50 Years after Korea: German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage

I was pretty surprised when I recently read that carnival has been registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Germany (sorry, couldn’t find any English press coverage, here the Wikipedia-page on the Cologne Carnival, where I had some fun as a kid, see below). I had never heard of such a list, well, at least not in Germany.

Cologne Carnival, Rosenmontag procession, 2004, photo by Dickbauch, via WikimediaCommons

Cologne Carnival, Rosenmontag procession, 2004, photo by Dickbauch, via WikimediaCommons

In Korea, Important Intangible Cultural Properties (중요무형문화재) and Human Cultural Treasures (인간문화재) are omnipresent, especially if you’re interested in pansori or other traditional arts. In total, over a hundred arts and crafts have been designated (see Wikipedia for an almost up-to-date list, the Cultural Heritage Administration (문화재청) for a complete one). Sixteen of these have also been recognized as UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (유네스코 인류구전 및 무형유산 걸작), including pansori, the Gangneung Dano Festival (강릉단오제), the folk song(s) Arirang (아리랑), the dance choreography Ganggang Sullae (강강술래), and the art of kimchi-making (김장). At every designation session of UNESCO, there has been at least one successful application by South Korea so far.

For more details on the Korean system, see Keith Howard’s great book on Preserving Korean Music, also PhD-dissertations by Jongsung Yang (on the development and underlying ideologies of the preservation policy) and by CedarBough Saeji (on its practical implication—a highly readable account on mask dance play, drumming-dancing and much more, see a review).

Ganggang Sullae, Korea.net, Korean Culture and Information Service, photo by Jeon Han, via Flickr

Ganggang Sullae, Korea.net, Korean Culture and Information Service, photo by Jeon Han, via Flickr

I did some googling on Intangible Cultural Properties in Germany and found out that my home country is a bit behind in that respect. The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage states in the section on “Safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage at the national level”:

To ensure identification with a view to safeguarding, each State Party shall draw up, in a manner geared to its own situation, one or more inventories of the intangible cultural heritage present in its territory. These inventories shall be regularly updated. (Article 11.1)

Ten years after UNESCO passed the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, Germany has taken action now. After becoming a State Party through ratification of the convention in 2012 (see this explanation of the procedure), the first 27 national properties were announced around last Christmas. That’s almost exactly 50 years after a similar national policy in Korea lead to the declaration of the first seven properties, around Christmas 1964.

Similar policy? Well, not exactly, at least not in terms money. The Korean system pays a stipend to registered “holders” of the respective art or craft (예능보유자). In Germany, the system is strictly non-commercial. (That’s why beer brewing was rejected, according to Prof. Christoph Wulf of Free University, head of the selection committee (see the German interview).

German Cardinal Meisner maintains tradition, Düsseldorf 2005 (photo and sculpture by Jacques Tilly, via WikimediaCommons)

German Cardinal Meisner maintains tradition, Düsseldorf 2005 (photo and sculpture by Jacques Tilly, via WikimediaCommons)

One plausible reason for the late start in Germany mentioned in an interesting working paper (English pdf) by the German Commission for UNESCO from 2012 is the fact that “due to the instrumentalization, inter alia by the National Socialists, reservations remain when speaking about “folk culture” (Volkskultur) or single forms of it.”

Next time I’ll take a closer look at the inaugural properties of the “German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage” (thus the official English title, although Prof. Wulf insists that it should be rather “Cultural Heritage in Germany”).

– 23 Feb. 2015 (日)

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Kidlat Tahimik, Champion of Third-World Cinema

On the occasion of the screening of Kidlat Tahimik’s latest movie Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III at the Berlin Film Festival and him winning the Caligari Prize (see the trailer and hopefully soon a review in German at critic.de), I post this stream of thoughts I wrote down last summer after I got to know about this fantastic filmmaker (to many Is…).


Kidlat Tahimik @ Cinematheque KOFA, presenting an installation after his movie screening

Kidlat Tahimik @ Cinematheque KOFA, presenting an installation after his movie screening

It was by chance that we got to see Perfumed Nightmare (향기어린 악몽, 1978), the debut film of Kidlat Tahimik (키들랏 타히믹), at the Cinematheque KOFA (한국영상자료원, a great place for watching free movies!). The movie was stunningly great, hard to tell whether personal travelogue, experimental self-study in film-making, coming-of-age-story about a dreamy space-buff (and head of the Philippine Wernher von Braun Fanclub), or – as I suspect – ironic comment on the experiences of a “Third-World”-cineast. That’s a movement closely associated with Kidlat Tahimik (a pen name meaning “slow lightning”). Or, that’s what I found out about him on Wikipedia afterwards (more details on WikiPilipinas). You can have a look at the first few minutes of Perfumed Nightmare on Youtube.

