Lesson: Dongducheon: A Walk to Remember, A Walk to Envision: Interpreting History, Memory, and Identity

  • Grade Level: High School (9 - 12 grade)
  • Subject Area: History, Global Studies, Gender Studies, Art, Politics
  • Rho Jae Oon, "Bite the Bullet!," 2008.Rho Jae Oon, "Bite the Bullet!," 2008.
  • Sangdon Kim, "'Foreign' Apartment," 2008.Sangdon Kim, "'Foreign' Apartment," 2008.
  • Koh Seung Wook, "Driveling Mouth," 2008.Koh Seung Wook, "Driveling Mouth," 2008.
  • Sangdon Kim, "Little Chicago," 2008.Sangdon Kim, "Little Chicago," 2008.
  • siren en young jung, "Twinkle, Twinkle," 2008.siren en young jung, "Twinkle, Twinkle," 2008.
  • siren en young jung, "The Narrow Sorrow," 2008.siren en young jung, "The Narrow Sorrow," 2008.

Introduction

Written by Hub Fellow Haeyun Park
“Dongducheon: A Walk to Remember, A Walk to Envision,” organized by Insa Art Space in Seoul, South Korea, is a two-year long (2007–2008) project for commissioning new art productions and cultural discourses on the local community of Dongducheon, in South Korea. The city has been structured by the government to be used for stationing foreign military bases over the half century since the Japanese occupation. Subject to the logic of national security, the people of Dongducheon have had little opportunity to make their voices heard in the development of the city primarily as a “military camptown.” This project by Insa Art Space requires us to critically reexamine the problems of our own minds and attitudes that have contributed to the ongoing neglect and misunderstandings of the region. In an attempt to envision the future of Dongducheon against the tide of global capitalism and corporate developmentalism, this project seeks to recover the subjects of local community by restoring the memory of undocumented, marginalized people of Dongducheon.
“A Walk to Remember, A Walk to Envision” explores the collision between the “official” history dictated by the government and the local history told from the local residents’ perspectives. By interacting with each artwork represented in this exhibition, students will learn to do a critical reading of history and understand the ways in which memory and identity are constructed.

Objectives

  • Develop understanding of the local and international history of Dongducheon
  • Explore works that deal with memory, identity, and representation
  • Demonstrate understanding of different points of view that construct a historical narrative
  • Understand the ways in which memory and identity are constructed.

Vocabulary

yang-saek-si translated literally means “western hostess.” This demeaning term is deeply rooted in South Korea’s prejudice against prostitutes serving U.S. soldiers.
Hybrid Culture is the result of combining attributes of two or more cultures in forming a new culture. At its best the resulting culture will be a hybrid that leverages the attributes to be the most effective.
Collective Identity refers to an individual’s sense of belonging to a group.

Materials

Museum as Hub Dongducheon: A Walk to Remember, A Walk To Envision in the Digital Archives

Lesson Strategy

Have students take notes while watching the works.

Sangdon Kim Hold your breath for four minutes—The Cemetery, 2008. Single-channel video with sound, 4 min.
List the images that you see. Pay close attention to the ways in which sound is incorporated to the work.

  • What is your impression of the title? What expectations do you have viewing the work?
  • Who are the dead buried in the cemetery?
  • What are the black wooden planks with white numbers written on down them? How do they relate to the idea of identity and memory?
  • Listen to the sound of birds, bugs, the river, and the wind. How do these sound affect the images that you see?
  • There’s a stark contrast between the peaceful scenes of nature and the construction site. What do you think the artist is trying to convey through this juxtaposition of images?
  • Who is alive and who is dead? Who is being silenced by whom? Just because people are deceased, are they silent?
  • How effective is a cemetery in preserving the memory of the deceased?

In this video, Sangdon Kim seeks to revive the memory and history of Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery in which approximately 1,000 unidentified deceased are buried. Although the natural images and sound have a peaceful appearance, they bear testimony to the lives of many different kinds of minority groups that had drifted in and out of Dongducheon.

Sangdon Kim “Foreign” Apartment, 2008. Two-channel video with sound, 9:31 min.

  • Why do you think the word foreign is in quotation marks? How do you define the concept of foreign?
  • Who are the people speaking in this work?
  • What do you learn about the history of the region from these oral accounts? Can you trust their testimony, and if not, why?
  • Do you think there is only one version of “official” history? What gives credibility to different versions of history?
  • Who lived in this apartment? Where are they now? Why is the apartment uninhabited?

By staging the foreign apartment as a subject of conversation, the artist reveals the distrust lying deep among the citizens of Dongducheon. As there are no official records or documentation of the history of the building, it only exists through many different versions of tales, rumors, fictions, and assumptions that constitute another version of reality.

