[KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Sun Aug 19 19:53:15 EDT 2012

Dear All:

Back to GARDENS and to Soswaewŏn -- at least in this posting.
Here comes my reply to Werner's arguments, trying to summarize things 
as much as possible. It has been a little hard to explain my 
argument, as several issues and fields intermingle, and each of these 
need major revisions. So, my response does not read as streamlined as I 
would like it to read, but I see the discussion already shifts to 
lighter waters, and so I better post it before everyone has forgotten 
what the discourse was about.

1. GARDENS are being studied in various fields, by landscape architects 
(as an extension of architecture, of historical landscape 
architecture), because any sort of space that is 'cultivated' can as 
well be seen as architecture, and also because there are buildings, 
walls, man-made ponds, etc. in gardens like Soswaewŏn. Landscape 
architects usually look at the history of gardens to then make 
suggestions of how to preserve or alter historic gardens. To them 
preservation is not equivalent to some stable 'keeping as is' model, 
neither to a 'reconstruct as was' model. It's more of a fluid concept, 
that takes into consideration both, the original utilization and 
aesthetic concept as well as the contemporary needs, their owners' and 
visitors' wishes and expectations. Than there are the art historians 
who somewhat compete with the historical landscape architects. But art 
history was and still is, even in its newer radical version, always 
object oriented. That is, we look at the object, here Soswaewŏn, and 
try to describe it, try to reconstruct its state (via means of textual 
description, maybe drawings) at it was at various times, just as if 
time were a tree, and you cut through it and disclose how much or 
little it grew in every year, if it was a year with much rain or a 
drought where it did not grew, etc. And in order to explain the object 
we look at whatever we can find out about society and historical events 
at the various times we want to reveal with our time-cut, but then, 
ideally, we also again use what we found out about the object to add to 
our understanding of how society, religions, etc. worked at a set time. 
Furthermore, we have archaeology: archaeologist basically do the same 
art historians do, but are usually less interested in particular 
objects, more so on material culture (incl. tools) in a wider sense, 
that is then used to form our view of life at a certain period. As we 
all know archaeologists get their hands dirty in order to also 
reconstruct buildings, gardens, entire historic sites. Contemporary 
archaeology (other than Schliemann and early founders) does not use 
myth, legends, or poetry much at all, but rely more on the hard 
sciences like chemistry, physics, paleozoology, etc.--but there are 
also many overlaps with other disciplines such as art history. Finally, 
there is literature (theme: gardens or landscapes and poetry), 
ethnology, geography, anthropology, and religious studies--all of which 
also have an interest in gardens. In sum, other than just historical 
approaches that, to say it in simple terms, cut the time tree into 
slices and then look at each slice in order to describe how social or 
material reality looked like in that slice, we also have fields looking 
at issues less determined by the dimension of time. Mentioning the last 
set of fields I do not want to miss also mentioning a very impressive 
book: _Sitings: Critical Approaches to Korean Geography_, eds. by 
Timothy R. Tangherlini and Sallie Yea. Honolulu: U of Hawai'i Press, 
2008. Please do NOT get confused by the term 'geography' in the title. 
It is a book about localities and changing, managed, manipulated, 
constructed and reconstructed localities of Korean culture. Soswaewŏn 
or Tamyang are not being discussed, but the book still relates to the 
kind of discussion we have here. To me this is one of the most 
important books on Korea of the past years when it comes to 
understanding modern Korea and the entailed relationship between modern 
and traditional and what that means for changes in cultural life. From 
the point of view of "Korean Studies" as an academic field this seems 
to me a very successful, because truly interdisciplinary approach that 
aims are asking questions and giving answers to a modernized, 
contemporary set of questions of understanding the inner workings of 
cultural production and reception that in a locally limited space. 
(This, of course, is just my view.)

2. With these different fields and the different research interests and 
various "production" interests, we should ideally have plenty of 
studies at our fingertips that analyze all kinds of aspects of a place 
like Soswaewŏn. That should result in an all-over discourse and 
field-specific sub-discourses. That is not the case, and that is what I 
indicated earlier. Certain to-be-expected discourses never happen. I do 
argue here that this is the result of what we usually call 
institutionally dominant art history--and not just art history but also 
state and corporate dominated archaeology and other fields. Art objects 
and cultural objects are in Korea understood as a visual representation 
of the entire society. That is basically a very Eurocentric and 
outdated concept of culture (maybe best represented through the works 
of art historians like Gombrich). Same as Gombrich was concerned about 
a canon of valuable artworks that would represent certain periods and 
entire cultures, Korean state and corporate institutions are interested 
in celebrating and ever expanding a canon or cultural objects that 
represent the nation. [NOTE: I always also mention 'corporate' because 
the big corporations have such a special role in Korea.] The outcome of 
this desire is that the sub-text, the pressure, call it what you want, 
that these institutions create by how research sponsoring, job hiring, 
direct and indirect censorship, etc. works, pre-formulate major 
research results. As an archaeologist, for example, or as a conservator 
in a museum, the work on historical artefacts entails anything from 
indexing and cleaning over repairing to radically reconstructing 
objects. Archaeology in Korea, at least for the sites seen to have 
major importance, often apply later textual sources and myth and 
legends, if the outcome would otherwise not substantiate the expected 
outcome, and when it comes to reconstruction we are far more often than 
in other places also in an extreme situation of radically reconstructed 
objects that are aimed at producing a pre-defined interpretation of the 
nationalized past. I can just encourage you to talk to any foreign 
archaeologist or historian of urban development having had projects in 
Korea to get critical details. (As I also mentioned--see my Dresden 
example--this happens not only in Korea. But the role that assumptions 
and judgements play in how historical artefacts are being analyzed and 
reconstructed, and the artificially limited discourse that informs such 
decision making processes, this seems to make Korea one of the extreme 
sample cases.)   