As a follow-up, we went to see Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? (누가 요요를 만들었나? 누가 월면차를 만들었나?, 1979/1982) the next day, a “spoof” of Nightmare that Kidlat Tahimik shot after receiving some money, as he freely admits. And, once again by chance, we got to see – and hear – the master himself!

Kidlat Tahimik, A Tale of Two Goddesses of the Wind - Inhabian of Ifugao and Marilyn Monroe of Hollywood (installation detail)

Kidlat Tahimik, A Tale of Two Goddesses of the Wind – Inhabian of Ifugao and Marilyn Monroe of Hollywood (installation detail)

As the closing credits swept across the screen, someone’s voice, chanting some all-familiar song, could be heard from the back. Kidlat Tahimik was walking down the stairs towards the stage, the “Torero March” from Carmen on his lips. The performance he delivered, with the help of some figurines that were part of an installation he had brought with him (see above), was a manifesto for local storytelling in cinema, against commercial blockbusters and the formula their based upon (S+V=P). In his performance, he depicted the constant struggle between two goddesses, the lure of Hollywood and the possibilities of independent cinema to tell local stories, that every “Third World”-filmmaker faces.

Maybe the Third World in cinema lies not so much in language or location, but in the way we create. (quoted from memory)

Kidlat Tahimik was referring especially to improvisation, a technique that seems to be all over his works, at least those two I’ve seen so far. (But then, what is improvisation anyway? …) I found the short-circuit between the dichotomies of 1st- and 3rd-world on the one hand, Hollywood commercialism and indy-spirit on the other, a bit of an oversimplification – and quite romanticizing the precarious situation of many filmmakers, too. His own background, as he openly notes, is of uper-middleclass and he still can rely on support by his parents.

Rather than putting the focus on improvisation (although a distinct feature of his films), I’d rather stress Kidlat Tahimik’s relentless—and successful—attempts of appropriating whatever he can get. He makes everything part of his story, whether he draws from Philippinean traditions and the country’s twisted colonial history or dubs the rather restrained enthusiasm of the children who join his space-race-fanclub with the applause from, presumably, a soccer stadium. He uses the cityscape of Paris, the wide variety of the “Zwiebelturm” (onion-shaped churchtower) that he finds in Germany, and a pregnant woman he meets there. He even casts his own son as—well—himself, the German-born son of the protagonist-character.

So, is the “Third World”-way of doing cinema a radically personalized melange of idiosyncratically appropriated and re-interpreted people, gestures, sounds, and images? Certainly not the only one… In fact, classical “Third Cinema” seems to reject individual expression (such as in “auteur”-arthouse films) for collective solidarity…

And what happens when the Empire strikes back—isn’t creative appropriation also a viable method outside of “Third World”-cinema?

In the end of his talk, Kidlat Tahimik identified himself as “A storyteller who merely uses film as the medium” (also from memory). Well, he uses film in a wonderful way, I think. The only other artist I can think of that comes close would be Helge Schneider (big post coming up sometime—spoiler: we saw his latest movie in Berlin, and it’s great!).

To close with Kidlat Tahimik: “The kosmos will provide!” (verbatim) Let’s hope his words will prove right.

– 15 & 16 Aug. 2014 (金 & 土)

  • Mababangong Bangungot / Perfumed Nightmare (Philippines 1977, 93 minutes). IMDB
  • Sinong Lumikha ng Yoyo? Sinong Lumikha ng Moon Buggy? / Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? (Philippines 1979/1982 ???, 95 minutes) IMDB
  • Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III (Germany 2015, 140 minutes) IMDB
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Threehundred Tons of Vegetables: The Non-Verbal Performance Nanta

© PMC Production, via Interpark

© PMC Production, via Interpark

Nanta (난타) was the very first performance I saw in Korea, back in the rainy spring of 2006. In the short time span of one week, we did all kinds of sightseeing, from the Folk Village to Gyeongbok Palace, from the National Museum in Gyeongju to the Posco factories in nearby Ulsan.

