March 27th, 2012

Chunhyang vs.Chunhyang

The Servant (방자전)

Chunhyang (춘향)

Another Korean movie blows my mind. It seems like the global reach of Korean pop culture is wide enough now that you get to see a lot of movies that actually suck. As opposed to, say Iranian film, where only the most excellent work reaches us and all the dreck stays back home, or you have to purposefully look for it in a local store or online. So every now and then I’ll see a Korean film that will remind me of the caliber of their writers and how many of their best work tackles social hierarchy or long established assumptions about class or filial piety.

Enter The Servant (방자전), a very insidious take on the traditional pansori Chunhyang. Chunhyang is an epic story about a kisaeng named Seong Chunhyang who refuses to live up to the impositions of society and refuses to join her mother’s profession. Instead she makes a love-pact with a local yangban (Yi Mongryeong) before he goes off to Seoul to take the state examinations. Mong was infatuated by Chunhyang when he first saw her playing in a swing during a local festival and sent Bangja, his rogue uneducated servant, to arrange a meeting between the two. After seducing the young virgin, Mong has to apply himself and go take his examinations in the capital. Even worse, his father gets promoted in the imperial bureaucracy and Mong is gone for a number of years and comes back as a Royal Inspector (a cross between an ombudsman and a state attorney). Mong is assigned to his old province of Namwon where the new philandering governor has his eye set on Chunhyang. She refuses to serve the governor citing her promise to Mong. The governor scuffs at the idea of a “married kisaeng” and tortures her to near death in what is one of the most moving arrangements of form, rhythm and content I’ve ever heard; the stuff of great operas. Mong comes at the last minute, arrests him for corruption and, without revealing who he is, questions Chunhyang about her dereliction of class duty (i.e. Why didn’t she entertain the Governor, who was her upperclassman). Chunhyang reveals her reasons before collapsing and Mong asks for forgiveness and marries her. The End. No spoiler there since this is a well known story.

In 2000 Im Kwon-taek did a wonderful, heart wrenching, tasteful and moving portrayal of the story which ended in a real performance of one of the final songs in which every strike of the cane is counted and for each new number a rhyme is offered in rebuttal to the evil Governor’s lechery. Im treated the story at face value but added a lot of relevance by pivoting the story on its emotional qualities. You spend the last 10 minutes crying like a Mary and you get to understand why this pansori keeps transcending time.

Well, Kim Dae-woo did none of that with his interpretation of Chunhyang. What he did was insolent, disrespectful, capricious and just plain genius! The first thing Kim did was to turn Bangja the servant into Chunhyang’s paramour. Ouch! Not only is his Bangja brave, thoughtful and reserved (the exact opposite of the stereotype of the uncultured servant). Mong is cowardly, calculating, and not dashing by any stretch of the imagination. Kim also added a wise and horny old man who serves as Bangja’s consigliere in matters of love. With his help, Bangja deflowers a less than pious Chunhyang before his Mong (his employer) gets to sleep with her. Chunhyang still goes on to sleep with Mong, and extracts a promise of love from him, but this time as a way of climbing the social ladder. Double ouch!  Mong is not as hot as he thinks himself to be, and falters as a lover. Unlike in Im’s movie he decides to apply himself to his studies rather than being prodded into it by his parents. He also has no qualms about leaving Chunhyang behind to fend for herself while he goes to Seoul. During this absence Bangja and Chunhyang get it on, a lot… They fall deeply in love with each other; deep-rooted love. The kind that can deal with, and forgive, practical compromises. They achieve the familiarity that comes with sharing a bed. The one thing that does stick to the script is Mong acing his examinations, but instead of a formal condecoration, he is greeted by jaded royal officials (eunuchs) who totally fumble his assignment and get easily distracted by the frivolousness of court life. In short, Mong has to buy his title after all that study and effort. His hard work was worth squat. On his way back to Namwon Mong meets the future governor (a class mate) and talks up the famous “Chunhyang.” he even tells him “Dude, you would totally love hitting that.” The Governor rather than being a scheming and evil abuser of power, is socially awkward, creepy and has probably never seen a female pubic hair in his life. He arrives in Namwon ahead of Mong. Summons Chunhyang to court and immediately tries to force himself on her, in a creepy, socially awkward sort of way. (If you know the story you can’t help but laugh with joy and all the role bending that Kim has done so far, and this is where it gets good, so if you don’t want to know how this ends skip to the next paragraph). When the governor tortures and beats Chunhyang she proclaims her love for someone else, but this time out of convenience. She is plain creeped out by this guy and wants out. Bangja tries to take on the role of her beloved, but she coldly denies having anything to do with him, because she has previously conspired with Mong to put on a show of loyalty for him so he can have some drama in his life that will make him look like a noble hero. All the while the servant is the only worthy of being called “noble.” Despite knowing about their plan, Bangja tries to stop the beating of Chunhyang and pays for it with a beating worse than hers. As in the original story, Mong saves the day, tests Chunhyang’s loyalty by concealing his person (except that now she knows it’s really him) and arrests the corrupt governor, who due to his shyness had to be practically forced into partaking in all the chicanery going on at palace. The people declare Chunhyang a hero and Mong relishes on all the credit he gains with his countrymen. His plan worked. On a whim he then throws Chunhyang off of a cliff and brain damages her for life. Bangja, far from a noble idiot by now, rescues her and elopes with his now mentally incapacitated lover. He meets a writer who wants to commit his story to writing, but Banja, now a fugitive, asks him to make the story more inspiring and apt for audiences. He instructs him to write the story as we know it today, and proceeds to take his humble place in society. As a background figure to the rollicking of the richer classes.

