Academic Pansori: Ahn Mun-Yeong at the Sorak Symposium

I’ve briefly mentioned a pansori performance at the opening of an academic event back in 2012. Recently, I had the chance to see another one, at the Sorak Symposium on German Literature in Gyeongju last September (where I presented on German-language college theatre in Korea).


Professor Ahn Mun-Yeong (안문영), emeritus of Chungnam National University in Daejeon and known as a Rilke-specialist and -translator, is also famous for his love of pansori. He has given various lectures, comparing for example the “Simcheong”-story with Goethe’s Iphigenie. He also performed pansori at numerous conferences in Korea and in Germany, most recently in Tübingen in October (registration closed, obviously). I had heard a lot about his ad-hoc performances after conferences, but never had seen it myself – until now. Prof. Ahn often performs in casual dress (as you can see here, scroll down to the last picture), but in Gyeongju he wore full hanbok.

Prof. Ahn presented an excerpt of the Song of Heungbo (흥보가), about a good and a bad brother. The former one saves the life of an injured swallow, which then takes a long flight across the globe. In his version, surprisingly, the swallow even made it to Germany!

Formally, Prof. Ahn’s performance(s) can be characterised at what I call “touristic” pansori, a showcase of tradition in excerpted form. At Gyeongju, his performance was followed by a salpuri dance, contributing to the spectrum of tradition on display. In particular, both performances, which took place at the after-dinner cultural program of the conference, were aimed at the non-Korean guests, more educational than participatory. In more public contexts, communal feelings rarely emerge in touristic performances, as the individual numbers are usually quite short and the audience rarely trained in shouting calls of encouragement (chuimsae) at the right time to support the singer.


But at the Sorak Symposium, the performance catered, in fact, to a pre-existing community – however losely defined – of German language and literature scholars. The effect was astonishing: Many people occasionally clapped along occasionally, some other professors called chuimsae, others explained the rough plot to the non-Korean scholars (the Korean ones of course all were familiar with the story). A wonderful start to a inspiring and very “communal” conference!

— 28 Sept. 2018 (金)

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Wide-Scope World-Views: Yong Hae Sook’s Panorama Trilogy

These are some of my thoughts on Yong Hae Sook’s current solo show Panorama Trilogy, still on show until Nov. 13 at Gallery Namu Art in Insa-dong, Seoul (나무화랑).
It’s a great opportunity to see three of Yong Hae Sook’s brand new art works, including Billige Ausrede (너절한 변명, i.e. “Cheap Excuse”), which she presented earlier this year in her first exhibition in Germany (last August at Kulturpalast Wedding International). The two other works – Serious Garden (진지한 정원) and Melancholic Passion Redux (우울한 열정 리덕스) – have been created since she returned to Korea. Serious Garden was originally produced for the group exhibition In Counter (인 카운터) at the Hongcheon Express Bus Terminal (with Rémi Klemensiewicz and Sascha Pohle, still on show until Nov. 21). Melancholic Passion Redux is shown for the first time at Namu Art, likewise the place of its creation (on the rooftop).
As you might have guessed, this post is unabashedly promotional and a disclaimer is due: I’ve assisted in the production of two of the three works discussed, so I cannot be fully objective. Regardless, I believe that the three works together present a fascinating, yet highly complex narrative and the following are merely some glimpses, written after spending two half-days in the gallery – some associations from the ladder, so to speak.

A panorama, generally speaking, is a large-scale, all-over view of a scene, typically a landscape. Coined in the late 18th century in England, the term was first used for 360°-paintings shown in circular rooms, an immersive entertainment long before moving pictures and later virtual reality entered the scene. Today, digital cameras and smart phones are capable of stitching together panorama pictures from a series of photographies shot in “pano”-mode, eradicating the curved horizon of wide angle shots. Apart from the visual, panorama has become a metaphor for a comprehensive perspective, whether in literature or science. A literal translation of the Greek-based word might be simply “overview”, a combination of pan (“all”) and horama (“view”).

panorama trilogy at namu art (panorama image)

A panoramic photo of the Panorama Trilogy

Painted panoramas – now in all forms and sizes, always a visual spectacle – boomed in 19th century Europe. In a sketch for his Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin noted that

Announcing an upheaval in the relation of art to technology, panoramas are at the same time an expression of a new attitude toward life. The city dweller, whose political supremacy over the provinces is attested many times in the course of the century, attempts to bring the countryside into town. In the panoramas, the city opens out to landscape – as it will do later, in subtler fashion, for the flâneurs.
(Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” [1935 version], in The Arcades Project, page 6)

Panoramas were created by artists (pejoratively called “panoramists”) but, different from earlier “high art”, aimed at the masses. As part of the emergence of a modern, bourgeois public in Europe, they were closely related to other cultural phenomena of the era, such as romanticist allusions of becoming-one with nature, Bentham’s panopticon (just in reverse), balloon flights, early media culture for commercial aims that would later lead to the cinema of attractions, as well as the emerging mass tourism, often showing exotic locations, epic battles, or other far-flung subjects.

