local traditional dish, buckwheat noodles.

They are made fresh right there in the restaurant with a traditional noodle press.

After Noell worked and worked to make ours the girl who usually does it showed us how it’s actually done, you just stand on the lever. Oh well, they did look like handles, honest mistake.

An excursion to the Busan Biennial was really interesting. There were several venues around the city for this art festival that takes place every two years.

I liked this installation in a warehouse about as big as a gymnasium. It was a lot of metal plants and flowers painted brightly on one side, and black on the other. I thought it was talking about nuclear holocaust, art is in the eye of the beholder.

This exhibit didn’t seem to stand out until you looked into it, it was huge!

Hasalla is well known throughout the area, schools bring busloads of kids to tour the museums and participate in fun activities like painting rocks and working with clay. They can leave their work there, hidden along a path to come back with their parents and show them. What a great idea!

I guess all of the schools have different uniforms, all of the children were really well behaved.

There are just too many things to see at Hasalla in one visit. Everywhere you go there are things to discover off to the side of the path or in the forest, it covers 61 acres!

Another trip was to tour Kangneung University, and other sites in the nearby city.

 

This massive sculpture, the work of Prof. Choi represents the three pillars of education; quality teaching, quality tools for teaching and learning, and quality environments for teaching and learning. It was fall and freezing at night, in the summer water is pumped up the pillars and a pool is formed below. The walkways form a map of the earth, the platforms are in the shape of the five continents.

There were some traditional Korean totems on site too. These would be placed at the entrance to a community to ward away bad spirits.

We visited the family home where Prof Choi grew up and I met his mother who was nearly 100 years old. The house has been in his family for 300 years.

Another evening we went to the opening of an exhibit, lots of art in different mediums. Afterwards a big group went to a local restaurant and enjoyed great food and good conversation about art.

Ok, ok, I know. This is supposed to be about my sculpture at Hasalla but, really, all of this stuff contributes to the work, learning about the culture and their art. I would take inspirations back home with me that I could incorporate in my work in the future.

“Finding Your Way” was nearing completion. All that was left to carve was the eagles head and the wings.

A slot in the top of the eagle’s body would trap the wings in.

Whales symbolize travel so I wanted to get some of them in there, I did a small whale on each wing.

I attended two weddings in the hotel.. Not sure who composed “The Wedding March” but it’s played in every wedding I’ve been to, in several countries, I guess it’s universal.

I also had the opportunity to attend the South East Asian Women’s Conference at the hotel. I was the only guy in the room but that’s ok, the ladies didn’t mind. The speeches were pretty boring for me since nobody said kay go dee or chum cha dee so I had no idea what they were talking about. The lunch and entertainment were fantastic.

After the sculpting was all done we transported it by four wheel drive to the top of a mountain on the site and began installing. I was still working on some details as they were loading some blocks and it was getting late in the day.

By the time we were finished it was dark, we were working in the headlights of a truck and flashlights.

 

The next morning I got up early. Noell came up the mountain with me to see what it looked like in the daylight. As we drove around the corner to it we saw an eagle sitting on one of the wings. I’m not superstitious or any of that but it was definitely cool, he flew off before I could get a picture.

This is the view the last time I saw “Finding Your Way” as we rounded a corner that put it out of sight. I hope I can return sometime to see it again and visit all the new wonders of Hasalla Art World.

After breakfast it was off to the bus depot to begin the journey home, my last sight of the people who I made such good friends with over my month at Hasalla.