She She Pop and their Dads in Seoul: Theatrical Genealogies from the Family Album

When studying theatre in Berlin, back in the early days of this century, I loved seeing theatre that took itself serious—no make-believe, no drama, no night like any one before (disclaimer: I still do). At that time, performances by René Pollesch (Telefavela, Death of an Intern), Gob Squad (legendary: King Kong Club), Rimini Protokoll (Torero Portero, Deadline, Black Tie…) were all the rage in academia, at least in the small world of theatre studies. Just a few years before, Hans-Thies Lehmann had coined the label “postdramatic” for these and other practices that didn’t rely on a literary work, but rather took off on their theatrical explorations from personal experiences, social or media phenomena (social media didn’t exist yet), everyday and/or professional life, or simply some playful situation. Many among this new generation of theatremakers had graduated in Applied Theatre Studies at Gießen University, so sometimes these groups are also referred to as the “Gießen-school”.

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

Strange though, in Berlin I had never attended a performance by She She Pop. With their highly self-reflective, personal, performative works, this female collective of experimental non-actors is usually counted among the postdramatics. Finally, in Seoul I got to see their latest and probably most successful work, Testament (유서), invited by Goethe-Institut and Festival Bo:m (페스티벌 봄) to perform at Mary Hall, the theatre of Sogang University. That year the festival was very much postdramatic and presented a solo-piece by Rene Pollesch, the furious Casablanca-cum-capitalism-criticism Ich schau dir in die Augen, gesellschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang!, as well as a video-talk with Hans-Thies Lehmann (but that’s a story to be told another day).

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

Working at Goethe-Institut Korea (주한 독일문화원) at that time, I had written the announcements for the shows and that way had learned a bit more about this quite unusual piece of “reality-theatre”. Although often alluding to Shakespeare’s King Lear, this is merely a red thread that shines through from time to time. The performers of She She Pop discuss—in real-time, live on stage—their generational relations with their fathers, exactly in this double sense. Because they have brought their fathers with them, even to Seoul!

I saw the play twice, first the final rehearsal and then the afternoon show on Saturday. And what can I say? It was really moving to see the 40-something actresses (one male) and their fathers perform what must have become a routine by now, two years (and some international tours) after the premiere in 2010. (And the show goes on! See some reviews of guest performances at the Barbican, in Toronto, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as well as a moving blogpost from there, and another review.)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

Despite the casual and improvised feeling of many scenes, most of them are scripted, some quite ostentatively. But don’t our interactions with family (and friends we know long enough) follow more or less fixed paths and habits? A few images stand out, e.g. the fathers, dressed as kings, judging the lives of their children, or live video montages of the daughters (and the one son) who, now, wear the crownes themselves. And of course the karaoke-style performance of Celine Dion’s Titanic-theme, more on M-sli©k da ninjA here) “Something’ Stupid”, famously performed by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy in 1967, is heartbreaking, again and again, and even on Youtube:

Are family ties unavoidable destiny that can only be problematized relentlessly? I believe in elective affinities (I want to, at least), but nevertheless have to admit that time spent together, the first and most impressive years, is difficult to strip off. Future projections, including senior cohabitation (which demands the destruction of books for lack of space—doesn’t that sound quite Nazi-like?) and retirement homes made me think of the years to come. Theatre about the past for the future, certainly not the worst kind!

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

For further reading (if you can get past the pay-wall), Kate Bredeson has written an extended review of the piece (“The Sum of Testament is Love”, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 36.1 (2014),45–52).

– 14 April 2012 (토)

  • 극단 쉬쉬팝과 그들의 아버지들의, 유서, 페스티벌 봄, 서강대학교 메리홀 대극장, 2012년4월13일 (토), 오후 3시~5시.
  • She She Pop and their Fathers, Testament, Festival Bo:m, Sogang University Mary Hall, Main Hall, 2012–04–14 (Sat.), 3–5pm.
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The Mask Museum in Namhae

I wrote this post after seeing the amazing map of really important museums by Michael Schmalenstroer (see his blog), so far mostly in Germany, but destined to grow!

In the fall break of 2010, I made a short trip down South with a good friend. In three days (and four nights), we visited Jeonju (where we saw the college musical Sweeney Todd aka 스위니 토드), Tongyeong (where we visited one location of Hong Sang-soo’s movie Hahaha), and, in-between, the Mask Museum on the island Namhae.

