A Glance into Korea and Japan

November 22, 2011  •  5 minute read

On the strength of its success with the Performing Americas Program (PAP), the National Performance Network has broadened the scope of its international exchanges to Asia. In 2010 NPN added the NPN/KAMS Exchange, a partnership with the Korea Arts Management Services (KAMS), and in 2011 the Japan Connection, a partnership with the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN). Currently in their network-building phase, both partnerships follow the PAP model of a systematic cultural exchange program based on reciprocity and knowledge building. The scope of both projects is to develop the context for a systematic artistic exchange by creating strong connections in Asia and opportunities for all partners involved to travel to other countries to investigate local cultures, the arts, cultural policies, and working methodologies. To this end the NPN International Program has supported annual trips to its partner countries. This fall, the Asia curatorial team – Yolanda Cursach of MCA Chicago, Illinois; F. John Herbert of Legion Arts, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Scott Turner Schofield from Out North, Anchorage, Alaska; and George Lugg, REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA – traveled to Seoul to attend the Performing Arts Market Seoul (PAMS) on October 10-14, 2011, followed by five days in Tokyo to meet with several funders and their Japanese partners as well as see performances at Festival Tokyo. NPN International Program Director Renata Petroni accompanied the Asia delegation to Seoul while MK Wegmann, NPN President and CEO, and Kyoko Yoshida, Executive Director of U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network and consultant to the Japan Connection project, joined the delegation in Tokyo. This was the second visit of the U.S. curatorial team to PAMS. The first visit focused on getting to know our South Korean partners, visiting their spaces, seeing a wide range of performances and showcases programmed by PAMS, and learning about the structure of the performing arts in South Korea, which is quite different from ours. In South Korea the arts are supported by the Ministry of Culture and, in few instances, a corporation will build its own art space and fund its programming. In recent years, the South Korean government has poured millions into the infrastructure of the arts without training new leaders or creating programs designed to support the development of contemporary arts. This policy led to the construction or reconstruction of amazing spaces run by government-appointed staff with little or no knowledge of the arts, who program only government-supported companies. To influence change and infuse energy in the independent contemporary arts sector, the Korea Arts Management Services (KAMS), the equivalent of an Arts Council, supports producing venues and independent producers who work with emerging artists, and companies who explore new forms. To strengthen the independent sector, KAMS, inspired by NPN, has been encouraging different venues to form a network capable of presenting and touring guest artists. This year’s visit was as intense as last year’s.  The focus this year was on seeing work, meeting the artists in specially organized sessions and in their studios, deepening our connection with our partners during formal and informal meetings, and learning about Asia. Since 2009, PAMS has moved away from the concept of ‘market’ by placing greater importance on connections among artists, performing arts professionals (presenters, promoters, and producers), as well as sharing information and ideas rather than simply plugging artworks to overseas buyers. To facilitate these connections, PAMS sets its focus on a particular region every year: Europe in 2007, Central and South America in 2008, North America in 2009, and Northern Europe in 2010. The 2011 PAMS highlighted Asia, reflecting the West’s growing interest in the region and the increasing interest of Asian countries in each other. Three interesting panels discussed the social and cultural contexts of Asia’s different regions; one of the most fascinating debates that arose from these discussions was around the existence (or not) of an Asian identity. In addition to the 13 PAMS showcases*, which present the best works in dance, theater, music and multi-disciplinary arts of the previous year, PAMS partnered with the Seoul Performing Theater Festival and SiDance to present Korean artists during the week of the conference. This enabled the U.S. team to see additional performances each evening, including two particularly interesting works: The Inspector, a collaboration between the physical action of Dong Theatre, music by Bulsaechul and installation art by Hong Shi-Ya, and Hiroshima-Hapcheon, the third visual/performance in the Marebito Theater Company’s Hiroshima-Nagasaki series. The week in Tokyo was less hectic but no less interesting and the U.S. curatorial team was able to steal a few hours to explore this intimidating metropolis of 13 million people where tradition, pop, techno and neon craze live side by side. Disasters and lax planning laws have destroyed most heritage buildings and modern ones mushroom at incredible speed, giving the cityscape an impressive heterogeneous character. Unlike Kyoto, which is built on a grid, Tokyo grew concentrically around Edo Castle maintaining the labyrinthine dimension of medieval city planning. The resulting cityscape is a fantastic mix of old and new. In between sight-seeing outings, the delegation attended several performances including at the edge of midnight and K by Mum & Gypsy, a theater/dance work written and directed by Takahiro Fujita and produced by Agora Theater, a well-known venue that supports the creation of new work by emerging artists; Asyl, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between choreographer/dancer Misako Terada, musician/singer Fuei Mishimatsu and videographer Naoto Lina produced by the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN); and two performances programmed by the Festival Tokyo, of which Landscape-Tokyo by Ishinha was of particular interest. The delegation met with several foundations to investigate possibilities of future funding for our Japanese partners in connection to the project. The meetings were encouraging and informative. We learned that the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami are still felt in unspoken ways. The mood in the country has changed as people, especially in the North and on the East coast, wonder how radiation may have affected them. We heard that the arts are also changing as artists are trying to cope with the senseless devastation and its unknown consequences. Although some artists and arts organizations have participated in the first recovery efforts, much more needs to be done and both funders and our JCDN partners have asked members of the U.S. delegation to share their experiences with the recovery efforts in their cities after natural disasters. MK Wegmann and F. John Herbert have been asked to conduct a session at the next T-PAM conference in February 2012 about the role that artists and arts organizations played in the recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Cedar Rapids after the 2008 floods. Discussion between NPN and JCDN will continue at the NPN Annual Meeting in Tampa, December 8-12, 2011. *PAM Showcases 2011 – * House Number 1-28 Cha-sook (Theatre Nolddang), You Cannot Say I did it (Performance Group TUIDA), The Inspector (DONG theatre company), Killbeth (Playfactory Mabangzen), No Comment (Laboratory Dance Project), Argument (Choe Contemporary Dance Company), Musical Chairs (PDPC), Dancing Grandmothers (Eun-Me Ahn Company), Rhythmic Space: A Pause for Breath, Space Bamboo (GongMyoung), Jeong Ga Ak Hoe Meets World Literature (Jeong Ga Ak Hoe), The Near East Quartet (N.E.Q.), Fire Cliff (Minouk LIM). The International Showcase included Hikky Cancun Tornado by Japan’s hi-bye theater company, and Built This City by Australia’s Polyglot Theatre