Friday, April 30, 2021

Baltimore Natural Dye Symposium Series


In my unreasonable obsession with always being "caught up," I thought that I'd be able to share the info about this weekend's Baltimore Natural Dye Symposium Series on time, but I failed. The first series Q&A session has already passed but you can see the videos that the panelists recorded here. The video above is the talk I recorded a few weeks ago about my hanji research + how I got into natural dyeing with paper. Thankfully one of my new colleagues here, Dr. Lee Oh-Kyu, caught an error I made inadvertently at 8 minutes: Lee Sang-ok Traditional Hanji is near Jirisan in Gyeongsang Province, not Jeolla, as I said by mistake. I knew that but don't know why it came out wrong. The hilarious thing is that Dr. Lee kindly said that in the past, that area used to actually be part of Jeolla Province, but then the maps were redrawn. It's very close to the border but I'm not making excuses!

To see the other three talks (in Korean), you can go to the site for our panel here. We will be online together for a live Q&A at Eastern time Sat, May 1, 7pm. You can register for the free event at that previous link, and view the virtual exhibits related to our talks here. We have to get up early here but are looking forward to being together virtually and hearing from you if you have questions about our talks. See you soon!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Brief hello from Tongyeong

A very quick note to say I am still alive but so deeply entrenched in extremely intense study that I haven't had a moment to come up for air. My entire body has been wrung out from physical labor, eye-numbing details, and deep gratitude for this new teacher who has come into my life.
Jo Dae-yong has devoted himself entirely to teaching me for the past week and I don't know how he is not also completely wrung out. I keep telling him that he needs to rest because I will be in a lot of trouble if I cause a national treasure to get sick or worn down excessively.
But we both feel the urgency of time so strongly. I have to leave in a few days for other work and he has a lot to prepare for an upcoming exhibit, presentation, and a million other things. We've taken zero days off and every work day seems to run longer than the next. I am in one of the most beautiful parts of this country but haven't been able to look around because the work is all consuming. I'll share more extensively when it's over but for now know that I'm finally at the heart of the trip (which strangely enough for me, always happens halfway into my Korea sojourns).

Also, my tooth or filling broke off so we have to somehow squeeze in emergency dental work. Agh!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Jeonju to Jinju

