Archive for the ‘korea’Category

A recent video

First Person Plural (Things Passed Down) 

Shot in Seoul, Daegu, & Jeju-do, Korea. 2010-2011.

First Person Plural (Things Passed Down) is a single-channel video about the my parents’ experience of migration from postwar Korea to the United States in the late sixties. This video transforms first person narrative into a self-reflexive and shared meditation of displacement and the search for home in a foreign land. I used footage from a year researching in my parents’ homeland, where I myself was a foreigner, to accompany my own reading of interviews conducted with my parents in order to create the dissonant poetics that structures the piece.

 

04

09 2011

Han Circuit: prototype installation

Some photos for the first prototype of Han Circuit, a two-channel video installation.

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The background image was a landscape image of Yeonpyeong Island just after the recent North Korean bombing. Periodically, text ran across this image, which was taken from interviews with a North Korean defector and an elderly woman who had been separated from her son during the Korean War.

The main screen was divided into five smaller sections or panels, each a visual representation of Han and haan*: archival images of Koreans during the war, a dancer performing a traditional Buddhist dance called Seung-mu, and images of fire and water.

Viewer-participants sat in between the two projections.HanCircuit02

A live camera-feed inserted the viewer-participant’s image, also picking up the landscape image behind him, into the center frame of the main projection screen. Movements made by the viewer-participant also changed light intensities in the camera’s lens, which then effected the transparency and mixing of the images within the panels of the main screen.

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He could also listen to traditional Korean folk music via headphones, which helped to facilitate a more intimate experience.

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The feed from the camera was also on a delay that fed into the two side panels of the screen, so that when the viewer-participant left the installation, his image would slowly reappear and linger for a while.

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Han Circuit

Two-channel video | MiniDV | Color & Sound

Work in process

Han Circuit is a two-channel video installation that explores themes of the Korean psyche in socio-cultural and spiritual terms, as well as within the context of Korea’s modern history since the turn of the twentieth century until the present moment. There are two primary cultural forces which drive the content and form of this piece; the first being what is known as psychological han, a particular sentiment, or psycho-emotional state that is best understood as a cumulative process of suffering, longing, or resentment caused by extraneous forms of oppression. It connotes enduring hardships caused by forces outside of one’s own control, and can be especially understood within the context of Korea’s modern history, a narrative that includes colonization, civil war, and national division.

The second force at play is philosophical han. Though it shares similarity in spelling, philosophical han is distinctively different in that it is a philosophy indigenous to Korea that is concerned with the understanding and fostering of a harmonious relationship between man and the Universe. It is also an organizing factor in many forms of traditional music and dance. It is a philosophy that has existed since the very beginnings of civilization on the peninsula, and offers ways of understanding how to harmonize disparate or dissonant elements within the world. Kim Sang-Yil, a noted han scholar once stated that psychological han epitomizes the Korean psyche since national division, and philosophical han offers ways to understand how unification could be made possible.

This installation embodies the cyclical nature of psychological han while also adhering to elemental principles found within philosophical han. Cybernetic theory has offered a plentitude of possibilities in thinking about the conceptual and physical design of this piece. By understanding psychological han as a continuous pattern of generation, feedback, and regeneration, this installation has been designed as a closed circuit reactive piece, in which the viewer is also implicated into the circuit. Through this design I offer the viewer an intimate venue of experience for the understanding of the particularities and complexities of the Korean psyche.

21

12 2010

Other than the usual DPRK belligerence, I have to admit, he has a point…

N. Korea Warns of Response to U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday that his country’s military would respond forcefully to any Security Council condemnation over the sinking of a South Korean warship, warning that “our people and army will smash our aggressors.”

In a rare news conference, the envoy, Sin Son-ho, called the South Korean investigation carried out with a number of foreign experts, which concluded that a North Korean torpedo blew up the ship, “a complete fabrication from A to Z.”

Mr. Sin demanded that a team from his country’s military be allowed to carry out its own investigation on the site where the ship, known as the Cheonan, exploded on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

“If the Security Council releases any documents against us condemning or questioning us, then myself, as diplomat, I can do nothing,” Mr. Sin said, “but the follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces.”

Mr. Sin, while stating that he was there to clarify, not accuse, said that all the countries involved had ulterior motives that might have played a role in the crisis. The United States used the episode to overcome demands by Japan that it remove its military base from Okinawa, he argued, while the South Korean government sought to foment a crisis atmosphere in the prelude to provincial elections.

