Connections in Friction: Socially Engaged Art in East Asia in Transnational Contact Zones

  • Author / Creator
    Kwon, Vicki S.
  • This dissertation examines socially engaged practices by contemporary Korean and Japanese artists who address current transnational issues in East Asia, drawing on discourses across subaltern studies, postcolonial theories, memory studies, and inter-Asia studies. When an artist travels to a specific site, geographically distant from the artist’s own nation but related to it over a certain issue, what kind of relationship is generated between the artist and the local participants at the site? How does the artwork produced from these encounters present the relationship and the issue, and what effect does the artwork generate? Ultimately, how does an artwork contribute to or complicate a transnational issue? To think through these questions, I use the concepts of “contact zone,” the “site” in site-specific art, socially engaged practice, and transnationalism. Each chapter explores artworks in the context of a particular transnational issue and the history of the social practice of art that developed in each nation, from the 1960s in Japan and from the 1980s in South Korea. The Introduction outlines key concepts, such as the notion of contact zone and transnationalism, transnational issues discussed in the dissertation, and socially engaged practice in East Asia in relation to the global trend of the “social turn” that emerged in the 1990s and flourished throughout the 2000s. Chapter 1 discusses South Korean artist collective Mixrice’s representation of and collaboration with migrant workers from Southeast Asia in South Korea, examining Mixrice’s work in relation to Minjung art and post-Minjung art, South Korea’s socially engaged art in the 1980s and the 2000s. Chapter 2 discusses the possibilities and limitations of visual art in the debates between Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam over contested memories and official apologies over wartime atrocities. Case studies examine IM Heung-soon’s multimedia works that represent of Korean veterans of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese victims of sexual violence, as well as Kim Seokyung and Kim Eunsung’s bronze statues, which play pivotal roles in grass-roots activism seeking an official apology from Japan for its military sexual slavery during the Asia-Pacific War, whose victims are euphemistically known as “comfort women,” and from South Korea for its soldiers’ civilian massacres and sexual violence during the Vietnam War. Chapter 3 examines Japanese artist Koki Tanaka’s experimental workshops involving participants reflecting on a community embracing conflict after disaster and exercising meaningful empathy for distant others. This case studies focuses on Tanaka’s 2017 Skulptur Projekte Münster and his 2019 film on Zainichi Koreans, ethnic Korean residents of Japan, in relation to the Japanese Fluxus artist practice in the 1960s and the social turn in Japanese art after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The Conclusion compares relationships between the artists and the participants in each chapter, borrowing from the concepts of allies and accomplices, terms that have been recently redefined during online activism and social justice movements. Examining the quality of each artist’s relationship with their participants created in the contact zones, I relate their work and my critical arguments discussed in the chapters to discourses surrounding inclusion politics and transformative social change of today.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.