Yong Hae Sook’s Panorama Trilogy presents three scenes that are clearly limited: By walls, windows, the sky, and – in all cases – the photographic framing. Arranged in varying angles across the gallery, they suggest three views on the world that are “panoramic” in a double-sense: They combine a wide scope with high accuracy. The three images, each one stitched together from numerous photographies, are overwhelming both in their massive size and their attention to detail (click on the images for a larger view). I’m drawn towards them to have a closer look but at the same time hesitate to abandon the big picture seen only from afar.

What do these works show? Each of the three images is a microcosm of its own, with the artist in the center acting out a highly symbolic gesture.

Yong Hae Sook, Billige Ausrede (Cheap Excuse), inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2018, Berlin

Yong Hae Sook, Billige Ausrede (Cheap Excuse), inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2018, Berlin

In Billige Ausrede, Yong Hae Sook is washing her hair in the water dropping down from a chandelier. Next to her, on the right side of the image, more water runs down a plywood-construction. On the left, references to art history abound, from roll paintings brought from Korea to plaster copies of antique busts (also from Korea), cheap imitations of Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (bought in Dusseldorf), mirrors, a candle etc. (Min-young Jeon discusses this aspect in detail in her essay that opens the recently published catalogue on this work.) It seems as if the artist is cleaning her head from the complex, hybrid mixture of East and West that dominates the image and, increasingly, the world we live in.

Yong Hae Sook, Melancholic Passion Redux, inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2018, Seoul

Yong Hae Sook, Melancholic Passion Redux, inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2018, Seoul

Melancholic Passion Redux combines numerous earlier art works (or parts thereof), including the artist holding a tray of fire on her head (like the title a reference to Yong Hae Sook’s last solo show in Korea as well as Susan Sontag’s thoughts on Benjamin). Burning down the roof or bringing the fire of enlightenment? While Billige Ausrede was shot in the confines of Kulturpalast Wedding and the image is delimited by a wall in the back, here the space opens to a view of central Seoul (including the Blue House – see if you can spot it!). The golden evening sky features prominently, with some close-by skyscrapers, cut off by the framing, blocking the full view. From the rooftop up to further heights, the image seems to suggest. If Billige Ausrede is about the blurring of boundaries between East and West, the horizontal panorama of Melancholic Passion Redux seems to suggest a vertical hierarchy. It is certainly not by random that tools and machines are on the ground while the piggy bank and the crumpled newspaper (with academic job ads) are on top.

Yong Hae Sook, Serious Garden, inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2018, Hongcheon

Yong Hae Sook, Serious Garden, inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2018, Hongcheon

Serious Garden, shot at the express bus terminal in Hongcheon, a small provincial town one hour from Seoul (home to pink factory), adds to the multidimensional spectrum: The artist, shown in profile with the face hidden behind a small umbrella, waters the world. Surrounded by toys, food (surely all bought local!), and large solid objects painted pink, this gardener is seriously solemn while rural life (or absence thereof) goes by behind. Large glass windows (or doors?) in the back show the street, a map of the town, phone booths, and mountains further away, but no people. Far from Seoul, the bus terminal still remains a threshold, but unlike the rooftop not between heaven and earth but between center and periphery.

The three images address different spatial relations – orientalism, class-based society, provincialism – which also feature in Yong Hae Sook’s earlier works and research. As visual collections of objects and materials, thoughts and associations, they present panoramic views on ongoing conflicts and changes, some in plain sight, some hidden from view. The artist is standing on the border, acting as a mediator of sorts, but also caught between different worlds.

The panoramas of the past aspired to be substitutes for the real, unreachable world. In Benjamin’s words, they transform the city into a landscape, put the world at your fingertip (if you happen to live in London, Paris, or Berlin, that is). In her “Panorama Trilogy”, Yong Hae Sook doesn’t bridge the gap between empire and colony, city and province, heaven and earth – but instead fills it with her performance. Even though visual spectacles, her images don’t imply verisimilitude but highlight difference and odd ends within the familiar. Art from earlier times, yesterday’s paper, a blind monitor, dried paint – a collection of old things arranged in new ways, time condensed in space.

Benjamin, channeled by Susan Sontag, believed that

To understand something is to understand its topography, to know how to chart it. And to know how to get lost.
(Susan Sontag, Under the Sign of Saturn, page 116)

I’m not sure if Yong Hae Sook attempted to chart a panoramic view of human relations in today’s complicated world. If so, she might have gotten lost in the process. Or we might, as well, while contemplating her spectacular images.

Her images are not realistic, documentary only in the sense that they show a situation that existed, but show current realities. Unlike the post-internet art that Brian Droitcour derides as “art made for its own installation shots, or installation shots presented as art”, the Panorama Trilogy – while conforming to both definitions – are made to be seen in the gallery. To those willing to engage in the stories, mythology, and symbolism they contain, these images will offer much food for thought. On the global herstory of art, the role of the artist beyond that of a local hero, and ways of being here and there.