He also questioned technical details of the investigation at length, calling the fact that a fisherman found the torpedo supposedly carrying North Korean markings after a naval search had yielded nothing something out of “Aesop’s fables.” He repeated statements from his nation’s leaders that the ship might have run aground or exploded because of faulty mechanics.

In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, rejected the accusations out of hand. “North Korea unfortunately has put together a string of provocative actions, from missile firings to a nuclear test to the sinking of the Cheonan,” he told reporters. “What is important for North Korea is to take stock of these provocative actions, cease this belligerent behavior, and if they do, we will respond appropriately.”

At the United Nations, the United States and Japan were pushing ahead with what is likely to be a resolution condemning the attack, said Security Council diplomats. No member had staunchly opposed the move so far, so Council action could come either this week or next, diplomats said.

Each Korea presented its case to the Council on Monday.

Mr. Sin declined to discuss a number of issues, calling them irrelevant to the sinking. These included the possible succession of Kim Jong-un as leader because his father, Kim Jong-il, is ailing; the chances of North Korea’s returning to talks over its nuclear weapons program; and prospects for the North Korean team in the World Cup.

Off topic, the only refrain he repeated was that North Korea’s main goal was to improve the living standard of its people.

For the United Nations, the warship issue is more fraught than most in trying to remain neutral, since Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, is a former South Korean foreign minister and has expressed his own emotional reaction to the attack. In marked contrast to Mr. Ban, who often struggles to express himself in English and can come across as stiff at news conferences, Mr. Sin appeared relaxed, bantering easily with correspondents shouting questions.

Although North Korea’s motivations for its actions are often opaque, Mr. Sin gave one remarkably candid answer when asked about the potential fallout from Security Council condemnation.

“I lose my job,” he said.

17

06 2010

On the Way to Mara-do


click on image to play.

Link to video.

10

05 2010

Pungmul Kut ~ Daeboreum/Full Moon Celebration

Pungmul Kut Ensemble [풍물굿패], Seoul, ROK from helen h park on Vimeo.

A small sampling from the hours of ceremonies held during the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, Daeboreum.
Pungmul Kut Ensemble [풍물굿패] info can be found at: http://cafe.daum.net/pungmulbaram (in Korean)

01

04 2010

Images of 굿 – “Kut” Shaman Ceremonies

For the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, this all day ceremony was held in a village of Suwon S. Korea.

More media to follow, but here’s a sampling.

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26

02 2010

Unifying Principles

Recently, a friend of mine handed me a book by scholar Chang-Hee Son entitled,”Haan of Minjung Theology and Han of Han Philosophy: In the Paradigm of Process Philosophy and Metaphysics of Relatedness.”

This book has shifted the course of my research in the most profound of ways. I came here to investigate what I initially referred to as the “national Korean psyche.” I was fascinated by the dissonance between what is known as North and what is known as South, how these articulations of Koreanness were embodied and expressed through traditional (read: pre-division) music and dance forms, how they diverged and converged and what this all meant in terms of prospects for national unification. This is all still in the mix of things. But upon further research and in the time that I have spent living here (6 months now), my search for understanding has made it clear that one cannot truly understand the ‘psyche’ in nationalistic or otherwise political terms. At least not only in these terms, and certainly not as a preliminary notion. To understand the psyche - or the soul, mind, and spirit – of the Korean people, one needs to look more deeply, expansively, and metaphysically. This is what I have been getting at all along, but my particular lens has just been adjusted so that I may see  in deeper vision, and more particularly, in stereoscopic vision, which I will explain here.

Haan and Han are two aspects and levels of the Korean psyche that can be understood to be articulations of the Korean pathos and ethos, respectively. The former is psychological in nature. It is most often understood as suffering, loss and unrequited longing, resentment for injustices one has had to endure. Though it should be noted that there are several different forms and gradations of haan, not all of them dark, or negative. The dark haan of longing, resentment, or grief can be transformed into positive energy and action, as in Minjung (roughly translates as “the people” in a socio-cultural and spiritual sense) movement and Minjung Theology. The latter is an indigenous philosophy of unity and harmony, and has lived in the Korean mind, forming Korean identity, since virtually the inception of civilization on this particular piece of Eastern land. Philosophical Han speaks to unifying humankind and the universe, and tracing the articulations of man living in harmony with nature and the cosmos through the balance of Yin and Yang, as well as the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and the five directions (East, West, North, South, and Center). It is the essence of the Korean mind and identity, whereas Haan is the expression of the Korean heart. Both of these phenomena have different manifestations within Korean culture, and hold within them different understandings of the psyche and meanings embedded within sociocultural phenomena.

