Posts Tagged ‘fulbright’

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

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

Running around, Modernity, and Being here

It’s been a little while since I last posted… In the blink of an eye, things suddenly became very hectic – between trying to prep & take the writing portion of the GRE, language course starting, getting used to the commute to SNU which is roughly over an hour to attend a class that I really can’t understand, but which I will continue to attend because it seems really interesting & I actually think I will be able to glean a lot of good information – and then there was also the 가야금 (gayageum) class Saturday morning, immediately followed by a two day Mongolian dance workshop, also held at SNU. Though this had nothing to do with my research, I promised to videotape for Professor Lee, and it was interesting, even through the total lack of linguistic understanding on my part. With the combination of more grad school prep (aforementioned GRE, applications, as well a required research paper for the apps) and adjusting to life here, the research, etc. life has felt just a little bit schizophrenic.

But — I can say that through the chaos and running around all over town, I have experienced a few moments of harmony with being here. In these moments, something clicks, and suddenly I’m here, really here, living in Seoul, and I understand it – feel I understand it more and more until it feels like the place I call home. For now at least. It is the place where I am, not the place where I’m just here as a visitor to do some work and waiting to leave. These moments come and go, but they definitely come, and that is a good thing.

Speaking of displacement, I am working my way through Roy Richard Grinker’s Korea and Its Futures: Unification and the Unfinished War, which discusses – many things, among them – Korea and modernity, a concept that addresses issues related to diaspora, displacement, separation (as in separated families from the War), shifting identities, the loss of tradition. Modernity: something that promises the new, exciting, seemingly boundless, and yet threatens everything a culture has identified as being; everything it has held sacred in defining itself. And here we are in Seoul -  a place that is now so far into modernity, what I think of as deep modernity. There is just no turning back. So what does that mean for unification? The South goes farther down a path of globalization, and the North remains frozen in time – in a time of pre-modernity, so far away from what is happening in the South, and the world, now. If unification seemed a complicated goal before (at least to outside critics), where does it stand now?

As I sat in a cafe near Ewha Womans University reading about unification being a sacred goal of all (South) Koreans; a goal assumed to be inevitable, but whose very achievement also threatens the foundation of S. Korean national identity, which is greatly based upon and defined by national division – I looked out onto the streets, full of young college aged women wearing the latest street fashions of Seoul, and I thought, Do any of these people even care? Most of them were born in the 1980′s and after – they are the children of a globalized and globalizing Korea. How do these issues that have so wracked their country for decades affect any part of their lives? The generations of people directly affected by the Korean War are beginning to fade, and I think that with that is the loss of something very, very important to the national, collective, cultural memory and psyche of this country. A recent survey from the Korea Peace Institute reported that out of over 1,000 S. Koreans aged 19-59, about half said that they could accept Korea remaining divided, so long as it is peaceful. This is a very different portrait than Grinker’s book (published 1998). It is too early to tell… I’m realizing a lot of the literature I have, though incredibly insightful and very important for my work, may also be outdated, even after just ten years. Things move fast on the road of deep modernity.

I can’t say if at this point unification would be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing – or possible/impossible – or if those questions are even relevant anymore. So much of discussion around unification just seems rhetorical. Not to sound like a pessimist, I want to believe in the possibility, but… I can say that the unification discourses that have been allowed to take place have been problematic for various reasons which I am too tired to go into here (i.e. – Germany).

And I can also say that I noticed how Koreans seem to really like Waiting for Godot. Unclear if it’s so much Beckett they like, or just the play itself. The latter would make sense. If you insert ‘unification’ as the ‘Godot’ that we await, but which never comes.

Then on the other hand, hundreds of families prepare for a much anticipated and very fleeting reunion with loved ones across the 38th parallel; a reunion that is most likely the last for many of these people. A complicated picture. Heartbreaking, really. All this Han!

Korea is such a deeply complex mystery to me – but I have the sense that understanding the nature of its mystery on a kind of gut level is going to be key to opening up some doors…

Non sequitur: some new words I learned this week

우주 (oo-joo) = The universe; cosmos

원리 (wol-li) = A principal, theory, fundamental truth => 우주원리

영가무도 (young ga moo do) = Spiritual dance

경과 (kyoung gwa) = Progression

There are a few other random thoughts I have had, but I cannot remember them now, so I will leave you with that.

