|Bae Young-whan The Garden of Disappearing Letters|
2014, steel, fluoride resine coating 2200 Japanese Yews, height 30 cm. Commissioned by the 4th Anyang Public Art Project (APAP)
Installation view, Kimchungup Museum, Anyang, 2014. Courtesy the artist (Photograph: Hong Cheolki, Kim Jungwon)
Kimchungup Museum is situated on a site rich in history, once occupied by Anyang Temple, Jungcho Temple and a pharmaceutical company. The ground located behind the museum’s Munhwanuri Hall is the old site of Anyang Temple’s Main Hall (the main building of a Buddhist temple compound which enshrines the main object of veneration, in this case, it the Buddha statue). More recently, the site was occupied by a pharmaceutical factory, which is evidenced by the columns still remaining on the ground. However, as it is the case with history, only a small part of the history hold by the space was witnessed and recorded, while the vast part of it disappeared without a trace.
Bae Young-whan has built an interesting body of work by visualizing such invisible things through various approaches. His 2007 collaboration piece with the students from Seoul National School for the Deaf, *Sign Language: The Most Beautiful Words in the World*, for example, gave a visible voice to the deaf by transforming their silent language into visual representations and showcasing them on the street crowded with people. In other words, the work visualized what cannot be heard and communicated it to the public.
For his APAP project, the artist worked on the 24 columns deserted, or left behind, on the ground behind Munhwanuri Hall. The project was completed in two-part process—landscaping and reforming the columns. The landscaping works were undertaken to create the Chinese letter “龜” (which means “Turtle”), inspired by the Turtle Base, which confirmed the grand scale of the temple. First appeared in the Silla Dynasty, turtle bases are used as the base part of headstones. For this project, the artist planted Japanese Yew bushes in the shape of the letter “龜,” instead of the usual turtle-shaped stone sculpture. The design for this base was inspired by the three “龜” letters of different designs by the late Joseon period poet and calligraphy artist Ji Woonyeong, which are carved in the rock-cliff near Sammak Temple in Samseong Mountain.
Of the 24 columns, the artist encased the eight located in the central row with new golden sculptures. The eight columns, each bearing ancient (Sumerian cuneiform and Mayan hieroglyphs) or disappearing (Hunminjeongeum and ancient Chinese letters) scripts from eight different civilizations, share the fate with the remaining columns that symbolize the absence of the forms once existed. In his work *The Garden of Disappearing Letters*, the artist does not question what has disappeared. Rather, he pays a tribute to the history held by the bygone space by engraving disappearing letters on the remaining columns.