What is the Difference between a Catholic Wedding and a Full-Length Pansori Performance?

Today I went to a wedding ceremony and to a wanchang (완창, full-length) performance of pansori. wedding_churchIt had been a while, in both cases. I have never been religious, but I’ve attended church services as a child, both catholic and protestant. I even played the male lead in a Christmas play one time—the first occasion in decades for my parents to attend church. The only catholic mass I ever saw here in Korea was at Christmas, almost four years ago, at Myeongdong Cathedral. pansori_emptystageWith pansori it is, of course, different. I’ve seen several full-length performances this year (e.g. by my teacher 강승의), but I haven’t attended the Wanchang-Series at the National Theater in quite a while, were Song Jae-yeong (송재영) sung Heungbo-ga (흥보가). In fact, I was under the impression that the series might have been canceled, ironically, after its 30th anniversary in May. Glad to see it’s not over yet. wedding_photosessionBesides obvious differences in length (one hour + pictures + lunch vs. three hours with ten minutes intermission), venue (long, brutalist-style modern church affiliated with Rome vs. circular arena-style auditorium sponsored by my credit institute Kookmin Bank), and entrance fee (at least 50,000 KRW vs. 16,000 KRW, instead of 20,000, thanks to the Culture-Relay-Reduction) there were quite a few similar points:

  1. A gathering of “friends & family”: quite literally at the wedding and in an extended sense at the pansori performance. There, quite a lot of spectators seemed to be related in one way or another with the singer—his teacher Lee Il-ju (이일주, “godmother of the pansori-world in North Jeolla province, according to a local paper), his students, his colleagues, and his fans.
  2. The proactive role of the audience: raising, chanting, and singing in church, comments, chuimsae, and clapping-along at the National Theater. Everyone had a clear role, conventions to follow, and I felt a little bit awkward in both situations (more at church than at pansori, I have to admit) when unable to go along or not sure what to do in a given moment.
  3. A definitive change in the protagonists’ status: becoming husband and wife in the name of God after saying “Yes”, raising in ranks in the world of pansori after three ours of non-stop singing. Both events were rituals that influence the social relations, create new opportunities, and include certain responsibilities for those involved.
  4. Photo-session afterwards: It was only at the wedding that I posed for a group picture, as we were ushered out of the theatre soon after the pansori performance ended, but many others took their chance. The results serve as evidence for individual attendance and may become private souvenirs, but when published (online or in future promotional or memorial material) they establish a shared site of memories, a social link between those that attended the event and took a picture together. (See some group pictures with the singer on one attendee’s blog.)

These are processes of community-building and -reaffirmation that I will further explore in my PhD-dissertation on pansori (weddings will probably feature much less prominently). While I believe that there are also things that can be experienced in solitude during a pansori performance, I think that the most striking moments occur when we relate to others in one way or another—and that is most certainly true of weddings, too.

– 27 Sept. 2014 (土)

  • 송재영, 동초제 흥부가 (완창 판소리), 고수: 조용복, 국립극장 KB국민은행청소년하늘극장, 2014년 09월 27일 (토), 오후 3~6시, E열 47번.
  • Song Jae-yeong, Dongchoje Heungbu-ga (Complete Pansori), drummer: Jo Yong-bok, National Theater, KB Haneul Youth Theater, 2014–09–27 (Sat.), 3–6pm, row E, seat 47.
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Live from Jeonju: Sori Festival Video Stream

Whoever is unable to visit the Jeonju International Sori Festival (전주세계소리축제) this year (like me) has the chance to see at least some of the performances via video stream. The large stage in front of the Sori Arts Center (한국소리문화의전당 놀이마당) and another large stage in the Hanok Village (한옥마을 경기전) can be seen at http://www.sorilive.com.

dance stage

Although there was not much going on yet today at 5 pm (as you can see), this should change after the festival opens tonight! And, of course, when master singer Wang Gi-seok (왕기석) takes the stage tomorrow, Thursday, at 7 pm.

Oh! Now, half an hour later, there seems to be some pansori going on!

pansori singer mid



pansori singer closeFor the line-up, see the official homepage of the Sori Festival (also available in English, Chinese, Japanese). It sounds promising! Some coverage of the performances is also to be expected on the official blog (in Korean).

– 8~12 Oct. 2014 (水~日)

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Daehangno Poster Session 2

This gallery contains 5 photos.

We went to Daehangno to see some theatre in quite a while. There was not much time before the show, as we also took a stroll through the interesting—and suddenly quite urgent—exhibition “A Journal of the Plague Year” (역병의 해 … Continue reading

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Environmental Art in Rural Gangwon-do

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, there was, as usual, a lot of rice cake-mending, dish-washing, drama-watching, and, most of all, eating. But we also went out to see some art at Baekraksa Temple (백락사) in Hongcheon-gun (홍천군) that hosted this year’s Gangwon Environmental Installation Art Invitational Artists Exhibition (2014 강원환경설치미술초대작가전).