Shortly after arriving in Korea, after a day trip to the DMZ and dinner at an Italian restaurant, we went to the Nanta Theatre. I don’t remember the exact location, possibly in Myeongdong?, but I remember that I was very tired after some sleepless days. So I was glad that our seats way in the back were quite right for a short nap (a sacrilege for a student of theatre, I know…).

This is what I wrote later about this particular night:

A déjà vu: The posters that announce the “crazy chefs” look somewhat familiar. And sure enough, a few years ago Nanta had been performed in Berlin! Expecting the worst, I take a seat in a back row. The interior of the theatre appears a bit old-fashioned. LCD-displays in four languages encourage the audience to applaud. Then three chefs enter the stage and begin with their main occupation during the next two hours: drumming with everything possible on all things anywhere. The plot about the restaurant manager’s nephew who steps in on short notice for an urgent wedding banquet is mere pretext. The cooks slice cabbage, dance wildly, hold a baking contest, balance and juggle with dishes—and they keep on drumming. My expectations are disappointed. Nanta is, in fact, great fun!

– from my travel report, 23 May 2006.

The reason I thought of Nanta again was a short column by Son Jun-hyeon in today’s hankyoreh (한겨레). The following is a rough translation of the article:

손준현, 유레카, 한겨레 2015년1월28일

손준현, 유레카, 한겨레 2015년1월28일

The vegetables used in Nanta since the 1st performance in 1997 weigh 369,129 kg in total. 125,160 onions, 219,030 heads of cabbage, 312,900 cucumbers, 312,900 carrots. […] But this immense weight cannot account for the massive influence of Nanta in taking the world of performing arts in Korea by storm. More than 10 Mio. (10,085,010) spectators saw the show by the end of last year. There have been 31,290 performances in 289 cities in 51 countries, two dedicated theatres in Seoul (Myeongdong, Chungjeong-ro), on Jeju Island, and in Bangkok. In celebration of the 10 Millionth spectator, this year from March 21 to June 14 performances will also be held in Daehangno.According to Song Seung-hwan (송승환), head of PMC Productions, the 20 Mio. mark will be reached in the next five to seven years. With a a dedicated theatre in Guangzhou, the efforts will concentrate on China. […]

Beating wildly for 17 years, Nanta now crosses the borders of Korea and, as a hallyu[-related] cultural commodity (한류 문화상품), is tiptoeing to foreign countries, too. Recently, the Korean society has been characterized as a ‘damaged society’ (불통사회). Nanta can still strike up (난타하다) this ‘damaged society’ that is bursting of anger and rage.

손준현, 후레카, 한겨레, 2015년1월28일.

While the last paragraph seems more like a rhetoric device than an actual assession of the critical potential of Nanta (the show is, as the article mentions, a “cultural commodity”, after all), I find he concept of “non-verbal performance” (넌버벌 / 무언어 퍼포먼스) quite fascinating, as it addresses implicitly the obsession with foreign evaluation in the world of arts (and beyond) in Korea. Downplaying the language, an aspect that might hinder accessibility by non-Korean audiences, is a very clear step towards creating an easily digestible show, rather than a showcase of Koreanness. In the case of Nanta, economic goals seem to trump cultural politics.

© PMC Production, via Interpark

© PMC Production, via Interpark

Hyunjung Lee argues in her PhD dissertation on “Global Fetishism” that Nanta follows a slightly different paradigm than typical works with nationalist content and global aspirations, such as the musical The Last Empress, Lee’s other case study. In addition to aiming for recognition (and profits) in the “West”, the staging and marketing strategies employed in Nanta also address audiences from (or in) other Asian countries, “via performance elements that, by revealing inviting qualities of Korean culture in the context of other Asian cultures, reflect ideas of Asian solidarity or pan-Asianism”. (Hyunjung Lee, Global fetishism: Dynamics of Transnational Performances in Contemporary South Korea, PhD diss., The University of Texas at Austin, 2008, p. 12)