So these are my five cents – have a look yourself while it’s still possible! Yong Hae Sook’s Panorama Trilogy is on show until this Tuesday and will be taken down in the early afternoon to free the space for the next exhibition.

— 7–13 Nov. 2018 (水–火)

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siren eun young jung’s Art on Female Music Theatre Yeoseong Gukgeuk Receives Korea Artist Prize 2018

Every year, four Korean artists (or artist groups) are selected as candidates for the Korea Artist Prize (올해의 작가상, KAP). They present several recent works at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (국립현대미술관 서울관) and then one of the four positions is selected for the prize, worth 10 Mio. Korean Won (about $9000, in addition to the 40 Mio. KRW that all short listed artists receive).


The winner of this year’s KAP was announced rather early, already in September (the earliest article I found is from Hankyoreh, there is also an English one in Korea Herald): After the collective Mix Rice (믹스라이스, 2016) and Amsterdam-based video artist Song Sanghee Song (송상희, 2017), this year’s award goes to siren eun young jung (정은영). siren eun young jung (the preferred romanized spelling of the artist) is known for her work on the music theatre genre yeoseong gukgeuk (여성국극), an all-female variation of the better known changgeuk (창극) that had its heydays in South Korea of the 1950s and 60s.

Often derided as a popular derivative of changgeuk or pansori – the traditional singing/storytelling art that both “modern” genres changgeuk and yeoseong gukgeuk are rooted in –, yeoseong gukgeuk has been in the shadows of its more “respectable” others. In fact, however, many of the best pansori singers, some of them honored with the rank of “living cultural treasure” (인간문화재), also performed in yeoseong gukgeuk-ensembles. In English, there is an interesting chapter in Andrew Killick’s book on changgeuk (In Search of Korean Traditional Opera, 2010) that deconstructs some of the common, mostly negative assumptions on this genre as fed by male pansori performers for their own reasons. In the art world, siren eun young jung, in turn, rediscovered yeoseong gukgeuk from the dustbin of history and, in a way, did the research that scholars mostly had failed to do.

I saw the KAP exhibition later that month, on the the last Wednesday of September, when public museums offer free entrance. I had missed an earlier solo show by siren eun young jung at Art Space Pool (“Trans-Theatre”, 전환극장, 아트 스페이스 풀, 2015.08.20–09.20), so now was a good occasion to see art work that also touched my research interests in theatre.


Generally speaking, yeoseong gukgeuk as an artistic practice is a thing of the past. Although apparently some ensembles exist, performances are rare. I once saw a production of Chunhyang-jeon (춘향전, “The Story of Chunhyang”, after the famous pansori piece) at the National Gugak Center back in 2010, on the occasion of the Dano Day festivities.

IMG_7553The performance of the well-known story, the singers wearing traditional costumes and the stage decorated in the typical slightly old-fashioned style of classical changgeuk was wonderful, yet – in a way surprisingly – similar to other mixed-cast productions I had seen. Definitely more neo-traditional (or “traditionesque”, in Killick’s terms) than experimental, my experience watching yeoseong gukgeuk fit the formula of family-entertainment I was used to from changgeuk.

IMG_7568siren eun young jung’s exhibition, while largely documentary, thus offers a re-reading of this genre, for instance when she includes more recent cross-dress performances. She also presents staged videos with former yeoseong gukgeuk stars, as well as collages of promotional material (see image above), and in her writings (and on-site research material, see left) draws connections to the Japanese all-female music theatre troupe Takarazuka Revue. In a video interview on the occasion of the KAP exhibition, she explains her motivations herself (via Vimeo, also a written interview).

IMG_7555There are also many interesting details, for example in the collected testimonies of yeoseong gukgeuk singers, framed and put on the wall. One of them, Cho Young-sook (조영숙 槽英淑), who performed comical male roles (in Japanese sammai, a heroic male role being nimai), identifies herself as “Holder of Talent in Baltal, Important Intangible Asset No. 79” (중요무형문화재 79호 발탈 예능보유자), in other words the highest-ranking performer (aka “Living Cultural Treasure”, 인간문화재) of a particular kind of puppetry, where puppet heads are attached to the performer’s feet (baltal lit. means “footmask”). One of her recent performances also includes a scene of madang-geuk, a part from Simcheong-ga with herself in the role of “Blindman Sim”, which I suspect to be derived from an earlier yeoseong gukgeuk production. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the performance for myself…

IMG_7557Back to the art world: siren eun young jung has also been announced to be part of the South Korean line-up for the upcoming Venice Biennale 2019. I expect for yeoseong gukgeuk to gain a wider audience there, something that is definitely do be desired, as the genre promises to offer many fascinating insights into the workings of the traditional art world. jung’s archive-based art is certainly interesting from a scholarly perspective, too, and shows the need for more in-depth research on the genre, its historical development, and contemporary potential.

