Things I learned at #AAS 2017, part3 (Saturday, 18 March + Sunday, 19 March)

Old Toronto

Old Toronto

This year’s conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in Toronto (March 16–19), the first one I ever attended, was enormous. Still overwhelmed by the experience, I publish some of my notes on the various panels I attended and presentations I heard, interspersed with tweets I posted during the conference. Due to the volume, I organise the material in daily instalments – meaning that each post focuses on one conference day, I probably won’t be able to keep up a daily posting rate. In my listings, presentations in bold are those I heard myself, while those in italics refer to situations where I couldn’t hear a presentation as I had to leave early or came late.

This is the third part of my impressions at AAS 2017, from the presentations I attended on Saturday and Sunday (18 and 19 March).

I just found out that Andrew Field (Duke Kunshan University), who runs the wonderful blog “Shanghai Sojourns” on all kinds of music performances in Kunshan and elsewhere in China, just posted his own reflections on AAS 2017 – I have to say that as a grad student, I shared many of the feelings he mentioned about his first attendances over a decade ago… Still, thanks not least to my great panel, but also due to

“Koreanness” on Display: From the Museum to the Musical Stage

Panel 227, Sat, March 18, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Chestnut East

  • Seungyoun Choi (Korea University), “‘Koreanness’ and Nation Building: Yegrin Musical Company’s Representation of the City and the Country in Ggotnimi Ggotnimi Ggotnimi”
  • Jan Creutzenberg (Freie Universität Berlin/Sungshin University), “Towards a More International ‘Koreanness’? The Influence of Brecht on Pansori-Theatre”
  • CedarBough T. Saeji (University of British Columbia), “Dynamic Korea on Display: Commodification of Tradition in Performances for Tourists”
  • Young-Sin Park (Binghamton University, SUNY), “Representing ‘Koreanness’ through the Exhibitions of the National Museum of Korea”
  • Discussant: Haeree Choi, Yonsei University

Finally, our panel on “Koreanness”, a concept that encompasses “all things Korean” and is often used in national branding, policy making, and promotion. We presented a range of case studies where Korea is “put on display” for ideological ends or consumption, mostly drawing from thr performing arts.

Seungyoun Choi, who was ill and could not attend in person, had sent her presentation on an early production of Yegrin Musical Company as a video. While the file was still downloading, I began my presentation on the use of Brecht – both his plays and concepts – in producing “Korean” theatre. The works I discussed included changgeuk productions at the National Theater (Chung Wishing’s Caucasian Chalk Circle (코카서스의 백묵원), currently on a re -run, and Achim Freyer’s Brechtian adaptation of the Korean classic Sugung-ga (수궁가), as well as more experimental (nevertheless even more successful) new pansori works by Lee Jaram (Sacheon-ga and Eokcheok-ga). You can find a bit more on my presentation in this sneak-preview-post.

IMG_1621 by Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon

Thanks to Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon for taking a picture!

CedarBough T. Saeji, who also hosted our panel, followed up with a discussion of mixed-media performance that use traditional Korean arts and are aimed at tourists (but mostly attended by domestic audiences). Although quite different in content, the productions The Queen’s Banquet (왕비의 잔치), Ga-on (가온), and Sim Chong (심청, at the infamous Korea House) all feature various traditional performing arts, adjusted to an undifferentiated audience of tourists, with the historical context removed and structural changes to increase excitement, often supported by stage technology such as motion capturing or animations. The commodification of Korean culture, a regular result of attempts to create “global palatability”, are also of great interest to me, as many of these hybrid shows feature elements of pansori, whether plots, singing techniques, or other performance styles. They also offer an interesting, often ignored perspective on the problems inherent in the “globalization of tradition”.

Finally, changing the field towards fine arts, Young-Sin Park considered how oversea exhbitions of the National Museum of Korea contributed to the construction of national imagery. She focused on two examples, an early touring exhibition of Masterpieces of Korean Art (1957–59, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. et al., see Chewon Kim’s review in Artibus Asiae, via JSTOR), and the recent Silla’s Golden Kingdom (2013–14, Metropolitan Museum of Art, see a New York Times-review). While both heavily state-sponsored exhibitions promoted the myth of national purity, with the former particularly aimed at improving Korea’s image after the recent war and assert cultural independency in relation to China and Japan, they were also influenced by American curators, making them a fascinating, ambivalent object of study.

To our regret, Seungyoun Choi could not attend the conference in person, but fortunately she had recorded her presentation on video. The only problem was that the video was quite large and it was still in the middle of downloading while I presented. As I was very interested in her theme (and still am), early (US-style) musical in Korea, I found it a pity that we couldn’t share some thoughts on her interesting paper. I’ll make sure to catch up later on that matter!

Our discussant, Haeree Choi, who runs the online magazine Dance Post Korea (댄스포스트코리아), had some very relevant comments and questions up her sleeve. Some of them, specifically aimed at my paper were as follows:
* Are the productions of the National Changguk Company successful in “national branding”?
* For which target audience (domestic, tourists, international, diaspora)?
* Are there also underlying economic goals – or are these productions purely “representational”?
* Is the use of technology, but also foreign sources, based on the perception of a lack in traditional Korean arts?

I couldn’t answer all of them, but the following discussion turned out very productive and gave me food for thought for months to come.