S5007018The Namhae Mask & Performing Arts Village (남해국제탈공연예술촌) was founded in 2008 by Prof. Kim Heung-woo (김흥우), former head of the arts school at Dongguk University (동국대학교 예술대학), in a remodeled primary school. It presents Prof. Kim’s large collection of masks from Korea and all over the world. But there are also theatre posters, working scripts, and souvenirs, including the glasses that actor Go Seol-bong (고설봉) wore in the piece The Unconquered [Woman] (정복되지 않은 여자, based on a short story by Somerset Maugham) or the favorite (?) pipe of actor Jeong Jin (정진). A treasure trove for theatre fans! And in the summer a theatre festival (남해섬 공연예술제) is held, too.

Apart from the main building, there are two other smaller halls where, among others, historical documents on the drama ensemble Sinhyeop (극단신협, “considered the most outstanding theatre company of the post-liberation period”, according to an announcement of the ensemble’s 60th anniversary performance at the National Theater) that Kim headed and the mobile-theatre-movement (이동극장) can be seen.

The mask museum is a true gem, indeed, and everyone who visits the wonderful region and is only slightly interested in theatre should stop by. For those who cannot go, the homepage also offers a “smart museum” (스마트 박물관), an online collection of images of masks, theatre poster, pamphlets etc.

The following gallery (my first one!) shows some of the exhibits I photographed back then, just recovered from an old harddisk. You can find some more impressions on the Ministry of Education’s blog as well as on some other private ones.

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– 23 Nov. 2010 (火)

  • 남해국제탈공연예술촌, 경상남도 남해군 이동면 초음리 1418, 관람시간: 오전 9시 ~ 오후 6시 (동절기: 오전 9시 ~ 오후 5시), 휴관일: 매주 월요일, 입장료: 2,000원, 문의: 055 864–7625.
  • Namhae Mask & Performing Arts Village, Gyeongsangnam-do Namhae-gun Idong-myeon Choeum-ri 1418, opening hours: 9am–6pm (9–6 in the winter season), closed every Monday, entrance fee: 2,000 Won.
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Käthe Kollwitz and the Kokkiri

Käthe Kollwitz - SeMa exhibition posterToday I went to Northern Seoul with my advanced German students to see some art by Käthe Kollwitz (케테 콜비츠). One of the most prominent modern artists from Germany—and one of the few women with a name in the world of art—, Kollwitz’s works are strong statements against war and social injustice. As her works a difficult to see in Korea, I found the temporary exhibition at Buk Seoul Museum of Art (북서울미술관) in Junggye-dong a good chance, not only for aesthetic discussions, but also for some background talk on the First World War, Weimar Germany and the Nazi Rule.

Käthe Kollwitz at SeMa Buk Museum of Art

Click for large view

The exhibition shows about 50 prints (woodprints, etchings, lithography etc.) as well as one scultpure, the famous Pietà (Mutter mit totem Sohn, Mother with her Dead Son) that is shown as an over-sized replica in central Berlin, in memory of “the Victims of War and Tyranny”. All these works have been lent from the Sakima Art Museum in Okinawa. I had expected some more sculptures, actually, like the self-portrait we had seen back in Berlin last summer, at the infamous Kollwitzplatz.

Berlin, Kollwitzplatz (2014)

Berlin, Kollwitzplatz (2014)

Before entering the exhibition, we shared some background information on Kollwitz’ life, including the early death of her son in World War I, her sympathies for socialism and the pacifist movement, as well as her extraordinary life as a woman in the arts. Kaiser Willhelm II had, in fact, denied her a prize in fear of decreasing its value when offered to a woman. (You can find out more about the relation between Kollwitz’ work and war in a BBC radio-piece by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum and curator of the recent “Germany: Memories of a Nation”-exhibition there.)

In the Kollwitz-exhibition, everyone chose two works for discussion. There were many impressive pieces of art, but I found these two the most interesting:

Käthe Kollwitz, “Child Run Over” (Überfahren / 차에 치인 아이), softground etching on paper, 1910.

Käthe Kollwitz, “Child Run Over” (Überfahren / 차에 치인 아이), softground etching on paper, 1910.

This moving picture shows parents carrying their dead child. I didn’t suspect any personal connections, as Kollwitz’ son did later in 1914, but, as noted on the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s homepage, “In 1903, Kollwitz’s older son caught diptheria, and the threat of his death led her to use death as a major theme in her work, as shown here by a mother and father carrying their dead child.”

 

Käthe Kollwitz, "Sleeping Woman with Child (Schlafende mit Kind / 아이와 잠든 여인), woodprint, 1930.