— 29 Sept. 2018 (水)

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Two Contemporary Pansori Experiments with Chunhyang and Othello

After a summer without much theatre (except for a thunderstorm-interrupted open air play in Berlin), the performances I just need to see piled up in late September, the busy week before the Thanksgiving holidays. I managed to see two pansori performances – a re-interpretation of the classic Chunhyang-ga (춘향가) and a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Othello (판소리 오셀로) – but unfortunately missed the performance-lecture “Delegation X Korea: Hofmann’s Unification Radio” (X사절단: 호프만씨네 통일라디오) by Lunatiks (Berlin) and ensemble Seongbukdong Beedoolkee (극단 성북동비둘기, Seoul).

92 2018-09-12 ~ 20 두산아트센터 동초제 춘향가 - 몽중인 poster

Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream

The first performance, Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream (동초제 춘향가 – 몽중인), is a work by pansori singer Lee Seung Hee (script, music, director), in collaboration with Kim Sojin (vocals), Lee Hyang-ha (co-director), and other musicians who play traditional instruments but also keyboards. Most of them are former members of Lee Jaram’s ensemble Pansori Mandeul-gi ‘Ja’ (판소리 만들기 ‘자’), which disbanded last year. As part of the artist support program DAC of Doosan Art Center, Lee and her colleagues present an modern-day adaptation of a classic.

But besides the story itself, the form of presentation is also very much un-traditional. The stage design consists of a diagonal structure that includes a chair at the outer end (closest to the audience which is divided in two parts), a wooden floor, and a long table that leads towards the back, where the musicians stand and play. The singer enters in the dark and sits on the chair, back to the audience, a very untypical pose in pansori, where the singer usually interacts with the spectators and rarely breaks eye contact. The musicians, likewise appear immersed in their own world, like DJs working their sets rather than the typical drummer in pansori who closely monitors the singer to accomodate slight variations in pace immediately.

Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream ends with the two (!) singers in shiny gowns banging cymbals with increasing power, which resembles a shaman ritual more than the narrative style of pansori. It is a performance for a mechanized world, where outbursts of emotion are channeled into short moments of ecstasy, rather than in traditional pansori, where these affective highlights exist but as part of the overall audience-centered stroytelling performance. The members of the ensemble, singers and instrumentalists, rarely interact with each other, while at the same time not exclusively facing the audience. As a result, this experimental approach to pansori feels slightly self-absorbed.

93 2018-08-25 ~ 09-22 정동극장 판소리 오셀로 poster

Pansori Othello

In the second performance this week, Pansori Othello by ensemble Heebee Jeebie Juice (희비쌍곡선), the pansori singer as a narrative instance is center-stage. The adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy had premiered at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju last year (Nov. 3-4, 2017, 국립아시아문화전당) and was now shown in an extended run at Chongdong Theatre in Seoul, already since late August with a double-cast (Aug. 25-Sept. 22, 2018, 정동극장). While the familiar story of the jealous “Moor of Venice” is retold in typical pansori-style, with switches between the various roles and short bridges in which the singer acts as narrator, an additional framing device is employed.

The solo singer (in the performance I saw Park In-hye, who also wrote and composed the piece) plays a Korean gisaeng named “Dan”, a geisha-like entertainer from Korea’s past, yet with the stance of a decidedly 21st century woman. Present and history, Shakespearean plot and Korean legend get intermingled as she introduces the performance with a reference to the story of Cheoyong (처용), an official of the Korean kingdom of Shilla. Like Othello, Cheoyong is a foreigner, possibly of Arabian origin (as I learned during dinner at the Sorak Symposium a few days later), and well-known for his poetry, which is recited in Pansori Othello. This double-framing makes the whole piece much more discursive than Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream, albeit with the singer as the exclusive communicator – the musicians remain distant in the background, a back-up band to the focus of attention, the present storyteller from the past.

Two ways of presenting pansori for contemporary audiences, one tending towards the eclectic, unconnected (Dongcho-je Chunhyang – In a Dream), one towards meta-narration as a unifying principle (Pansori Othello). Both aspects can be found in traditional pansori, in the texts and vocal styles that resemble palimpsests from various sources, and in the strong vocal authority incarnated by the solo singer. Both experiments seem fruitful and I’m looking forward to more steps into these different directions, not to replace the balanced tradition, but to supplement and accentuate it.

— 19, 22 Sept. 2018 (水, 土)

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Watching the Watchers: Pink Factory Exhibition Preview

This is partly personal notes, partly a preview of this year’s upcoming Pink Factory exhibition (opening: Sept. 15!). I’ve written this text while participating in Lee Kyeonghee’s video piece that, together with the works of six other artists from Korea, Germany, France, and China, will be part of the exhibition — looking forward for the final result! For about three hours I was sitting in an empty gallery, watching a video on a computer screen. The following is an almost verbatim reproduction of my notes, with some additional information in brackets (and links) edited in. Each section corresponds to a page in the memo pad.