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23

09 2009

The project

For those of you who don’t really know exactly why I am here (don’t worry, I’m figuring this out too as the days go by…), you may view my project proposal here:

States of Becoming: The Korea Project

This is the seed of thought that has brought me to where I am now, and will undoubtedly be adjusted and further defined as things progress. Your thoughts, comments, links, etc are welcome.

19

08 2009

Ewha before dusk

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Outside of the ECC building. Ewha Womans Univeristy. After the “Beautiful Dream Concert”  – the benefit for North Korean defector youth, which was very well attended on Kwang Bok Jeol (more on this later).

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17

08 2009

Waking up in Seoul

Well, I made it.

A 24 hour journey beginning in the heartland, then to L.A., from where I flew over the Pacific. My row companions on the plane were a young Vietnamese man in his early twenties, living in the US, and a jovial and very talkative middle aged Korean woman who was returning to Korea after 14 years to go on a missionary trip with her church group. She’s headed to Mongolia, and then to Japan to do some converting.

I was pleasantly surprised when the first meal they served on the plane had Bi Bim Bap as an option, which I gladly accepted, having feared the worst of the usual airplane fare. It actually wasn’t half bad, and it came complete with a side of kimchi. The Korean lady insisted on guiding the young man through his first Bi Bim Bap experience. And he seemed pretty happy for it. We all ate merrily, snug in our little airplane seats.

Then came the landing in Incheon. It was raining, and when we arrived around 7pm local time, there was only another hour of daylight or so left, so by the time I got through immigration, baggage claim, and customs it was totally dark and wet outside. A man dispatched from the Fulbright office was waiting for me. He spoke little to no English, which is just about as much Korean as I speak at this point. Through my travel-wearied daze I tried to sloggishly patch together a few sentences in Korean, and to my surprise he actually understood what I was asking, and I even understood what he answered! – A glimmer of hope. – But for the most part we drove in silence, and I told myself to just be patient and comfortable with the discomfort of not being able to communicate and connect with people. For a while.

After the 40 minute drive of silence, I was delivered to my apartment, which is modest but cozy. A studio, with a bathroom Asian style, i.e. -  the entire room is a shower, on a quiet side street in Seogyo-dong. Being August in Korea, the humidity level outside is quite suffocating, but of course everything, including appliances, is in Korean, so though I tried to translate the various labels on the thing that I thought was an air conditioner, I could not crack the code. (Turns out it just regulates the tempurature for the bath water. The AC is on another wall in the room. Who knew?) So instead, all windows were open, which allowed for the summer rainy wind to blow in. I managed to stay up long enough to skype Mom & Dad, take a shower & completely crash out to the sound of the rain…

Which is also the sound I woke up to, as well as the sound of my cell phone dying around 6 in the morning. I do love waking up in a new place after arriving there in the darkness of the night before. That feeling of strangeness & newness in a foreign place I always find kind of awe-inspiring, and the mind is empty and clear so you’re just absorbing the things around you. Those first moments of displacement and discovery seem to stay so fresh in the mind -  they become visceral memory. The pounding of the rain outside, the greyness of light pushing through the windows and onto the objects in the room, the stillness of the space. A nice morning.

Aunt and Uncle Chang arrived, and they really saved me today, bringing many essential cooking & living items, helping me figure out which appliance is the air conditioner, as well as several other Korean mysteries. This evening I found a small grocery store and managed to buy a full load of items without having to say, “Han goong mal jok-um hay-o. Mi-an ham ni da” (I speak very little Korean. I’m sorry.)

(Though right now i actually have to figure out how to light the stove.  – Always an adventure waiting.)

All in all a very productive first 24 hours in Seoul.

But so much ground to cover here… I look forward to getting myself settled enough so that I can really begin the work I have set out to do.

In the meantime, I am very aware of just being present and open, and taking it all in.

It does feel good to be here, and I am excited about the things to come.

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12

08 2009

The Countdown Begins…

Very soon I will be leaving the calm and stillness of the Midwest,

and entering into this:

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06

08 2009