Sangdon Kim Little Chicago, 2008. Ink on photographs and wood pole with plastic branches, dimensions variable.

 

  • How does the artist use “mapping” to construct the history of the region?
  • What is the relationship between the water tank of Camp Nimble and the wood pole with plastic branches? How do they convey the idea of “camouflage”?
  • What do the oral interviews tell you about the interaction between the local residents in Dongducheon and the U.S. military soldiers?
  • How did certain parts of Dongducheon became to be named after U.S. cities such as Manhattan or Chicago? Who gave them those names and why?
  • How did the presence of Korean yang-saek-si affect the relationship between the locals and the U.S. military soldiers?
  • What is the difference between an “authentic” culture and a hybrid culture? Which one do you think the culture of Dongducheon belongs to?

In this work, Kim discovers hybrid languages and vocabularies that were invented through the interactions between the foreigners and the Koreans in Dongducheon in naming specific parts of the city. These hybrid names reveal the amalgamation and tension between to different cultures in the region.

Koh Seung Wook Driveling Mouth, 2008. Single-channel video with sound, 13:40 min. Shown in tent, 4 7/8 × 4 7/8 × 6 1/2 ft (1.5 × 1.5 × 1.5 m).

  • Who are the women in the video? What is their relationship with the U.S. soldiers?
  • Pay attention to the text in the video. Who is the narrator? Is this a memoir or a fiction? Why?
  • How much does a person’s past construct his or her individual identity?
  • Is there a difference between an individual versus a collective identity? How do these collide or converge?
  • What does the artist’s performance relate to the sequence of photographic images? Do they complement or contrast each other? Why?

In this video, the artist addresses the issue of the nation-state’s desire to project a certain collective narrative onto forming and representing its identity and an individual’s attempts to escape from its grip. In an attempt to build an individual identity, Koh restores and recomposes the past memories of the U.S. soldiers and the Korean female club workers.

Rho Jae Oon Bite the Bullet!, 2008. Web project.exe, bite-the-bulletz.net.

  • How does the image of Dongducheon presented in the chapters in this work relate to the images of Dongducheon in Sangdon Kim’s Little Chicago? In other words, how does the perspective on this region change according to the narrator?
  • How does the artist recompose images from other films to critique the “Westerner’s perspective” on Dongducheon? Is he presenting his chapters as “authentic” narrative of Dongudcheon’s history?
  • How is Dongducheon represented in each of the chapters? Do you think the presentation is close to reality or fiction? Why?
  • How does the artist “envision” the future of Dongducheon through this web publishing project? Is it optimistic or pessimistic?

The artist produces meta-narrative with drifting images and sound archived from the Web. He then approrpirates and recomposes those images into his own narrative. In this way, Rho’s hypertext leads us to question the fundamental configuration of space, time, perception, and cognition.

siren eun young jung The Narrow Sorrow, 2008. Single-channel video with sound, 14:11 min.

 

  • Pay close attention to the sounds in this video. Who is the subject of chattering, singing, and praying?
  • What is the role of the narrow door between the two club buildings? How does it relate to the experience of the women who work in these clubs?
  • There’s a scene of funeral and embalming a corpse in the video. Why do you think the artist included that scene? How does that relate to the idea of mourning?
  • How are the women club workers represented (or not represented) in this video? Do you think that representation is accurate?

In this video piece, siren eun young jung invites the viewers to the lives of women club workers in Dongducheon behind the flashy neon-signs of the clubs. The viewers are led through the narrow door into the everyday lives of these women, primarily by listening to the sounds of their chatter, singing, and praying, which employs a mixed language of Korean and other foreign languages.

siren eun young jung Twinkle, Twinkle, 2008. Drawing on paper, 29 ½ x 11 ¾ in (75×30 cm) LED sheet, 22 2/3 × 9 in (60 × 23 cm).

  • What do you think the blinking light represents?
  • Who is the narrator of this poem?
  • Why do you think the artist wrote the poem on a musical score? Did she intend it to be read or to be sung, or both?
  • Who are the “ladies” in this poem? Are they the same women who were represented in The Narrow Sorrow?
  • How does the act of singing relate to memory or healing?

This piece is to be read partially as a comforting song for the women club workers, and partially as a lullaby song to be sung to their babies. The blinking light is a reference to the neon light of the clubs, as well as to all the twinkling objects that attract women’s desire.

Homework

Have students do research on the history of their school or their family using at least three different sources. Ask them to compare the similarities and differences between each narrative and to write what they have learned about the role of perspective in history.

Additional Resources

Museum as Hub Dongducheon: A Walk To Remember, A Walk to Envision website.

Lesson Plan: Dongducheon: A Walk to Remember, A Walk to Envision: Interpreting History, Memory, and Identity