I’m a fan of durational movies [aka “slow cinema”, a “genre” that can be dated back at least to the 60s, with Andy Warhol’s films Kiss, Empire, see Marina Abramovic’s talk on durational art in general)] since I first saw James Benning’s Sogobi at the Berlin Film Festival in 2002. I later saw his earlier, more narrative [e.g. The United States of America (1975), One Way Boogie Woogie (1977)], also the more romantic, transcendental later films 13 Lakes and Ten Skies (both 2004). I didn’t see his more recent RR (2007) or Twenty Cigarettes (2011), at least not in the big screen, in the dark room that they’re meant for. These films don’t work on TV or Youtube (you can find some of them there but I don’t bother to post the links).


I experienced myself a little bit with moving and motionless images, time and space, remake and retake. I used different recording equipment, what was available, from a digicam to a camcorder, finally a smartphone. Different from Benning’s movies, these are probably best seen on screen, the low resolution would hurt one’s eyes in the cinema. Maybe even better on a cellphone display.


Today, I became part of a meta-movie experience. I had agreed to participate in a video work, arrived at 10am at the gallery “Chapter II” in Seoul, the shooting location, and one hour later sat down at the simple wooded table, in front of a notebook, with only pen and paper (and an audio recorder).

I was supposed to watch, or rather to observe a three-hour video on the notebook. (Even in Benning-esque terms, this is pretty long.) That was my only task, which I was free to interpret however I wanted.

Three cameras, one fixed and two mobile [later a fourth], surrounded me. Coffee was out of reach. I almost fell asleep during the first hour.



The video turned out to be a series of rural scenes, shot by a fixed camera in Hongcheon [a county in Gangwon Province] (the artist had told me that before). Each [shot was] about 10 minutes.

There was not much movement [on screen] in the first scenes. Mountains over mountains. Sometimes flies in the foreground. Music, talk, laughter from the café next door. It turned night, the reflection on the glossy Macbook monitor showed only me, dozing off.

Then daylight again. Some movement, due to the wind. Birds or glitches?


I had remained on my chair for most of the first hour. Some stretching, standing, leaning against the white wall of the gallery (one of the most perfect white cubes I’ve seen recently).

I sit down again, grab pen and paper. Can’t get the cap off, first think this is a trick. But it’s not. Three cameras still circling me (well, two of them), sometimes getting closer, behind me, from below the table. I’m not the observer but the observed, obviously.


While the audio recorder probably won’t record much of me (2 coughs in 90 minutes), it shows me the time, well, as long as its battery lasts; it’s already blinking.

I try to ignore the surroundings. The screen is too small, to grainy (or not grainy enough?) to grab my fading attention.

There’s also a camera on the wall, I notice. I noticed that before, actually, but I have another look now. It’s probably turned off anyway.

One of the cameramen (except for the artist herself, both of her staff members are men) gets tired, looks at his cellphone. My phone is in the bag leaning on the wall across the room.


I still need to write a blogpost this month, I think. Or I want to. At least once per month, otherwise it’s a dead blog, I think.

Haven’t had time to take a clear thought this sweaty August.

– cough, cough –

I have some backlogged stuff but not enough time to finish it. I want to write more detailed on Yong Hae Sook’s Berlin exhibition but could not put my thoughts in order yet.

So some “auto-ethnographic” self-observations…

I grab pen and paper and start to write. Until now.


  • I have shot some of these fixed long takes (although slightly shorter, 2-3 minutes) in Hongcheon myself, as a documentary for a Pink Factory archival exhibition in 2016.
  • I don’t know any of these places. Could be anywhere in the countryside, only a few are distinctively Gangwon Province, the the blue, layered mountains with forests… no place seems particular familiar, though.
  • In the second hour, the video gets more interesting to watch, a wider scope, brighter images, more details (some out of focus, though), some movement (mostly wind, though) – oh, just as I wrote this, a car passes through the image (about 2:02:00), and another one in front of the gallery. Coincidences are bound to happen the more time available.
  • At about 2 hours 19 minutes, a frontal shot of Juergen Staack’s camera obscura appears, his work 20 Years(2015), installed at Pink Factory. As I think of it, both works share a similar principle: In the huge cube in Hongcheon, the surroundings are exposed on the wooden board inside, here the images from the screen are burning onto my retina…

— 30 Aug. 2018 (木)

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Three Papers this Summer

philanthropy-conference-23-25-july-2018_posterThis summer I’m busy with conferencing – one each month, beginning later this July! All three papers I present (and currently prepare) are quite different but share the theme of trans/intercultural exchange and adaptation. One is (mainly) about the past, two about the present and future. Two are about spoken, one about sung theatre. Two feature references to tradition (in modern times), one is about building an own tradition. And two relate to Germany while one is about Korean-US-relations. Lastly, the very first one is in Germany (see poster on the right), while the other two are in Korea – looking forward to a hot academic summer!

