Small Korean island pays homage to famous Austrian artist
The first week of March still feels like winter in Seoul but on Jeju Island, it is already springtime. Thousands of bright yellow rapeseed flowers are in full bloom and the sea breeze, though still robust, feels refreshing.
As Jeju’s flora flourishes, a smaller more rural island off the east coast is also awaiting a new beginning.
Famous for its natural and unkempt landscapes, Udo (pronounced oo-do) is an island that measures 6.18 square kilometers (2.39 square miles).
Because of its size, most visitors only stay on Udo for only a few hours, usually cycling around the island’s coast then taking the ferry out back to Jeju.
But the Hundertwasser Park and resort, which opened last week, is hoping to entice visitors to relish Udo’s beauty a little longer.
Like its name, the park is constructed with the philosophy and artistic style of the Austrian artist, architect and ecologist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928–2000). He is one of Austria’s three representative artists along with Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918).
During a press conference for the park on March 3, CEO Lim Byeong-cheol, said that Hundertwasser inspired him and his team to build a “natural artistic park.”
“As soon as we encountered Hundertwasser, we knew it had to be his park,” said Lim. “His philosophy, artworks and Udo were a perfect match.”
The park contains all the quintessential elements of Hundertwasser’s architecture such as gilded onion domes, highly saturated colors and curvy lines. All the designs were created in close collaboration with the Hundertwasser Foundation in Austria and Hundertwasser’s friend and co-worker Heinz Springmann, according to Lim. Springmann is a German architect who implemented Hundertwasser’s designs on buildings such as the “Living Beneath the Rain Tower” in Plochingen, Germany.
Another aspect of the park’s structures is the uniquely-shaped windows ubiquitous along the buildings’ façade. According to Lim, there are a total of 131 individually designed windows in the park.
“To Hundertwasser, a window was more than just a window,” explained Lim. He then quoted the artist from his writing titled “Window Dictatorship and Window Rights” (1990):
“A person in a rented apartment must be allowed to take a long brush and paint everything outside within arm's reach. So that it will be visible from afar to everyone in the street that someone lives there who is different from the imprisoned, enslaved, standardized man who lives next door. “
Tree branches protrude from some of the windows. The trees have been planted in window boxes placed between exterior window frames and interior windows on the building. Explaining that the trees are a part of Hundertwasser’s tree tenant initiative, Lim said that preservation of the nature was a major factor during the construction phase of the park.
“We have transplanted over 1,600 trees that had been growing here,” said Lim. “Now, there are more trees growing on these grounds than before.”
Lim said they underwent this rather costly and time-consuming process to strictly keep in line with the beliefs and philosophy of Hundertwasser.
“Hundertwasser believed that humans were visitors to nature and that we should respect it,” he said.
The undulating floors and grass-covered rooftops are some of the other efforts by the park’s officials to adhere to Hundertwasser’s organic philosophies.
“With the construction of the park, we wanted to break the paradigm that buildings only destroy nature” said Cho Hyun-chul, president of Hundertwasser Park.
Hundertwasser Museum inside the park is one of two permanent Hundertwasser exhibitions in the world followed by Kunst Haus Wien Museum in Austria. The museum on Udo has some 20 original pieces by Hundertwasser as well as dozens of other drawings, recreated murals and 3-D architectural models.
The second museum in the park, Udo Gallery, holds exhibitions of rising Korean artists. Currently, it is showing works by Jeon I-soo, a 14-year-old artist and author.
The park also has two gift shops and three cafes.
About the size of seven football fields, the entire park and its condominium complexes (called the Hundert Hills) stretch along the coast of Tolcani. Tolcani, meaning a cow’s fodder, is named so because of the dip in the land that has been created by volcanic eruptions.
It used to be one of the less visited areas on Udo Island because there is no road that leads to it. But the park brought the landscape into the spotlight as visitors to the park can now sit on cafe Tolcani’s terrace and be privileged to the stunning view directly above the precipice.
Surrounding the park is some breathtaking scenery and the island has plenty of stimulating activities to keep its visitors busy.
Udo Peak, otherwise known as Someorioreum Volcanic Cone is a 10-minute walk away from Hundertwasser Park. Rising some 100 meters, it is the highest point on the island. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as the snow-capped Mount Halla at the center of Jeju Island around 50 kilometers away.
Below the peak is Geommeolle Beach, whose name literally means black sand beach in Jeju dialect.
The 15-minute boat tour along the beach's coastline is actually quite thrilling.
The eight-person boat whizzes through the deep turquoise-colored water so fast that seawater spritzes against your cheeks as the driver sharply twists and turns in between tourism spots.
One of the stops is the Dongangyoeng Cave which is one of Udo Island’s eight iconic sceneries or Udo palkyeong, according to Jeju City’s official website. When the tide is low, the boat cannot enter the cave. When the tide is at its lowest, the island’s officials annually host a mini music concert inside it.
Fishermen can often be seen lined up along the exposed cliff face, hoping to get their catch of the day from the rich marine environment of Geommeolle Beach. During April and May, pods of bottlenose dolphins can be spotted around the area as well, according to the boat’s tour guide.
About two kilometers north from Geommeolle beach is Biyang Island, not to be confused with an island of the same name off the western coast of Jeju, an even smaller island off the northeast coast of Udo. It is connected to Udo with a bridge.
The small rustic island is a must-go campsite for backpackers as well as sunrise and sunset enthusiasts.
Near Biyang Island is another beach on Udo — Hagosudong Beach. The beach’s clear emerald water is iconic of Jeju’s seasides. Relatively shallow, the white sandy floor of the ocean can be seen through the translucent waters.
Statues of mermaids and haenyeo, the island’s female divers, have been erected along the 400-meter long beach, making it a popular photo spot.
“Paradises can only be made with our own hands, with our own creativity in harmony with the free creativity of nature,” Hundertwasser said during a speech in Munich in 1967.
And looking at the landscapes of Udo, it seems to be just that — a paradise teeming with mankind’s spontaneous creativity against the backdrop of Mother Nature.
BY LEE JIAN [email@example.com]