I have referenced haan before on this blog, and intend to clarify the differences between it and the philosophical Han, for they are spelled the same in hangeul, but are very different entities. I take the spellings from Son’s book, as it helps to clarify between the two.

Psychological haan could be thought of as akin to the blues in Black America. (And actually, Kim San mentions in “Song of Ariran” how the independence fighters during occupation had a fondness for the music of American blues musicians as well as Black Christian hymnals.) Haan can be experienced on the individual and collective level, the latter being the result of political and social injustices imposed upon a group of people, which was widely felt under the various postwar regimes of south Korea. Psychological haan is hardship and suffering that accumulates over time, and is felt in a world of separations and dualisms. It is a state of disunity, opposition, and the longing to overcome such disparities. This collective suffering found hope in what is known as Minjung Theology – an integration of Christianity into the Korean context. The belief in Christ gave hope that there could be resolution to one’s haan, and so it gave meaning to one’s suffering. It has given Korean a collective voice from which to form solidarity amongst the socially and economically oppressed, and practical means by which to attain resolution. It can be argued how successful this has been, but regardless, it has been an empowering and organizing force amongst Korea’s Minjung. (Minjung can be applied to any group of people, anywhere in the world, that suffers hardships from unjust political, social, and economic rule.)

Philosophical Han, on the other hand, is characterized by nonorientability, or a lack of boundaries and dualisms. As can be understood in the Korean language, Koreans do not differentiate between ‘you’ and ‘me.’ Instead it’s ‘us’ and ‘we.’ The immediate separations between ‘self’ and ‘other’ the Westerners take for granted, is not the natural state of relationship in the Korean mind. There is a familial connotation in all of this that I really love and appreciate.

Further,  in Son’s treatise, Han can be understood as another articulation of process philosophy, or the ontology of becoming, which in essence states that the nature of being is change and transformation. Everything is always in the process of becoming. To better define this in terms of philosophical Han, we can think of the idea of concrescence, which has both biological and philosophical meanings, but essentially is a concept of novel togetherness; that disparate things can join together and begin a new process of growth and becoming. (Indeed this can also be thought of in terms of process philosophy. I am concurrently wondering about the potentialities of Deleuzian applications to Han philosophy within the particular context of my work.) Philosophical Han looks to overcome dualisms, and to unify and harmonize all the elements of the Universe to grow in a dynamic process of change and transformation. Pretty great, huh?

So what does this mean for Korea?

In my previous post I wrote of colonization, one of the major upheavals within Korea in its modern history. This period of strife was followed by national division and civil war, and since then Korea has never been the same. Indeed, Son worded it in terms of haan and han: that after national division, there was “no more han, only haan.” National unity was lost to ideological battles, torn between north and south, self/other, you/me, us/them, etc. Son and other scholars go on to argue that in tandem with this, the embrace of Christianity for the Minjung Theologians, though empowering and organizing, has also worked to the disadvantage of the cause of national unity, as it usurps the indigenous way of thinking (Han) and gives primary acknowledgement to the perception of the world through the dualistic view of Western thought. (BTW, this is not to discredit Christianity in any way, and Son himself is a devout Christian. This view is a critical statement of Western society’s dualistic thinking that has trumped indigenous Korean thought, which is oriented toward nondualism and unity.)

Sang-Yil Kim, Han scholar wrote:

Both forms of Han come from the native Korean mind, but the Haan of Minjung Theology is created from dualistic disharmonious feelings, whereas the Han of Hanism promotes the nondualistic harmonious feelings. It is my understanding that the former Haan entails unresolved resentment while the latter Han entails resolved love. So Haan can be resolved through Han: Haan and Han should be united together.

Indeed, Koreans have the philosophical and spiritual tools needed to rethink the division between north and south. Clearly there are very real issues concerning the economic, social and political difficulties a unified Korean nation would hypothetically face, and yet wouldn’t it be valuable to be able to understand these issues in terms of the spiritual?

Can we understand unification within the context of humanity in a dynamic process of becoming, a concrescense of change and transformation?

Are we, particularly those in power, capable as human beings to do this yet?

A new set of questions as I continue my work…

16

02 2010

Righting the Wrongs of History

old-kr-flag-aRecently was talking to a friend in the US about Korea and global political history, or something along these lines. I was a bit surprised when, in passing, said friend mentioned, among other things, Korea’s role as colonizer in the context of historical global relations.