This is so twisted and profound that it seems like Kim’s j’acuse moment at the social stratification of Korean society. Not only are there no innocents in this story–which was already a strong denunciation of social status–the one character who has all the qualities of a “noble” person, Banja, consciously decides to recede into the background of society and play the fool, but not without delivering to the writer the most memorable stanzas of the opera (Iri onora opko nolcha … sarang, sarang, sarang nae sarang iya..!). It’s as if the writer is trying to say that people are so foolish, hypocritical and used to their ways that even a noble character has to play dumb just to keep them feeling secure in their assumptions.

I will just close by saying that the origin of the word villain comes from “village” while nobility took its name from the word used for the qualities which they wished to imbue themselves with, but could never dream of having because in order to achieve power (and most importantly KEEP it) they had to act in the exact opposite way. they had to be scheming, lecherous and practical. This is not too far from our modern day politics where “hope” has to take a back seat in order for the party to continue, and for the masses to have their easily digestible stereotypes.

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January 30th, 2012

Hot Damn! Today I pulled off one hell of a risotto (or How to Treat Your Kitchen like Your Studio)

photograph of dish

The evidence…

Recently I’ve been letting my cooking skills go (mostly due to busyness combined with my girlfriend staying over and putting my cooking to shame). So slowly I’ve been picking up the pots and pans again and doing more grocery shopping.

Today was one of those days when you open the fridge and say “I should really eat this stuff before buying anything else.” So I started pulling things out of the shelf and thinking of how to combine flavors. The result was a sublime, totally unplanned Enoki and Cumquat Risotto. Wait don’t go yet!! Let me elaborate…

I had some sublets over the summer and among the things they left behind was a nice box of Arborio (thanks Alon!). (Arborio BTW is one of the stickiest of all the risottos). I like to approach risotto the way any good paella or rice/casserole dish should be approached, by grabbing disparate yet complementary items and trying to achieve balance and harmony in flavor.

So you start by looking at the rice itself. You wash it once, strain it and stare at it … At this point it is a blank canvas. So, do you want to leave it natural and light, or do you want to add body to it? I went with light. So I chopped some onions and ruled out garlic. This determined which type of wine I would use: white, about half the amount of volume as your rice.

Next the “meat” of my dish. Mushrooms perform really well with any kind of risotto, but they tend to add a lot of body to the dish and assert themselves strongly. Enokis however are like “wimpy” mushrooms. They will go whichever way you push them. So the base of my dish is not particularly assertive, but this can be a good thing because it means I can build up the flavor by subtle layering. You wash the enokis and cut the bottoms. Also de-thread them a little. This led to me to choose chicken stock over beef stock. I also made it lighter than normal. Again for a gradual subtle buildup of flavors. Next I decided to add some saffron to lace the overall aroma of the dish and add color. I like to use saffron the Persian way. When I buy it, I heat it for about 5-10 seconds to dry it (this also brings out more red in it), and then I grind it with a bit of sugar and store it in a small jar. The sugar has two effects on it: it coats the saffron and preserves it and it also allows you to lift all of it from the mortar and leave none of it behind. When you need to use it, just take out 1/8 of a teaspoon and brew it like tea in a small cup. (About the size of an espresso cup).