Käthe Kollwitz, “Sleeping Woman with Child (Schlafende mit Kind / 아이와 잠든 여인), woodprint, 1930.

This image of a sleeping mother with her child is quite in contrast to many images of death and suffering, showing a peaceful nap in the dark, the silhouettes shown only slightly, as if touched by a ray of light.

I had arrived a bit early and visited another exhibition on show at the museum. The English translation of the title “Unfolding the Folds of Elephant” (코끼리 주름 펼치다) is a bit funny (sounds like a title by Haegue Yang, in fact), but the works on display and the context are quite interesting. There are works by artist Oum Jeongsoon (엄정순) that deal with elephants.

Oum Jeongsoon: “Elephant WALK - to the place where clean water and grass is 1”, acrylic, oilstick on paper, 220x650cm, 2010 (엄정순: “코끼리걷는다 - 물과 풀이 좋은 곳으로 1”).

Oum Jeongsoon: “Elephant WALK – to the place where clean water and grass is 1”, acrylic, oilstick on paper, 220x650cm, 2010 (엄정순: “코끼리걷는다 – 물과 풀이 좋은 곳으로 1”).

 

The story of the first elephant in Korea (which the artists considers a symbol of “cultural unfamiliarity”) is really interesting:

Originally, there were no elephants on the Korean Peninsula. This strange animal […] first came to the Korean Peninsula 600 years ago as part of an effort towards resource diplomacy; it became a burden to citizens and they resented the animal as they raised a storm of appeals to King Sejong to get rid of the elephant.

But Sejong published a royal edict: “Send her to a place with fresh grass and water so she will be free from hunger and illness.”

Side-a-side, there are clay sculptures made by students of different schools for the visually impaired, after touching a real-life elephant.

Here are some works with comments by the students:

Park MinKyoung: “Incheon Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang School for the blind, Elementary School 3rd year, mixed media, 550x120x120cm, 2009 (박민경: “인천코끼리”).

Park MinKyoung: “Incheon Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang School for the blind, Elementary School 3rd year, mixed media, 550x120x120cm, 2009 (박민경: “인천코끼리”).

When I touched the nose of the elephant, my hand sunk all way into the nose. It was sticky, huge and blowing.

 

Yoon Junsoo: “Elephant which came back from space exploration”, Kangwon Myung-jin School for the blind, Elementary School 5th year, mixed media, 150x120x80cm, 2011 (윤준수: “우주를 탐헙하고 온 코끼리”).

Yoon Junsoo: “Elephant which came back from space exploration”, Kangwon Myung-jin School for the blind, Elementary School 5th year, mixed media, 150x120x80cm, 2011 (윤준수: “우주를 탐헙하고 온 코끼리”).

 

Won Hee-seung: “Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 9th grade, clay, 16x25x20cm, 2009 (원희승: “코끼리”).

Won Hee-seung: “Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 9th grade, clay, 16x25x20cm, 2009 (원희승: “코끼리”).

An elephant used to be an imaginary animal for me, but when I touched it I learnt how it looked. Its legs are so thick. How can it have legs that support such a huge body? I only made the legs, leaving the rest to the imagination.

 

Kim Seon-do: “Elephant” , Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 7th grade, clay, 30x67x20cm, 2009 (김선도: “코끼리”).

Kim Seon-do: “Elephant” , Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 7th grade, clay, 30x67x20cm, 2009 (김선도: “코끼리”).

The roughness of the nose is most remarkable.

 

Hwang Chae-yun: “Elephant”, Cheongju School for the blind, earthenware, 20x15x15cm, 2012 (황채윤: “코끼리”).

Hwang Chae-yun: “Elephant”, Cheongju School for the blind, earthenware, 20x15x15cm, 2012 (황채윤: “코끼리”).

 

Both exhibitions are still running for a few weeks—highly recommended for friends of art and elephants!

– 3 Apr. 2015 (金)

