Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kechak Performance - Korea Experimental Art Festival 2009

"Circular Sound Circus" presented the interactive project : Indonesian based "Kechak" - a new group project at the Korea Experimental Art Festival 2009 in Hongdae, Seoul.

It was performed at Club 500, Hongdae, Seoul on Sept 13, 2009.
Team members: Ripley Tao (leader) , Penelope Thompson (artistic director), Frank Lev and Lacey Dumler.

Description of performance:
Kechak is based on the traditional Balinese vocal percussion performance, and is sometimes known as the Balinese Monkey Chant. Our team, Circular Sound Circus, attempts to bring groups of people to the rhythm and movements of traditional Indonesian music. An interlocking rhythm, the "Kechak", is easy to learn , energetic, and spiritually motivating.
It is:
> vocal percussion and body percussion.
> group based performance
> audience participation a must

The Korean audience was enthusiastic and picked up the rhythm easily. A big thank you to all the festival staff and the participants who joined the 'monkey tribes' and made the performance a success!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Bubble, Bubble" performance art by Penelope Thompson, KEAF 2009

“Bubble, bubble” was a brand new site-specific performance work created for the Korea Experimental Art Festival 2009.

On September 12, 2009 audience members had the chance to freely explore the nature of bubbles.

There are many kinds of bubbles that fascinate people - economic bubbles, real estate bubbles, soap bubbles, beer bubbles - but the common nature of bubbles is that they are fragile, temporary and they always burst!

A “bubble” can be an object and can also be a verb:-

“to speak, move, issue forth, or exist in a lively, sparkling manner; to seethe or stir, as with excitement”.

The performance took advantage of the special qualities of a roof top space such as height over the city, spaciousness, open sky and breeze.

The audience members played and interacted with each other with soap bubbles - a simple and universally enjoyable activity.

This art work demonstrated that performance art doesn't always have to be serious - art can be fun. And the act of playing is closely connected with creativity.

Frank Lev, a jazz musician from San Francisco, played light and bubbly saxophone music to set the tone for the event.
Here's a video of the event:

Monday, September 07, 2009

Making World Peace performance and workshop by Penelope Thompson-Incheon Women's Art Biennale, Korea. Aug. 30, 2009

A large crowd of people participated on Sunday, August 30, 2009 in the "Making World peace" community art performance at the Incheon Women's Art Biennale. Thanks to the co-operative efforts of everyone involved we added a record 53 centimeters to the world peace scarf! Here are some photos from the day:

“Making World Peace” is an ongoing interactive community art performance (first started in Korea in 2004), where participants can help to create world peace - symbolized as a very long, colorful knitted scarf.

I created this project as a comment on the fact that world governments invest enormous amounts of money into “defence” and warfare, but almost nothing into the creation of peace. Ultimately ‘world peace’ can only come from the small acts of kindness and co-operation between individuals who decide to let go of the old ways of thinking and open their hearts to share freely with all people, regardless of family, racial or national background. I also strongly feel we all need to stop waiting for government funding and permission to create a better world - we can do it with the resources we have right now, through sharing, recycling and co-operation.

The very first performance was in Chilwon Middle School, Gyeongnam province, Korea in December 2004, when the artist was invited to the school as the first-ever foreign visitor and foreign artist. The project aimed to foster co-operation and awareness about the importance of both international and personal relations at a grass roots level. Initially the project was called “World Peace Production Room”, but later on the name was simplified to ‘Making World Peace’.

After the success of first performance, ‘Making World Peace’ appeared as a community art event at various festivals around Korea, including the Gimcheon International Performance Art Festival (KIPAF 2005), the Pocheon Asian Art Festival (PAAF 2005), the Hi Seoul! Hangang Flower Festival 2006, and the Chuncheon International Mime Festival in 2009, to name a few. In July 2009, ‘Making World Peace’ toured to Nagano prefecture Japan, and Japanese people contributed yarn, fabric and knitting skills to make world peace grow in Japan.

The materials for the world peace scarf are mostly recycled materials such as old ribbon, wool, string, plastic or clothing cut up to make yarn, and participants are often invited to donate materials to add to the scarf. The symbolism here is that we all have the resources to make world peace, and almost anything can be used as long as it is flexible enough to be joined together with the rest. This is just like the way in which all the different people and ideas can fit together peacefully in one world if we are willing to be a bit more flexible and join with others!

Since 2004, hundreds of people have tied pieces of yarn together, and knitted to make world peace. Their energy and good wishes are contained within the scarf, and I hope you too will enjoy making world peace grow towards its goal of reaching around the entire world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Penelope Thompson “Interchange” installation and performance – Matsushiro Contemporary Art Festival (MCAF 2009 ), Nagano, Japan. July 5 – 20, 2009

On July 12, I set up an installation and did an art performance called “Interchange” at the 'Bunbu gakko' (Samurai School for Literary and Military Arts) in the historical village of Matsushiro, located in Nagano prefecture, Japan.