I have used the following hashtags when blogging or tweeting (@JanCreutzenberg) about my ongoing research, which might be of interest to some:

Anyways, my schedule for this summer is as follows (my abstracts, information on the respective panels and links to the full program are below):


First, I talk about the encounters between controversial Korean theatre maker Yu Chi-jin (유치진 / 柳致眞, 1905–74) and the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950s and 60s, which ultimately led to the foundation of the Seoul Drama Center (서울 드라마센타, today: Namsan Arts Center, 남산예술센터) where some of the earliest experiments with traditional performing arts (as a means for theatre) took place in the 70s. While I wrote and presented on this latter part, the “search for ‘our’ roots in the world of theatre” on various occasions, the historical background (Cold War) and the role of US-foundations are new for me and I hope for interesting discussions and insights. (Munich, Tuesday, July 24, 2pm).

more information


Second, continuing my research for last year’s “Pansori in Europe”-symposium in Berlin, I will discuss some examples of Korean-German collaborations between pansori singers and other artists. You can expect to see and hear some excerpts from works by/with So Sol-i (서솔이), Choe Yong-seok (최용석, of Badak Sori / 판소리공장 바닥소리), and Park In-hye (박인혜, of Heebie Jeebie Juice / 창작집단 희비쌍곡선). This talk is part of a panel that I co-convened with Anna Yates-Lu and Barbara Wall, plus pansori singer Min Hye Sung (민혜성), who regularly performs abroad. The panel is titled “Crossing Boundaries: Beyond the Borders of P’ansori”, and will take place in the heart of Korean traditional music, the National Gugak Center (국립국악원) – eolssigu! (Seoul, Tuesday, 21 Aug., 3.50pm)

more information


Finally, I will take some first steps into the undiscovered territory of foreign language plays performed by college students (Kor. “weon-eo-geuk” / 원어극, lit. “original-language-drama”). As a lecturer at Sungshin University and now at Ewha Womans University, I have participated in the production of some plays, most recently Corpus Delicti (at Ewha, 2018) and Diebe (at Sungshin, 2017). Here, I will consider the repertories of German-language college drama in order to find out possible motivations that go into the making of this very special, highly charming form of transcultural theatre. (Gyeongju, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2pm, in German)

more information


— 24 July 2018 (火) / 21 August 2018 (火) / 29 September 2018 (土)

These are the abstracts of my presentations, as well as additional information on the conferences and links to the full programs.



International Conference “Philanthropy, Development, and the Arts: Histories and Theories”

Munich, Carl Friedrich von Siemens-Stiftung, 23–25 July, 2018, organized by the ERC project Developing Theatre, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany, conference homepage:

Jan Creutzenberg

Contemporary Korean Theatre, Courtesy of Uncle Sam? Yu Chi-jin, Rockefeller, and the Seoul Drama Center


Since the end of World War II and the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule, US-American policies influenced the cultural sphere in South Korea in many ways, as part of a global effort to integrate the region into a “Free Asia” in the face of communism. In this paper, I discuss the interactions between foreign benefactors and local players in post-colonial South Korea from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. I focus on director/playwright Yu Chi-jin’s engagement with the Rockefeller Foundation, which played a crucial role in the restoration of the war-struck theatre scene by offering Yu funding for the Seoul Drama Center, opened in 1962. Not only a state-of-the-art stage, the Drama Center also featured educational facilities and a research library, turning it into a hotbed for theatrical experimentation and innovation. Based on (auto-)biographical writings on Yu, internal documents of the Rockefeller Foundation, and news coverage in both countries, I explore how geopolitical agendas, cosmopolitan ambitions, audience expectations, and financial concerns contributed to the emergence of a new notion of contemporary, yet distinctively Korean theatre. In particular, the neo-traditional “search for roots”-movement, which originated at the Drama Center, at the crossroads of Western avant-garde and the revival of performing arts heritage, shows that the challenges that Korean theatre makers face today, in an increasingly international environment, date back to the Cold War and the ideology-driven globalization it encompassed.

Part of the panel “Grants in Aid for Theatre in Asia” (Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 14:00–15:30, Chair: Rashna Nicholson)
* Contemporary Korean Theatre, Courtesy of Uncle Sam? (Jan Creutzenberg, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea, Department of German Language and Literature)
* Grants in Aid for Theatre in the 1950s: Severino Montano’s Initiatives at the Philippine Normal College, Manila (Nic Leonhardt, LMU Munich, ERC project Developing Theatre & Centre for Global Theatre History)
* Experiences of Theatre Funding from Development Agencies in Sri Lanka (Malshani Delgahapitiya, Arts Administrator, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Conference Homepage

Full program (PDF)



The 6th Symposium of the Study Group on Musics of East Asia

Seoul, National Gugak Center, 21–23 Aug. 2018, organized and hosted by the National Gugak Center (국립국악원) and the Korean Musicological Society (한국국악학회), conference homepage:

Jan Creutzenberg

From Invitation and Promotion to Collaboration and Commission: Korean-German P’ansori Exchanges