  • 케테 콜비츠, 서울시립미술관 북서울미술관 사진갤러리 1+2, 2015년02월03일 ~ 04월19일, 화-금: 오전 10시 – 오후 8시, 토․일․공휴일: 오전 10시 – 오후 7시, 월: 휴관, 도슨트 시간 매일 오전 11시 & 오후 2시, 관람료: 무료, 주최 및 후원 서울시립미술관, (사)평화박물관건립추진위원회, 문의: 김혜진, 02–2124–5269.
  • Käthe Kollwitz, SeMA Buk Seoul Museum of Art, Photo Gallery 1+2, 2015–02–03 ~ 04–19, Tue-Fri: 10am – 8pm, Sat., Sun., Holidays: 10am – 7 pm, Mon.: closed, docent tour: every day 11am & 2pm, entrance: free, production and support: Seoul Museum of Art, Peace Museum, inquiries: Kim Hye-jin, 02–2124–5269.
  • 코끼리 주름 펼치다, 북서울미술관 전시실 1, 2015년03월05일 ~ 05월10일, 전시시간: 위, 참여작가: 엄정순, 시각장애학생, 도슨트 시간: 오후 12시, 관람료: 무료, 주최 및 후원서울시립미술관, 사)우리들의 눈, 문의: 양혜숙, 02–2124–5268.
  • Unfolding the Folds of Elephant, SeMA Buk Seoul Museum of Art, Exhibition Hall 1, 2015–03–05 ~ 05–10, opening times: see above, participating artists: Oum Jeongsoon, visually impaired students, docent tour: every day 12pm, entrance: free, production and support: Seoul Museum of Art, Another Way of Seeing
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The World at our Door: The New Art Space Hapjungjigu

Just at the end of winter break, a new art space opened around the corner. I had seen the remodelling of a former café into the gallery Hapjungjigu (합정지구, directions and pictures on the Facebook-page) for some weeks and got to know some of the people involved.

Art Space Hapjungjigu (합정지구)The opening exhibition, simply called “Jigu Exhibition” (지구展, 2015.2.27 ~ 3.20), featured paintings and photographies by eight young artists (Lim Jin-Se, Kang Dong-Hyeong, Leesop, Lee Hai Min Sun, Hong Cheolki, Deok-Hyeon Jeong, Lee Ji-Young, Sim Heung-A / 임진세, 강동형, 이솝, 이해민선, 홍철기, 정덕현, 이지영, 심홍아). One show per month is planned, so the pictures are being taken down right now for the next one.

This picture is of a painting by Lim Jin-Se (임진세), whose solo show is upcoming soon.

임진세: 폭풍드라이브, (Lim Jin-Se: "Rainy Storm Drive"), oil on canvas, 162x130 cm, 2013

임진세: 폭풍드라이브, (Lim Jin-Se: “Rainy Storm Drive”), oil on canvas, 162×130 cm, 2013

When around, have a look at some interesting art! Also, the Café Adventure Story (카페 어드벤처스토리, also on Facebook) across the alleyway is highly recommendable, with nice cup-patbingsu and occasional live music.

– 21 March 2015 (土)

  • Art Space Hapjungjigu: 서울시 마포구 서교동 444–9번지, 010–5314–4874, 12:00pm – 7:00pm.
  • Café Adventure Story: 서울시 마포구 동교로 12길 36 101호, 070–7516–2271,
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Foundlings: The Dwarf Ensemble (Theatre and Globalization 1)

This spring I joined a class on “Theatre and Globalization” at Coursera to give this MOOC-thing a try. The class is run by Christopher Balme and his team of the Research Project “Global Theatre Histories” at LMU München (see also the blog of the related “Theatre Scapes”-project on Mapping Theatre Histories. Although in my research I do not focus on theatre history, I thought the class might be a good chance to learn more about the world of theatre and dig a bit into the checkered annals of Korea’s recent history.

Also, the class promised connections with participants from all over the world. In fact, I was astonished about the sheer variety of backgrounds and interests of those who introduced themselves in the forum (a small fraction of the 3000 participants in total). This is my attempt at the first assignment: Find an article from a newspaper published a hundred years ago…

Maeil Sinbo, March 2nd, 1915 (page 3), via Media Gaon (click for link to PDF-file)

Maeil Sinbo, March 2nd, 1915 (page 3), via Media Gaon (click for link to PDF-file)

Unfortunately, the thousands of articles and comments by the participants are not publicly available (yet?) and peer-reviewing turned out to be a rather simple check of credentials, rather than actually commenting on the found material. In any case, this is my take on the anonymous article about a visiting theatre troupe of “dwarves” I found in the Maeil Sinbo (매일 신보 / 每日申報, lit. “Daily News”) from March 2nd, 1915 (page 3, row 6, column 3, available as a pdf via the “Media Gaon”-database 미디어 가온).


I used the “Media Gaon”-database, a meta-searchengine run by the Korea Press Foundation. The English-language version is mainly aimed at foreign journalists and pretty much useless for historical research, but the main page in Korean offers access to newspapers from the late 19th and early 20th century.