I feel like I've already showed this lovely central rotary at school in Jeonju. I took an afternoon break and the assistant came along so that we could enjoy the good weather. She talked about how it was never this nice before they spent the money to fancy up the rotary. The water will come up in magnificent fountain style at points in the day that I assume are scheduled, and the entire pool is tiled with a map of the world if you go up into the structure to look down.
From the for rent sign, this was clearly a bad idea from the start, in the neighborhood adjacent to the university.
Rather than take a bus (direct buses don't run often from Jeonju to Jinju) tomorrow, I left town early on Friday with Dr. Jo, who came to install his entries for the 27th National Hanji Crafts Contest.
I was confused about the whole thing but it seems like the actual work will be juried and then shown during a hanji culture festival at the Korean Traditional Culture Center. You can tell where my brain has turned off when it comes to certain aspects of hanji promotion.
Dr. Jo's junior colleague (I don't have a good translation for this, but usually like an alum from your school who is younger than you) Dr. Kim came by to help. I was getting stickler-y about it but eventually Dr. Jo waved it off and said it's good enough to be evaluated by. His background is in forest science so the approach is different (all the hanji he uses is made by Mr. Shin).
There are two different sections of the jurying, one is for traditional hanji crafts and one is for contemporary. Dr. Jo also is submitting his hanji leather bags on the latter side.
A few people already dropped off their work for consideration and here are two jido (like papier-mâché) hand lanterns.
I related SO much to this process, twisting paper into thread on your thigh!! Hanji doll making is very big but I never got into that.
We saw the woman who made this come in to set it up, she came all the way from Mokpo and I loved that she used bark lace that still has green bark left on it as the floor mats in this diorama while the clothes are made from bleached white bark lace.
She came with another woman who was helping her set up a hot glue gun and I saw that one of them had a handsewn cloth purse made of patchwork hexagons.
On our way to lunch I noticed plants that looked exactly like mitsumata, and that was true, because we were passing the Hanji Industry Support Center. Here on the other side is not only the mitsumata but dak (the taller shoots).
For some reason they were doing dochim outside even though it was about to rain. The clothespins are all split bamboo.
Eventually they wrapped the dochim machine and took all the paper in.
I think I've been twice to this hanji industry support center, and things have changed a lot from the outside. The area around it is slightly more developed I think, but it's so hard to remember as there seems to be much more going on than the first time. The second time was with a group and we were wildly exhausted from being bussed all over the place so I don't remember the outside or much of the inside besides being in a classroom being lectured to about something related to hanji.
This section of the maker space in the craft center made me feel crazy because I didn't bring my tape measure with me (usually it's on my keychain for my house but I left my keys behind). I have to get a new one soon because taking pictures of things next to my hand is not really the best way to measure things. Not the worst, but not the best.
After visiting with In Mi-ae at KTCC, we each left with a lovely gift of a box of face masks containing hanji, which came just in time as I am running low on my KF94 masks. Glad to be restocked for another month! Our last stop in Jeonju was to see the provincial intangible treasure holder of paper umbrella making, Yoon Gyu-sang and his son. This is a photo of them in the studio. Since we all keep our masks on, I have no idea what anyone looks like unless we share meals together. 
We sat underneath a giant paper umbrella, which was the perfect setting.
It's hanji made with tons of tough or unbeaten fibers left in, and I kept wondering where the seams were. They're on the outside of the ribs, not on this side.
Tons and tons of bamboo ribs for different sizes of umbrellas. Mr. Yoon is the only holder of this property in Korea, which makes me sad because they are so lovely and I wish more people made them. Of course like all of these other intangible properties, I know why so few do it, but still.
His son could tell that I wanted to see more than listen, so he pulled out umbrellas to show me. The red and black are basic colored hanji, the blue also colored but seemingly made with either poor formation or intentionally mottled formation, and then the lighter one is plain hanji that was oiled after the umbrella was made. If you oil beforehand, you can't glue the paper to the ribs and then you have a problem. Here is a post in Korean but with nice pics of Mr. Yoon at work.
That's why Dr. Jo was visiting: he had met Mr. Yoon years ago before he was designated as a treasure holder, and wanted to learn to make the umbrellas. After being refused, he asked if he could provide the hanji for Mr. Yoon to use to make umbrellas, to which the latter agreed. This is Dr. Jo's dyed, joomchi-ed, and oiled hanji turned into an umbrella. But the top had popped off, so he was bringing it for repairs. Mr. Yoon's son remembered how hard it was to glue this umbrella because the paper was oiled, so there's a possibility that the entire paper covering has to be replaced.
Then we were finally off to return to Jinju. The plan was for me to spend the weekend in the guest house preparing for today's lecture for Dr. Lee's colleagues. The weather has been lovely and after too many hours in coffee shops with my computer, I did walk around a bit. This construction was not the exciting part, but the fact that even when laying asphalt, they sometimes use twig brooms! I couldn't get a good shot but the guy whose back is to us in the orange vest has one of them.
I walked by this at first and then went back to shoot it and share with a UMich grad, who said this is hilarious because they are using the UMich school colors with Michigan State's name. Meaningless to Koreans here but I wonder if anyone back home would get in trouble wearing this.
Because the guest house is so close to the Jinju Fortress (I don't know about this translation, it doesn't feel that way but obviously things have changed a lot. The area is walled and in Korean it's called Jinjuseong), I went to visit again. It happened to be during Hanbok Culture week for the whole country, so they set up a fashion show of hanbok that had to be shot and then shared on YouTube because of pandemic.
It was very windy but they had set everything up for shooting, with all of those massive arms with cameras whipping around.
I was too far to get good pics but there was a mix of bystanders, staff, and models watching or getting ready to be filmed.
You can see how much distance is between each model!
I decided to leave out of a side gate and look for dinner at the department store. I had tried to get food at one place where the granny told me to go someplace else if I wanted to eat a particular dish, as she only made it for two people. Dept stores are great for safe solo dining, and I treated myself to very expensive Hallabong afterwards (extremely delicious citrus, bigger than mandarins and sweeter, zero seeds).
On the way out I could see the tarps weighted in one part of the city next to the river.
Construction had started in this area years back but when too many ancient artifacts turned up, they had to stop immediately and plan instead for proper excavation.
This is dinner from yesterday, and funny enough I was thinking about my cousin as we had this meal in Seoul when I first emerged from quarantine (samgyetang, boiled stuffed chicken). Then he called me afterwards! Hoping I get to see him next time I make it back north.
I did not think getting my lecture together would take so long, but Keynote was freaking out so I had to bite the bullet and do an OS upgrade that I was hoping to avoid until I got back home. That took a while, and after things seemed to stabilize, I took my computer to this lovely tea house. I wanted to sit near the windows but that group of five folks was a bit too close for comfort in pandemic times so I stayed in the back.
Omija tea, exactly what I needed after a big dinner, though extremely itself (the sourness, whew!). I was also rebuilding a new lecture because my older versions for some reason were all damaged. And when talking to Koreans about hanji in the US, it's a totally different story than talking to Americans about hanji in Korea (or the US). I can plow through hundreds of slides pretty quickly in English because I talk so fast, but it's going to be more of a challenge in Korean. I'm looking forward to sharing regardless, and the process of combing thru old pics to see if there are were better ones was an excellent exercise to see how much and what I've managed to do, the people I've met along the way, and how hardships and fallings out don't negate all the work.