Surely, I did not just hear that, I thought. Surely, this person doesn’t believe Korea, of all the countries of East Asia, once colonized some other country? And if so, what country would that have been?? In my remote and lurking Korean (American) national pride, it was kind of like a little bit of salt on my race’s historical wounds (I realize I am conflating nation and race here, but that’s how insidiously unconscious this stuff can be). I was sadly reminded of how so many people in the West — and a lot of people I know — actually don’t really know very much about Korea and its history. And what they do know is abstract, vague, generalized at best.

And I guess, why should they? Much of Korean historical scholarship is written and consumed by those with a particular specialization in Korea or East Asian Studies, Korea has traditionally not been perceived as a major global power nation, and because of Korea’s history of invasions from outside forces, as well as a period of incredibly brutal colonization by the Japanese – Korea has been just a little bit protectionist, and also because of these factors, so much of written Korean history has been lost; documents pillaged and records destroyed (or stolen, see below), not to mention the systematic cultural and religious oppression by Japanese colonizers in forbidding the study of Korean history, art, and language, as well as making worship at Shinto shrines compulsory.

This is really Korean History 101. Pick up any book on the subject and one of the first things it will talk about is Korea’s unfortunate geographic location and the subsequent history of foreign invasion that’s descended upon “the Land of the Morning Calm.” Of course, much more could and should be said about this, but for now what I wanted to share was this opinion article from the Joong-Ang Daily: “Winning Back Stolen Culture”.

Case in point, this article states:

According to a recent survey by the Cultural Heritage Administration, a total of 107,857 Korean historic properties are scattered over 18 countries. Japan holds the largest number with 61,409 items, followed by the United States with 27,726 items. Some items, such as Uigwe, were confiscated by foreign invaders while others fell into the hands of collectors through trade.

France, Japan, the US — all have historical and cultural artifacts that were stolen during invasions and occupation currently displayed in their own libraries and museums. Koreans want them back. Why can’t these people return what is not rightly theirs? (This is all really working up my haan.)

dscf1667Righting the wrongs of history in Korea has undoubtedly been an ongoing  and deeply-rooted psychological, cultural, and emotional process that plays out on so many levels – from reclaiming stolen cultural artifacts, to former comfort women protesting every Wednesday in Seoul, to trying to correct the misconceptions of the outside world. Every nation has its own demons to exorcise, its own psychological and collective healing it must do. These are just a few examples of contemporary (south) Korea’s particular situation, and this is something that Koreans themselves will continue to negotiate and work through for a long time coming…

09

02 2010

“Song of Ariran”

Kim San aka Jang Ji-Rak : 김산/장지락

Kim San aka Jang Ji-Rak : 김산/장지락

Currently reading “Song of Ariran,” the incredible memoir of Kim San (AKA Jang Ji-Rak 장지락), a Korean Communist who fought in the Chinese Revolution. This is one of the most intimate detailings of Korean nationalist political and revolutionary struggle during Japanese occupation. Kim was there to witness the horrific brutality of the Japanese regime in his homeland as well as to be a part of history unfolding in China – the land of Korean exiles, meeting many of the key thinkers and players in what was then Korea’s Provisional Government in Shanghai and also those who laid the foundation for the Korean Communists – including an account of how Lenin lent 500,000 roubles for the formation of the first Korean Communist party (300,000 of which was stolen en route from Russia to Mongolia). I have just begun the book, but already it has provided such an incredibly fascinating and lucid account of how ideological factions between nationalist groups formed during the Korean independence movement. The seeds of national division and its global context can be clearly and intimately understood here.

Nym Wales

Nym Wales

Kim told his story to American journalist Nym Wales (AKA Helen Foster Snow), who published this book in 1941. There has been another edition published in the ’70′s, but the English language version is now out of print – I believe the Korean language version is available. I have also read that this book had been banned in South Korea – though not surprising, still need to find verification for this. In any case, an important book and captivating read.

a very early English language version. i like it for its kitsch value.

17

12 2009

풍물 Pungmul

Tonight will be going to a Pungmul performance in Seoul.

Post-performance note: This should be seen and experienced in a village, as shown in this video with plenty of maekju and time for breaks. The performance I attended was in a theater, but was incredibly dynamic nonetheless. It’s quite easy to understand how this translated into the music and dance for the student democracy movement.

11

12 2009