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KOH JOOYOUNG——Key person in the performing arts exchange between Korea and Japan, independent producer who places herself on the boundary between art and what is not art

Interview / Asia Hundreds

Project with SAKAGUCHI Kyohei

Ogura: You have worked with Sakaguchi Kyohei, translating his book and creating projects together. What was your project in Korea like?

Koh: "Mobile House@Seoul" was the first project that we did together. I got to know Mr. Sakaguchi through NAKAMURA Akane's direction at TPAM in 2011. I met him in person when I came to Japan as a visiting fellow, and having talked to him and observed his activities, I immediately thought that I would like to work with him in Seoul. So I approached Inza Lim, who was director of the Seoul Marginal Theatre Festival*7 at the time, and we decided to work on a project in Seoul. At the time I did not think that I would resign from my company so soon. I thought that I would take paid leave and work on the project, but it turned out that I made my debut as an independent producer through this work. After participating in a workshop, Mr. Sakaguchi and the people of Seoul created a mobile house together. We stayed there for about a week and also conducted a forum during the festival. "Mobile House@Seoul" was so popular that another festival asked us, "Next time could you create a town for us?" We were proceeding with our plan when Mr. Sakaguchi was taken ill and could not come to Seoul. So I was obliged to plan the project and create the town myself. We invited people who had participated in the Mobile House public workshop, asked them to design their own houses which we then used to create a town. Six houses were created as well as other necessary items such as common dining tables and a shared studio. If we were to be asked to do the project again, we agreed that we would develop it even further and create a country, a sovereign state that existed solely during the festival period. In 2014 we borrowed the motif from Mr. Sakaguchi’s book, Practice for a Revolution, and gathered artists and organisers from Korea to plan our next piece of work. But just as we were about to embark on the project, it was cancelled because of the Sewol ferry disaster.

*7 Known as the Seoul Byeonbang Theatre Festival in Korea. "Byeonbang" means fringe or marginalised, which is separated from the mainstream. The festival makes an effort to discover and develop experimental work and artists with a particular focus on the medium of theatre.

Ogura: You also presented the project as part of the opening programme for the Asian Arts Theatre in Gwangju, didn't you?

Koh: Yes. Later on, Kim Seong-Hee asked me if I would like to present an expanded version of Mr. Sakaguchi's project in Gwangju. When I told her that I had in fact had such a plan in mind, we decided to go ahead with it. This time Mr. Sakaguchi was able to come to Gwangju, and while changes were made to the format and content, there were about four projects that continued from 2012 to 2015.

Ogura: You have also translated Mr. Sakaguchi's book, Practice for a Revolution.

Koh: When I was working on the "Mobile House" project, I deliberately tried to tie up with non-theatrical supporting organisations. One of them was a publishing company that owned an art space. The people from this company listened to Mr. Sakaguchi's talk, became interested and asked me to translate his book. This is how Practice for a Revolution was translated and published.

Ogura: It seems that your project has become the core around which various people connect with each other, such as members of the community who participated in the workshop, those who practise city farming, run art spaces and publishing companies.

Koh: That is what I always think is interesting. Even within the field of art, it is when I manage to collaborate with people from different genres and connect with those outside the boundary of art that I feel that my job is the most worthwhile.

Introducing Korean artists to Japan, TPAM Direction 2016, 2018

Ogura: You have introduced Korean artists to Japan through events such as TPAM Direction, Kyoto Experiment: Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival and Saitama Triennale. I know that what is presented depends on the vision that each festival is trying to achieve, but was there anything that you yourself had in mind when you introduced these artists?

Koh: I have directed for TPAM Direction three times in the course of five years. That is once every two years. There are others who are involved every year, but in my case, I needed the time to think through things more thoroughly. I am really grateful to the people of TPAM who have been kind enough to give me time. I think that TPAM Direction has been my opportunity both as an individual and also as a producer to put together every two years what I am aiming at as far as my activities and interests are concerned. In my role as a producer, I have come to understand what I should be doing and the limits to what can actually be done. For my first time in 2016, I introduced Korean artists who in my opinion were interesting.

Ogura: The next time that you participated in 2018, we could see through your direction your inner conflict as a producer and on how to lead a life as a woman. BankART Studio NYK kawamata Hall by Jahye Khoo × theater, definitely was very impressive. The much talked about film, Parasite, is about people who live in a semi-basement whereas in this performance, I think that the protagonist rented a house in a garret.

A Photo of TPAM Direction 2018
Jahye Khoo × theater, definitely BankART Studio NYK kawamata Hall
Photo: MAEZAWA Hideto

Koh: It is the symbol of poverty in Korea. You either live in an attic or in a semi-basement.

Ogura: The protagonist is thrown out of that attic too and comes to live with a friend, who loves cats. Why does she continue to perform under such difficult circumstances, both economically and socially? From how you directed this piece and also Anomalous Fantasy_Japan Version by siren eun young jung, we were able to understand your thoughts and the issues that you were concerned about. For siren's work, a Japanese gay choir group participated at TPAM, and Anomalous Fantasy_Korea Version, which the legendary Korean gay choir group, G-Voice, took part in, was performed later on in 2019 at Kyoto Experiment. How did your work with siren begin?

Koh: The first time that I worked with siren was at TPAM in 2014, when I was asked to coordinate (Off) Stage/Masterclass. We talked about a lot of things and found out that we went to the same university, that we were university students around the same time and that we had some things in common. When we were in the planning stage of our new piece that would later become Anomalous Fantasy, siren was not quite sure what she specifically wanted to do partly because she did not have a background in the performing arts. She did, however, know that she wanted to combine Korean women's national theater (yeoseong gukgeuk), which had been her longtime passion, and G-Voice into a single performance and use the piece as a medium through which she would question existing gender norms. I think that that is where it all started.

Ogura: Was it through your encounters with people such as siren and G-Voice that you developed an interest in feminism and LGBTQ?

Koh: I think that I was interested even before then. As a university student, I came across these ideas and was involved in related activities. Once when I belonged to a theatre club, I wrote a script for a piece that dealt with the theme of LGBTQ, which was actually performed on stage. So these concepts definitely formed the base of my interests and held a central position in my thoughts. However, I had neither had the opportunity nor felt the need to reveal my thoughts because I had been working for a public organisation for a long time. It was probably through discovering the work of Jahye Khoo×theater, definitely and meeting siren eun young jung that I learned how to express my awareness of these issues in the pieces that I directed and produced.

Ogura: It seems as though you crossed paths at the right time with artists who had similar visions and interests. I will ask you later about the projects that you worked on this year for TPAM Direction.

A photo of the stage
siren eun young jung Anomalous Fantasy_Korea Version (2019)
Photo: MORIYA Yuki, Courtesy of Kyoto Experiment