AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 143

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Session 143: Spaces in Time I: Performance, Memory, and People in Modern Korea

Organizer: Hyunjung Lee, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Chair: Robert Oppenheim, University of Texas, Austin, USA

Aided by new technologies and the phenomenon of globalization, the notion of the time-space compression has become a routine in modern East Asia. Meanwhile, spaces often become disembeded from their cultural, historical, geographical meaning and reintegrated into universal or even timeless or floating spaces. This panel aims at re-representing spaces in Modern Korea which have been constantly re-constructed though the passage of time as well as participation of people and their memories. Spaces and people’s ways of associating with spaces are inseparable, and people’s experiences here both shape and forge social memories, values, gender roles, as well as historical traumas. Spaces and the social spectacles created out of these venues can be viewed and treated as one magnificent performance that internally visualizes the region’s recent past and memories. Performance not only requires human presences as audiences, participants, or witnesses, but also encourages them to be engaged with others, and by “being there”, to build connections within the live immediate productions of knowledge, emotions, images, and sentiments. Focusing on performance, media representations, and the facade of political engagement in urban spaces, speakers in this panel will be examining how people would produce, consume, embody, and transform their memories and histories associated with urban spaces in modern Korea. The specific spaces that this panel examines envision these moments of encountering, border-crossings, as well as the immediacy of the context that allow us to see and illustrate patterns of cultural expressions that are not readily reduced to fixed, static narrative descriptions.

Re-reading Line 1 (Jihachol Ilhoson) with Kim Min-ki
Hyunjung Lee, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Line 1 (Jihachol Ilhoson) is a Korean musical adapted from a German revue entitled Linie 1, originally created by the Berliner GRIPS theatre in 1980s. Ever since the show’s premiere in Seoul in 1994, Line 1 has remarkably earned its fame as one of the extended-run performances from a wide range of audiences in South Korea. It was the legendary folk musician of the 70s, Kim Min-ki, who recreated Line 1 as he regained his fame as the director as well as the owner of Hakchon Theatre Group in the early 90s. As Kim’s first large-scale theatre project, Line 1 captures various social spaces and memories from the 1990s city of Seoul, the decade when the nation was at the crossroads of many incidents: the election of the first civilian president Kim Young Sam, the state discourse of globalization (segyehwa), intensive urbanization and the consequent magnification of the capitol Seoul, the Uruguay Round, and the national crisis of IMF intervention. Through my interview with Kim Min-ki in 2010, this project attempts to re-read Line 1 and its constant transformations in the context of Seoul’s changing urban landscapes. This work traces the ways in which Kim has altered the play according to the passage of time and contemporary South Korean history; how people interact with their fleeting memories of Seoul and its history through the performance. My own personal experience as a critique-spectator of Line 1, both during the show’s early days in 1996 and in the post-new millennium (2006 and 2008) would also reinterpret the performativity of Seoul’s urban spaces captured via the play.

Modern Boy and the City: A Study of the Colonial Postmodern Space in Modern Boy
Gwanghyun Shynne, , South Korea

This essay will examine the problems, both practical and theoretical, involved in representing Gyung-sung, Seoul under Japanese Imperialist rule, through filmic images. More specifically, this essay will discuss Modern Boy (dir. Chung Ji-woo, 2009) in terms of its effort to represent a colonial city at a postcolonial era. The main question to be addressed in this essay is how Modern Boy resolves or does not resolve the contradiction that Gyung-sung should look spectacularly attractive as a modern city and yet at the same time specularly gruesome as a colonial city under Japanese rule. In answering this question, this essay invents a term, “the colonial postmodern,” to theorize the problems embedded in the postmodern representation of colonial modernity, and therewith attempts to delineate the multi-layered complexity of the colonial space represented retrospectively in postmodern terms. Noting how modern space in particular and yet arguably space in general is a colonial construct in Korea, this essay explores the implications of postmodern representation of colonial space, both its utopian possibilities and structural limitations.