3. When I look at Soswaewŏn from an art historical point of view and as 
someone into the social history of art history (art historiography) 
also, I would want to talk about at least three historical cuts: (a) 
early-mid Chosŏn (the planing and construction period), (b) any cut 
within Chosŏn period, and (c) 1990s to present. We cannot talk about 
(a) and (b) without discussing (c), because (c) determines what we know 
and how we evaluate the past. The 1980s generation of ongoing young 
Korean critics and art historians had alternative concepts to interpret 
Korean culture. But their aspirations crumbled rather faster than 
slower after they had themselves integrated into the new more 
democratic government with the same old, renamed institutions, now 
being in charge of cultural policies (which had not been reformed at an 
institutional level). The off-center creation of the Kwangju Biennale 
in the mid-1990s and the government-sponsored restoration and 
functional remodeling of Soswaewŏn into some sort of a theme park for 
mass tourism, with Bamboo Museum, wellness center, and other related an 
unrelated constructions in its neighborhood were at the time model 
projects of the new government.They were also a result of this shift in 
personal and part of the new governments' effort to decentralize 
culture--some sort of reparations payments to the Ch'ŏlla-do region. I 
remember very well that bus loads of retirees and school children of 
all ages--we talk almost a million people here--from Seoul and 
elsewhere were unloaded at the Kwangju Biennale compound to see my 
friend Su-en Wong hanging bare-breasted on a laundry line. After having 
been told to admire the great contemporary art they were then pushed 
back into the waiting busses that drove them to Soswaewŏn to celebrate 
the nation's great culture of "typical" Chosŏn period gardens and 
countryside culture. The Tamyang area had around 50 or 60 pavilions, 
and Soswaewŏn has about ten structures, including the family villa, 
most of which had completely been destroyed; these were reconstructed 
at the time. Major parts of the garden itself had been in bad shape and 
were reconstructed in the 1990s also. In spite of looking into various 
PhD and even M.A. theses, and articles on Soswaewŏn, I could not find a 
single work that would clarify exactly what was reconstructed when, and 
on what basis (archaeological work seems never to have been done 
there). Anyone who knows better, please correct. I myself did not see 
Soswaewŏn until 2000; have you seen it before the 1990s? Without 
verifiable data--I could not even find older photos of the entire 
garden--it is hard to say anything about that reconstruction process, 
and how much the garden's current state reflects today's needs and 
concepts (ready for mass tourism), or how "authentic" it might be. What 
state is the garden supposed to reflect, the 16th century, the 18th 
century? No specific time then? Possibly rather, as the Frauenkirche in 
Dresden, idealized bits and pieces of historical stages and designs, 
plus completely new arrangements? 

Every single reference to Soswaewŏn states that it would be 
"representative" for mid-Chosŏn period scholar gardens. However, to me 
that sounds like an exaggeration: the Tamyang area and Soswaewŏn seem 
rather outstanding, and I have not found any proof for similar 
non-court and non-temple gardens during the Chosŏn period that would 
compare. If indeed the Chosŏn period would have had any sort of 
energetic garden culture with all that belongs to it, then we would see 
more such gardens remaining, and far more textual sources that relate 
also. While there seem to be neither archaeological nor serious art 
historical studies, a lot of papers deal with Soswaewŏn as a meeting 
place for scholars and with the poetry that was written there. These 
studies state that during the very early years, the 16th century, 
nature and gardens themselves were also a subject in the poetry that 
was composed there, while in later periods there were only more 
generalizing references to nature. That is on more indication that 
there was still some interest in gardens left in the early years as a 
left-over from the Koryŏ period, but that this disappeared later. Let 
us please recall that Buddhism has a master narrative, and gardens can 
symbolize parts of that, while, as mentioned before, geomantic beliefs 
are rather passive in character and have no organizational form. 
Neo-Confucianism again asks for actions, and its is also development 
and technology oriented (that is, it would not advocate to "leave 
nature as is"). Although, as we all know, Korea is unique in how 
various belief systems and religions coexist and intermingle, 
neo-Confucianism became the leading ideology, and we should not forget 
that those scholars who were exiled to the Tamyang area or retired 
there, were all former chief ideologists, so to say, government 
ideologists trained in the finest details of neo-Confucianism. These 
yangban would not actively take on geomantic ideas, discuss these and 
create gardens--that would have opposed neo-Confucian concepts. Quite 
the opposite to Japan or Europe, this must have been, as Professor Best 
suggested, a rather passive process. Passive in the sense that 
geomantic ideas had always been widespread and were completely adapted. 

