Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ju Ming Sculpture Garden

- This article is dedicated to Michelle Chen, her parents, her four sisters - Li Hua, Shu Xia, Li Ying and Lili (in order of seniority) and their respective husbands (see photo at bottom of the page).

When Michelle and friends visited central Japan, I joined their off-road Awajishima expedition to see a temple of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism built under a pool of water lilies by Architect Tadao Ando. I was afraid they might have troubles finding the small temple. While we were on the topic of off-road traveling, I casually mentioned to Michelle that I had visited Isamu Noguchi's Stone Garden in Mure, in Shikoku, across the Naruto strait from Awajishima. Noguchi was very interested in the stones from nearby Gokenzan (Mt. Five Swords) quarry, and he used to stay at his studio provided by his masonry friend whenever he headed for Japan. The venue was hard to find, but well worth the trouble to find it.

Her eyes lit up. She asked me if I had visited Ju Ming Museum in Chinshan. She said that Ju Ming (1938-) is Taiwan's most active contemporary sculptor and suggested that on my next trip to Taipei, I should visit Ju Ming's Garden. By public transportation, it takes more than two hours one way from Taipei. Chinshan is located on the north shore near Keelung, but hidden inside the mountains. (I saw a beautiful monastery in the distance from Ju Ming's Garden. According to Google, it was the Dharma Drum Mountain, the holy religious temple.)

So on a sunny, warm day in December 2005, Michelle and her sisters' families escorted me in their car through Yangmingshan, treated me to a gourmet lunch in downtown Chinshan where Michelle's other sister and her husband have a pharmacy shop, and gave me a complete tour of Ju Ming's Garden.

Ju Ming Museum opened in September 1999 after 12 years of planning by Ju Ming and his family including everything from site selection, grading, park and landscape layout, building schemes, fountain and pond setup, storage area, ...etc. Ju Ming's vision and mission is to bring a lot of fun, entertainment / education to children, as well as adults. It doesn't have many moving vehicles/components, but visitors get that playful feeling, similar to visiting Disneyland in California.

The park sits on 26 acres (about 10 hectares) of sunny terrain, secluded from the main road. The land in Taipei, as in Japan, is at a very high cost for choice property. Chinshan was quite a visionary to develop this entertainment resort and as a result, he has became a cultural icon.

A map designates 10 specific locations, including the exhibition hall, service and education center, Ju Ming's workshop, Taiwan and World Artists' corners. I spent most of my time in the Tai Chi, Human and Sports Squares admiring Ju Ming's bronze and wood sculptures. The exhibits are classified into three categories - Tai Chi Series, Living World Series and Nativity Series.
Tai Chi Square is the main attraction and the largest area of the park. Displayed there are gigantic masses of bronze, rough and wild, mostly two fighters engaged in powerful motions of crouching, kicking, kneeling and striking. I should note here that many Tai Chi figures of Ju Ming were shipped to the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and Singapore. Mt. Hakone in Japan has an open air sculpture garden where visitors can see Ju Ming's Tai Chi sculpture.

The Living World Series are wood or metal sculptures. Life-sized figures line the path where you walk. There are soldiers, dressed in camouflage combat attire, sailors on roll call on deck, men/women from all corners of the world, painted in lively colors. In the Sports Square are athletes, gymnasts, pilots, parachutists, bicyclists, motorists all frozen in mid-motion. You eventually come upon a dozen bronze men, clad in raincoats some with umbrellas. It invites you to imagine playing hide and seek in this maze of sculptures. The Nativity Series includes farmers, buffaloes, and local folk art.
Ju Ming started his sculptor career as a young apprentice wood carver in Sanyi (Miaoli), south of Taipei, known to locals as the Taiwan craft cradle. He made his name as a Buddhist image carver, being called the return of Enku, the old Chinese Master Carver. Ju Ming practiced Tai Chi boxing to build up his physical strength when he was young. This led to his unique and successful Tai Chi Series.

Ju Ming won the 18th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2007 and I attended the ceremony. He came with his son. However, I was unable to listen to his lecture as attendance was limited by drawing. He still works hard and recently added the world of Scientists as well as a Swimmers section he called Swan Lake. Ju Ming used Styrofoam as additional material for Scientists and Swimmers. His initial models were in fact, made from Styrofoam, covered with clay on the surface, and then molded through lost-wax casting. After undergoing these processes, the sculptures were further burnished to express a young girl's delicate skin and graceful body curves. I hope some day to visit again to see the new additions.

Here are some Ju Ming's philosophic quotes:

1) Art must be cultivated, not studied.

2) You have to have a dialogue with the material in your hands. You have to quiet your mind and wait for the words to speak to you.

3) Someone being skilled at woodcarving is not necessarily an artist. Nowadays everything is called art: sitting down, wearing clothes and so on. On a spiritual and intellectual level, art must be practiced like a Buddha practices. A Buddha begins as a wondering monk, cultivates
himself, becomes wiser and achieves enlightenment.

The Chen Sisters

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