Posts Tagged ‘korea’

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

“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.

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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

The DPRK: cultivation of the young, indoctrination in its many forms

10

12 2009

Korean folk dance: Salpuri & Seungmu [민속 무용: 살풀이 와 승무]

Two examples of Korean folk dance rooted in religious and ritual traditions. I have become particularly interested in these dances – both rooted in ancient Korean belief systems of shamanism and Buddhism respectively.

Originally intended as an exorcism to expel the bad spirits, Salpuri (살풀이):

Seungmu (승무) choreography is based in Buddhist philosophy. Movement is controlled and guided by the breath:

10

12 2009

Expressions of the Emergent: Korean Video Art, History & Memory

A recent paper I wrote concerning 3 Korean video artists & representations of modern Korean history & collective memory. It’s a long one, so if you want to read it in its entirety click on the link below.

Other relevant links:

Jin-Me Yoon
Park Chan Kyong
Koh Seung Wook
The Dongducheon Project @ Museum as Hub
Deleuze – Cinema 2
PDF version

Here it is:

Expressions of the Emergent: Korean Video Art, History & Memory

Video & the Project of Emergent History

Some say the nameless deaths buried in
the Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery
are ‘whores,’ while others say they’re
‘Yankee Princesses.’

Those who resent the violence of U.S. soldiers
call them ‘Sisters of the Korean people.’
But what shall I call them?
Those no one has remembered nor named?
No, why do I even want to call them?
-  Seung Wook Koh, “Driveling Mouth” (2008)
Single channel video installation with color and sound (emphasis added)

The lines of text presented here are from Korean artist Seung Wook Koh’s single channel video about the lives and memories of sex workers in Dongducheon, a military camp town that lies approximately in between Seoul, the Republic of Korea and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This particular city, whose infrastructures were first designed and implemented by Japanese Colonists, only to be ravaged during the Korean War and later rebuilt by the U.S. Military, has become a symbol of Korea’s traumatic and contentious modern history, replete with historical narratives of colonization, rapid modernization, and postwar industrialization. Hidden somewhere deep within the gaps of these major historical narratives are the personal stories, memories, and histories of the people of Dongducheon, the civilians who have become the dispossessed of the U.S.-South Korean military order. Their lives have arguably been the most affected by the tumultuous shifts and displacements of war and colonialism yet have been rendered virtually silent and invisible from public discourses. Koh’s work serves as a documentation of these gaps just as it poses these critical questions: Who have been the people of Dongducheon and why should we remember them, or call them forth – those who have been forgotten, unnamed, and made invisible? What does this act of remembrance provide for our understanding of the present moment and our future trajectories?

I argue that the answers lie within the understanding that the authorship of history is a claim of orders of knowledge and power, and additionally, that the act of constructing history is a social and political one, giving legitimacy to certain experiences, meanings, and subjectivities while delegitimizing others. In this process of construction, what is accepted as official history, usually crafted by a dominant regime, becomes codified as “historical truth,” creating the conditions that perpetuate hegemonic determinations of reality and orders of knowledge that serve the interests of some at the expense of others. In the context of Western civilization we have seen the results of this in the histories that have been used to legitimate colonialism, racism, sexism, and other corruptions of the Euro-American Empire. Yet, in any so-called pluralistic and democratic society – where polyphonous voice is to be valued as critical in sustaining the principles of democracy and the individual’s right to self-determination, there is a crucial need to give voice to the subjectivities that have been muted and the histories that have been suppressed. To do this means to critically look backward into time to search out the stories that disrupt, complicate, and threaten accepted notions of historical truth, shifting and enlightening our present realities and unlocking future possibilities. As one possible answer to Koh’s question, “why do I even want to call them?” I will refer to Gilles Deleuze who stated, “History amounts only the set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order to ‘become,’ that is, to create something new…Men’s only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable” (1990, 171).

Therein lies the task of a certain kind of storytelling – for the purposes of this essay, a certain kind of videomaking – that concerns itself with issues surrounding the representation of personal and collective memory, and the histories rendered silent by official narratives. What stories must be told so that we may understand our set of preconditions? How do we remember the events of the past in order to create the spaces for a “revolutionary becoming”? Additionally, because I will be investigating the ways in which time-based media approach these issues, how does the audiovisual medium of video form these narratives that often lie in the realm of the Foucauldian unthought, awaiting a language in which to think them? Within the context of poststructuralist discourse on history and how the medium of film has created new spaces for critique and revision, Robert A. Rosenstone argues that postmodern theorists have yet to bring forth a kind of writing that “brings the ways we know or think of the past into line with the poststructuralist critique of current historical practice” (1998, 199). An alternative method is needed, one that can fulfill the postmodernist claims against official history. Where Rosenstone looked to film to support these claims, I look to single channel experimental video, and its integration with the practice of what I will term emergent history, for its unformed, uncodified, and indeterminate qualities, as well as its numerous potentialities in challenging the assumptions made by prescribed “historical truths.”  Read the rest of this entry →

03

12 2009

Memorials, 김우진 Kim Woo-Jin, & other family stories

Just returned from a trip to Daegu and Jeolla province.

The autumn is beautiful here, and finally, as we drove from the East side of the country to the West, I was able to take in the mountains, which are bountiful here. November 12th is the day my Grandmother on my Mom’s side passed away. We had a ceremony for her memorial, visited her and my Grandfather’s tombs, which sit on a small mountainside overlooking the city of Daegu.

The trip to Jeolla was particularly special since this is where my Mother’s family is from. There we visited the tombs of two Great Aunts and Great Grandmother. My Grandfather (김익진) was a well known and revered Catholic teacher in this town. He once owned land here, but as the country was factioning off into separate nationalist parties, he followed his instincts and parceled the land away to the people of the town, while also donating part of it for a church to be built. The family moved to Daegu just before the beginning of the Korean War – my Mom was about six years old. My Aunt tells me when the Communists arrived, one of the first people they asked for was Grandfather.

His brother is Kim, Woo-Jin. I have heard many stories about this man, who is my great Uncle. From what I understand, he was a nationalist playwright, a nihilist, and also was one of the first Koreans to write about Western theatre. He met a Korean woman while studying in Japan, also a nationalist, and they fell in love. At the time he was betrothed to another woman, and due to the strictness of Korean custom, they knew they could not fulfill a life together and disappeared – most people believe by suicide; drowning in the waters between Korean and Japan.  There is a film out there, and perhaps another one to be made, about his story…

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김우진 Kim Woo-Jin

The last part of the visit was spent with my Gomo (my Aunt on my Father’s side), and my cousin – such very good people who I love dearly. Tracing the lines of family has been an incredibly fulfilling part of this venture to Korea. Our lives are embedded in history in such intimate ways – things we forget or take for granted while living in America — a place that feels so far away from here.

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14

11 2009