It proved difficult to find English-language coverage of events in 1915. Although a few English-language newspapers (and English-language sections) existed, most of them had to cease publication in the early years of the 20th century. Publishing in English was mainly a means of pro-independent (thus anti-Japanese) activists which, given the official annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 and the rather suppressive censorship politics, seems to be the main cause of their shut-down.

Therefore, for this assignment I chose a short note in Korean in the March 2nd 1915 edition of Maeil Sinbo on a touring company of “Russian dwarves”. The article is on page three, in row six, column three from the left. In the linked pdf-file (which shows the whole page three), it can be identified by the empty square in front of the title.

The article is written in an old form of the Korean script hangeul, which looks a bit different from texts today. A friend helped me to transcribe this old hangeul to a modern version, which I then translated rather freely, focusing on the information rather than readability (see below).

The article does not mention anything about the actual performance but focuses entirely on the unusual “dwarf” actors. Although two theatre genres (comedy and musical drama) are mentioned, it is not entirely clear whether these were performed by the ensemble or whether the author has actually seen a performance. The touring route of the Russian ensemble mentioned consists of three cities in what is today North-East China. At that point, Beijing and Tianjin were part of China, while Dalian was part of Manchuria, an area north of the Korean peninsula that was under heavy influence by Japan, but with Russia nearby. The article suggests that cultural transfers (such as touring theatre ensembles) could proceed despite rising tensions between China, Japan, and Russia in that region. The author of the article seems to be a correspondent in Manchuria, as the article does not mention any performances in Korea. The curiosity and surprise about the “dwarf”-actors suggests that similar performances had not toured all the way down to Korea, or at least not regularly.

The article exoticizes the visual peculiarity of the “dwarf”-actors and praises their artistic skills. The focus on their bodily features, in total absence of any words about a play, on first view might suggest something like a “freak show” or a cabinet of curiosities. But the reference to the Russian Imperial Theatre, as well as the use of specific Korean terminology that was at that time (as far as I know) specifically used for Western-style theatre (such as actor, stage, comedy) makes it quite safe to assume that the ensemble was performing theatre. Further research on the Russian Imperial Theatre, its ensemble members, and its touring programs should help to clarify the context of the performance reported here.


Dwarf Theatre Ensemble

Actors of the Russian Imperial Theatre have come through Beijing and Tianjin to Dalian. The ensemble, headed by someone called “Nagobuiriseuki”, is a curious one. It consists of ten actors who are all small in size, charming Russian dwarves. The smallest one among them is “Sereuhuyenowa”, a girl of 15 years, who is only about 72 cm high. The biggest one is about 90 cm high. It is surprising that there are people of such small size among the Russians, who are famous for their tall size. Originally, people whose bodies are similar in size to normal people but who have amusingly short hands and legs were called “dwarf”. But the whole body development of these Russian actors seems even and their appearance is handsome, they are really very actor-like. When these people go up on stage and play they are truly charming and amazing, whether it is a comedy or a musical drama. (Maeil Sinbo, March 2, 1915)

"Dwarf Theatre Ensemble", Maeil Sinbo, March 2nd, 1915 (page 3, row 6, column 3), via Media Gaon

“Dwarf Theatre Ensemble”, Maeil Sinbo, March 2nd, 1915 (page 3, row 6, column 3), via Media Gaon

난쟁이 연극단

아라사(러시아) 대실(?) 극장 배우라 칭하고 북경, 텐진 등지를 지나 대련으로 온 진묘한(진기하고 묘한) 연극단이 있는데, 그 두목(을) ’나고부이리스키’라 칭하고 배우 십여 인은 못 다 적고 사랑스러운 러시아 사람의 난쟁이이니 그중 제일 적은 것은 ’세르후예노와’라 칭하는 열여섯 살 되는 계집아이인데 키가 두 자 네 치 (2척 4촌 = 약 72 cm)에 지나지 못하고 그중 제일 큰 것이 석 자 (3척 = 약 90 cm) 밖에 못되니 큰 사람으로 유명한 러시아 사람 중 이러한 적은 사람이 있는 것은 진기한 일이요, 원래 난쟁이라 하는 것은 몸둥이는 보통 사람과 같고 손과 다리만 짧고 지극히 우습게 된 것인데 이 러시아 난쟁이 배우는 오체의 발달이 균일하고 용모가 수려하여 참 배우다운 사람들이요, 이 사람들이 무대에 오르고 희극이라든지 가극이라든지 하는 것은 참 사랑스럽고 진기하다더라. (매일신보 1915년3월2일)

– 22 Feb. 2015 (日)

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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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