I was taking part in the annual Matsushiro Contemporary Arts Festival (MCAF), which consists of installation, performance art and contemporary dance events presented by artists from various Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Singapore, etc. See website: http://mcaf.jp/index-e.html

The MCAF was started by Japanese art professor Hitoshi Kimura in 2002 (the year of the soccer World Cup collaboration between Japan and Korea). Prof. Kimura wanted to also help to build peaceful relations between the two countries through art, and the reason he chose the beautiful village of Matsushiro as the festival site is because of its surprisingly dark but little known war-time history, involving terrible human rights abuse of hundreds of Korean civilians.

This tragedy happened during the final months of WW II, after the Japanese Imperial government had decided on a plan to construct a massive underground set of tunnels in Matsushiro to secretly house the emperor and the military command. This was part of the nationalistic ideal to fight to the death of every man, woman and child to protect the Japanese empire.

So in November 1944, the construction of the tunnels started under a mountain in Matsushiro.

At that time Korea was under the colonial rule of Japan so many slave labourers (including female sexual slaves, now euphemistically known as “comfort women”) were brought from Korea for this top-secret project. Even the local Japanese people were not aware of what was going on, and they had no choice but to cooperate with the army's requests to surrender their houses and land. Even Japanese school children were made to give up classes to work to assist the war effort.

The Korean slaves were forced to work in appalling conditions and an incredible 13 kilometers of tunnels were dug in just a few short months. Many of the Koreans died from injuries, illness and malnutrition, but the actual identities and numbers of victims is unclear. Their plight was hidden because they had been forced to take Japanese names, and then all records of the tunnel construction were deliberately destroyed by the Japanese army upon their surrender in 1945.

The existence of the Matsushiro tunnels remained a secret until the late 1980's when local high school students discovered them. After learning about the dark history of the tunnels, the students petitioned the local government to preserve them as a public peace memorial so the story could be made known to all people.

Today the tunnels have been partially opened and reinforced so visitors can walk a few hundred meters into the damp darkness and get a sense of the desperate struggle of those war time years.

Nowadays, each July the Matsushiro Contemporary Arts Festival is held not far from the site of the tunnels. All of the foreign artists involved in MCAF are invited to first visit the tunnels to gain first-hand experience and inspiration for their work.

On July 5, 2009 Professor Kimura conducted a public workshop to make origami paper cranes as a symbol of peace, and these works were then painted and then photographed in the tunnels, before being installed in the 'Bunbu gakko' samurai school as part of the MCAF installation festival.

Description of Penelope Thompson's installation "Interchange" :
My installation was entitled 'Interchange' and was inspired by the issues of linguistic imperialism.

Because I have lived in Korea for many years I am very aware that during the time of the Japanese colonisation of Korea, Korean people were forced to learn Japanese language and to adopt Japanese names.

But I was moved very deeply by the realisation that the existence of the suffering and death of hundreds of Koreans in the Matsushiro tunnels had been almost completely obliterated through the use of language.

I chose to install the work on the verandah of the training room of the samurai school, "Bunbu Gakko". The installation consisted of the Japanese characters for “domination” 支配, from which were tied 70 stainless steel Korean chopsticks, individually hanging by red threads.

The stainless steel chopsticks are unique to Korea, and accordingly I chose them to represent the labor of the thousands of Koreans who worked as forced laborers or slaves to build the Matsushiro war-time tunnels. In the center of the chopsticks hung one small inverted stainless steel bowl, symbolizing the suffering of the Korean women who were brought to the tunnel construction site to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese soldiers.

Although this work was overtly inspired by the Matsushiro war time tunnels, on a deeper level I wanted to express something about the universal spiritual side of the human struggle for liberation. I believe we must all make efforts to cut the ties that bind us to excessive fear and repression and find an authentic voice that can allow us more scope and freedom to build a better world.

I chose the title “Interchange” for the work because it expresses the ideas of communication and exchange, rather than a ‘win-lose‘ battle where one way of thinking simple replaces another without dialogue.

Description of Penelope Thompson's performance, "Interchange":

In this performance, the artist worked with her outdoor installation, entitled "Interchange".

The performance began with the artist walking across the wooden floor of the samurai school training room, singing the old Negro spiritual song "Motherless Child".

On reaching the hanging installation the artist brushed the hanging pieces to hear the soft voices of the metal pieces moving together.

She then lay on the ground under the steel chopsticks looking up at the Kanji character for "domination" 支配.

Then after a quiet period she arose and scraped the Korean Hangeul characters for “liberation” 자유 with her bare hands into the earth nearby, and then walked away.

Here's a video of the performance and the artist's talk afterwards:

Final Closing Ceremony - July 20, 2009
The installation then hung on the verandah of the samurai school training room for the following week - and visitors could touch the metal chopsticks to make sound.

On the final day of the MCAF festival, the artist held a symbolic ceremony, and invited the Japanese people to help her release the chopsticks from the red threads.