After that, off to Tongyeong!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

All the way to the sea

I'm so happy to have a blog post with less than 50 photos! I was in a car for a lot of this trip and while I could have stuck my phone out the window to shoot while driving, I knew then Dr. Jo would insist on pulling over to let me take lots of pictures and then we'd never get home. After going to Uiryeong on April 8, the next day we went to Geoje Island to see a show of an old friend of his. We stopped before crossing the bridge to get to Geoje, in Tongyeong.
This was exciting enough, to be so close to water, but the ride there and back was stunning, it makes this view look like staring at a brick wall when your window fronts an alley. The southern sea of Korea is well known for having hundreds of tiny islands all over. As you pass, there are endless lumps of land sticking out of the water.
Dr. Jo's friend, Jo Gap-seon, has been dyeing fabric for years and she was invited by Kim Jin-hee to have a one month exhibit at Ms. Kim's Geoje gallery (Chodam Gallery). This is a bigger deal because usually artists who show in Korea pay a very high rental fee to have a one week show at a gallery, and have to provide everything that American artists sometimes take for granted (publicity, installation, reception, etc.). Of course at the higher tiers of museums, it's different, but I've always been shocked by how much work goes into shows that are so brief.
Mrs. Jo (not related to Dr. Jo—in Korea, women do not take the family name of their husbands) has also been working with her son, Chang Se-kyung, so it's a two-person show. I was so happy to see a young person doing this work, and people commented a lot about how he is able to do dyeing that requires a lot more sheer strength (dyeing entire blankets and large pieces). He's friendly with the natural dyeing folks over in Naju as well.
I was really captivated by the leather eco-printing he has been doing, and every corner of the gallery was covered with work that he and his mother have done for years. The spread was huge as well so we essentially ate lunch there.
Of course I bought a bunch of stuff here and this is my favorite activity to do when traveling: buying from other artists. I understood the flower printing but he explained the rest: lines from tape resist, and the red color from dyed cloth that was placed behind the flowers before making the print. So simple! But the way leather takes the prints is so much more vivid than anything I've seen on other material. Don't ask me what I'm going to do with it, I just had to have it.
Her scarves were so lovely, and I feel like I get to be reunited with Korean silks. Strangely enough, the scarves I brought with me to Korea all started to tear here, so it's a great excuse to stock up on more.
I can't remember who did these but I noticed right away the pieces that used bark lace.
Once you're married to a material, it's hard not to recognize it everywhere you go (it's poking out from the bottom of the intact flower.
I also loved how Ms. Kim marks sold items! The berry is so much more in line with the show than red dot stickers.
Ms. Kim (she could be married, I don't know. I'm still too American to ask these things, even though Dr. Jo always announces loudly when he introduces me to anyone that I am single, old, and that I won't get married), Mr. Chang, Mrs. Jo, and me being underdressed because guess who didn't know that I was going to be going to an art opening when I packed in a hurry two days prior?
The entire time that I was shopping and talking with the artists, Dr. Jo was furiously making phone calls on my behalf. He was trying to get a hold of the national treasure holder of bamboo blind making. His first avenue had not gotten results fast enough due to his friend's illness. So he decided to call the city itself, as Tongyeong is recognized by UNESCO as a cultural city of music and generally it prides itself on being a cultural hub. That worked, so after leaving the island to cross back to the mainland, we rushed to meet the screen maker. On the way I noticed the road signs, only because Minari has been such a huge force lately. Korea in general has been through a years-long process of renaming and re-addressing roads and homes to make it easier to get around, and I've noticed a big difference in ease of navigation.
The national treasure holder (technically intangible cultural property but I get so tired of typing that out every single time...) has two locations where he works and teaches. Today he was here, and in general I had a good feeling about the possibility of explaining to him what I needed to learn, because I knew that he already taught.