IMG_0769-0When I read “environment”, I thought of art “in the form of large installations or assemblages that surround the observer.” (Oxford Dictionaries) In other words: aesthetic spaces that allow for an immersive experiences. Not completely wrong, but here environment also meant nature, namely the beautiful forest that surrounds Baekraksa Temple. It seems the 60s are over—today environmental art also includes “art that helps improve our relationship with the natural world” (Greenmuseum.org). Some pieces were explicitly about protection, like the large flags made out of recycled cloth banners that greeted us on the way.


IMG_0771-0While strolling through the beautiful temple grounds and its surroundings, there was a lot to discover. Over a dozen art works, more or less discretely integrated into the landscape: twisted wood, a dead bird in an open grave, mirrors and lamps up in the trees, a stack of bamboo that is not what it appears to be (see video below), a stone walk that makes percussion music when you walk over it, the remainders of a performance in search for nothingness, a wooden lookout that provides an overview of the temple grounds, little plastic bags filled with water hanging around a greenhouse, and much more.

유거상 (Klaus Yö), ... (dot dot dot)

유거상 (Klaus Yö), … (dot dot dot)

The only obvious thing was this wrapped monument. And the music—American hits from the 50s—that blasted from speakers hidden throughout the place. All in all, it was an interesting temporary re-use of this Buddhist environment and the newcomers did not steal the spotlight from the already existing art works.

These are some of the pieces we discovered, including some stoney statues of Buddha in-between:


황한일 (Hwanil Hwang), 우주신목 ("Sacred Tree of the Universe")

황한일 (Hwanil Hwang), 우주신목 (“Sacred Tree of the Universe”)

Chiaki Kurumizawa, Universe in the Greenhouse

Chiaki Kurumizawa, Universe in the Greenhouse


황환일 (Hwanil Hwang), 희망의 블랙홀 ("Black Hole of Hope")

황환일 (Hwanil Hwang), 희망의 블랙홀 (“Black Hole of Hope”)

김용민 (Kim Yong Min), Yellow Bird

김용민 (Kim Yong Min), Yellow Bird

Tsolak Topchyan, I Did It

Tsolak Topchyan, I Did It

Yusaku Fujiwara, Flowing Signs

Yusaku Fujiwara, Flowing Signs

양순영 (Yang, Soon-young), 여러분 ("Everybody")

양순영 (Yang, Soon-young), 여러분 (“Everybody”)

강희준 (Hee-joon Kang), 나무선 - 연결 ("Tree Line – Connection")

강희준 (Hee-joon Kang), 나무선 – 연결 (“Tree Line – Connection”)


하영주 (Youngju Ha), 돌고 도는 것 ("Turning, Turning Thing")

하영주 (Youngju Ha), 돌고 도는 것 (“Turning, Turning Thing”)


김경희 (Kyung hee Kim), 休 (“Rest”)



And this unusual scarecrow waved us goodbye…


– 9 Sept. 2014 (火)



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Daehangno Poster Session 1

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Every time I go to Daehangno, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I wander through the small alleyways. I usually to lost somewhere between Arko Arts Center and Marronnier Park. … Continue reading

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Knife-Scam or North Korea’s Best on Tour?

"North Korea Art Ensemble on Performance Tour"

“North Korea Art Ensemble on Performance Tour”

It was some months ago when I saw the small poster for the first time, right at the bus stop in front of our house, a small envelope filled with free invitations attached to it. I was tempted to give it try, I have to say, but didn’t have the time. I saw a similar announcement again last week – all free tickets gone already – and it made me wonder once again. “North Korea’s best actors” (북한 최고 배우들) – mostly actresses, it seems – are on tour, in South Korea?

The “phantastic stage” (환상의 무대) for this event was to unfold at a convention center in Sinchon, right next to Sogang University. I remember that we had our graduation lunch there some years ago. The show seems to consist mostly of song and dance, the latter possibly in traditional dresses, but the whole thing looks very trotty to me. That there are performances Monday morning and afternoon is also quite telling about the target audience.

Is this just some kind of “Kaffeefahrt”-scheme (free excursions to the countryside that culminate in afternoon coffee with pushy sales promotion), trying to attract audiences with an invitation to some nostalgic past, when popular entertainment in North and South Korea wasn’t too different? The free souvenir (a “flower-knife” 장미칼) for everyone attending seems a bit suspicious… Also, children and students – in fact, everyone under the age of 30 – cannot attend. The same goes for anyone who is drunk.

Is this troupe (북한예술단) really from Pyongyang or rather from Japan, China, or elsewhere? It doesn’t seem to be the same ensemble that performed the song “방갑습니다!” (Nice to Meet You!) in a Youtube-video that I found listed under the same name. According to a news report in Munhwa Ilbo (문화일보), this is was the “Pyongyang Folk Art Ensemble” (평양민속예술단), a group of professional musicians, singers and dancers trained in North Korea who have escaped to South. (I couldn’t access what seems to be the ensemble’s homepage – there might be more information there.)