The Japanese audience members were then given a pair of the Korean stainless steel chopsticks as a symbol of goodwill.

As a final act the artist pulled down the Kanji character for domination.

A warm thank you to Professor Kimura, Ms Kaori Haba, and all the other artists, student volunteers, management and workers of the Matsushiro Samurai school, and audience members who contributed to this special arts festival.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Making World Peace in Japan, July 8, 2009

On July 8, 2009 I travelled to Nagano prefecture in Japan to participate in the Art_plus-jp performance art event at Matsumoto City Art Museum.

This event was organized by well-known Japanese performance artist and performance festival organizer Ms. Kaori Haba, who recently moved to Matsumoto from Nagano City.

Artists from Singapore, Myanmar, Japan and Australia presented various kinds of performance art to a small audience in the evening inside and outside of the art museum.

I presented my ongoing "Making World Peace" community art project that I first started in Korea in 2004.

In this project, world peace is symbolised by a colorful knitted scarf that community members can participate in making.

This was the first time the World Peace scarf project had been performed outside of Korea, and it was very fitting that it should first move to Japan to help heal relations between the two countries.

The Japanese audience members were much more formal and shy about participation than their Korean counterparts!

But through our combined efforts of cutting up a Japanese silk scarf to make yarn, tying the pieces together, and knitting we managed to make 6 centimeters of world peace in a very short time.

A big thank you to all the Matsumoto participants for helping to make world peace!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Making World Peace performance and workshop by Penelope Thompson-Chuncheon International Mime Festival, Korea. May 30, 31 2009

I was invited to perform in the Chuncheon International Mime Festival (CIMF) Experience Program on May 30, 31. On the Saturday we had 2 groups of young Korean schoolchildren to watch my performance and then participate in world peace-themed activities such as coloring world peace pictures and writing wishes for peace.

"Making World Peace" is an ongoing interactive community art performance where world peace is symbolized by a knitted scarf. It started in 2004 as an art experience project for middle school students in the country town of Chilwon in southern Korea. Since then the world peace scarf has slowly grown during many performances in various cities across Korea.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Penelope Thompson -art performances -Jeonju International Film Festival - May 2,3 2009

On May 2 and 3, I was invited to do some art performances in conjunction with the Jeonju International Film festival (JIFF 2009), in the southern city of Jeonju, Korea.

On the Saturday, May 2, there was a street performance art event in front of the main JIFF cinema area with many artists performing, accompanied by 2 Korean musicians playing a grand piano and keyboards.

My performance was a simple improvisation called 'Spring Play' based on 2 red spirals.

I asked a young Korean girl from the audience to "play" with me using the spirals.

We created rhythmical movements and patterns together, as the spirals twirled and danced in the wind.

" The Elements #3"

On Sunday May 3, I did a different kind of performance, along with 3 other artists at the historical site of Gyeongijeon Park in central Jeonju.

My performance was called "The Elements #3", and was based on the idea of working with the 4 traditional elements of air, water, earth and fire.

My performance actions were accompanied by the drumming of American artist/musician Ripley Torres.

First, I collected samples of earth, air and water from the local environment, lit a candle and set up 4 glass cups containing these elements on a table.

I then started by folding a large origami paper box which I inflated with my breath (air).

I mixed the samples of earth and water together to make a natural paint, and painted alchemical symbols for each element on the sides of the paper box.

I completed the elemental quartet by setting fire to the box, which burned to ash as the audience watched.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

'Flower Power' performance by Penelope Thompson, VIAF festival, 2009 Yeouido Cherry Blossom festival, Seoul

On April 10 and 11, 2009 I did a street performance entitled "Flower Power" as part of the VIAF festival in Seoul. This was the 'Various Integrative Artistic Festival' held in conjunction with the cherry blossom festival on the island of Yeouido in the Han River in Seoul.

The theme of the festival was "flowers bloom in the sky" referring to the multitudes of cherry blossom trees lining the streets, showering their petals down like pink snow in the breeze.

I chose to create a special new performance for this festival called "Flower Power", as I wanted to give a message to busy city people to slow down and enjoy the beauty of life.

I commenced the performance dressed in a black suit and briefcase, rushing along like a typical Seoulite. However, when I answered my cell phone on-the-run, a colorful paper flower popped out. And when I checked my watch a flower appeared with a message to "slow down!" . Even my glasses case and diary carried similar floral messages, and finally even my laptop computer opened to reveal an entire bouquet of spring flowers.

My wallet seemed to contain only some paper discs which then unfolded to become colorful blooms saying "show your colour" which I stuck on my suit. As I searched in my briefcase I discovered more and more of these paper discs, which I offered to the audience to unfold and read the various messages inside. People then attached these flowers to velcro on my suit and before long I was transformed into a walking floral arrangement, enjoying the spring day to the tune of "Feelin' Groovy".

More photos and video of performance coming soon!