4. Language--we should also talk about language:
Below is a reproduction of the 1755 woodprint that Werner had 
mentioned, followed by a modern vertical cut through the garden 
(1983, reproduced in many publications on Soswaewŏn).
Soswaewŏn Map 瀟灑園圖 (woodcut, original printing stock was from 
1755), 35.3 x 25.5 cm:
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: Soswaewo?n_1755.jpg
Type: image/jpeg
Size: 241649 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://koreanstudies.com/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreanstudies.com/attachments/20120819/18442b76/attachment.jpg>
-------------- next part --------------

Soswaewŏn, vertical cut:
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: Soswaewo?n_vert_cut.jpg
Type: image/jpeg
Size: 121148 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://koreanstudies.com/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreanstudies.com/attachments/20120819/18442b76/attachment-0001.jpg>
-------------- next part --------------

I like to come to LANGUAGE now. Lets start with pictorial language. The 
1755 woodprint "map" presents indeed a kind of aerial view from bird's 
eye perspective. It is of course more than a "map" in the modern sense 
as it includes simple drawings (not just symbols) of the buildings, 
walls, plants, a brook, and is that two men playing paduk in the 
center? As you know from other such maps there is no linear 
perspective, but we are presented with four different perspectives 
united in one image: from above, and then from three sites (e.g. the 
trees at the bottom appear either upside-down or seem to grew left to 
right). We see these traditional renderings of landscapes in Korea 
until well into the 1910s. It is noteworthy that this map does not have 
any geomantic symbols! Werner, you may remember that e.g. Gernot 
Prunner, long before you came to Hamburg, was researching this field 
(Cheju-do geomantic maps, for example). David J. Nemeth did a lot of 
research on that also, also with Cheju-do as focus. Anyway, this map is 
no different from any official maps that could have made for the court 
in Seoul, for example. I can well imagine that the actual garden 
landscapers (whatever the term would have been in the 16th. cent.) may 
have drawn a geomantic map. Fact is, the owner and his family seemingly 
did not associate with Daoism and geomantic principles to the degree, 
on an intellectual level, that a written or pictorial statement would 
have been made. If we consider this to be a geomantic garden, then this 
again means we cannot talk about "garden culture" as that would need to 
involve a continuous strong intellectual discourse around the 
structuring of the garden, and thereby obviously with geomantic 
principles. That was never the case, not for the owner and the other 
sonbi invited there.
The lower drawing shows a vertical cut through the garden. Vertical 
cuts through space are probably the primary means for contemporary 
architects and designers to visualize and represent their work to the 
public. I found various versions of this architect's drawing in almost 
every work on Soswaewŏn. Also to be found in all the works I got are 
special note on that tight valley with the brook, and on how and why 
that is meaningful for the up and down views the visitor has, explained 
within the context of geomancy. 

I'll give you here a typical excerpt (slightly edited) of how all the 
Korean works analyse the cultural landscape of Soswaewŏn, *independent* 
of the field of study:

(QUOTE A:) "It could be found that the opening and closing of Soswaewŏn 
shows the continuous stream of Yin and Yang from the entrance to 
Kwangpunggak and then creates the polar change of Yin and Yang whenever 
one or two spaces are passed. The entrance is composed in a way the 
sound of the bamboo forest and of water and the yin-yang of shade may 
cause polar changes. Taebondae causes the polar change of Yin-Yang of 
shade and light and water sound in the narrow space of 2x2m. Aeyangdan 
is the space of ultimate Yang of light, whereas Chewŏldang is the space 
of ultimate Yin of light. Kwangpunggak, again, is the combined space of 
ultimate Yang of water sound and of ultimate Yin of light."

The above text does not draw any line between content of the 
ideological belief system that is said to have informed the planning 
and construction of the garden and the language of the analysis--both 
melts into each other. In addition, it does not describe geomatic 
principles as an underlaying cultural context but as a belief system 
that is very actively being applied, just as it would have been the 
case with e.g. Buddhist or Christian symbolism and story-telling. I 
found that all the academic works on Soswaewŏn that I could locate, 
with no exception, used this same faulty approach. 