Reports from the Local Courts: A New Archival Window onto Local Communities in Eighteenth-Century Korea

Panel 266, Sat, March 18, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 4th Floor, Yorkville West

  • Matt Lauer (University of California, Los Angeles), “The Gang-Beating of the Slave Myŏngaek: A Magistrate’s Strategic Representation of Slave Resistance”
  • Sun Joo Kim (Harvard University), “The Emergence of Commercial Economy and Local Government Finance in Mid-Eighteenth Century P’yŏngyang”
  • Jungwon Kim (Columbia University), “Encountering the Law: Local Courts and Legal Knowledge Production in Eighteenth-Century Korea”
  • Discussant: Masato Hasegawa (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

I heard just the very first talk (by Matt Lauer) on this panel, about an 18th century court case in Namwon that included everything a good drama needs: Love, slavery, and a fight of passion… The discussion of the complicated case brought fore many fascinating details and presented the contradicting rhetoric of those involved, that switched between humanizing and dehumanizing the slave subject, in full clarity. Matt, who recently completed his PhD-project, a microhistorical approach to pre-modern Namwon in Jeolla-do, also mentioned to me that he had found some sources on local pansori performances during his research – very much looking forward to hear more!

After some talks with publishers at the book fair, I went to my final panel today – which turned out one of the best of the whole conference:

Pop Translation: Translating Contemporary Chinese Plays for English-Speaking Audiences

Panel 307, Sat, March 18, 5:15 to 7:15pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Willow West

Discussants: Claire Conceison (MIT), John B. Weinstein (Bard College), Fang Zhang (University of Toronto)

In this panel, rather than the typical presentations, three experts on translating Chinese plays into English talked freely about their experiences.

We also played a game inspired by Meng Jinghui’s play I Love XXX, conceived and written in collaboration with his friends Shi hang, Wang Xiaoli, and Huang Jingang, and translated by Claire Conceison (in Meng Jinghui, I Love XXX and Other Plays, edited and translated by Claire Conceison, published by Seagull Books 2016, distributed by University of Chicago Press, more on Meng), also available in Siyuan Liu’s and Kevin J. Wetmore’s Methuen Drama Anthology of Modern Asian Plays). It was very simple: Everyone adds something – whatever comes to mind – to the phrase “I love…”. Together, we created a series of affective expressions that tended to relate to each other, the surroundings (snow was a favorite!), and the participating individuals on various levels. But the result was astonishing and at times poetic. I’m sure to play this dramatic game sometime with my students in German, after all “Ich liebe…” is one of the most widely known phrases, not only in Korea. This wery welcoming, casual yet highly informative and interesting panel was a highlight of the whole conference. I was certainly surprised to hear about college performances of Chinese plays in (English) translations. For Korean drama in translation, opportunities for productions abroad are extremely rare. I can only remember reading about one which took place at Columbia in 2010: The adaptation Walkabout Yeolha directed by Kon Yi, based on Walter Byongsok Chon’s translation Inching Towards Yeolha, a Korean drama by Sam-Shik Pai (see a review on The Theatre Times).

We – our “Koreanness”-panel – ended this day with a Thai-dinner around the corner and a beer with the ASCK, the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea. I think we all had a wonderful time and I’m very thankful for this opportunity to present and discuss some of my research on a huge conference, yet in the comfort zone of a dedicated, supportive group. One of the best conference experiences I had so far, although I lost my shawl on the last day of the conference – fortunately, the sun was shining!

Sunday morning passed by quickly and quite unspectacularly, with two presentations that related only marginally to my own research.

Archives in Between: Digital Humanities and Material Culture in East Asian Studies Scholarship and Teaching

Panel 319, Sun, March 19, 8:30am to 10:30am, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Cedar

* Paul D. Barclay, Lafayette College
* Nora S. Dimmock, University of Rochester
* Eric Luhrs, Lafayette College
* Tracy Stuber, University of Rochester
* Michaela Kelly, Lafayette College

Nevertheless, I think the database “ReEnvisioning Japan” (hosted by Univ. of Rochester, also on Facebook) on “Japan as destination in 20th century visual and material culture” is worth mentioning and will surely a great resource for those working on the colonial era, as well as anyone interested in souvenirs, travel gifts, and postcards…

The new version (linked above) was launched just before AAS and seems a bit slow (at least in Korea), the (still active) older version seems to be slightly faster (or maybe it’s just my computer?).

Examining Critical Problems in 20th-Century Korean Art: History, Ideology, Identity, and Forgery

Panel 351, Sun, March 19, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Willow East

  • Virginia H. Moon (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), “The Making of a Discipline: Korean Modern Art and its Historiography”
  • Jinyoung A. Jin (Stony Brook University), “Lee Quede: A Forgotten Modernist in the Vortex of Ideological Conflict”
  • Jungsil Jenny Lee (University of Kansas), “Roaring Bull and Stony Silence: Two Faces of Korean Modern Art”
  • Sunglim Kim (Dartmouth College), “Chun Kyung-Ja’s The Beauty and its Forgery Scandal”
indoor winter-wonderland at Sheraton Centre Toronto

indoor winter-wonderland at Sheraton Centre Toronto

– 18–19 March 2017 (土/日)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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