At this point I’m staring at the cumquats and wondering how they would perform under heat. The logic is as follows: I’m already throwing saffron and kind of “Persianizing” the dish, so why not follow that vein? After all, Persians are some of the most accomplished makers of meat and fruit stews in the planet. The citrus aroma will blend with the saffron, and add a bit of freshness and semi-sweetness to the dish. So I grabbed about 5~6 cumquats and sliced them, disposing of the seeds. So now this needs an herb. Fresh. I had a lot of parsley in the fridge so why not? This is the riskier proposition since they seem disparate, but it makes sense too. Basil, dill, or coriander are aromatic and I don’t want to drown the saffron-cumquat blend I got going. I want that to be the foil for the dish. So a wimpy herb for a wimpy mushroom! I stripped about 10-12 sprigs and chopped the leaves lightly. Now I just need to decide on a cheese…

Risottos tend to look to sharp cheeses to complement the wine they’re cooking the rice in and to add like an anchor to the dish. No matter which way your palate goes to when tasting sovoring it, your palate always has that sharpness to refer back to. I happen to have both kefalograviera and pecorino romano on my freezer, but I decided to go with goat feta. I wasn’t done layering, and the bulk and saltiness of the feta would make the dish more substantial. I chopped a generous slice. And now to the stove!

I heated my casserole. And threw a dash of olive oil with some butter. You can also go with either one, if you prefer. I then fried the onion at low heat for about 8~10 minutes. I wanted them to sweeten a bit in the oil (more layering). I then added the enokis and 6-8 nafplio olives I also needed to do something with. The olives would make up for the lack of sharpness of the feta. After a minute or two I added the strained rice. I didn’t fry it because I did not wish to wilt the enokis. They are to delicate. I followed with the saffron water, the wine, the chicken stock, and a dash of salt. Cover and boil, and then lower the heat. DO NOT throw the cumquats in yet!! You want them to lace the rice grains not to make a melange of flavors. They will also loose some of their color and bite. Now you will boil down the stock by uncovering, stiring and covering again, as often as necessary. The ratio should be about 1 part rice 4~5 parts liquid. When the liquid is all but absorbed in the rice stir in the cumquats. You should have a thick porridge-like texture at this point. Now cover and make sure you are at the lowest heat possible. Keep turning over and stirring every 5~7 minutes until the rice is tender and no more watery residue stays on top of the grains. You are almost done now. When the rice is ready add the parsley and crumble the feta in. Mix it in and turn of the heat. Cover and let it settle for about 5~10 minutes while you prepare your table.

Serve and eat! 😛

!نوش جان

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January 22nd, 2012

Pointing to the Mind by Bhante Cattamalo

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December 6th, 2011

Teaching Artistry

OK. Here it is: the final word on Teaching Artists courtesy of Etan Marciano, writer, educator and all around great guy. Be sure to check out Etan’s upcoming site The Hyp Replacement.

And now for Etan’s riveting prose…


The Artist’s in-Progress Approach to Teaching Art, a Multifaceted Engagement

It seems, unless you’re a minimalist operating in a world of invisible objects, that art making begins with two essential things: a material item(s) and an idea of some sort; the former tangible and the latter abstract. The enigmatic, exciting thing we call “artwork” is the sensitive by-product that arises from the highly turbulent coupling of real-items and surreal-ideas. Once in existence, the artwork’s purpose and meaning is no longer the sole possession of its creator, and through each viewer’s interpretation a new meaning is born. Over time, whether over minutes, days, months or years, these new meanings form to create pathways through which viewers are able to involve themselves in the artwork and derive, ideally, a positive, self-expanding, empowering array of meanings, connections, and personal anecdotes. That said, it is the responsibility of the artist as teacher, despite his/her relative transience to a viewer’s life, to generate at least one teachable moment, if not several (depending of course on weather, current mood of teaching artist and overall cooperation of the viewing group).