Now a description by a British architectural student (James Decent) 
from London, here the part on the walls at Soswaewŏn:

(QUOTE B:) "Soswaewon's walls make confident spaces in the landscape. 
The overlapping walls and tiers stagger the typography. Whereas the 
landscape ungulates naturally, the stone walls contrast with their 
right angles, straight horizontal and vertical lines. This contrast 
does not mean they are out of place or context. After so many years 
they define and make the place; make the context. Their geometry is 
interesting because it is obvious they are human interventions. They do 
not mimic nature. Their logical forming of geometric spaces means we 
notice the contrast of the found/existing and natural. We read the 
natural more clearly. Of course these walls are not perfectly straight 
in their construction. The stone used to make them is rough/uncut, 
unshaped. This creates an imperfection that ties it back to the 
natural. It also humbles the confidence/boldness of the architecture. 
The walls stop without enclosing anything. The gate does not form any 
functional separation, it is purely spatial/experienced."

So, in this second description we see a more technical description, 
with some evaluation, that succeeds to describe and appreciate the 
object (the garden as architecture) without ever mentioning the 
religious or ideological system that it is said to be informed by. To 
me, this is a far more helpful approach in explaining the object than 
the one given in QUOTE A, which ends up as a sort of esoteric outburst 
where we do not even have a reliable description of the object. Every 
field has its specific methods and terminology. What we see happening 
with Soswaewŏn in Korea though, is a strange reduction to the same kind 
of non-field-specific language (although not always as extreme as the 
quote given). This again is yet another clear indication to me that 
there never was any garden culture. If there was, then there would just 
so much to be said and described (art historical, about literature, 
about special architecture, about the manpower and related jobs) that 
these geomantic terms would be used in relation to describe their VERY 
concrete applications.

Let me finish this with a third quote from the already mentioned book, 
a longer quote from David Nemeth' chapter in there. It gives you an 
idea of what is otherwise possible, of how p'ungsu and related 
terminology can be discussed in the context of tradition and 
modernization, AND what other discourses would be possible when 
discussing Soswaewŏn (the quote is not about Soswaewŏn).  

   P'ungsu and Enlightened Underdevelopment Thinking
While difficult to articulate in words, cosmological diagrams, p'ungsu 
(Chinese feng-shui) maps, and humanized landscape paintings by 
traditional East Asian artists have often captured in their idealized 
images and arrangements the perfect outcomes of prolonged enlightened 
underdevelopment thinking. What is striking about the neo-Confucian 
natural village and is revealed in East Asian landscape paintings is 
the achievement of human productivity in splendid isolation. This 
natural village in turn is seen as the ideal subsistence society, where 
"everything produced locally is consumed locally." The "sincere" 
neo-Confucian landscape should be seen as an ideological construction. 
Artifacts of the "sincere" cultural landscape were "architectures of 
ideology" constructed as didactic (teaching) and mnemonic (memory) 
devices that influenced farmers as they negotiated the landscape. They 
reproduced the dominance of neo-Confucian ideology, in cyclic fashion 
with the seasons, year upon year. P'ungsu practices played a major role 
in this reproduction process.
   Despite this long historical construction of the "sincere" 
landscape, modernization theory systematically destroyed it, through 
the sacrifice of the neo-Confucian natural villages. Although my 
critique is directed at developmental ideology in South Korea for its 
violence against natural village manifestations constructed by 
neo-Confucian ideology, Korean neo-Confucian ideologues were in their 
heyday no less harsh in wresting space from shamanism and Buddhism in 
order to construct neo-Confucian space. (...)
----END OF QUOTE----

We can very well discuss art objects, aesthetics, religion and belief 
systems, and economics and social history all in one text or one 
book--and the volume edited by Tangherlini and Yea is successfully 
demonstrating that, and I also see quite a lot of rather sophisticated 
literature on Japanese gardens and art that does so. Just from Korea I 
see mostly self-limitations of discourses, and what remains aims at a 
sanitized history in which shiny happy people hop around to drink tea 
in colorful synthetic designer costumes all through the Koryŏ and 
Chosŏn periods. 

A few, just a very few, artists have taken on such corporate and state 
discourse limitations already--see e.g. the ARIRANG video by Young-Hae 
Chang Heavy Industries (http://koreaweb.ws/videos.php ). On the other 
site we have Korean state organizations and 'private' corporates with 
their well-financed toolbox of censorship, power networking, and art 
and research sponsoring. See e.g. the lovely, sugar-coated art videos 
sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, such as 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRKp0nxiTX4 Yummy! What a visual feast, 
and even with sound! I fear that's not even comical anymore. Yet, a 
whopping 83 views on YouTube also demonstrates that money cannot always 
buy success overseas. All this comes as all-inclusive package.



Frank Hoffmann

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list