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Life through stoneHumor, honesty and humility characterize the unique stone sculptures of Chang Kong-ik
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승인 2011.05.27  18:01:30
페이스북 트위터

▲ Chang Kong-ik, founder and sole artist of Geumneung Stone Park, hammers away at his latest creation. Photo by Darryl Coote

There is an abundance of parks on the island, most of which attempt to showcase Jeju’s culture by using one type of indigenous material as an artistic medium. This can also be said of Geumneung Stone Park, but instead of depicting a general image of Jeju, 81-year-old artist Chang Kong-ik finds inspiration from his childhood and brings it to life through stone.

On the day I visited Geumneung Stone Park, located in Hallim, for this article I found the artist covered in dust lounging against a stone calf.

He agreed to an interview and remarked that our meeting was pure happenstance since he rarely leaves his workshop and only did so to grab a cup of tea, a smoke and a short break from his latest creation, which was to be finished in a couple of days.

“Every piece is full of my emotion,” Chang said, “because this allows me to recall my childhood, what my childhood life was like.”

The park is filled with hundreds of stone sculptures of a bygone Jeju. There is a miniature Jeju village, a forest of dolhareubang (Jeju stone grandfathers), tableaus of children playing, and (intriguingly) several statues of people defecating from a platform with eager black pigs waiting underneath, all made from stone. There is a humor, an honesty and a humility to his work that is often devoid from similar parks, which favor a certain seriousness that makes them feel hollow and emotionless. With Chang’s work, his art comes alive and speaks not of a generic Jeju but of how the artist himself sees and experiences the island.

“I wanted to make this professional, to make this art. Now my son also makes this but for commerce. I make this for tourism because I wanted to show everything on Jeju Island and everything about life and culture here,” Chang said.

The park is more haphazard than most, a fact which allows one to wander around aimlessly. My translator, a resident of Hallim who has visited the park several times, guided me first to a cave within the park that houses Buddhist statues. This is the most serious feature of the park, and there were several people praying to the sculptures. Throughout the two hours we spent at the park all the visitors we interacted with seemed to know the work intimately, like stone sculpture aficionados, Chang groupies willing to disperse their knowledge about his work without prompting. Here a man photographing the sculptures informed me that the pebble in the forehead of the main sculpture was not really a diamond, though I believe he confused his precious stones because it seemed more pearl-like to me.

▲ One of the many evocative sculptures within Geumneung Stone Park. Photo by Darryl Coote

Though the park is relatively small, it is filled with hundreds of sculptures which vary in size from ones no larger than your hand to others that tower above you. The petite artist said he has been creating these sculptures for 47 years but only established the park in 2000. He said that some of the smaller sculptures were completed in a day, while the larger ones could take up to a year before being ready to show to the public.

“I work every day, so it might make me seem old,” he said oddly when I remarked that he looked young for his 81 years.

His hard work has paid off, garnering the attention of Korean and Jeju officials who have presented his dolhareubang statues to 50 heads of state such as former US President Bill Clinton and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.

The most impressive aspect of his work is the amount of emotion he imbues into the faces of his sculptures. The way they smile, the soft appearance of the skin, the facial expressions that have been exaggerated to the point of absurdity, all of which gives his work a feeling that each one was carved to convey a different emotion or moment from Chang’s life.

I asked to see his workshop, and Chang was more than willing to give us a guided tour. I was expecting a building of some kind or at least a makeshift shack. Instead he took us to the other side of his park, to an open field covered with shards of rock that had been chipped away from boulders to reveal his personal history hidden within the stone. The little man then picked up his chisel and hammer and went to work on a large stone that was not yet completed but already resembled a woman holding a baby. This is where he works every day of the year, rain or snow.

After fielding a couple more questions, we left him to his work and went to explore the rest of the park, which consisted of a large stone maze and several oddities like a hollow rock that gave out a thundering dull thud when hit with a mallet. I had not expected much when I was asked to report on the park but was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a place on this isle that is tourist-oriented yet genuine, both artistic and promotional. A mixture of two worlds that tend to be quite polarized, but in the hands of Chang can be forged together through stone.

For more information call 064-796-2174

(Interpretation by Song Li Na and Daniel Choi)

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