Impact of Material/Creative Process
The teaching artist draws upon his/her knowledge of working with materials, from the gathering stage to the assembly stage; this personal, highly individualized knowledge embodies elements from the historical, tactile and technical experience related to each material and combination of materials; as well as the crisscrossing relationships among materials, ideas, contexts, intents, and expectations.
The artist draws upon an intimate understanding that producing art involves a multilayered creative process that takes place inside and outside of the mind. An artwork represents the culmination of conceptual, experiential and technical developments over a period of time within a specific kind of space(s). It’s also true that an artwork need not reflect a fore planned strategy, but can include moments of spontaneity (ie “happy accidents”). The creative and active processes related to art making are, after all, unique to each artist, and in this way, can represent and reflect a diverse range of personality types, individual identities, set of influences, and contexts.

Impact of Artist Identity Upon Teaching Art in Museum/Gallery
Although artists are all together bound by a universal identity through the mere act of art making, each artist possesses philosophical, intellectual, aesthetic and cultural prejudices that make him/her educationally individualized within a museum, gallery, or other art related space.
In behavior, tone, and manner, no teaching artist is the same. That means the individual spirit and intellectual/aesthetic disposition of the artist as teacher inevitably leads to a unique manner of “doing” things. In a teaching environment, the artist’s approach to generating teachable moments comes through the artist’s particular interests, preferences and prejudices. Some teaching artists, compelled by a strong emotional connection, prefer to focus on the pure, visceral experience produced by an artwork and thus to frame lines of inquiry without discussion of the work’s author or context; this allows for the viewer to cultivate subjective impressions, to participate in just-look and feel type moments. Other teaching artists might prefer to remove the artwork from the vacuum and expose the work to the “elements” so (ie criticisms, scholarship, historical context).

Conveying the Sense of Discovery
The artist is well versed in the art of discovery, or the act of discovering. From the standpoint of material, style, skill or otherwise, the artist has experienced, through an undulating range of psychological states, the emotional nature of exploring new territory, experimenting, readjusting, redoing, rethinking. For the artist discovery is an essential feature of art making. Thus, the artist as teacher seeks to offer the viewer the means through which he/she can experience the empowering, invigorating sensation associated with creative discovery.

Artist’s Interpretation, and its (un)fortunate bearing upon the viewer
The artist is aware that an artwork, although generally non-textual, contains an implicit narrative as expressed through aspects such as medium, color and form, and even aspects related to curatorial/administrative considerations. The artist as teacher conveys, whether consciously or not, the idea that artworks, whether intentionally constructed to do so or not, contain within them a story, or are stories unto themselves.

Connecting the Big Dots in the Sky of Teaching Art
The artist as teacher brings to the viewing experience an intimacy with art making. The artist as teacher has closely handled the relationships among medium, action and emotion. This more holistic interaction with a work enables the artist to facilitate discussion that will lead to a deeper and meaningful understanding of context, process and result. Ideally, hopefully, the artist as teacher can distill accessible insights from their subjective, authentic art making experiences. The artist as teacher ultimately invites the viewer to experience the artwork as an artist.

Art Jargon, and miscellaneous asides
We’ve established that the artist as teacher can relate to the artwork as an “insider” and that this insider status provides viewers with access to a range of subjective artistic experiences. The question that comes to mind is what kind of language does the artist as teacher use to guide discussion and convey meaning? Does he/she academic or technical jargon? Or does he/she implement a more colloquial manner of speaking, yet one that still speaks knowledgeably to the subject?
Additionally, the personal and passionate touches in the form of impassioned gesticulation or varying viewing distances from the artwork, for example, act as expressions of the intimate, conceptual and stylistic relationship between one artist and another. The artist that speaks about another artist exposes the non-artist viewer to the way in which artists form bonds of both influence and inspiration.

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November 14th, 2011

Jia-Jen Lin on Taiwanese Public Network

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September 23rd, 2011

Hualien, Taiwan

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July 31st, 2011

Yali Romagoza

I haven’t posted in a while because it’s been crazy at the museum, and I’m also getting ready to go on residence. But I just wanted to comment on this work that someone showed me today. And of course this artist is in Queens! 😉

It’s a great take on function and everyday objects (in this case wear). I’ll let you judge for yourself…

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March 24th, 2011

DUB FX – Love Someone

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