Since the second half of the 20th century, p’ansori and other traditional Korean performing arts have served in the promotion of soft values or “nation branding,” often in the form of high-profile gala shows that combine various genres to a kaleidoscopic showcase of Korean culture, sometimes with K-Pop or contemporary classic added. Apart from these “official” events aimed at a large audience, however, Korean p’ansori performers increasingly engage in individual collaborations with artists abroad, often supported or commissioned by institutions in Korea or elsewhere. The resulting performances often stay under the radar of a general public, though, serving limited groups of spectators due to their themes, venues, and PR power. In this paper, I introduce and discuss recent cross-cultural p’ansori-projects that address different local and global audiences, focusing on artists based in Korea and Germany. The diversification of production and reception does not leave these artistic exchanges untouched by cultural politics, as many projects rely on funding or commissioning. Besides the interaction between performers and spectators, my comparison therefore also includes the role of institutions that considerably influence the emerging global landscape of p’ansori. What themes are tackled in cross-cultural collaborations and how much do they rely on tradition? Where and for whom is p’ansori performed? And how do cultural politics play in the selection of support and commissioning? In approaching these questions, I propose a perspective that acknowledges both the artists’ legitimate need of support and their ambitions to create p’ansori that audiences can relate to, in Korea and abroad.

Part of the panel “Crossing Boundaries: Beyond the Borders of P’ansori” (Session B2, Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 15:50–17:50, Conference Room B – Pungnyu Theater, Chair: Barbara Wall)

  • The Monkey King’s Journey into P’ansori: Kim Pyǒngjun’s “Ogong’s Account of Escape from Financial Depression” (Barbara Wall, University of Copenhagen)
  • From Invitation and Promotion to Collaboration and Commission: Korean-German P’ansori Exchanges (Jan Creutzenberg, Ewha Womans University)
  • Hallyu Through the Grassroots: The European P’ansori Scene (Anna Yates-Lu,, University of Oxford)
  • Ten Years Crossing Borders: A Personal Account of Performing and Teaching P’ansori Outside Korea (Min Hye Sung, Hanyang University)

Panel Abstract:

At a symposium in 1966, scholars controversially discussed whether the Korean singing-storytelling art form p’ansori should be classified as music, literature or theatre. Kang Han-yŏng gave maybe the most precise suggestion: “P’ansori is p’ansori,” as it defies conventional generic limits in remaining something completely of itself. More than forty years later, the generic limits of p’ansori continue to be tested and re-examined as p’ansori performers engage with other source material, genres and artists in attempting to engage with contemporary audiences. At the same time, the national borders around p’ansori are being opened up as it moves into the international scene. This panel examines the sites where p’ansori is crossing boundaries, be they generic or national. We address the introduction of new literary source material; German-Korean artist exchanges; p’ansori audiences and learners in Europe; and finally have a p’ansori performer describe her own experiences of crossing boundaries in the teaching and performance of p’ansori. Through this, we aim to paint a picture of a traditional genre not crystallized in an idealized past, but actively involved in the contemporary globalized world.

Full program



4. Internationales Sorak-Symposium (국제설악심포지엄)

Gyeongju, Hotel Kolon, 28-30 Sept. 2018, organized by the Koreanische Gesellschaft für Germanistik (KGG, 한국독어독문학회), in cooperation with the DAAD.

Jan Creutzenberg

Deutsch “spielen”: Studentisches Fremdsprachentheater in Korea


„Original-Sprachen-Drama“ (Won-eo-geuk), also fremdsprachiges Theater, hat an koreanischen Universitäten eine lange Tradition und spielte bei der Rezeption ausländischer Werke eine wichtige Rolle. Von der Forschung weitgehend ignoriert, erlaubt diese Form des transkulturellen Theaters – laut Günther Heeg “das privilegierte Medium einer anderen Welt-Erfahrung als der alltäglich gemachten” – schauspielenden Studierenden die spielerische Erprobung anderer Rollen und Identitäten. Anhand der Repertoires verschiedener Studierendenensembles soll untersucht werden, mit welchen Strategien Fremdsprachentheater als “Katalysator der Weltwerdung” fungieren kann. Was sagt die Auswahl der Stücke, Methoden der Adaption, Übersetzung und Neukreation, über das Verhältnis der Kulturen aus? Darauf aufbauende Diskussionen des spielerischen Umgangs mit dem Fremden, seiner Aneignung und Assimilation in interkulturellen Begegnungen, versprechen neue Zugänge zu einer Welt, deren (Sprach-)Grenzen heute unklarer denn je sind.
Part of the panel “Deutsch-Koreanische Begegnungen” (Session II B, Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 14:00–16:00, Chair: Kim Yeon Soo, Kangwon National Univ.)

  • Deutsch „spielen“: Studentisches Fremdsprachentheater in Korea (Jan Creutzenberg, Ewha Womans Univ.)
  • Koreabild im Dokumentarfilm „Im Land der Morgenstille“ (1924-25) (Iris Brose, Hongik Univ.)
  • Zwischen der monotonen Veröffentlichung und der babylonischen Sprachverwirrung – Über die verschiedenen Übersetzungen des Begriffs „Öffentlichkeit“ in ostasiatischen Sprachen (Lee Hosung, Seoul National Univ.)