A lot of “seems”, many open questions, and only one way to find out… Seems like it’s time for some field work next time they are in town!

Or rather not? I wasn’t sure…

And then I found a blog post by someone who had a similar experience earlier this June, when the same ensemble performed at Sejong University (세종대학교 대양홀). The blogger Ssamdori (쌈돌이) noticed what I hadn’t seen: The whole event is in fact “a combination of travel presentation and free performance by the company Geumgan Tour” ((주)금간투어에서 여행설명회를 겸한 무료공연). Like Ssamdori, I was struck between curiosity and suspicion. Maybe we should go together and get the free knife next time

– 22 Aug. 2014 (金)

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Pictures in Motion

IMG_4286-0.JPGMotion pictures are pictures in motion. So far, so good. The short films by experimental filmmaker Ito Takashi (伊藤高志 이토 다카시) I just saw made me realize this simple truth once again—but to what effect!

Always good for a surprise, the Cinematheque KOFA (한국영상자료원) hosts the Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul (EXiS 2014, 서울국제실험영화제) this week (until Thursday, Sept. 4th). The program also includes an excellent retrospective of Ito’s early works, spanning one decade from his student works of the early 1980s to the early 1990s.

Have a look at Spacy (1980–81, 16mm), his graduation film at the Kyushu Institute of Design. I promise that these are ten minutes not easily forgotten:

Ito Takashi, Spacy (1980–81)

Probably Ito’s most famous work, Spacy includes hundreds of photos shot again and again. The movie was heavily inspired by his professor Matsumoto Toshio (松本 俊夫), in particular the motion-study Ātman (アートマン, 1975, 11 Min., see on Youtube) that shows a masked nō actor from all possible directions.

Ito Takashi, presenting his work at EXiS 2014 (Cinematheque KOFA, cinema 2)

Ito Takashi, presenting his work at EXiS 2014 (Cinematheque KOFA, cinema 2)

However, while Spacy and other early stylistic experiments (Box, Thunder, Screw, all from 1982) were awe-inspiring, I even more liked that as time goes on Ito’s projects turn more personal in subject matter. My personal highlight was Grim (1985), an exploration of time and space within the confines of a small apartment. In Venus (1990), a whole apartment block is mashed up into a cubistic set of frames, houses, perspectives.

Ito Takashi, <em>Grim</em> (1985), via EXiS

Ito Takashi, Grim (1985), via EXiS

I’ve always been interested in movies made of still images (see this experimental clip I made In 2005 in order to introduce the least appealing part of my apartment in Paris to my friends back home). But here, all those things that I find fascinating about cinema converge: the inherent tension between standing still and moving; the exploration of a singular space, point-by-point; the memories that are burned into looping images between repetition and variation; the sense for details and the zoom-out to show the big picture; the organic contrast between compressed time and time seemingly standing still. (More material on Ito can be found in Japanese and English at Imageforum and on his own Facebook-page.)

Ito Takashi, <em>Venus</em> (1990), via EXis

Ito Takashi, Venus (1990), via EXis

The technique of using still images (simply said: photographies) reminded me of a travelling performer and movie maker I had seen in Berlin years ago (at Theater o.N. in Prenzlauer Berg, if I remember correctly, or was it at the Eigenreich?). Maybe because Ito had brought along a flip book-version of Spacy…?

Volker Gerling is, presumably, the only “flip book-wanderer” in the world. While travelling from here to there, he shoots people he meets on his way with a reflex camera in burst mode, filling an analogue 36-picture film in mere seconds. The prints are bound into a small book, called a “Daumenkino” in German—quite literally a “thumb cinema”.

Many of these short clips, which last only a few seconds, depending on the pressure applied, are very moving, offering short glimpses into otherwise opaque lives of others. Back then in Berlin, he presented his latest works and I remember them quite vividly, the old man smiling briefly, the young girl seeing herself for the first time after getting a haircut, three teenagers seemingly doing nothing but… If Warhol’s Screen Tests of celebrities are “3-minute eternities”, these are mini-portraits that last as long as you want them to last.


Volker Gerling’s motto is “Bilder lernen laufen, indem man sie herumträgt.” (Pictures learn to walk as we carry them around.) He mentions his quite thought-provoking thesis in an interview with the Metrolit publishing company (in German): If cinematic vision mirrors a train passenger looking at a “travelling shot” from his cabin, the perspective that flip books correspond to is that of a wanderer. Another interesting interview by the photo journal kwerfeldein (also in German) features numerous pictures and a video that shows some of the flip books in action and also Gerling performing them live.


Here, once again, I was fascinated by the possibilities of doing the seemingly impossible: keeping a moment from the past without turning it into a dead flower. In contrast to Ito’s high speed stills, Gerling’s portraits can be as slow as the thumb that’s turning them.

Movies are more than moving images. They tell stories about people, of those in front of the lens and those behind it, whether in 36 images, 700 images, ten skies, or twenty cigarettes (did I mention that I adore James Benning?).

– 30 Aug. 2014 (土)


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