This has a downside, too. For Nanta performances outside of Asia the title was changed to Cookin’ and several aspects of the show were modified to address an audience not accustomed to (or interested in) Korean culture in particular. Instead, “Song’s ways of reaching the Cookin’s New York audience reveal concrete marketing procedures and sensitivity to the play’s intercultural reception, rather than adherence to an exclusivist idea of Korean traditional cultural uniqueness.” This interpretation seems a bit too positive, though, as Lee continues in the next paragraph to describe the “pan-Asian images” used, including dumplings, kungfu, benihana (apparently a Japanese-style restaurant chain), a “fusion of Asian images and themes [that] resonates with the popular Asian stereotypes circulating in the U.S. media.” (both quotes p. 107)

© PMC Production, via Interpark

© PMC Production, via Interpark

As the music and rhythms of Nanta are heavily inspired by samulnori, I also found these two quotes by Song Seung-hwan (송승환), the “inventor” of Nanta, very interesting:

[A]s a matter of fact, I’ve decided to adopt samulnori as a way of targeting the world market.

– 송승환, 세계를 난타한 남자: 문화 CEO, 송승환, 서울 2003: 북키앙, p. 68 (transl. and quoted in Lee 2008, p. 99; details on the book at Daum.)

[W]ith Nanta’s popularity, I hope that we will be able to demonstrate before the foreigners that there is something more besides pansori in our proud Korean cultural assets.

– 송승환, 매일경제신문, 14 Jan. 1999 (ibid.)

Hyunjung Lee’s very interesting dissertation is definitely worth a read. And according to her faculty site, there seems to be a book on the way, too: Hyunjung Lee, Performing the Nation in Global Korea: Transnational Theatre, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

© PMC Production, via Interpark

© PMC Production, via Interpark

In addition, there are also quite a few of Korean theses and papers on Nanta, as a short keyword-search at the RISS-database reveals (“난타”: 32 journal articles, 13 MA-theses). Several of those actually deal with Nanta-inspired performances by school children (and their effect on stress reduction etc.) such as the one by members of a middle school club shown in this Youtube-video, indicating that “Nanta” is leaving the commercial realm.

Will “Nanta” become some kind of “Samulnori 2.0” eventually, a b(r)and name turned neb-traditional genre? In any case, the drumming goes on, most recently on a cruise ship to Malaysia.

– 28 Jan. 2015 (水)

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Chuseok-Interview on Pansori now available as Podcast (and others)

Last Chuseok, I had a nice talk about pansori with Walter A. Foreman of “Inside Out”, a weekly interview show on eFM, the English station of tbs (Traffic Broadcasting System, 교통방송국). My interview was broadcast the next Saturday and is now available as a podcast on iTunes (episode 103).

Walter has talked to a wide variety of people from all kinds fields. Friends of gugak and the arts might find the following interviews interesting (I give the episode number so you can find them in the list):

  • Shin Young-hee (신영희), pansori singer and, in early 2013 when she gave the interview, recently appointed “living cultural treasure” (episode 33)
  • Hendrijke Lange (헨드리케 랑에) and Jocelyn Clark (조세린), musicians, scholars, teachers, gugak professionals, with whom I had the honor to share a stage in Jeonju last year (episode 52)
  • Brother Anthony of Taize (aka 안선재), emeritus professor at Sogang University, translator, head of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch and so much more (episode 74)
  • George Takei, no introduction needed (episode 89)
  • Hong Sin Cha (홍신자), avant-garde dancer and choreograph (episode 102)
  • Charles Montgomery, literature professor at Dongguk University and blogger at http://www.ktlit.com (episode 108)

If you’re curious: I found two other podcasts with the keyword “pansori”! First, a (German) review of the documentary Pansori: Der Weg zum Klang (“The Way to the Sound”, 2004) directed by Seunyoung Cho at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Back in 2006, the podcast “Podestrian” talks about the movie in a multi-part report from the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen 2006, where an excerpt of the film was screened. The whole movie is available online.

The second is “Scopes Monkey Choir”, a podcast on the science of music, by two professionals musicians who happen to be amateur scientists. In the [39th episode][podcast] from 2011, which is about “vocal abuse”, the hosts also talk about pansori (beginning at around 22:00, iTunes-link). If you want to read more about this matter from the perspective of a voice trainer, I can recommend Tara McAllister-Viel’s “Cross-Cultural Examination of Breath and Sound Production in Pansori” (in Voice and Speech Review 2.1 (2001), pp. 297–311).

– 6 Sept. 2014 (土)

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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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