Full program (ZIP)

Posted in Abroad, Academia, Korean Drama, Pansori, Theatre and Globalisation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Director Im Hyoungjin on Theaterraum’s New Production “Stranger” (after Schnitzler)

Today I went to the studio of ensemble Theaterraum: Der philosophierende Körper (테아터라움: 철학하는 몸, also on Instagram). In the North-eastern part of Seoul, the Suyu-dong neighborhood, not far from Daehangno, where their new work Stranger (낯선 사람) will premiere soon at Daehangno Arts Theater (대학로예술극장), they are rehearsing, with about two weeks left until July 14 (tickets via Interpark). I took part in a promotional interview, asking the director Im Hyoungjin (임형진, an old friend of mine) everything that came to mind. And that was quite a lot: Hyoungjin had adapted a short (four-pages) narrative fragment by Arthur Schnitzler, probably written around 1900, into what promises to be an intensive four-person play about orientalism, uncanny self-reflections, and the imperial history of China.

Interview with theatre director Im Hyoungjin, head of ensemble Theaterraum (photo: Kim Hyo-Sang)

Interview with theatre director Im Hyoungjin, head of ensemble Theaterraum (photo: Kim Hyo-Sang)

The original title “Der Boxeraufstand” (Korean: 의화단 운동, Chinese: 义和团运动 / 義和團運動, i.e. Yihetuan-Movement) of course refers to the anti-imperial uprising in China at the turn of the 19th century. In Schnitzler’s text, the real events serve merely as a MacGuffin. “Der Boxeraufstand” is, basically, the inner monologue of a Western soldier responsible for the execution of Chinese rebels. I had a hard time finding the original text in Korea. Fortunately the library of Ewha University owns the collected works of Schnitzler (Die Erzählenden Schriften, Erster Band, S. Fischer, no preview on Google Books), as this minor piece is rarely featured in selections.

It is discussed in Chiann Karen Tsui’s PhD-dissertation on “China and German Modernist Literature” (fulltext via Stanford Digital Repository) and her following article with Russell A. Berman ( It is also mentioned in studies on orientalist literature or German colonialism, for instance in the introduction of George Steinmetz’ monograph The Devil’s Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa (2007, Google Books) or in Martin Rosenstock’s article “China Past, China Present: The Boxer Rebellion in Gerhard Seyfried’s Yellow Wind (2008)” (in the edited volume Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, 2014, Google Books)

In Korean, the title of the story (in the translation of Baek Jong-yu [백종유], part of 엘제 아씨: 슈니츨러 작품선, 문학과지성 2010) is “내가 만났던 한 중국인”, which means “One Chinese [Person] I Once Met”. The title of Hyoungjin’s adaptation – Stranger (낯선 사람) – is inspired by the final sentence of the story:

“…von allen Menschen, denen ich je auf der Welt begegnet, war er derjenige, der mir am fremdesten war.” (German original)

“…among all the people I met in the world, he was the one who [appeared?] the strangest to me.” (my translation, as there seems to be no official English one)

“…내가 여태껏 이 세상에서 만났던 모든 사람들 중에서, 내가 만났던 그 중국인은 가장 낯설고도 낯선 사람이었다.” (translation by 백종유)

Theaterraum’s production should not be confused with Camus’ novel The Stranger (Korean: 이방인), often serving as material for dramatizations nowadays (in German, for instance, recently in Hamburg, Berlin, and Basel), or the dance theatre The Strangers (낯선 사람들, video-teaser), an international Goethe-Institut co-production directed by Leandro Kees, which presents a guest performance at the 26th ASSITEJ Korea International Summer Festival, around the same time on a stage close-by (tickets via Interpark).

Stranger, adapted from Schnitzler's

Stranger, adapted (from Schnitzler’s “Der Boxeraufstand”) and directed by Im Hyoungjin, produced by ensemble Theaterraum, July 14–22, 2018 at Daehangno Arts Theater, Seoul

The play expands and re-interprets Schitzler’s short story and, notably, gives names to the unnamed protagonists. I found this a striking parallel to Kamel Daoud’s retelling “through Arab eyes” of Camus, Meursault, contre-enquête (2013, The Meursault Investigation), where the nameless “Arab” who falls victim to Meursault’s existential self-search is given a name and the spotlight. However, Theaterraum’s Stranger might take a slightly different road (and may turn out even “stranger” – sorry for the pun!) as the director, rather than reclaiming a post-colonial perspective, attempts a unified reading of the psychological aspects of the short story and its historical-orientalist background.

These are some of the (rehearsal) props and floormarks…

In any case, I’m looking very much forward to this contemporary look at this forgotten fragment of Viennese modernism.

The following are some of the questions I prepared. The transcribed interview will be sent out as press material and might appear in previews and other coverage of the production. (I’ll add links to these as soon as available.)

  • Why Schnitzler now? And why this relatively unknown (and unfinished) work?

  • Of what interest could this classic orientalist story (a European travels to the East and finds himself) be to Korean audiences today?

  • What would be the (re-translated) Korean title of the production? How to prevent confusion with Camus?

  • How does this first-person (inner) monologue transfer to the (post-) dramatic stage?

  • Is there any use of music, as in all earlier productions of Theaterraum?

— 27 June 2018 (水)

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