Stéphane Segreto-Aguilar is Coordinator of Circostrada Network and Head of Development at ARTCENA. Together with a delegation of several Circostrada Network’s members, he attended both SSAF and PAMS last October 2018, as part of a research trip he conducted to connect with the Korean circus arts and street arts scenes.
For the last five years or so, bilateral relationships between South Korea and European countries have flourished. Examples include the Institut Français’ France-Korea Year in 2015-2016, the British Council’s UK/KOREA Creative Futures initiative in 2017 and the various strategic partnerships implemented with Catalonia, Germany and Finland. In 2018, Europe was given pride of place and asked to present a focus session at the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS) and at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF). Buoyed by this dynamic, the Circostrada network took advantage of this major calendar event to organise a research trip to South Korea in an attempt to gain deeper insight into local issues and meet key figures from the country’s street arts and contemporary circus scene. This is our report on a week in Seoul.
A World in a City
The city of Seoul is located on the Han River and has a population of around 10 million people, with a further 25 million living in the surrounding metropolitan area. As well as being home to nearly half the South Korean population, Seoul is also the world’s fifth most populous city after Tokyo, Jakarta, Dehli and Manila, with a slightly higher population than Shanghai, Mumbai and New York. Over the past 20 years, the ancient capital of the former Kingdom of Joseon has been transformed into a key Asian megalopolis and is a contender for the title of North-East Asia’s largest commercial hub in the face of strong competition from several cities in China and Japan. Buoyed by the economic success generated by the country’s methodical industrial policy pursued since the early 1960s, the city also has designs on strengthening its cultural influence not only in Asia, but around the world.
Ever since poet Do Jong-whan was named Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism in June 2017, South Korean cultural policy seems to have flourished. A new strategic cultural plan was launched on 16 May 2018 at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) following a year-long process involving the participation of 8,000 experts. Under the banner of an ambitious title (‘Culture Vision 2030’), the government has committed to supporting cultural diversity, promoting artistic creativity and guaranteeing total freedom of expression for artists and cultural organisations1. The theme of cultural policy for the 2018-2022 period will be ‘Culture With People’, and there will be a focus on independence and transparency, the transformative power of the arts, the social role of culture, decentralisation and new forms of governance.
- 1. Around 10,000 artists, writers, filmmakers and painters had been blacklisted for having criticised Park Geun-hye, supported opposition candidates or implicated the government in the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which caused the deaths of over 300 people in April 2014. Park Geun-hye, who was President of South Korea between 2013 and 2017, was sentenced in 2018 to 25 years in prison for abuse of power, corruption, coercion and embezzlement.
The Korean Wave
Commonly known as ‘Hallyu’, the export of South Korean culture overseas is a phenomenon that dates back to the 1990s. It began in China and now reaches right across the globe. Films, television series, reality TV shows, video games and, of course, K-pop are the spearheads of this strategy, but performing arts are also benefiting from this global prominence. The Performing Arts Market in Seoul1 (PAMS) is certainly the best example of this: it is a key unifying event for the entire industry, and is one of the two leading performing arts markets in Asia, the other being the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama2 (TPAM). Organised every October by the Korean Arts Management Service3 (KAMS), PAMS is an opportunity to see South Korean and international performances and excerpts from future shows, visit creation and performance venues, participate in round-table discussions, and meet and exchange with professionals from around the world. New for 2018: several festivals were involved in PAMS, notably the Seoul Performing Arts Festival (SPAF)4, which now takes place at the same time. Another unique feature of the 2018 event was the European focus5 of both the PAMS and SPAF programmes, which allowed several European networks and platforms – mainly those supported by the Creative Europe programme – to participate in two round-table discussions at these key events6. The first of these7, ‘How to build an international network’, was an opportunity to highlight several examples of good practice in the development of European cultural networks. The second8, ‘EU-Korea: cooperation in contemporary circus and street arts’, highlighted possible forms of collaboration relating to residencies, co-productions and crossover marketing in the two sectors.
- 1. The next event will take place from 7 to 10 October 2019. For further information, visit: http://en.pams.or.kr/.
- 2. The Tokyo Performing Arts Market (TPAM) was inaugurated in 1995 and takes place every February. Since 2011, it has been held in Yokohama, the capital of the prefecture of Kanagawa and Japan’s second most populous city with 3.7 million inhabitants, located 40 kilometres to the south of the capital. The next event will take place from 8 to 16 February 2020. For further information, visit: https://www.tpam.or.jp/info/en/.
- 3. KAMS is the South Korean agency dedicated to developing international exchange and promoting South Korean performing arts. For further information, visit: http://eng. gokams.or.kr.
- 4. A month-long performing arts festival featuring South Korean and international performances. For further information, visit: http://spaf.or.kr/2018_eng/
- 5. This focus session was developed in collaboration with the European Commission (via the DG EAC), the EU Delegation to the Republic of Korea and the various European diplomatic entities based in Seoul.
- 6. The other European organisations present alongside Circostrada included CircusNext, IN SITU, IETM, On the Move, European Dancehouse, the European Theatre Convention, the European Festival Association, Be SpectActive!, We are Europe and the European Music Exchange Office.
- 7. Meeting moderated by Monica Urian (DG EAC), with participation from Roberto Casarotto (European Dancehouse), Marie Le Sourd (On the Move), Stéphane Segreto-Aguilar (ARTCENA / Circostrada), Karen Stone (Germany Theater Magdeburg) and Nan van Houte (IETM).