City of Crowds: Urban Space, Protest and Spectacle in South Korea 1980–2008
Jini K. Watson, New York University, USA

“A city is an agglomeration of individual dreams, a mass dream of the crowd” (Suketu Mehta, _Maximum City_). East Asian cities have often been theorized as having their own unique urban development, signified especially by their density—recall architect Rem Koolhaas’ observation that “new density” is “the sign of the Asian”. How has the composition of crowds played into this? What happens when masses comes together to express their dreams and desires as a crowd, both organized and spontaneous? From images of militant industrial unions with matching armbands, to the democratization street battles of the 1980s, to the masses of red-shirted cheering squads at the World Cup in 2002, the phenomenon of crowds in South Korea’s urban spaces has played a decisive role. This paper explores how the usual narrative of Korea’s modern urbanization, beginning with Japanese colonialism and ending with Seoul’s recently touted identity as Asian “hub”, is interrupted by the performative, transient, yet enduring phenomenon of its crowds. By examining key moments and representations of South Korean crowds—peaceful and militant, model and unruly—and drawing on works from urban sociology and postcolonial theory, this study posits the crowd as both the quintessential expression and critique of modern urbanism. Events considered include the Kwangju uprising and the 1980s democracy struggles, the 2002 World Cup crowds and the 2008 mass protests against imports of U.S. beef. In this age of disembodied, virtual spaces, what can the logic of actual bodies in streets tell us?

Fickle yet with fist: Youth netizens in the 2008 “mad cow” protest
Jiyeon Kang, University of Iowa, USA

In 2008, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea decided to import American beef despite widespread fears of mad-cow disease. South Korean Internet users (“netizens”) censured Lee for forsaking his people because of what they viewed as fostering a submissive relationship to the United States. On the Internet, netizens—represented by teenage girls (ch’otpul sonyô [candle girls]) and concerned mothers (ch’otpul yumoch’a [candle stroller])—mobilized for and staged nightly candlelight protests in Seoul City Hall Plaza, the capital of South Korea. This paper examines online communities with a focus on the discursive process by which South Korea’s netizens create a collective identity of protesters and transformed a nascent sense of injustice into collective agency and their initial fear into a critique of the policies of the Lee administration, i.e., educational reform, a cross-country canal, privatization of the medical sector, public service and media. This analysis suggests that the emergence of these unusual agents and the explosive impact of their protests are related to three experiences through which they understood the “mad cow” protest: 1) memories from the previous candlelight vigils (during 2002, in protest of the deaths of two Korean girls caused by a U.S. military vehicle, and in 2004, against the impeachment of then-President Roh Moohyun) led netizens to envision vigils as a “natural” option; 2) Korea’s younger generation, which did not experience the violent measures of previous authoritarian regimes, has felt the country's educational system restrictive and therefore sought to defy it; and 3) the Internet space offered an alternative space for circulation of affective, as well as critical-rational, discourses that served to create a collective identity.

Space for Memory and Affect: People’s Participation at Seoul City Square in South Korea
Younghan Cho, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea

This paper traces various ways of people’s participation at Seoul City Square (SCS) in relation to contemporary social events in South Korea. It suggests that the meanings of the space, i.e. SCS and the significations of the events are being mutually constructed throughout people’s performances there and their memories afterwards. For this purpose, I will explore several social events that were held in SCS such as the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, the 2004 Anti-Impeachment candle vigil, and the 2008 protest against U.S. beef import in the lieu of historical significance of SCS in modern Korean history. By exploring various elements of the events such as motivations, aims, backgrounds of participants, and mobilizing strategies behind the events, this paper would demonstrate that it is impossible or even inappropriate to find the linear connections or direct consequences among the events and peoples there. Rather, I suggest highlighting affective dimensions in people’s participation: that is to say, people’s memories about the events and their participation there are contingent not only on ideological and political interpretations, but also on their bodily experiences of “on-being-there” and emotional involvements in the issues. In this sense, what is urgent is neither to identify the significance of the events nor to define the natures of people’s participation. Rather, we need to illustrate specific conjunctures that have contributed to adding the significance of SCS and then, learn how to mobilize people’s affective memories into another engagement of the social events.