Jo Dae-yong is at left and Dr. Jo at right. I'm using the distorted lens only so you can see the massive screens hanging on the walls. What you miss in this cell phone shot is the pattern on all of the screens. The red one in particular has large characters woven into it that you'd only notice from the right angle. Below is a detail of the screen behind Dr. Jo:
This was one that Mr. Jo pointed out to us because he had used shorter splints. It's hard to see here, but he staggered all of them within the pattern, which is so. much. work. He told pages and pages of history that I wrote down but still need to transcribe about screen culture in Korea and how they were used.
He took this frame out of a screen in progress so that I could practice a little, which was very kind of him given the fact that we had just kind of descended up on him. It was good to see that Dr. Jo's suggestion of simply using nuts and bolts as bobbins is totally legit! They are covered here in foil before being wrapped with thread. He had lots of student frames as well of work in progress, with similar weights.
Here he is at work, adding a long bamboo splint to the next row. This is the giant difference between bamboo screens for hanji and bamboo blinds used to hang in windows, doorways, to block the view of outsiders, and so on: the former requires that you cut out all nodes, the latter keeps the nodes to have long splints. We can't have nodes in papermaking screens because it would wreak havoc on the sheet formation process (any low or high points in the screen would make thick and thin spots in the paper).
I was really exhausted by now and tired of sitting on the floor (with age and after a few accidents, my hips get very cranky after a while, which is a shame because it used to be no problem), but I tried to practice as I was directed. I intentionally brought my computer to try and show the things I've done in the US to spread hanji knowledge and culture, and my own work. If I was really on top of things, before I left I would have designed and printed an entire booklet about my life's story to show to people here who don't read English but I continue to not have time/interest in doing so. I remain the weird old spinster traveling the country to learn obscure techniques that even the practitioners don't want to share.
We were both worn out by the end of the day and though it would have been fun to stay in Tongyeong for dinner, we had to get back to Jinju and make sure I could get another night at the guest house before leaving the next morning for Jeonju. Our last meal together was monkfish soup, though as always we had tea/coffee at the bus terminal the next morning before I left.
Because I've not been able to find a good bamboo source since the people I've met harvest and process their own, I went back to Mr. Yoo the day after I got back and met with him and his wife again. They let me take some of their stash, and we'll settle up when I pick up the final screen that I've ordered from them. You can never have too many, especially the older they get. Here he is pulling splints, which is his main job these days, I think. His wife Mrs. Seo seems to do all of the weaving and sewing.
This is the part that kills me: to make tools, you need tools, right? So even if I want to practice, there are a lot of simple looking tools that are not easy at all to source. Bamboo splitting knives are really specific and this makes me crazy because it requires getting to know blacksmiths really well. While reading an essay about hanji makers in the final dynastic period of Korea, it turns out the government employed the most people in the paper industry but guess who came in second? Blacksmiths. The way this work pools sideways makes me wonder what road I am doing down. I thought it would be an easy, contained book to write, but it has taken hold of me and will not let me go after all these years. 
While I wish I could say I'm 100% focused on being here, there's no real way to leave everything behind. This is the poster for the natural dye panel I'll be on with three Korean people in a few weeks. We've recorded our talks and they will be available online soon, so that you can watch them ahead of our live Zoom Q&A on May 1, for the Baltimore Natural Dye Symposium. There's an online show as well. Also, for any AAPI craft folks, there is a time-sensitive (by April 20) push to create a directory, so check here for details on participation.