- 8. Meeting moderated by Stéphane Segreto-Aguilar (ARTCENA / Circostrada), with participation from Nadia Aguir (IN SITU), Dong Hee Cho (Seoul Street Arts Creation Center) and Cécile Provôt (CircusNext).
“Unity in Differences”
The Seoul Street Arts Festival (SSAF) is another major annual event that provides the perfect opportunity to see the latest street arts performances and meet professionals from all over the world. The festival began life in 2003 as the Hi Seoul Festival, before refocusing its core mission on promoting street arts in 2013 and changing its name in 2016. It has been supported by the city of Seoul since its beginnings. It is also supported by the Seoul Foundation for Arts & Culture (SFAC), which was created in 2014 with a view to establishing Seoul as the creative capital of the world and encouraging the city’s residents to get involved in the arts. SSAF 2018, designed by Kim Jong-seok, was a four-day event entitled ‘Unity in Differences’. The programme featured 46 performances from 10 different countries, 33 of which were presented as part of the main festival and the other 13 presented in the fringe. The SSAF is an eclectic and bountiful event that covers the entire spectrum of styles and formats in existence, making clever use of a variety of spaces in the historic city centre near Gyeongbokgung Palace. The fantastic range of performances highlights the richness of this festival: the comedy of the CroquikyBrothers and the Long & Short Company, the delicate artistry of Yoo Ji-young with Canon of Proportions, the musicality of De BONGnJOULE with The Road to Heaven, the impudence of the Baram Company with Meat, Pig, the intensity of Theatre Momggol with Impulse, the dramatic force of Elephants Laugh with MULJIL 2, and the blazing prowess of Hwarang Art Pyrotechnics. Audiences are always involved and particularly enjoy performances tinged with wonder, absurdity or irony; they move from place to place, enjoying food purchased between performances from the dozens of street food stands erected for the occasion.
Street arts in South Korea are extremely well funded, structured and dynamic. The contemporary history of this sector begins with the democratisation movements of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly ‘Madanggeuk’, a form of street theatre midway between social satire and observation. The major sporting events at the end of the 1980s1 and the political changes of the 1990s2 reinvigorated street arts creation, particularly through the use of unconventional venues, interdisciplinary experimentation and contact with international artists. Throughout the 1990s, a variety of festivals opened, but it was not until the 2000s that the sector was given its dues by audiences and the media, and recognised by the public authorities. Coordinated by the Korean Street Arts Association since 2007, artists, festivals and producers in the industry have worked tirelessly to champion and promote street arts through the development of research programmes, international relationships, street arts markets, networking sessions, publications, journals and advocacy.
In addition to the Korean Street Arts Association, which is chaired by Yoon Jong-yeon and managed by Yim Jin, there are a number of other key players in the industry. The main one is the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (SSACC), which is a hub of creativity, production, practice, education and promotion fully devoted to street arts and contemporary circus. Situated on the right bank of the Han River, a good hour from the city centre, it occupies a former pumping station transformed into an immense arts warehouse in 2015, covering around 18,000 m2 . Led by longterm director Dong Hee Cho, the SSACC is mainly active on the following fronts: artistic research and education, the provision of support for artists and new shows, skills development, the promotion of art forms and international exchange. It is also a leading light in the Circus Asia Network (CAN), which has recently united Asian organisations dedicated to the promotion and development of contemporary circus. Like the SSAF Festival, it is supported by the SFAC foundation and will soon open an artistic residency venue on the hillside above the pumping station. Another significant newcomer to the scene is Circus Cabaret, the first contemporary circus festival, held in May 2018, showcasing some European performances as well as several shows by South Korean companies. Major festivals promoting street arts outside of Seoul include the Ansan Street Arts Festival, the Goyang Lake Park Arts Festival and the Gwacheon Festival. Another key player is the Mapo Oil Tank Culture Park, one of the capital’s first multidisciplinary venues devoted to street arts and contemporary circus.
In close collaboration with On the Move1, the Circostrada network has recently produced a guide to Asian-European mobility for circus and street arts performers entitled ‘SOYA: Stirring Opportunities with Yummy Asia’2. This document, which is available freeof-charge in English, lists existing projects and venues as well as funding opportunities and advice about initiating sustainable Asian-European collaborations. Those seeking a global perspective should also visit the KAMS and Asia-Europe Foundation3 (ASEF) websites regularly. This foundation is a formidable resource that is also piloting the Mobility First! Initiative, which facilitates the mobility of individuals and organisations between Asia and Europe. Offering a more bilateral perspective, the Institut Français in South Korea is a great source of information with in-depth knowledge of the constantly evolving local issues, characteristics and stakeholders. Finally, a bilingual French-English publication exploring the knowledge and contacts gained during this research trip in greater detail will be published pali-pali4 on the ARTCENA and Circostrada network resource portals
- 1. On the Move is a mobility information network composed of around 50 cultural organisations operating in 20 countries in Europe and around the world. Its mission is to foster and facilitate cultural mobility and cooperation, and it works to provide information on mobility opportunities for artists and culture professionals. For further information, visit: http://on-the-move.org.
- 2. Download and read the guide here.
- 3. For further information, visit: http://asef.org
- 4. Literally ‘quickly quickly’ in Korean. It is a very current expression used to describe many aspects of South Korean culture and lifestyle